Playoff hopes hang in the balance as Steelers face off against Colts in Week 15

Pittsburgh Steelers, Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers, Steelers / Cooper Neill/GettyImages

In the timeless tradition of Steelers' December magic, the Steelers, once out of the playoff picture, received a boost on Sunday, propelling them back into the heart of the playoff race. This time, it's crunch time – lose, and your season is essentially in the rearview mirror. It's astounding to consider that after Thursday's gut-wrenching loss to the Patriots, this team still has a glimmer of hope, resurrecting their playoff chances.

The Indianapolis Colts find themselves in a similar predicament after a humiliating loss to the Bengals jeopardized their playoff aspirations. These two desperate teams clash on Saturday in what promises to be a playoff-type atmosphere. To underscore the stakes, the loser of this game finds themselves on the outside looking in, with dreams of January football growing increasingly faint.

Mitch Trubisky needs to bounce back

After last Thursday's disappointing offensive performance, there's a clear need for improvement. Mitch Trubisky, in particular, must step up for the Steelers to have a shot at winning. His subpar showing against the Patriots was far from ideal, and he's eager for a chance to bounce back.

One of the major issues throughout the season has been a failure to tailor our offensive approach to the strengths of our players. Asking Trubisky to navigate a Bill Belichick defense from the pocket was proven to be a recipe for disaster.

His success doesn't really come from working within the pocket, especially when dealing with multiple reads. To maximize his impact, the coaching staff should play to his strengths—allowing him to use his athleticism outside the pocket and capitalize on his running ability.

In the NFL, it's crucial for any backup QB to find a rhythm with easy throws and use the run game to set up the pass. Too many times against New England, Trubisky found himself under pressure due to a lack of pocket awareness and moments of panic, leading to forced throws and bad decisions. The Colts, who excel at creating sacks through pressure, will likely exploit these weaknesses. They won't play it safe; instead, they'll be aggressive, aiming to force errors and bad decisions from Trubisky.

To take advantage of the Colts' defensive vulnerabilities, a shift towards a stronger running game is essential, given their struggles in stopping the run. Going back to what has worked for the Steelers in the past is crucial, emphasizing a commitment to the running game for offensive success.

Additionally, Faulkner and Sullivan might need to get creative at some point, creating one-on-one matchups for Pickens and Johnson. The Colts' struggling corners present an opportunity for success in the passing game, making it a key area to focus on.

Teryl Austin needs to create more pressure

Defensively, it appears that Watt and Highsmith will be back on the field, which is positive news, considering both of them went down at some point last week, putting a strain on the depth of the OLB room. Strangely, Teryl Austin doesn't seem to incorporate a rotation for Watt and Highsmith to provide them with some rest.

The lack of sacks and pressures supports this, as these two outside linebackers find themselves fatigued, playing an excessive number of snaps. Another contributing factor to the decrease in sacks and pressures is Austin's reluctance to employ blitzes for some reason. He's been overly conservative, consistently relying on a four-man rush, and it's proven detrimental.

As the defense faces Gardner Minshew on Saturday, there's a need for creativity to make his life difficult and keep him uncomfortable. Injuries to the ILB room over the past couple of weeks have left them vulnerable in coverage, and the Colts are likely to exploit this weakness, just as other teams have targeted the Steelers for struggling against opposing tight ends.

The Colts' quick passing game and use of RPOs will present a challenge, and it will be intriguing to see how the Steelers defend against it. The Colts are a well-coached team, and I anticipate the Steelers' defense having their hands full against a head coach who excels at maximizing offensive potential and generating points.

Playoff hopes depend on Saturday's must win game

Overall, this game is a must-win for both teams, particularly following embarrassing losses. Predicting how the Steelers will respond after their lackluster performances in the past two weeks is challenging. Undoubtedly, Mike Tomlin and the team are aware of the criticisms and heightened expectations, with the pressure mounting for them to secure a much-needed victory.

The upcoming game is anticipated to be a tough battle for both teams, with the outcome hinging on which quarterback can avoid making more mistakes than the other. The hope is that the Steelers can pull off a win, just squeaking by, and keep their season alive.