What to watch for Sunday when the Colts travel to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers (8 p.m., 1070 the Fan):
After slicing and dicing the Rams while playing most of the first half in the preseason opener, Andrew Luck faces a very different challenge this week. Though linebacker James Harrison (knee) is out, the Steelers have a much more physical and aggressive defense. Teams generally don’t show all their cards in the preseason so it’s unlikely the Steelers will use a kitchen-sink approach to blitzing the rookie but it’s likely they will go after him early and often to test his ability to make hot reads under pressure. They may also test Seth Olsen, who likely will fill in for injured veteran Mike McGlynn (ankle) at right guard.
With Mewelde Moore and Delone Carter both out with rib injuries, starter Donald Brown and backup Vick Ballard could carry most of the load in the running game. Ballard led the team in rushing against the Rams but the numbers were modest (28 yards on six carries). The Colts did run more than they passed (32-31) against St. Louis and balance will be critical to keeping defenses honest and prevent them from loading up against luck.
For a team that essentially did not have a fourth wide receiver last season, the Colts have a nice battle shaping up this year as draft picks T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill have looked good, as have Quan Cosby, Kris Adams and Jeremy Ross. All have taken advantage of the absence of veteran Donnie Avery (bruised thigh), making this group one of the most interesting competitions of camp.
Cory Redding said the Colts were “very vanilla” against the Rams and aren’t likely to spice it up much more this week, so you’ll have to wait until the regular season rolls around to get a real taste of the true personality of the hybrid 3-4. Keep an eye on Dwight Freeney for however long he’s in the game (probably not more than one or two series) to see not only where he lines up — it could be right or left, end or tackle, up or down. Robert Mathis has played a more traditional outside linebacker role. Jerry Hughes, another converted end, had two sacks against the Rams and will get plenty of opportunity to measure his progress.
With Pat Angerer out, former CFL star Jerrell Freeman will get the first crack at filling the inside linebacker slot but ex-Eagles Moise Fokou and Greg Lloyd as well as young Mario Harvey could get looks with the first unit. Justin King strengthened his grip on the left cornerback position with a solid outing against the Rams but cannot afford any slippage.
The aforementioned battle at wide receiver could be decided in the return game. Both Hilton and Cosby had punt return opportunities against the Rams, though neither gained much. Punter Pat McAfee has never attempted a field goal during the regular season but has been doing so extensively during training camp and made a 31-yarder against the Rams. He isn’t going to unseat Adam Vinatieri, but could provide an interesting long-range option.
After an impressive performance in the 38-3 rout of the Rams, this young team hits the road for the first time and will face an elite opponent in an intimidating environment. Injuries will be a factor for both teams as the Colts will be without at least two starters (Avery and Angerer) while the Steelers are missing Harrison, nose tackle Casey Hampton (knee), fullback David Johnson (knee), wide receiver Mike Wallace (holdout), running backs Rashard Mendenhall (knee) and Isaac Redman (groin) as well as tackle Max Starks (knee).
· “I think we’ll try to extend them a little bit. You always try to extend them in the second one and try to get a quarter-and-a-half, two quarters for most of the guys. So we’ll look for a little bit of extended playing time this second ballgame.” – head coach Chuck Pagano on playing time for the starters
· “I’ve got so many other things. I just see the ball spinning out of hands and being caught by receivers so I just figure at the end of the day, it’s a pretty good stat.” – Pagano on Luck’s statistics
· “I always say you make your biggest jump from your first preseason game to your second preseason game so we’re looking obviously to get better in all areas. If we can go out there and do the things we talk about doing, running the ball, stopping the run, taking care of the football, playing well on third down on both sides of the football, scoring points in the red area, taking care of the football down there and those type of things and then finishing strong in the fourth quarter, then we’ll be happy.” – Pagano
· “Pittsburgh is going to be a good test for us. They’re a defense that throws a lot of stuff at you, so we are definitely going to have to have our best foot forward and be ready for it.” – Reggie Wayne
· “Good teams are able to win on the road, so I’m looking forward to building on what we did in the first game and getting better.” – Dwayne Allen