8:20 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 25, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis; TV: WTHR-13. Radio: ESPN 1070-AM, HANK 97.1-FM
By Phillip Wilson
The Indianapolis Star
September 21, 2011
Ben Roethlisberger(notes) #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers hands the ball off to Rashard Mendenhall(notes) #34 for a touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks during the game on September 18, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
PHIL B.'S PREDICTION: STEELERS 24, COLTS 13
What was supposed to be a marquee primetime matchup on national TV has been reduced by the injury absence of Colts QB Peyton Manning to a test of can the home team keep it close? It’s not like Pittsburgh has started out like reigning AFC champions, but the Steelers rebounded from a 35-7 opening loss at Baltimore with a seemingly routine 24-0 home shutout of Seattle. The Steelers responsible for making the tackles considered their bounce-back triumph a reminder to critics that their defenders aren’t over the hill just yet. Safety Troy Polamalu and outside linebacker James Harrison are still solid players and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau dials up blitzes like few in the game.
The question is quite simple: How will QB Kerry Collins handle the pressure. He’s hung onto the ball too long at times in his two starts, but the offensive line has had its share of leaks, too. The Colts’ only two touchdowns so far have come when trailing by double digits in the fourth quarter. In other words, the Colts have finally got the ball in the end zone when opposing defenses have been protecting big leads with prevent-style schemes. It doesn’t bode well for Collins, who has had four fumbles in two games. The Steelers will be coming hard and it’s up to the passer and his line to do something to discourage Pittsburgh’s aggressive behavior.
If there’s a crack in the Steel City team’s armor, it could be on its offensive line. The Steelers are thin there, starting a rookie at one tackle spot. QB Ben Roethlisberger has been banged up, taken six sacks and thrown three interceptions. Look for Pittsburgh to revert to its roots with a power run game. RB Rashard Mendenhall has just 111 yards, 3.6 yards per carry. His backup, Isaac Redman, is averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Both have TDs and runs of at least 20 yards. So to take some of the pressure off blocking the Colts’ Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, the Steelers will look to wear out the smaller, speed defense with some good, old-fashioned pounding. It’s worked for others against the Colts in the past.
If the Colts can force some turnovers, then this game won’t be as ugly as some Indy fans fear. It sounds like rah-rah high school stuff to suggest the Colts have a lot of character in their locker room, but it’s true. It’s meaningless to rationalize any positives in an 0-2 start. It’s about results. And this is a chance, however far-fetched it might seem, for the Colts to knock off a Super Bowl contender and instill some confidence that not all is lost without Manning. That said, the gut feel is that Pittsburgh will win out because the visitors can put the clamps on Collins and squeeze out enough points against a game but outmanned defense.
COLTS' RUN OFFENSE VS. STEELERS' RUN DEFENSE
Lost in all the offensive ineptitude is the fact the Colts have run the ball well so far. Go figure. Joseph Addai is averaging 4.7 yards per carry and rookie Delone Carter is at 3.9 ypc with a team-best 18-yard rush. But the Steelers’ 3-4 can be stingy. The 100.5 yards allowed per game is higher than normal. But expect that number to come down this season. EDGE: STEELERS.
COLTS' PASS OFFENSE VS. STEELERS' PASS DEFENSE
QB Kerry Collins is ranked among the NFL’s worst passers, he’s completed just 50.7 percent of 69 passes, taken five sacks and fumbled four times. Pittsburgh has six sacks and blitzes from all angles, as evidenced by the fact six Steelers have contributed to that sack total. The Colts must throw quick-hit passes, screens and do something to help neutralize the blitzes. EDGE: STEELERS.
STEELERS' RUN OFFENSE VS. COLTS' RUN DEFENSE
It wasn’t until the Browns’ Peyton Hillis broke a 24-yard TD run in the final quarter that the Colts’ run defense really cracked last week. Up until then, Colts tacklers held their own. But the numbers don’t lie. The Colts are allowing 136.5 rush yards per game. Pittsburgh is averaging just 95 yards per game, but 3.7 per carry. The Steelers will look to pound it. EDGE: STEELERS.
STEELERS' PASS OFFENSE VS. COLTS' PASS DEFENSE
The key to the game, probably, because the Colts’ best defensive weapons are Pro Bowl pass rushers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. If they can’t get constant pressure on Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, who has taken six sacks, a suspect secondary will be exposed. WR Mike Wallace has emerged as a go-to guy with 16 catches for 233 yards. EDGE: STEELERS.
The Colts’ Adam Vinatieri has hit four-of-five FGs. Pat McAfee is averaging 48.9 yards per punt and as a kickoff specialist has four touchbacks in eight chances. But the Colts struggle in coverage and returning. The Steelers’ Shaun Suisham has four touchbacks in seven kickoffs. The Steelers’ Antonio Brown averages 31.5 yards per kickoff return. EDGE: EVEN.
Both are Tony Dungy disciples, the Steelers’ Mike Tomlin and the Colts’ Jim Caldwell. Difference is, Tomlin has won once and lost once in the Super Bowl. Caldwell has lost in his only trip. The hard-nosed Tomlin is an ideal fit for the Steel City’s team. But Colts fans are constantly questioning if the mild-mannered Caldwell is the right fit for his team. EDGE: STEELERS.