A look at what the Steelers will be up against on Thursday night at the Indianapolis Colts:
OUTTA LUCK:** The Colts lose more than numbers as long as quarterback Andrew Luck remains in the NFL's concussion protocol, more than just someone who knows how to throw the ball.
Consider former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning's assessment of Luck during the CBS broadcast of the Colts' 24-17 victory over Tennessee on Nov. 20: "Andrew's always going to have that threat to make plays with his legs. I think the defense is always going to be just a little bit uncomfortable playing against him because he can hurt you so many ways."
That goes beyond Luck's 246 rushing yards (second on the team). His ability to react to pressure and extend plays and otherwise respond when things break down is what makes defenses uncomfortable.
Presumably, there's an accompanying comfort zone for the offense that would also be lost without Luck.
FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLZ: Backup quarterback Scott Tolzien has no such distinguishing characteristic that's universally recognized in NFL circles. He's a 6-foot-3, 205-pound former undrafted free agent who has thrown more than one pass in an NFL season just once since coming out of Wisconsin in 2011. That was in 2013, when Tolzien went 55-for-90 (61.1 percent), for 717 yards, with one touchdown and five interceptions and went 0-1-1 in two games as a starter for Green Bay. He was initially signed by San Diego and has also been with San Francisco. Tolzien was on the 49ers' roster as the No. 3 quarterback for the team that reached Super Bowl XLVII but he has only appeared in a game with the Packers. He joined the Colts prior to this season.
FEED THE PLAY-MAKERS:** With our without Luck, the Colts have three wide receivers that have covered 40 yards in 4.3 seconds (T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief and Phillip Dorsett. And even with Luck, Indianapolis had a penchant for turning catch-and-run plays into big plays. The Colts have no issue turning a crossing route into a chunk play if that's what it takes as opposed to taking shots down the field (Indianapolis isn't against the latter).
Chunks-at-a-time gains were critical in the Colts establishing a 21-0 lead on their first three possessions against Tennessee. One was a 33-yard pass-interference penalty on a deep ball to Dorsett. Another was a 49-yard dump-down to running back Frank Gore that Luck settled for on what was originally intended to be a deep throw to the post )it was double-covered) after Luck had accepted a lateral from Gore, who had taken a Wildcat snap to start the play. And the third was a 50-yard reception by Dorsett on a crossing route the gained about 37 yards after the catch.
That's how the Colts roll.
Indianapolis has allowed 35 sacks, second to Cleveland's 38 (the Browns have played one more game). Without Luck's mobility and escapability behind an offensive line that starts two rookies (center Ryan Kelly and right tackle Joe Haeg), the Colts would seemingly be even more interested in the ball coming out of the pocket quickly and getting into the hands of their receivers as fast as possible.
Gore can contribute big plays in the passing game, as well. And tight end Jack Doyle, who sometimes lines up at fullback, is second on the team with 37 receptions.
FAMILIAR FACES:** The defense is populated by players the Steelers recognize from previous encounters with other teams as well as with the Colts, including linebacker Erik Walden (Green Bay), linebacker D'Qwell Jackson (Cleveland), defensive tackle Arthur Jones (Baltimore), cornerback Patrick Robinson (New Orleans, San Diego) and strong safety Mike Adams (Cleveland). And pass-rusher Robert Mathis has been an Indianapolis institution since 2003.
But Mathis and Adams are 35, Jackson is 33, Walden is 31 and Jones is 30, as is nickel cornerback Darius Butler.
Indianapolis isn't a speed defense.
The Colts can rush the passer on occasion (Walden has eight of Indianapolis' 22 sacks) but they're still No. 32 in pass defense (284.5 yards per game).
SOMETHING SPECIAL: Punter Pat McAfee is No. 1 in the NFL in gross punting average (50.3 yards per) and No. 4 in net punting average (43.0). McAfee and running back Josh Ferguson also successfully executed an onside kick on Oct. 23 at Tennessee. Kicker Adam Vinatieri is 20-for-21 on field goal attempts, including 5-for-5 from 50-plus yards. His miss from 42 yards last Sunday against Tennessee snapped Vinatieri's NFL-record streak of consecutive field goals made at 44. Running back Jordan Todman has a 35.0 average on nine kickoff returns, including a 99-yard touchdown and a 61-yard effort on Nov. 6 at Green Bay.