Monday Night Football Preview: Steelers, Colts each hanging by a thread in AFC Playoff hunt

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Darron Cummings/AP/Shutterstock (13631505aw) Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor (28) is introduced before an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles in Indianapolis Eagles Colts Football, Indianapolis, United States – 20 Nov 2022

Monday Night Football Preview: Steelers, Colts each hanging by a thread in AFC Playoff hunt

Pittsburgh Steelers (3-7) at Indianapolis Colts (4-6-1)

Time/TV: 7:15 p.m. CT/ESPN

The Indianapolis Colts haven’t beaten the Pittsburgh Steelers in 14 years, a streak they’ll hope to break at home on Monday Night Football. Indianapolis is 1-1 since hiring Jeff Saturday to replace Frank Reich before Week 10, a decision made by owner Jim Irsay and that was questioned by countless members of the media. The Colts are still lingering around the outskirts of the AFC Playoff hunt, and a win over Pittsburgh is a must-have if they’re going to have any chance. The Steelers would almost certainly need to win out to sneak their way into the playoffs at this point, a tall task for a team struggling on offense with a rookie quarterback.

The Steelers were a trendy pick to manage an upset last week over the Cincinnati Bengals but fell flat in what developed into a shootout in the fourth quarter. In order for Pittsburgh to be competitive, they need to keep games within reach by limiting possessions and letting its defense lead the way instead. The Steelers have not scored more than 23 points in any of their three wins this year and are averaging just 17 points per game on the season.

Luckily for Pittsburgh, Indianapolis is often most comfortable in low-scoring rock fights as well. The Colts’ 15.7 points per game average on offense ranks them 31st in the NFL and certainly hasn’t been enough. Indianapolis has lost four of their last five, but is getting healthier on offense. Matt Ryan’s return to the starting role sparked the offense to a better performance two weeks ago. Running back Jonathan Taylor’s return to full strength has paired well with Jeff Saturday’s seemingly run-heavy offensive game plan. Given Pittsburgh’s sixth-ranked rush defense and 31st-ranked pass defense, it may make a bit more sense for Saturday to call on Matt Ryan to make plays more often Monday night.

On a positive note for the Steelers, there have recently been glimpses of offensive competency. Kenny Pickett is building a solid rapport with fellow rookie George Pickens, and Najee Harris has run for 90+ yards in each of the last two games. Against Indianapolis’ banged-up front seven, that might be all Pittsburgh needs to keep things competitive in what should be a low-scoring affair. Quarterback Kenny Pickett has also begun to limit turnovers more effectively, throwing zero interceptions over the last two games after throwing eight in his first five starts.

In a matchup of struggling offenses, Monday night’s winner will very likely be whichever of the two teams does a better job of avoiding turnovers and consistently producing positive yardage in the run game. In theory, turnover regression ought to work in favor of the Colts, who have given the ball away eight more times than they’ve taken it away – but with T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick both healthy and on the field for Pittsburgh, there are no promises that the problem won’t get worse before it gets better for Indy. Both defenses should be in an excellent spot to limit scoring, and whoever reaches 20 points first just might come away with a win they desperately need.

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