PREGAME STRETCH: Pittsburgh at Indianapolis
It looks like a trap game and quacks like a trap game, but is it?
THE GAME: PITTSBURGH STEELERS (6-2) VS. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (3-6)
CBS, SUNDAY, 1 P.M., LUCAS OIL STADIUM, 62,241.
Blogger’s note: We’re departing Saturday morning for a week in the Caribbean so there will be no game blog for Indy and no pregame or game blog for the Titans. The usual anecdotes, factoids, drivel and tomfoolery will continue on Twitter (now in 280 characters!) at @15MinutesBlog.
Announcers: Greg Gumbel and Trent Green. After three weeks’ worth of A Teams in the booth, it’s going to be hard to go back. We have read the Trent Green has begun “predicting” how plays are going to unfold like another popular current announcer you might have heard about so it will be interesting to hear if that’s actually the case. Information courtesy www.the506.com
Weather – or not: Dome conditions again. This is the Steelers ninth straight game with perfect or near perfect weather conditions and second dome game and turf game of the season. Information courtesy www.accuweather.com
Referee: Clete Blakeman. This is the second time around already for this crew, with also worked the debacle in Chicago, a game that included so many official’s huddles we lost count. Hopefully, they got that out of their system. The good news is that this crew is one of the least obnoxious in the league, calling only 11 penalties for 90 yards per game, well under the league average of 14 for 118. Information courtesy www.footballzebras.com, www.profootballreference.com and www.nflpenalties.com (it takes three, count ’em, three web sites to provide you with the best each week in officiating background information).
The last time: With Andrew Luck injured (sound familiar?), the Steelers faced Scott Tolzien and the Colts last Thanksgiving night, winning comfortably, 28-7, behind three Ben Roethlisberger-to-Antonio Brown TD passes. Two long seam passes (each 3o yards+) to Ladarius Green, something noticeably missing from Pittsburgh’s offense so far this year, also loomed large in the contest.
The line: Pittsburgh -10/45
Smarts say: We were expecting -7, but the larger line is obviously on point with public bettors split 50/50 on which team to take in this one at midweek and smarts leaning toward Pittsburgh. Everyone was heavily invested in the over even though seven of eight Steelers games have come in on the under. The line here would mean something like Steelers 27-17. Information courtesy www.pregame.com
When the Steelers have the ball:
PIT offense, 9th passing, 17th rushing, 20th scoring (20.9 ppg), 2nd sacks allowed (10)
IND defense, 31st passing, 17th rushing, 32nd scoring (28.9 ppg), 18th sacks (18)
When the Lions have the ball:
IND offense, 23rd passing, 20th rushing, 25th scoring (18.0 ppg), 32nd sacks allowed (36)
PIT defense, 2nd passing, 14th rushing, 2nd scoring (16.4 ppg), 4th sacks (26)
So…: Honestly, as we typed these rankings in, the one thought running through our mind was “How does Chuck Pagano still have a job?” Yikes. Most sacks allowed and most points allowed is not a winning combination. Information courtesy www.nfl.com
Key matchups: Steelers WRs vs. Colts DB Pierre Desir
Why: What Antonio Brown has done in the past to Indy’s All Pro CB Vontae Davis has bordered on criminal. With Davis out of the Colts lineup with a controversial groin injury, what might Brown and/or the rest of Pittsburgh’s corps do to backup (and former Brown) Pierre Desir?
Player on the spot: Alvin “Bud” Dupree
Why: Halfway through what was supposed to be his breakout season, the stats don’t lie: Seven games started, 19 tackles, 3 sacks. Dupree, whose primary claim to fame continues to be “better than Jarvis Jones,” is underachieving. Flashes of dynamic playmaking ability show themselves once every two or three games, but the consistent kind of production that NFL careers are based upon is sorely lacking. With Anthony Chickillo withering on the other side (zero sacks in the past five games) and with Steelers fans and media getting more and more perplexed about James Harrison’s banishment to the bench, the pressure is on Dupree to produce. Facing the team that’s given up more sacks than any other in the league, if Dupree doesn’t produce Sunday, it’s fair to wonder if he ever will on a consistent basis.
+ It’s been our longstanding position here that NFL media types have vastly overrated Andrew Luck’s stardom quotient so we won’t spend much time discussing his absence from the Colts this season. With him, they might have one more win than they do right now. Might.
+ On the same day last week that Luck was ruled out for the remainder of 2017, DeShaun Watson also went down for the year with a non-contact ACL injury at Texans practice. Those two, of course, join Aaron Rodgers as future Pittsburgh opponents on the sidelines, leaving this gauntlet of villains for the Steelers: Jacoby Brissett, Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco, Tom Brady, Tom Savage, Deshone Kizer. (Note: One of those things is most definitely not like the others.) While such a weak slate of opponents might be construed as good news by some teams, the probably is not the case with a Mike Tomlin-coached Steelers team, which regularly beats elite teams and quarterbacks while losing to inferior ones.
+ Speaking of inferior quarterbacking, we haven’t been to help but think what the Broncos are going through right now with Trevor Siemian might not be a sneak peak of what the future looks like for Steelers in the A.B. (After Ben) era.
+ Of course, the Steelers were winners last weekend without playing when both the Ravens and Bengals lost, putting Pittsburgh three games up in the loss column against each with a win over each already in hand. That is ostensibly a four-game lead with eight games to play, meaning it would require one of greatest choke jobs of all time for the Steelers not to win the AFC North this year.
The pick: Of all the “there’s no way Mike Tomlin and the Steelers can lose this game” games, this might be the no way-iest. The Colts are banged up, the Steelers are getting healthy. The Colts are volatile, the Steelers are stable. The Colts weaknesses match up nicely with the Steelers strengths. And under center, Jacoby Brissett is quietly and slowly emerging into a competent bordering on good quarterback (completing two-third of his passes in his last two games for 500+ yards, four TDs and just one INT). But we’re not buying in to the line of thinking this time. We think Detroit was the Waterloo game that the Steelers barely sidestepped and this will be a springboard to a big second half… Steelers 35-21.
Last week: Our theory that Pittsburgh’s Sunday Night Football prowess would outweigh Mike Tomlin’s predisposition to losing to inferior teams on the road turned out to be doubly correct. That leaves us 4-4 straight up and 5-3 against the spread.