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INDIANAPOLIS – Starting a season 0-2 is unfamiliar territory for Indianapolis, an organization that has made nine straight playoff appearances. Looking for their first win in 2011, the Colts will find themselves in a familiar situation of playing in prime-time Sunday evening against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Since 2002, the Colts are 15-6 on Sunday Night and in the last four seasons have a combined 16-5 regular-season record in prime-time.
"It's a great time, because you know everyone's watching," cornerback Jerruad Powers said. "Your hometown, other teams, other players, friends, and family, and it's a time that you can show your ability and go out there and play and have a lot of fun. It should be like that every week. But when you have that note in your head that, 'This is prime-time,' a prime-time game on Sunday Night Football and everybody's going to be watching us. It will be a lot of fun."
The opposition Sunday night will be a familiar foe to the Colts in Mike Tomlin's Steelers. The Colts and Steelers have combined to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl five of the past six years.
Both Tomlin and Colts head coach Jim Caldwell come from the Tony Dungy tree of coaching and were together back in the early 2000s in Tampa Bay.
"We actually came to Tampa at exactly the same time and the same year, and I really got to know those guys pretty well," Caldwell said. "Alan Williams, Mike (Tomlin) and myself, I think we were the three new guys on staff that particular year, and we got along well. They're a bit younger than I am, obviously. Nevertheless, you could tell that he had all of the things that you look for in a quality head coach. He was very smart, certainly understood concepts and people extremely well and was an excellent communicator. So we've been able to keep in touch over the years."
The Steelers come into Sunday evening's game with a record of 1-1 after shutting out the Seattle Seahawks, 24-0, last weekend.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger moved to 5-0 in home openers and was 22-of-30 for 298 yards passing against the Seahawks. At 6-5 and 241 pounds, Roethlisberger is one of the toughest quarterbacks in the league to bring down. Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney had a sack and a forced fumble last week against Cleveland, but he knows they face a new challenge on Sunday night.
"Ben makes so many plays with his feet," Freeney said. "When things break down as an offense, he does a great job, probably as good as or better than anyone I've seen, I mean he's up there, as far as making plays and buying time."
Against Seattle, wide receiver Mike Wallace tied a career-high with eight receptions for 126 yards and a touchdown.
A pair of veterans in the passing game complements Wallace with fellow receiver Hines Ward and tight end Heath Miller.
Ward holds 15 different franchise records in the reception department and is known as one of the best blocking wide receivers in the NFL.
The Steelers' mindset has been stopping the run throughout much of the franchise history, and the 2011 unit is no different. Tomlin's defense allowed only 31 yards rushing against the Seahawks on 13 attempts.
Since 2007, the Steelers have allowed the fewest points in the NFL.
"Pittsburgh has the kind of defense that you always have to be ready for anything," Colts quarterback Kerry Collins said. "They certainly have a variety of blitzes that you have to prepare for during the week. If they're not the toughest defense to prepare for, then they're definitely one of the toughest."
On the other side of things, one emphasis for the Colts all week has been producing in the red zone. The Colts settled for three field goals in week two against the Browns falling, 27-19.
The Colts rushing game has been productive through the first two weeks, but running back Joseph Addai knows the offense must finish opportunities in the red zone.
"Just getting it in the end zone. I don't think it's a secret. It's really just doing what we do, and I think that's one of those areas that we're having problems with," Addai said. "We're able to move the ball and get it down there, but just getting it in the red zone. I think we have to focus more on that, and that's what we've been doing this week."
With the Colts looking for their first win of the season, they can draw of the fact knowing that since 1990, 22 teams have made the playoffs after losing their first two games.
First things first, though, and that is another game in prime-time for Indianapolis, this time against the defending AFC champions.
"It's a nationally-televised game against the defending AFC champs, so if you can't get up for this game then no one can," Powers said. "Everybody's excited and we're ready to get back to work. Last week's behind us and we're worried about Pittsburgh."
Colts 24, Steelers 20 – November 9, 2008
Forty years since their last win in Pittsburgh, the Colts rallied from a 10-point deficit for what would be their second of nine straight victories to close out the 2008 regular season.
