Lucas Oil Stadium
Radio: WDVE and other affiliates
Fresh off a victory over the hapless Cleveland Browns, the Steelers are right back on the field on Thanksgiving Night in Indianapolis. This kicks off the Pittsburgh Steelers Holiday Tour with games on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years.
What To Watch For
1. Out of Luck
News broke earlier this week that Colts Quarterback Andrew Luck was in the concussion protocol after a hit he took last week. He did not practice early in the week and news broke Wednesday that Luck would in fact be out on Thursday night against the Steelers. This means that Scott Tolzien will be the starter for the Colts with Stephen Morris as the backup. Lest you think this is an automatic victory for the Steelers, don’t forget that they nearly lost a 2011 game in Indianapolis when Kerry Collins and Curtis Painter played quarterback because of 3 turnovers by the offense. It was only thanks to a James Harrison strip-sack that Troy Polamalu recovered and returned for a touchdown that the Steelers escaped with a victory.
2. Frank Gore
With Tolzien starting for the Colts, they are going to do all that they can to keep the ball out of Tolzien’s hands. This means the Steelers should plan to see a lot of Frank Gore. Gore has been an ageless wonder, now in his 12th NFL season, he has rushed for 642 yards and 4 TDs and added 201 receiving yards and 3 more TDs. The 3 receiving TDs ties Gore’s career high and he is averaging over 85 yards from scrimmage per game. The Steelers will need to contain Gore – both on the ground and on short routes out of the backfield – in order to make Indy’s offense one-dimensional.
3. Ben Roethlisberger
The Steelers and Colts have met each of the last two seasons. In both games, Ben Roethlisberger absolutely had his way with the Colts secondary. In 2014, Ben threw for 522 yards and 6 TDs. Ben followed that up in 2015 with a 364-yard, 4 TD performance. All told, Ben has thrown for 916 yards and 10 TDs in his last two meetings with Indianapolis. On top of Luck being out, Colts safety Clayton Geathers is also out with a concussion and cornerback Vontae Davis is questionable with an ankle injury. Davis is the Colts top corner and has shadowed Antonio Brown in the past two meetings. Not that that meant much as Brown posted 251 yards and 3 TDs (plus that Punt Return where he Super Mario’d the goal post) over the last two seasons against the Colts.
4. The Pass Rush
In addition to the two fantastic games Ben Roethlisberger has put up against the Colts the last two seasons, James Harrison has followed suit. The Steelers have 7 sacks in their last two games against the Colts and James Harrison has 5 of them. Last week, Harrison recorded a sack to surpass Jason Gildon as the Steelers official all-time sack leader. Harrison now has 77.5 sacks in his Steelers career, a half-sack more than Gildon. Unofficially, Mean Joe Greene had 78.5 career sacks but sacks were not an official NFL statistic until 1982. The Steelers entered last week’s game against the Browns tied for last in the league in sacks but exploded for 8 against the Browns awful offensive line. The Colts are currently second only to the Browns in sacks allowed, having given up 35 sacks on the season. If the Steelers can continue their traditional success against the Colts and build in their strong performance last week we could finally start to see the young defense gain confidence and start to turn the corner.
5. Thursday Curse
The Steelers have traditionally performed well in primetime, particularly on Sunday and Monday Nights. That trend has not held true, however, on Thursday nights. The Steelers have lost 5 straight Thursday Night games and are just 9-14 all-time on Thursdays. Four of those five losses have come on the road. In fact, the Steelers have lost 7 of their last 8 road Thursday games dating back to the disastrous Coin Flip game in Detroit on Thanksgiving 1998. Their only win in that timespan was a 2007 game in St Louis that they won 41-24 but lost Willie Parker (who was leading the league in rushing) for the season with a broken ankle. Also included in that timespan was the epic failure in Cleveland in 2009 in 40-mile per hour winds where Bruce Arians called 42 pass plays and Ben was sacked 7 times in 13-9 loss. However you slice it, the Steelers have been bad on Thursdays and have not won on Thanksgiving Day since 1950.