A Capsule Look at this Week's Colts Opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers
Synopsis: The Colts' sampling of AFC contenders continues this weekend.
And after a game against a team that hasn't lost this season, the Tennessee Titans, followed by another game against a team that didn't lose last regular-season – the defending AFC Champion New England Patriots – it gets no easier for the Colts Sunday afternoon.
The Colts, .500 through eight games for the first time in six seasons, on Sunday will play the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team that has emerged in the first half of the season as one of the AFC favorites, and a team that will be six days removed from one of its biggest victories of the season.
The Steelers, as usual, are one of the NFL's top defenses.
As usual, they feature a physical, run-oriented offense.
As usual, they are leading their division.
And as usual, Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said, they are very, very good.
"It's going to be a tough game," Dungy said as the Colts (4-4) prepared to play the AFC North-leading Steelers (6-2) at Heinz Field Sunday at 4:15 p.m.
"They give you a lot of stuff out of the 3-4 (defense). They bring a lot of different people, linebackers, safeties, corners, and you have to be aware of a lot of things. It's a very physical offense running the ball at you. It'll be a different style of offense. But, again, we're getting into a stretch where we're playing all these AFC teams that are right in the hunt.
"It's almost like we have to win every week, and we'll need the same type of performance."
The Steelers have won this season as they often have in recent seasons, with a defense that features one of the NFL's top pass rushes.
After ranking first in the NFL in total defense last season, the Steelers are again ranked No. 1 in the category and they also rank first in sacks with 32, first in yards per play (3.7) and first in defensive red-zone efficiency (30.4).
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, a Pro Bowl selection last season, left the Steelers' victory over Washington this past Monday with a shoulder injury, the latest of several issues Roethlisberger has had with the right shoulder this season. He was replaced Monday by former Jacksonville Jaguars starter Byron Leftwich. Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin said afterward, "Potentially, he (Roethlisberger) was capable of going back in the game. We'll see how he is in the morning."
The Steelers have played through injuries at other positions, too, particularly at running back, where starter Willie Parker missed four games with a knee injury before returning against the Redskins on Monday. Rookie Rashard Mendenhall is also out for the season, and in their absence, Mewelde Moore – who signed in the offseason as a free agent – rushed for 303 yards in three starts.
The game will be played at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, where the Colts have played once – in 2002, when they lost, 28-10, in Head Coach Tony Dungy's first season. The Colts are 1-13 in franchise history in Pittsburgh, with the lone victory coming in 1968, 41-7.
The early weather forecast for Sunday calls for a high of 47 degrees with a 20 percent chance of precipitation.
"You have the combination of what appears to be not great weather . . . that field is always an issue," Colts President Bill Polian said. "I think they have done some things to improve it, but with rain and snow showers, it's probably not very good. . . . And not the least of the obstacles you face are the guys dressed in black and gold, who are a great defensive team with a very difficult, blitzing, 3-4 defense. It's very difficult to solve and very difficult to handle and very difficult to get people open against. They make it very difficult to protect the passer. . . .
"They're 6-2 for a reason – a formidable opponent if we were playing them here as we well know, having lost to them in the playoffs (after the 2005 season) on their Super Bowl run, but they're very, very difficult to play in Pittsburgh.
2008 Record: 6-2, 1st in AFC North.
Head Coach: Mike Tomlin, 2nd season as Steelers and NFL Head Coach (16-8, 16-9 including playoffs).
Last game: The Steelers, a week after losing a fourth-quarter lead in a loss to the New York Giants, fell behind 6-0 early before turning in a dominant defensive effort to rally for a 23-6 victory over the Washington Redskins in Washington on Monday Night Football. Byron Leftwich replaced starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and completed seven of 10 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown in the second half. The Steelers' defense registered seven sacks, tying their season-high, and held Redskins running back Clintonis – the NFL's leading rusher – to 51 yards. A 1-yard sneak by Roethlisberger with :32 remaining in the half gave Pittsburgh a 10-6 lead and the Steelers held Washington out of the end zone on three fourth-quarter trips inside the red zone.
2008 NFL Rankings: Offense – Overall, 25th (283.3 yards per game); Rushing, 20th (101.9 ypg); Passing, 24th (181.4 ypg); Defense – Overall, 1st (234.1 yards per game); Rushing, 3rd (70.1 ypg); Passing, 1st (164.0 ypg).
2008 Leading Passer(s): Ben Roethlisberger (114-198 completions, 1,402 yards, 57.6 pct., 10 TD, 8 INT, 79.6 rating); Byron Leftwich (14-24 completions, 223 yards, 58.3 pct., 2 TD, 0 INT, 117.2 rating).
2008 Leading Rusher(s): Willie Parker (87 carries, 333 yards, 4 TD); Mewelde Moore (69 carries, 320 yards, 3 TD).
2008 Leading Receiver(s): Hines Ward (34 receptions, 445 yards, 5 TD), Santonio Holmes (25 receptions, 390 yards, 2 TD), Heath Miller (21 receptions, 240 yards, 1 TD).
2008 Leading Sacker(s): James Harrison (10), LaMarr Woodley (9.5).
2008 Turnover Breakdown: Plus-1 (12 forced, 11 committed).
First-round draft choice: Rashard Mendenhall, running back. With the 23rd overall selection of the 2008 NFL Draft, the Steelers selected Mendenhall, a running back from the University of Illinois.
Mendenhall, who rushed for 1,681 yards and 17 touchdowns at Illinois last season, sustained a fractured shoulder in a late September victory over Baltimore and is out for the season on injured reserve. He started one game and had 58 yards on 19 carries this season.
Key free agents acquired: Keyaron Fox (Kansas City), LB; Justin Hartwig (Carolina), C; Mewelde Moore (Minnesota), RB.
Key free agents lost: Alan Faneca (New York Jets), G; Clark Haggans (Arizona), LB; Brian St. Pierre (Arizona), QB.
2008 Review: The Steelers, after winning the AFC North last season, have gone through the first eight games of the season unbeaten not only against their division, but against the AFC. Their lone losses of the season have been to NFC teams, the Philadelphia Eagles and the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
Pittsburgh opened the season with back-to-back victories over Houston and Cleveland, then lost to the Eagles, 15-6, in Philadelphia in Week 3. They beat the Baltimore Ravens at home and the Jacksonville Jaguars on the road before a Week 6 bye, after which they moved their record to 5-1 with a 38-10 victory at Cincinnati.
The Giants ended the Steelers' three-game winning streak with a come-from-behind victory in Pittsburgh on October 26, then the Steelers went on the road to beat Washington, 23-6, this past Monday.
Last time in Playoffs: 2007.
Last time in Super Bowl: 2005.
Super Bowl Championships: 1974, 1975, 1978, 1979, 2005.
2007 Pro Bowl Selections: Alan Faneca, G; James Harrison, LB; Willie Parker, RB; Troy Polamalu, S; Ben Roethlisberger, QB; Casey Hampton, NG.
Quotable I: "We all know Ben's the guy. Ben's the quarterback of this football team, and I know I was going to be there in case something happened. Something happened today."
--- Steelers Quarterback Byron Leftwich
Quotable II: "To come in anyone else's house and get a victory and head back home for the straight home games is real big It's putting a stretch on us and we're going to be up for the challenge."
--- Steelers Wide Receiver Santonio Holmes