Tomlin: Stopping the run a must this week

There isn't typically a lot of unknown in the NFL, particularly not when it comes to coaching strategy 11 weeks into a season.

At this point, teams are what they are and the play-calling aspect of the game doesn't vary a lot.

But the Steelers' opponent Monday night, the Indianapolis Colts, throw something of a wrench into that equation.

Not only did the Colts (4-6-1) fire their offensive coordinator three weeks ago, they then fired head coach Frank Reich the following week, replacing him with former Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday.

Saturday had not been on the team's coaching staff previously, having worked for the team as an advisor while also performing as an analyst on ESPN. Not only that, but assistant quarterbacks coach Parks Frazier was named the team's play caller, adding another unknown to the equation.

One of the things Saturday did in his first week was to re-install veteran quarterback Matt Ryan, benched by Reich, into the starting lineup. But he's also made getting the ball to All-Pro running back Jonathan Taylor a priority, as well.

After rushing for 161 on 31 carries in a tie with the Houston Texans in Week 1, Taylor averaged just 15.2 carries per game over the next five games in which he played.

Since Saturday and Frazier took over the play calling, Taylor, who led the NFL in rushing last season, has averaged 22 carries per game.

Slowing Taylor this week is a must for the Steelers (3-7).

"It starts with Taylor for us. We haven't been in a stadium with him before, but we respect his talents and his resume, what he's been able to do and put together," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly press conference at the UPMC-Rooney Sports Complex. "We believe quality play for them centers around his exploits and what he's able to do. They had a nice significant win a couple of weeks ago in (Las) Vegas, and I think he ran for 147 (yards).

"There was a commitment again to the run game last week. I think he had 22-plus carries. For us, we have to minimize his impact on the game."

The Raiders played the Colts in Saturday's coaching debut, losing that game 25-20.

There was obviously some unknown for the Raiders in that situation. But with two games with which to look at what Saturday and Frazier have done with the Indianapolis offense, Tomlin is less concerned about the unknown.

"I know Jeff Saturday. I've gotten to know him over the years. I know the position he played, and I would imagine that he has an affinity for establishing the run," Tomlin said. (That's) common-sense analysis, but we also have two games to look at, eight quarters of a body of work to put with the others, so look at things that are the same, to analyze the things that are different. I would imagine it was a big deal for the (Las) Vegas Raiders a couple of weeks ago. With each passing day it becomes less of a deal and more about preparedness and quality of play for all involved."

Fortunately for the Steelers, they seem to have fixed the run-stopping issues that plagued them last season when they finished dead last in the NFL.

After holding the Bengals to 62 yards on 24 carries in their 37-30 loss last Sunday to the Bengals, the Steelers have given up just 91 rushing yards in their past two games, allowing 2.3 yards per carry. It is the fewest rushing yards the team has allowed in a two-game span since the 2010 season.

That has moved the Steelers to seventh in the league in rushing defense at 103.4 yards per game allowed. Perhaps more importantly, they are now allowing just 3.9 yards per attempt, making them one of just five NFL teams holding opponents under 4.0 yards per carry.

That has to continue this week for the Steelers to have an opportunity to win.

"We can't allow them to be on schedule and minimize possession-down football via an effective running game," Tomlin said.

Key moments: The Bengals scored on all three of their trips inside the Pittsburgh 20 on Sunday, something of a rarity for the Steelers' "Red Zone" defense.

It was something of a rarity for the Steelers, who have been one of the stingiest teams in the NFL allowing opponents to score touchdowns inside the 20.

"For the larger part of the year, I know we're top-10. I don't follow those statistics closely," Tomlin said. "But I know we've been really good in that area. That's a function of being in games and keeping yourself in play. You've got to make people settle for field goals. You're fighting for that four-point swing all the time when you're on a short field. And we didn't get it enough."

The three scoring trips by the Bengals dropped the Steelers into a tie for 15th in the NFL in Red Zone defense, allowing opponents to score a touchdown on 54.8 percent of their trips. The team with which they're tied? The Bengals.

Positive outlook on injuries: Wide receiver Miles Boykin (oblique), running back Jaylen Warren (hamstring) and center Mason Cole (foot) all left Sunday's loss with injuries.

But Tomlin said that while all three could be slowed in practice early in the week, the overall outlook for them to play Monday night against the Colts is positive.

"We've got an extra day, and really have got an extra day and a half when you think about Monday night football, so we'll leave the light on for all of these guys and remain hopeful and see where the week leads us," Tomlin said.

• Dale Lolley is co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast

Outside noise: Following Sunday's win over the Steelers, Cincinnati linebacker Germaine Pratt claimed the Steelers offense was predictable.

Tomlin was asked about that Tuesday.

"That's what they say when they're having success. And they don't say it when they're not," Tomlin said. "So I don't worry much about that. I worry about things that are in our control. When I looked at the tape, there were some repeat concepts. But Cincinnati was in some repeat concepts.

"That's football. When it's good on good, particularly in the latter part of the season, I don't know that we were all that surprised by anything they did offensively. So, then it comes down to execution. That's where I want to keep our focus. We've got to execute better, make plays. That's our goal."

Johnson's professionalism: Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson expressed some frustration following Sunday's loss about the Bengals double teaming him to keep him from getting the ball. Johnson finished that game with four receptions for 26 yards on five targets.

Tomlin said he understands Johnson's frustration.

"Let's be frank. Diontae is a known commodity within the group. And so people are going to have an agenda to minimize his impact on the game, particularly in significant moments, possession downs, red zone," Tomlin said. "When you've got a guy that's been a Pro Bowler, and really he's the only one in a young group, that's a component of it. How do you open up opportunities for a guy like that? Other guys make plays. Pickens had a nice game. Freiermuth had a nice game. Those things create opportunities and balance within your attack and opportunities for a guy like Diontae like you mentioned."

With Johnson getting so much attention, rookie receiver George Pickens had four receptions for 83 yards and a touchdown, while tight end Pat Freiermuth made eight grabs for 79 yards.

Tomlin said he's not concerned about Johnson moving forward.

"He's a professional," Tomlin said. "Obviously, there's frustration. He wants to be a component of why we win and a significant component. But he's also a professional. He understands the dynamics of team play and what has to transpire for him to get opportunities. As a young guy, he was the beneficiary of that in the past as people focused their energies on other known guys."