Manning had three touchdowns on the afternoon as the Colts erased a 17-7 deficit for a 24-20 victory at Heinz Field. Manning hit 21-of-40 passes for 240 yards and three touchdowns. His 65-yard pass to Wayne squared the game in the first quarter. Keiwan Ratliff pirated a Roethlisberger pass just before the half, and Manning's two-yard toss to Clark six seconds prior to intermission tightened the count to 17-14.
Indianapolis tied the game with a third-quarter field goal, then made a goal-line stand in the final period to force a Pittsburgh field goal with 7:57 remaining. Tim Jennings intercepted another Steelers pass moments later and Manning navigated the club for the winning score, a 17-yard pass to Dominic Rhodes with 3:04 left in regulation. Pittsburgh moved goal-ward, but Melvin Bullitt ended the game at the gun with an end-zone interception of Roethlisberger.
The Colts defense neutralized the Steelers running attack only allowing 59 yards on 27 attempts. Defensive end Dwight Freeney had a pair of sacks to along with a forced fumble.
Harrison caught three passes against the Steelers, marking his 184th consecutive game with a reception, then the longest streak to start an NFL career. It was the 50th time Manning had three or more touchdown passes, tying him with Brett Favre and Dan Marino as the only NFL quarterbacks to achieve that feat.
Colts running game against the Steelers rush defense: Through the first two weeks of 2011, the Colts have received a boost in the running department thanks in part to fourth-round draft pick Delone Carter. Addai (22) and Carter (18) have combined for 40 attempts and are averaging a combined 4.4 yards per attempt. That running game will be put to the test again on Sunday. Pittsburgh has allowed a 4.6 rushing average through two games. Last week against Seattle, however, they allowed 31 yards rushing (2.4 average) and are coming off a season in which they recorded the third-best rush defense performance in league history at just 62.8 yards per game.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger against the Colts defense: Last week against the Browns, the Colts were able to force four fumbles but only recovered one. Forcing turnovers is always atop the keys for the Colts defense and how it lines up is to be seen. Defensive tackle Fili Moala and linebacker Gray Brackett missed time last week and a number of players had practice time affected during the week. Roethlisberger was 22-of-30 for 298 yards last week against the Seahawks and has three very productive threats in the passing game with wide receivers Mike Wallace and Hines Ward and with tight end Heath Miller.
-Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne needs two catches for 800 in his career and 80 yards for 11,000.
-Colts quarterback Kerry Collins has a 3-1 career record against the Steelers while throwing five touchdowns and just one interception in those games.
-The Colts are 13-4 at Lucas Oil Stadium under head coach Jim Caldwell.
-Since 1999, Indianapolis' 138-56 regular season record is the top among all NFL teams while the Steelers come in at third with a record of 122-71-1.
-The Colts are tied for the league lead with 19 playoffs wins since 1999 with the Steelers coming in at fourth in the NFL.
-Since 2006, the Colts have allowed the fewest passing yards per game with 189.9 and the Steelers come in at third with 194.5 a game.
-The Steelers have won seven of their past nine road games.
-Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger needs four touchdowns to join Hall-of-Famer Terry Bradshaw as the only players in franchise history with 150 touchdowns.
-The Steelers led the NFL with 48 sacks in 2010.
-The Steelers 62.8 rushing yards allowed per game in 2010 ranks third among all NFL teams since 1970.
Colts head coach Jim Caldwell (on the Steelers 3-4 defense and how it compares to Houston's 3-4 defense):
"Conceptually, they're the same. A 3-4 defense is a 3-4, but they 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 than 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. Then you top that off with a safety, like (Troy) Polamalu, who could end up anywhere at any time, and he's all over the place. Those are the things that make it 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."
