INDIANAPOLIS – On Sunday night in Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis will face its second 3-4 base defensive opponent of the season.
The Colts saw one at Houston in the season opener under a new defensive coordinator in Wade Phillips. Fast forward to week three, and Indianapolis faces another 3-4 base defense tutored by another long-tenured coordinator, Dick LeBeau. Phillips and LeBeau are two of the foremost defensive strategists in the NFL, and both concoct different challenges for opposing offenses.
The geographic differences of Houston and Pittsburgh are great, and that wide difference can approximate the contrasting natures of the defenses Indianapolis will face in the Texans and Steelers.
"Conceptually, they're the same," said Colts head coach Jim Caldwell. "A 3-4 defense is a 3-4, but they (Pittsburgh) add a little flavor to it because of personnel. That's the thing that, I think, makes a difference in all schemes. Their two outside rushers are incredible athletes that are a different style then what you would see from Mario Williams. He's big, long, and powerful. These guys are more compact, but have great speed, great power and they run extremely fast. That's the thing that adds a little flavor to it."
Part of the success of any defense is using 11 moving parts, and what helps make Pittsburgh a formidable bunch for which to prepare is it augments its base set with the talents in the secondary, notably safety Troy Polamalu.
Caldwell acknowledges Polamalu's use is another factor in prepping for the contest.
"Then you top that (a defense that uses its ingredients) off with a safety, like (Troy) Polamalu, who could end up anywhere at any time, and he's all over the place," said Caldwell. "Those are the things that make it (the Pittsburgh 3-4) a bit different. They come at you a number of different ways, and they give you a number of different looks. They're a fairly complex 3-4, and it's a hybrid. They do a lot of different things with it, and Dick LeBeau does a tremendous job of mixing things up and keeping you guessing. But theirs is a force because of their personnel.
"It's always a challenge from week-to-week, and you have different issues. This week is one where, we're not only making a determination on identification and where they are, but also blocking them as well once you find out and once you get them identified. You'd better be able to pass protect, because they can give you some problems."
The Pittsburgh defensive line starters all weigh at least 285 pounds, while the weight range of the four first-team linebackers goes from 234 to 265 pounds, with each member topping six feet in height. It is a large bunch that brings stiff challenges. Running back Joseph Addai must pass protect for quarterback Kerry Collins in addition to trying to find running room. Addai is impressed with the size of people he must guard against.
"They are known for their defense," said Addai. "When you think of the Pittsburgh Steelers, you think of defense. It's going to be a real big test for us. They have big guys, big, big, big guys. They have big guys everywhere. It's going to be challenge. We'll bring our 'big boy' pads to the show and do what we have to (do) to get a 'W.'
Joe Reitz has started at left guard in the first two games, and those were the first games of his career. The first-year pro from Western Michigan will open his third game this Sunday. He has planned attentively for the contest.
"One thing about Pittsburgh is they're always going to bring something new," said Reitz. "When they bring (blitz) outside linebackers they're bringing (LaMarr) Woodley and (James) Harrison, who are two of the best rushers in the whole NFL. That just makes it even tougher. They have all their blitzes but when they bring them, they're bringing some really, really good players. We just have to be on our toes and spend some extra time in the film room this week to make sure we're on top of things."
Reitz notices the differences between the Houston and Pittsburgh defenses.
"It's a 3-4, but they are a lot different in terms of their defensive linemen and how they play the run," he said. "It's different than Houston. Houston is a little more (about) penetrating guys. Pittsburgh tries to build a flat wall along the line of scrimmage and occupy two blockers. It's the same 3-4 base look, but they definitely do a lot of different things than Houston.
"They are an aggressive defense, they're physical. They're very, very good and have some great players and some great schemes. I guess that sums it up pretty good. It's a real good defense and a big challenge on Sunday, but (it is) one we're looking forward to on Sunday."
Part of any challenge a young player faces in the NFL is composure, and Reitz trusts himself and his teammates, and he must keep his thoughts clear on Sunday night.
"They will bring blitzes from every angle and with all different kinds of guys," said Reitz. "We have to spend some extra time in the film room this week for all the blitzes and people they will use. We have to be prepared for everything."
Tight end Dallas Clark is a veteran of a few battles the Colts have had with Pittsburgh. Clark knows specifically his club must operate efficiently on third downs. It was a problem area last week against Cleveland when the club converted four-of-14 opportunities.
"They're a great team. They have great players and a great coaching staff. They've been together for quite a while. They have a good core (bunch of players). They like to bring a lot of confusion on the defensive side. That's huge," said Clark of being successful on third downs. "That's big in any game, and it will be big in this game especially because of what their defense tries to get off third down. They try to create confusion and get turnovers.
"We also have to understand punting is not a bad thing. We can't force the ball. We can't try to make something happen that might not be there. We can punt and try to get to the next series. We will have to move the ball and make some plays. It's up to us to do a lot of film study so we make sure to know where everyone's at."