Neither the Indianapolis Colts nor the Pittsburgh Steelers are strangers to close games. Indianapolis fans have been living off Tums and Zantac all season long, as the first-place Colts (5-2) have been living on the edge. Every Colts game this season has been decided by seven points or less for a point differential of only 4.7. The Colts have embodied their head coach's style of stoic aggressiveness, and it’s lead the boys in blue to the top of the AFC South.
Despite losing Ben Roethlisberger for the season in Week 2 — along with their first three games — the Steelers (3-4) have shown their resiliency by winning three of their last four, including a comeback win on "Monday Night Football" against Miami. Sure, none of their wins have come against contending teams (Bengals, Chargers, Dolphins), but even in their losses against superior teams (Ravens, 49ers), the Steelers have proven to be a tough out. Despite the sub-.500 mark, Pittsburgh is still in second place in the AFC North and in the thick of the AFC playoff picture.
Pittsburgh owns a 23-6 all-time mark against the Colts, including wins in their last five matchups.
Indianapolis at Pittsburgh
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 3 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Indianapolis -1
Three Things to Watch
1. Sticking with Rudolph
Surely Mason Rudolph heard the Heinz Field boo birds during the first quarter of Monday's game against Miami. The second-year slinger from Oklahoma State was bad in the first 15 minutes. He threw an interception on his very first throw, completed only one of his six pass attempts. and finished the quarter with a QB rating that only John Blutarsky could respect. Zero. Point. Zero.
Luckily for Rudolph, Mike Tomlin has more confidence in his quarterback than Dean Wormer did with the rest of Delta Tau Chi pledge class of '62. Rudolph responded by leading the Steelers to a come-from-behind win with two touchdown passes and 27 unanswered points.
Ever since Big Ben went down, Rudolph has done a fair job of filling in for the future Hall of Famer. His numbers aren't eye-popping, but certainly respectable — nine touchdowns, three interceptions, a 63 percent completion rate, and a 97.5 QB rating in five starts. Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner has done a good job putting Rudolph in situations to succeed by calling for easy, short-yardage throws away from the middle of the field. Rudolph’s 4.5 average air yards per completion is just north of Luke Falk, Mitchell Trubisky, and Josh Rosen, and only four of his completions on Monday were across the middle.
Rudolph has really been surprisingly good when it matters most: in the red zone and in the fourth quarter. He's an efficient 9-of-11 with two touchdowns and no interceptions in the red zone and completing 65 percent of his passes without any picks in the fourth quarter.
Like most young quarterbacks, Rudolph has struggled against the blitz, when he is only connecting on half of his throws. Look for Frank Reich to dial up a ton of pressure to rattle the young quarterback and for Justin Houston to add to his sack count.
2. Steelers' walking wounded
James Conner had by far his best game of the season Monday night. He ran wild over the Dolphins for 145 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown. But the night didn't end the way it should have, as Conner was hurt near the two-minute warning and left the stadium with his right arm in a sling. Mike Tomlin said the injury is an AC joint issue and Conner was given the Doubtful tag on the final injury report.
To make matters worse, backup running back Benny Snell Jr. has already been ruled out after suffering a knee injury on Monday night. That leaves Jaylen Samuel and Trey Edmunds at running back. Samuels has only 18 carries this season and has missed the last month after having his knee scoped but he was a full practice participant this week and carries no injury designation. Edmunds has only appeared in two games this season and has one rushing attempt.
The Steelers' misfortune is the Colts' treasure, as now even more responsibility likely falls on the arm of the young and unproven Rudolph. Indy's defense struggles against the rush, allowing 4.8 yards per carry, but showed last week how much of a force they can be against the pass — three sacks, 174 passing yards allowed, 76.4 QB rating.
3. Keeping Jacoby upright
Last week was the first time all season that opposing teams were able to overwhelm the Colts' vaunted offensive line and get to Jacoby Brissett. Brissett was on the run from Von Miller & Co. all day, as the Broncos defense sacked the Indianapolis quarterback four times, one of which forced a late fourth-quarter fumble. The Colts' O-line looked flat-out over-matched by Denver's pass rush. Give credit to Brissett's Houdini-like moves to extend a few plays for big yardage and save the Colts' win.
This week, the task at hand doesn't get any easier for the Indy linemen. The Steelers' balanced and relentless pass rush, led by T.J. Watt (6 sacks), Cameron Heyward (4.5), and Bud Dupree (4.0), are tied for sixth in the league in sacks (26). The Steelers' pass rush was able to bring down Ryan Fitzpatrick four times on Monday night, as Pittsburgh shut out the Dolphins in the final three quarters.
Records aside, the one-point spread and each team's point differential explains just how evenly matched these two teams really are. The Colts' 2-1 road record, their ability to squeak out ugly, close wins, and their advantage at the quarterback position give them a slight edge, although not having No. 1 wide receiver T.Y. Hilton because of a calf injury will make things tougher. The X-factor is 46-year–old Adam Vinatieri's wildly inconsistent season (11-for-15 on field goals, 13-for-17 on PATs). He missed another field goal and an extra point last week after going through a case of the yips earlier in the year. This game very well could come down to the unsure foot of the greatest kicker of all-time.
Prediction: Colts 21, Steelers 18
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.