Steeler Nation doesn’t just reside in the surrounding areas of Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. It is a world-wide army that lives and dies with the football franchise that calls Pittsburgh it’s home. The six-time Super Bowl champions always strive for excellence, and their fans expect nothing less in return. This is the ultimate Steelers Game Day Guide that all followers of the black and gold come to find everything they need to know about the Pittsburgh Steelers and their upcoming opponent! Mike Drakulich (@PghSportsNation), who covers both Pitt football and the Steelers for NGSC Sports, brings you inside the huddle for both teams, providing a weekly game story, prediction, the Steelers offensive and defensive game plans, a detailed breakdown of each team, game day information, and up to date team injury reports. Heck, you’ll even know the weather at kickoff. The only thing you’re missing is a game uniform.
Ben Roethlisberger and Phillip Rivers square off again
It’s been quite a ride for the two quarterbacks drafted high in the 2004 NFL Draft, and though both are entering the twilight of the careers, both have their teams headed into the playoffs
Ben Roethlisberger started this season off strong, as did his Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3), but after three straight losses, many are wondering if this team is finished and destined for an early exit from the playoffs. Meanwhile, Phillip Rivers and the Indianapolis Colts (10-4) have won three straight and five of six, and are tied for 1st place in the AFC South with the Tennessee Titans, who have the tiebreaker edge.
The Steelers can clinched the AFC North win a win vs the Colts. No one imagined it taking until week 16 of the season after starting off 11-0.
“I’ve continued to be in awe of his consistency and how he’s playing at such a high level at 39 years old,” Colts coach Frank Reich said about his quarterback. “It’s not shocking, but you have to respect that at 39, his arm talent is the same at it was with him five or six years ago.
“His passion for preparation, for the routine, for practice, for watching film, he’s just as passionate about the daily process as I’ve ever seen him, and I highly respect that.”
Rivers is 5th in career passing yards (63,006), and Roethlisberger is seventh, having just surpassed 60,000 yards in their shocking loss to the Bengals Monday night.
Roethlisberger has two championship rings to his collection, however, with Rivers yet to play in a Super Bowl.
Big Ben has spent the week trying to figure out what has happened to his abilities and his offense that has grinded to a halt after averaging near 30 points a game for most of the year.
“At some point, if you want to play this game long enough, if you can’t physically do the exact same things you could do when you’re younger, you have to find a way to be successful and win in other ways,” Roethlisberger said. “For me, it’s trying to be mentally strong. I’m trying to figure out how mentally I can beat a defense. There are times when I feel good, there are times when I feel like I haven’t been sharp mentally.
“I need to get more consistent with my play, that’s mentally and physically.”
Star defensive end Cam Heyward isn’t ready to throw in the towel on the 2020 season just yet.
“It is not time to jump off the ship,” said a defiant Heyward. “It’s time to recalibrate and get back on. It’s a three-game losing streak but that’s coming off an 11-game winning streak. I’m looking forward to getting back on this horse.”
Many have pointed to the offense as being the main reason the team has fallen on hard times, but the defense isn’t without blame either. Big time stops, which were a staple of the win streak, have all but disappeared the last month.
“We’ve been short a couple times,” Heyward acknowledged. “The great thing about this defense is everybody’s bought in from the beginning. No one’s confidence has ever wavered in that.”
Roethlisberger called an offensive meeting this week to rally the team and figure out how to get back on track.
“Stick together,” Juju Smith Schuster said of what the meeting was about. “At times like this we just have to become closer as family.
“We gotta hold each other accountable. These next two games really have to show what we can do on offense.”
Center Maurkice Pouncey, who was sitting nearby had only one thing to say.
“We’ll get things together, trust me.”
The defense will get a boost with the return of linebacker Vince Williams.
“The communication is going to help us,” Butler said about Williams, who was activated from the reserve/covid-19 list. “The guys who have been in there have done a pretty good job of getting the communication done. Vince is a little more confident in what he’s doing, and people around him are a little more confident with what we’re doing when he’s in there.”
Heyward is glad to see his teammate back on the field.
