INDIANAPOLIS – Chuck Pagano has never been one to play by the numbers.
And he’s not starting now.
So rather than remind his players of what happened the last three times Pittsburgh and Indianapolis met, Pagano skipped right through the intros and got down to business.
“I could throw those (game tapes) up there. I mean, those guys know what it is,” Pagano said. “Everybody understands what’s coming to town. We’ve talked about it. You don’t need to beat a dead horse. We’ve got to play better.”
A lot better.
Since taking the Colts’ job in 2012, Pagano, the former Baltimore Ravens coordinator, has faced the Steelers three times. Indy has lost all three by a cumulative score of 124-51, the last two coming by a total of 56 points.
Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown have masterfully dissected the Colts’ secondary, turning potentially competitive games into blowouts. When they get their next shot Sunday, the tale of the tape doesn’t look much better. Indy’s pass defense is ranked No. 31 and the Colts (3-6) cut their top cornerback, Vontae Davis , on Thursday.
But the AFC North-leading Steelers (6-2) haven’t exactly been clicking on all cylinders yet.
While Brown leads the league in receptions (57) and yards (835) and Le’Veon Bell is third in rushing (760 yards), Roethlisberger has thrown 10 touchdown passes, nine interceptions, and is ranked among the bottom fourth of the league’s starting quarterbacks.
The bigger problem has come in the red zone, where the Steelers’ are ranked 31st in touchdown percentage at 41.4. The Colts are just ahead of Pittsburgh, which still hasn’t topped the 30-point mark.
“That’s our goal offensively. We haven’t been able to do that yet,” Roethlisberger said. “So, we’d like to do what we can and put as any points as we can on the board because that takes pressure off of our defense.”
What’s the fix?
Perhaps having two weeks to prepare for the Colts. Or maybe just another date in Indianapolis.
“A lot of guys weren’t here for those games and that’s probably a good thing,” safety Darius Butler said. “Personally, they’ve beat up on us a little bit over the last few years, and you play this game for respect.”
Here are some other things to watch Sunday:
More Martavis? The Steelers benched mercurial wide receiver Martavis Bryant against Detroit, punishment for a social media outburst that included a shot at rookie teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster. Bryant will likely return to the lineup in some fashion against the Colts. That’s not a terrible idea because Bryant has nine receptions for 197 yards and three touchdowns in two games against Indy. Smith-Schuster took advantage of Bryant’s absence by catching seven passes for 193 yards and a score in a win over the Lions.
“We have a lot of weapons out there and I’m excited to see what happens,” Roethlisberger said. “Just got to make sure I get them the ball.”
The streak: Indianapolis has had one of the most stable starting quarterback situations in football since 1998. It would be hard to tell against the Steelers.
These teams have met six times since 2008 and the Colts have started a different quarterback in every game: Peyton Manning in 2008, Kerry Collins in 2011, Andrew Luck in 2014, Matt Hasselbeck in 2015, and Scott Tolzien last season. On Sunday, Jacoby Brissett will join the list.
“That’s wild,” Brissett said.
The Steelers like what they’ve seen on film of the Colts’ current starter.
“He’s getting it. He’s not really turning over the ball. I think that’s why they really liked him in New England,” Pittsburgh cornerback Joe Haden said.
Splash pad: The Steelers are off to their best start since 2011 despite a workmanlike approach. They’ve not only struggled to score, they only have 11 takeaways. Tomlin believes the thin line between a good season and a great one will be the ability for Pittsburgh to create more “splash” plays.
“We’ve had splash play opportunities on offense over the first half of the year that I think could have made our journey easier,” Tomlin said. “We’ve had splash plays on defense missed ... So those are just two specific areas of where we would like to focus moving forward: the turnover ratio and producing splash.”
Line dance: The Colts have used five different starting offensive line combinations this season, and they could have another one this week if Denzelle Good is cleared to play.
Good started the opener at right tackle but hasn’t played since because of an injured wrist. The Colts like what they’ve seen from Good’s replacement, Joe Haeg, but they could move Good to right guard, where rookie Kyle Kalis started last week.
Indy has allowed a league-high 36 sacks.