Colts head coach Jim Caldwell (on talking to the players about bringing down quarterback Ben Roethlisberger):
"Number one, he's big and powerful, but he's also elusive as well, certainly, within the pocket. You'll see, from time-to-time, he threw a deep pass against Seattle where everybody on the perimeter thought he was down and he kind of shrugged off another tackler and ended up completing a fairly long pass that certainly flipped the field on Seattle. He's constantly (making those throws), and all throughout his career he's been able to do that. He has such a strong arm that sometimes he can have a guy hanging on him and still be able to get it out. You have to, when you get ahold of him, make certain that you bring along some company as well. He's a big, physical guy."
Colts quarterback Kerry Collins (on Pittsburgh's defense):
"Pittsburgh has the kind of defense that you always have to be ready for anything. They certainly have a variety of blitzes that you have to prepare for during the week. If they're not the toughest defense to prepare for, then they're definitely one of the toughest."
Colts cornerback Jerraud Powers(on playing in prime-time):
"It's a great time, because you know everyone's watching. Your hometown, other teams, other players, friends, and family, and it's a time that you can show your ability and go out there and play and have a lot of fun. It should be like that every week. But when you have that note in your head that, 'This is prime-time,' a prime-time game on Sunday Night Football and everybody's going to be watching us. It will be a lot of fun."
Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri(on his general thoughts about the Pittsburgh game):
"This is a great challenge for us, because Pittsburgh is a very, very good team. They've been a very good team for a lot of years. We know how good their defense is, we know how good of a quarterback (Ben) Roethlisberger is, and all of their talent. They've got a great running back. We know that they're a great team, so we know that we are going to have to play well, too. It's a good place that you (observers) all can sit back and judge our team when the game is over, but we're going to play a lot better than we've been playing. We're going to make a lot of improvements."
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin(on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger):
"He's doing great. I think the thing that distinguishes Ben from any other quarterback, at least that I've been around, is his competitive spirit. We're in a competitive game, of course, at this level, but he is uniquely competitive. I think that there's not anyone that's ever played with him that would ever question that about his game. I think that's one of the things that make him so unique."
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin(on the standing of the team at 1-1):
"We're going into week three. All teams are finding themselves at this point. I don't think anyone is certain of what kind of football team that they are or what they can expect from themselves. That's the nature of September football. I think all teams go through that in the beginning of the season. Hopefully, we continue to be a team on the rise. Last Sunday's performance is more indicative of what we're capable of, opposed to the first one."
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (on his assessment of the offense through two games):
"Struggled and got a little bit better. I think it was a good wake-up call, as much as you hate to lose, it was a good wake-up call coming into that first game and kind of getting destroyed offensively. We did really good things in the preseason games, and we were feeling pretty high about ourselves. Some of the young guys, maybe, were awfully high on themselves and things like that. So it was a good wake-up call for us. Maybe we weren't as good as we thought we were, or we just needed to play a little better."
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger(on the offensive line and how the new pieces are developing together):
"It's coming along. It seems like that's kind of our theme of every year and the story. It's, 'Offensive line: guys getting hurt, guys filling in.' It's kind of started that way already this year with Willie Colon, obviously, getting hurt again, and now Chris Kemoeatu not playing last week. I think the great thing is when you have guys stepping-up and playing. Whether it's a rookie in Marcus Gilbert or it's a guy that's a little more experienced like Ramon Foster, you have to be able to have those guys step-up and play. I think they did a great job last week. As for this week, we know Marcus will be in there, but Ramon, we're not sure of. It's tough for those guys, because they have to know the guys to their right and their left so well in order to mesh and play so well together. It's a lot on them to know their neighbor."
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger(on part of him missing the fact that he won't be facing Peyton Manning):
"Yes and no. As a quarterback and as a guy that respects this league, respects Peyton and the player and competitor that he is, and the fraternity that is the quarterback position, you never like to see a guy be injured or hurt. I wish nothing but the best for him and his health and recovery. But, also, you have to respect the fact that he is one of the best in the game, and any time a guy like that is not playing it, obviously, bodes well for your team. (You have) a little more confidence for your guys, because Peyton is one of the best. That being said, I believe Kerry Collins is a great quarterback with lots of experience. I know that he'll be more than capable of filling in."