“He’s one of our defensive stalwarts that we can rely on,” Heyward said. “It was a little bit of an adjustment having Vince gone. Obviously, you want to plug guys in and be able to not miss a beat. For Vince, he doesn’t miss a lot of games, he’s a guy you can count on and the younger guys are still coming along.
“Having him back only benefits the group in terms of a mentality or intellectuals where they are able to talk about things. When he’s on the field, his physicality, the way he’s able to blitz, he really gives us an edge.”
Everyone, and we mean everyone is picking against the Steelers in this one. With the way Ben Roethlisberger and the offense is performing, who can blame them? The Steelers will be boosted by the return of running back James Conner, tight end Eric Ebron, guard Kevin Dotson, and linebacker Vince Williams. Unfortunately, they will be without the services of kicker Chris Boswell. Will head coach Mike Tomlin display any confidence in rookie kicker Matthew Wright?
The Colts offense will be severely hampered with both of their starting tackles, Braden Smith and Anthony Costanzo, a loss that may put the health of Phillip Rivers in jeopardy from the Steelers pass rush.
Historically, the Steelers have owned the Colts, then again, they owned the Bengals, too, before their embarrassing performance last week. How about Vegas? The line had the Steelers favored by 4.5 before they lost to the Bengals, switching to the Colts being favored by 2.5 up until mid-day Saturday where the Steelers now head into the game favored by 1. Also, two teams in history started off their season 11-0 before losing three straight. That was the 1969 LA Rams who didn’t win another game, and the 2009 New Orleans Saints, who not only broke their three game losing streak, but also went on to win Super Bowl XLIV. A wounded animal is at it’s most dangerous when backed against a wall. That is where the Steelers are right now. Pittsburgh and Roethlisberger finally get back on track and secure the AFC North title… Steelers 24 Colts 20
Steelers Offensive Game Plan
- Ben Roethlisberger: The future HOF quarterback hasn’t played well in weeks. This game will be decided by his play.
- Establish the run: Pittsburgh has to find a way to pound the ball and be committed to doing so. Utilize both James Conner and Benny Snell and ride the hot hand.
- No turnovers: Turnovers have been a killer in Pittsburgh’s slide. Secure the damn ball and play smart.
Steelers Defensive Game Plan
- Pressure on Phillip Rivers: The volatile QB doesn’t like being hit. Take him out of his comfort zone and be in his face every pass play, especially with both of his starting tackles out.
- Tackle: Jonathan Taylor is a beast, and Indy will utilize their running game. The linebackers have to step up and make plays this week. No extra yards after contact.
A look at the Pittsburgh Steelers
Overall record: 11-3 (1st in AFC North)
Head coach: Mike Tomlin (13th Season with Steelers)
- Overall regular-season record: 144-77-1
- Playoff record: 8-7 (Qualified for playoffs 8 times)
Last game: Bengals 27 Steelers 17
Strengths: The variety of weapons that Ben Roethlisberger can utilize in the passing game.
Weaknesses: Offensive line is weak. The rushing attack, especially in short-yardage situations. Throwing the deep ball.
- Points per game: 26.1
- Total yards per game: 329
- Passing yards per game: 240.1
- Rushing yards per game: 88.9
Starting Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger | Back-up: Mason Rudolph
Ben Roethlisberger has thrown 30 touchdown passes and passed for 3,462 yards and 10 interceptions. He has only been sacked 12 times.
Starting Running Back: James Conner | Back-ups: Benny Snell, Anthony McFarland, Jr., and Jaylen Samuels
James Conner has rushed for 663 yards and five scores and has 25 receptions for 145 yards. Benny Snell has 358 yards rushing with four touchdowns. Anthony McFarland, Jr. has been inserted into the rushing attack and has 96 yards. Ray-Ray McCloud has been used as an x-factor type weapon, gaining 65 yards on four carries, and has 18 catches for 80 yards.
Fullback: Derek Watt
Wide Receivers: Juju Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, James Washington, and Ray-Ray McCloud III
Juju Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and James Washington lead a talented group of wide receivers. Johnson has 77 receptions for 753 yards and six touchdowns. Claypool is having a big rookie year with 53 catches for 718 yards and eight TDs. Claypool also has rushed for 22 yards and two more touchdowns. Smith-Schuster leads the team with 82 catches for 670 yards and seven touchdowns. James Washington (28-372-5) can line up anywhere and comes up with big catches when his number gets called.
