Comes down to 2 questions: Run early or pass early? and Cover or blitz?
LeBeau knew Tarvaris Jackson wouldn't beat us, so the Steelers used coverage early, and when they had a substantial lead you saw 4Q pressure increase. Kerry Collins has been serviceable when given time against the Steelers, so do you try to rattle his cage early, sending more the the front seven on blitzes against a shaky Colts line? Or do you employ a similar gameplan as last week, relying on the offense to stake a lead and force the Colts O to become one-dimensional and vulnerable to pressure?
Key will be coverage of Reggie Wayne: that assignment should be Ike's primary. Wayne has 11-172-1, and accounts for about half of the passing game total, and a third of the Colts offense overall. Wayne on Gay will be a clear mismatch, so Gay will likely line up against Pierre Garcon, 6-67-0. Expect a good day for Frenchie. Dallas Clark, 8-67-1, gets about a 20% share of the pass attack like Garcon, and he'll likely have a big day as well, getting the usual grab-bag coverage of Timmons, Pola, Clark, and Lewis. Lewis's primary assignment is likely to be Austin Collie, 3-24-0, who has not flourished in the Collins Era. Really, the critical coverage element will be Clark: if the defense can take away that read early and force the matchup of Garcon vs. Gay, Clark will be able to start rotating cover and jump the routes. Pola and Timmons need to blanket Clark in the short and medium game, not allowing easy throws down the seam. If Garcon, and to some extent Clark, gets yards between the 20s with little scoring, LeBeau is toying with the Colts. We may see more shifts along the DL with blitzes and stunts, CB/S blitzes from the blind side, earlier than last week.
It will be interesting to see if Hood gets more pressure on the rookie LT Castonzo, who’s played reasonably well, than we might expect with Keisel. I’m also going to predict Aaron Smith gets some of his old form back, feasting on the RT Linkebach and RG Ryan Diem, although Cameron Heyward may get some late reps to show off the DE of the future tandem.
The Colts D has never been good against the run, and this should be exploited early and often. A healthy dose of Mendenhall and Redman is just the tonic. While I think the LeBeau cover-then-kill strategy will be effective, I can see Arians getting too cute for his own good. The Colts CBs (Powers and Lacey) are just the sort of no-name squad you’d expect success against, but we thought that with the Ravens’ newcomers. Ben’s accuracy has been so-so, and the Colts safeties could exploit that if we lean early on the pass. If I were calling the plays, I’d switch up duties a bit and open with Redman to soften that D, then let Mendy exploit the edges when they were tired. Or go Mendy then Redman. But Arians being Arians, we’ll just half-ass the running game, getting skittish after the Colts get a stop or two.
If by some miracle we open up a solid lead with a run-heavy offense, expect to see Ben continue to build his rapport with the young receivers, Sanders and Brown. They’re still working at getting timing and routes worked out, but the slant and go routes could be a killer part of the repertoire. Meanwhile, Ward is slowing down and Arians ignores Miller. And Mike Wallace looks like he is becoming a more complete wideout and a player you can count on to score a TD in almost every game, and rack up close to 100 yards on any given Sunday.
I’m going to revise my prediction a bit. This one will be maddeningly close early on, with Collins getting the ball to Garcon and Clark, and the Steelers D giving up a stupid early TD. Arians will do his usual weasely shit. At some point, we’ll be asking why it’s almost halftime and we’re only up 10-7, until one of the running backs opens up some big yardage and pads the lead. Then LeBeau takes over, Collins gets yanked late, and it’s all over. Enough to cover the Vegas spread? We’ll see. I’m going to say it comes close: Steelers 27, Colts 13.