The 5: Steelers to watch against the Colts

The Pittsburgh Steelers couldn’t quite pull out a win against the Cincinnati Bengals in NFL Week 11 of the 2022 regular season, and are hoping extra days of practice ahead of their primetime, Monday Night Football game with the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium allowed them to iron out the wrinkles and let more players heal up.

The Colts are dealing with their own issues this season, including the hiring of new head coach Jeff Saturday, making the Week 12 game an interesting AFC matchup. Here are the Steelers players to watch in Indianapolis.

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Najee Harris

It’s been no secret that the Steelers’ lead running back hasn’t been 100 percent this season and has, at times, looked much different than he did during the 2021 NFL season. The run game has begun to open up a bit more for Pittsburgh, and they’ll look for Harris to carry the load.

Counterpart Jaylen Warren suffered a hamstring injury against the Bengals last week and his availability in Week 12 is in question. Although head coach Mike Tomlin told the media that the injury was not significant, Warren was replaced by Benny Snell in last week’s game, and he did not practice on Thursday.

Setting up the run game will be important against the Colts in order to spread Indianapolis’ defense for Kenny Pickett to connect with receivers who’ve been focused on getting more separation from defenders.

Harris is a valuable asset in the passing game as well, making his performance key in this Monday’s game.

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The center position

Last week, center Mason Cole – the anchor of the Steelers’ offensive line – was forced to leave the game due to a foot injury. Cole has dealt with bumps and bruises all season, as Coach Tomlin often calls less serious injuries. In his place, J.C. Hassenauer stepped in for the remainder of the game.

Hassenauer played 56 percent of the offensive snaps and has experience in his favor. “Every week as a backup you prepare to start,” he said this week. “You have to get all the mental preparation down… as if you are going in the game.”

Whether it’s Cole or Hassenauer at center Monday night, the offensive line needs to play a stronger game in both run blocking and pass protection than they did last week to give the rest of the offense to execute well.

“To play in NFL games… to be able to do that during the regular season is tremendous. I give all the glory to God and the blessings he’s given me.” – J.C. Hassenauer

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Alex Highsmith

T.J. Watt is back, but it has been Highsmith over the past weeks that has led the Steelers in sacks. He’s been disruptive in games when the Steelers’ defensive line has held up and not forced Highsmith to help in the middle of the trenches.

The Colts are determined to stick with rookie Bernhard Raimann at left tackle. Raimann allowed two major sacks and drew two penalties last week trying to protect the blind side.

As a converted tight end on an Indy offensive line that has struggled all season, Raimann has often allowed himself to set too deep and allow opposing defensive linemen and outside rushers collapse the pocket.

Highsmith could feast just days after Thanksgiving if Watt, Cameron Heyward, and the Steelers’ defensive line are solid and play their gaps.

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Diontae Johnson

The team’s top receiver last season has been kept relatively quiet this season. Part of that was due to the Steelers offense not being very dynamic or successful. Other factors have included less reps with Pickett at quarterback, opponents double-teaming him, drops, and frustrations with play calling.

Johnson can be a force when things are clicking; fans have witnessed him make many notable plays for Pittsburgh.

Monday, Johnson needs to find a way to be more elusive, work through his routes, and be creative in how he assists Pickett in setting up pivotal plays. It’s time for Johnson to make a splash, and this is a great week to do it.

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