Tight Ends: Eric Ebron and Vance McDonald
Eric Ebron gives Big Ben a huge target across the middle and in the red zone. Ebron has become a Big Ben favorite and has 51 catches for 511 yards and four touchdowns. Vance McDonald has mainly been used for blocking.
Placekicker: Chris Boswell* | Matt Wright
- Extra Points: 32-36
- 1-19 yards: 0-0
- 20-29 yards: 4-4
- 30-39 yards: 6-6
- 40-49 yards: 7-8
- 50+ yards: 1-1
Chris Boswell is out this week and will be replaced by Matthew Wright who is 1-1 in FG’s and has made both extra points.
Steelers Defense (Base 3-4)
Strengths: A relentless pass rush, tough run defense, and creating turnovers.
Weaknesses: Sometimes have issues getting off the field on 3rd downs. Skilled backs catching passes out of the backfield.
- Points per game allowed: 18.9
- Total offense yards per game allowed: 297.9
- Passing yards allowed: 193.3
- Rushing yards allowed: 104.6
- Sacks: 47
- Interceptions: 17
Scouting report: One of the top units in the NFL. They are fast and physical. Pittsburgh defends the run well and puts constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks with a variety of blitzes. Cam Heyward anchors the defensive line and is a yearly all-pro, with the vastly underappreciated Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu alongside him. Tuitt has eight sacks in 2020.
OLB T.J. Watt is one of the best defensive players in the NFL, and he formed a terrific 1-2 punch with Bud Dupree on the other side. Watt and Dupree had combined for 19 sacks before Dupree injured his ACL vs the Ravens. Now rookie Alex Highsmith will have some big shoes to fill and will be counted to be the next man up. Inside LB Vince Williams is stout against the run, and leads the team with 63 tackles. The hard-hitting Robert Spillane, who replaced star LB Devin Bush who tore his ACL, is out until the playoffs with a knee injury. Avery Williamson, acquired via trade from the NY Jets, will start in place of Spillane. .
Free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick leads an impressive secondary with two good corners in Joe Haden and Steven Nelson. Strong safety Terrell Edmunds never gets the credit he deserves but is always around the ball. Fitzpatrick has four interceptions to lead the team.
Mike Hilton is the most unheralded player on the defense, a do-everything player in Pittsburgh’s nickel package. Hilton has three sacks, two interceptions, and 46 tackles.
The splash play Steelers have recorded 47 sacks so far and 17 interceptions. They are 2nd in the the NFL allowing just 18.9 points per game.
Punter: Jordan Berry
Kickoff Returners: Anthony McFarland, Jr. and Ray-Ray McCloud
Punt Returner: Ray-Ray McCloud
Scouting report: Ray-Ray McCloud is averaging 23.2 yards per kickoff return, and 11.4 yards per punt return.
A look at the Indianapolis Colts
Overall record: 10-4 (2nd in AFC South)
Head coach: Frank Reich (3rd season with Indianapolis)
- Overall regular-season record: 27-19 | 27-19 with Indianapolis)
- Playoff record: 1-1
Last game: Colts 27 Texans 20
Strengths: Nice running game behind Jonathan Taylor. Phillip Rivers’ veteran leadership.
- Points per game: 28.5
- Total Offense per game: 374.8
- Passing yards per game: 260.8
- Rushing yards per game: 114
Starting Quarterback: Phillip Rivers | Back-up: Jacoby Brissett
Phillip Rivers has the Colts rolling in the right direction in his first year with the team. Rivers has passed for 3,735 yards with 22 touchdown passes and nine interceptions. He has been sacked 14 times.
Starting Running Back: Jonathan Taylor | Back-ups: Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins
Jonathan Taylor has taken hold of the starting role and has 842 yards rushing and seven touchdowns. He also has 35 receptions for 298 yards and another TD. Nyheim Hines gets plenty of action and has 319 rushing yards and three scores. Hines is dangerous out of the backfield with 53 catches for 412 yards and four touchdowns. Jordan Wilkins has 308 yards rushing with one touchdown.
