Andrew Luck and the new-look Colts, fresh off of an impressive (even for pre-season) victory against the Rams last week, head to Heinz Field to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Don’t expect a repeat performance.
Pre-season or not, you had better believe the Steelers defense took notice of what Luck did against St. Louis, and will be determined not to let it happen twice. The Rams paltry defense was able to get after Luck on more than one occasion, forcing a couple of incompletions and putting him on the turf a few times. What do you think will happen with Dick LeBeau’s blitz-happy defense?
Luck did show good athleticism last week against the pass rush, rolling out and throwing downfield on numerous plays. The Colts will have to hope he can read and identify the defense quick enough to be able to do the same thing againstPittsburgh.
*Author’s side note: Luck looked more “Ben Roethlisberger” to me last week than “Peyton Manning.” Just saying.
Any way, on to the analysis.
3 Things to Watch
1. Offensive Line – I had this on the “Watch” list last week too, and their performance, while not completely horrendous, merits it taking the top spot this week. The starters for both teams will be in a lot longer this week than last week. Normally for week 2 you’ll see the front line guys in for the entire first half, but since the Colts practically did that last week, it wouldn’t shock me to see Luck and the rest of the boys on the field well into the 3rd quarter. Which means the Steelers starting defense will also probably be there. This will be a huge test for the O-line, and we’ll probably get to see how Luck responds to the first real adversity of his young NFL career.
2. The Run D – The Colts defense had a fairly big blow last week when Pat Angerer – he of 146 tackles last year – went down for up to 6 weeks with a fractured foot. Now it’s going to be up to guys like Moise Fokou and Jerrell Freeman to step up (if you’re thinking “who?” then you understand the depth issue perfectly). Freeney and Mathis weren’t really on the field much last game to be able to determine their progress, but I did see Dwight whiff on the first few Steven Jackson carries. Even though they face a Rashard Mendenhall-less Steelers in a vanilla, pre-season offensive scheme, this will be a major area of focus.
3. The Rookie Tight Ends – Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen didn’t really do a whole lot last week, totaling 1 catch combined and two real nice blocks on Donald Brown’s 63-yard touchdown reception. With the heat the Steelers will be expected to bring, dumping the ball early and often to the two tight ends could be a real boon for Luck, as he’ll probably need to get rid of the ball as soon as possible. With the O-line issues, I doubt he’ll have 2.5 to 3 seconds to make his decisions.
Match-ups to Watch
Andrew Luck vs. Troy Polamalu – This may not be quite the match-up it would normally be if this were a regular season game and Polamalu isn’t getting any younger. But still expect the veteran safety to mess with the rookie a bit, and I wouldn’t be all that surprised to see LeBeau send him on a blitz once or twice.
Colts Pass Rush vs. Steelers O-line – The Colts aren’t the only ones with pass-protection problems. The Steelers gave up 42 sacks last year (T-23rd), and it’s very rare to see Big Ben stand tall in the pocket to make plays. The Steelers drafted highly touted rookie guard David DeCastro to help shore up the line, but he’ll likely not have much of an effect against the Colts outside linebackers. Expect Freeney and Mathis (and even Jerry Hughes) to get after Roethlisberger in the first half.
My 5 Predictions
1. Andrew Luck will throw an interception – Ok, I called this one last week also, and whiffed mightily. But I both underestimated Luck’s abilities and over-estimated the Rams defense (huge mistake). While I still respect Luck’s abilities,Pittsburgh has a MUCH better defense thatSt. Louis. It’s gonna happen.
2. The Colts D will sack Big Ben – The pass rushers (and by that I mean Jerry Hughes) were able to get to the Rams’ Kellen Clemens twice, but that was back-ups vs. back-ups. Freeney and Mathis will be on the field more than they were last week, and the Colts also get NT Cory Redding back. With the issues Pittsburgh has continually had with the O-line, there should be some good pressure and at least 1 sack registered by Indy’s first-teamers.
3. The Colts Pass D will be exposed – Yes, I realize the defense only surrendered 3 points last week. But remember, that was the Rams. They were as horrid on offense as they were on defense last year, and it doesn’t really seem like much has improved. Though Mike Wallace is still locked in a contract dispute, Roethlisberger still has Antonio Brown and Heath Miller to throw to, and the Colts still don’t have anyone other than Jerraud Powers who can provide any real coverage.
4. Fleener and/or Allen will catch a touchdown – I don’t know how well Luck, or the Colts offense in general, will play in their first road game in one of the more hostile stadiums in the league, but I am certain that he will throw at least one scoring pass. As stated in my “things to watch” portion, Luck will likely have to get rid of the ball quickly, and that ususally means to the tight ends. Expect one of the rooks to score
5. First Half Score – Steelers 17, Colts 14. Since I’m not sure how long the boys in blue (I guess it will really be white, since it’s a road game) will be playing, I’ll keep the scoring prediction to the first half. Luck throws for a score and runs for another, but the Steelers lead going into the half.
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