Wide Receivers: T.Y. Hilton, Zach Pascal, Michael Pittman, and Marcus Johnson
T.Y. Hilton has had a resurgence under Rivers and has caught 59 passes for 675 yards and four touchdowns. Zach Pascal is the #2 WR with 39 receptions for 524 yards and four TD’s. Michael Pittman is having a nice rookie season with 35 catches for 437 yards and one score. Marcus Johnson is option #4.
Tight Ends: Mo Alie-Cox, Trey Burton, and Jack Doyle
The Colts have a trio of tight ends… Mo Alie-Cox leads the bunch with 30 catches for 374 yards and two scores. Trey Burton has had some big games and has 25 catches for 232 yards and three TD’s. Jack Doyle is having a down year with 16 receptions for 184 yards and three scores.
Placekicker: Rodrigo Blankenship
- Extra Points: 38-40
- 1-19 yards: 0-0
- 20-29 yards: 7-7
- 30-39 yards: 12-13
- 40-49 yards: 9-10
- 50+ yards: 1-2
Colts Defense (Base 4-3)
Strengths: Great defensive line. Pass Rush. Stopping the run. Playmaking secondary.
Weaknesses: Pass defense is middle of the pack.
- Points per game allowed: 22.9
- Total offense yards per game allowed: 334.1
- Passing yards allowed: 236
- Rushing yards allowed: 98.1
- Sacks: 33
- Interceptions: 15
Scouting report: LB Darius Leonard leads the team with 108 tackles and has two sacks. Very tough defensive line as Denico Autry, DeForest Buckner, and Justin Houston have all recorded 7.5 sacks each. CB Kenny Moore has four interceptions and 66 tackles.
Kickoff Returners: Isaiah Rodgers
Punt Returner: Nyheim Hines
Scouting report: Isaiah Rodgers is averaging 28.8 yards per kickoff return and has taken one to the house. Nyheim Hines is averaging 8.6 yards per punt return.
Game Day Information
Venue: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA.
Field: Kentucky Blue Grass
Game-time: Sunday, December 27th, at 1:00 pm
TV: CBS (Local on KDKA-TV)
- Announcers: Jim Nantz (play-by-play) Tony Romo (analyst) | Tracy Wolfson (reporter)
Local radio: Pittsburgh- 102.5 WDVE-FM & 970 WBGG-AM
- Announcers: Bill Hillgrove (play-by-play) Tunch Ilkin (analyst) Craig Wolfley (analyst) | Missi Matthews (sideline)
Internet broadcast: Steelers Nation Radio (SNR) on Steelers.com
Weather at kickoff: 37 with some sunshine. Winds out of the South at 7 mph.
Vegas line: Pittsburgh -1
Steelers vs Colts History
Series History: Began in 1950
Overall Record: 25-6
- At home: 15-2
- On the road: 10-4
- Postseason: 5-0
- Streak: Steelers won the last six games.
- Last regular-season meeting: Steelers Win, 26-24 (Nov. 3, 2019)
- Last postseason meeting: Steelers Win, 21-18 (Jan. 15, 2006)
Injury Report (12/26/20)
- Out: LB Ulysees Gilbert III (Ankle), LB Marcus Allen (Stinger), LB Olasunkanmi Adeniyi (Shoulder), K Chris Boswell (Groin)
- Doubtful: None
- Questionable: RB Anthony McFarland (Illness)
- Out: WR Marcus Johnson (Quadriceps), T Braden Smith (NIR), T Anthony Costanzo (Knee/Ankle)
- Doubtful: None
- Questionable: DE Al-Quadin Muhammad (Ankle)
From Midland, "The Basketball Capital of Pennsylvania", located 35 miles NW of Pittsburgh along the Ohio River. This former steel town was home to storied athletes such as Dave Alston, Norm Van Lier, Simmie Hill, and the legendary 1965 Midland High School Basketball Team.
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As Editor of Pittsburgh SportsNation, Mike Drakulich provides top notch opinions and coverage of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pittsburgh Pirates, Pitt Panthers football & basketball, Robert Morris Colonials basketball, and Duquesne Dukes basketball, as well as all sports teams that represent Western Pennsylvania, including WPIAL High School Football.
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