A Capsule Look at Sunday's Colts-Steelers Game
COLTS (4-4) vs. STEELERS (6-2)
Sunday, 4:15 p.m. EDT
Surface: DD GrassMaster
Colts – Tony Dungy, seventh season as Colts Head Coach (77-27, 84-32 including playoffs) and 12th season as NFL Head Coach (131-69, 140-78 including playoffs).
Steelers – Mike Tomlin, 2nd season as Steelers and NFL Head Coach (16-8, 16-9 including playoffs).
Colts – 4-4, 2nd in AFC South.
Steelers – 6-2, 1st in AFC North.
LAST TIME IN PLAYOFFS
Colts – 2007.
Steelers – 2007.
2008 NFL RANKINGS
Offense – Overall, 22nd (313.4 yards per game); Rushing, 32nd (70.1 ypg); Passing, 8th (243.3 ypg); Defense – Overall, 15th (324.6 yards per game); Rushing, 25th (143.6 ypg); Passing, 3rd (181.0 ypg).
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).
Colts – Peyton Manning (183-294 completions, 2,008 yards, 62.2 pct., 12 TD, 9 INT, 83.3 passer rating).
Steelers – Ben Roethlisberger (114-198 completions, 1,402 yards, 57.6 pct., 10 TD, 8 INT, 79.6 passer rating); Byron Leftwich (14-24 completions, 223 yards, 58.3 pct., 2 TD, 0 INT, 117.2 passer rating).
Colts – Dominic Rhodes (73 carries, 262 yards, 3 TD); Joseph Addai (62 carries, 248 yards, 4 TD).
Steelers – Willie Parker (87 carries, 333 yards, 4 TD); Mewelde Moore (69 carries, 320 yards, 3 TD).
Colts – Reggie Wayne (43 receptions, 586 yards, 4 TD); Anthony Gonzalez (34 receptions, 412 yards, 2 TD); Dallas Clark (31 receptions, 391 yards, 2 TD); Marvin Harrison (27 receptions, 320 yards, 3 TD).
Steelers – Hines Ward (34 receptions, 445 yards, 5 TD); Santonio Holmes (25 receptions, 390 yards, 2 TD); Heath Miller (21 receptions, 240 yards, 1 TD).
Colts – Robert Mathis (5), Dwight Freeney (3).
Steelers – James Harrison (10), LaMarr Woodley (9.5).
WHAT HAVE YOU DONE FOR ME LATELY?
Colts – The Colts, the five-time defending AFC South champions, lost two consecutive games after a two-game post-bye winning streak. The consecutive losses to Green Bay and Tennessee moved them to 3-4 before an 18-15 victory over New England this past Sunday night.
Steelers – The Steelers, the defending AFC North champions, started the season 2-1 and have won four of their last five games. Following a three-game winning streak, they lost a fourth-quarter lead in a 21-14 loss to the New York Giants before beating Washington, 23-6, Monday Night.
QUOTES TO NOTE
"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."
--- Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy
"Coach (Dungy) has been a mentor to me, no doubt. He sets the standards for guys like myself that are trying to make our way in this business. It's just knowledge being associated with him."
--- Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin
The Steelers, a team that has emerged in the first half of the season as one of the AFC favorites, will enter their game against the Colts Sunday six days removed from one of their biggest victories of the season – a 23-6 victory over NFC East-contending Washington.
"It's going to be a tough game," Dungy Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said. "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."
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.
Three key head-to-heads . . .
• Colts cornerbacks versus Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes. The Colts' cornerback position has been depleted by injuries this season, with starter Marlin Jackson having been placed on injured reserve a week ago and starter Kelvin Hayden missing the last four games with hamstring and knee injuries. Reserve cornerback Dante Hughes missed last week's victory over New England with an ankle injury, and Tim Jennings – who started the season as the nickelback – and Keiwan Ratliff starting. Ratliff was signed as a free agent four days before the Patriots game. Ward, an 11-year veteran, is the Steelers' all-time leading receiver and leads the team this season with 34 receptions for 445 yards and five touchdowns. Holmes, a first-round selection in the 2006 NFL Draft, is a fast, big-play threat who averages 15.6 yards per reception.
• Colts tackles Ryan Diem and Tony Ugoh versus Steelers linebackers LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison. The Steelers' 3-4 defensive scheme is based largely upon the outside linebackers getting consistent pressure and so far this season, Woodley and Harrison have done that. The Steelers lead the NFL with 32 sacks – a four-per-game pace that would break the franchise record. Harrison is second in the NFL with 10 sacks this season and Woodley has 9.5.
• Colts defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis versus Steelers offensive tackles Marvel Smith and Willie Colon. The Steelers have allowed 29 sacks this season – the third-highest total in the NFL, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been beat up at times this season. He left this past Monday's game against Washington with a shoulder injury. Freeney and Mathis got consistent pressure early in the season, but the Colts haven't had a sack in their past three games primarily because teams have thrown on quick drops and have utilized game plans emphasizing draw plays and quick passes. Mathis has five sacks this season and Freeney has three. The Colts' 10 sacks as a team is the third-lowest total in the NFL.
STEELERS IN 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.
Against Washington, the Steelers fell behind 6-0 early before turning in a dominant defensive effort. 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.
The Steelers enter the game ranked first in the NFL in total defense, and have been dominant at times this season against the run. They have allowed just 2.9 yards a run and their 70.1 yards rushing allowed per game is third in the NFL. The Steelers this season have allowed more than 100 yards rushing just once – 103 to the Baltimore Ravens on September 29. The Colts, who have had a 1,000-yard rusher every season since 2002, this season rank 32nd in the NFL in rushing offense with 70.1 yards per game. They have averaged at least 97.6 yards per game rushing in each of the last 10 seasons.
The Colts and Steelers have played 23 times since the series began in 1957, with the Steelers holding an 18-5 lead. The Steelers have won 12 of 13 games against the Colts in Pittsburgh, with the Colts' lone victory in Pittsburgh coming on September, 29, 1968, when the then-Baltimore Colts won, 41-7. The Colts have played one previous game at Heinz Field, with the Steelers winning, 28-10, on October 21, 2002. That was Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy's first season with the team. The Colts have beaten the Steelers twice since the 1984 move to Indianapolis, winning 17-16, in 1984 and 26-7 in 2005. Both of those victories came at the RCA Dome.
On January 15, 2006, the Steelers beat the Colts, 21-18, in an AFC Divisional Playoff Game at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis. The Colts rallied from deficits of 14-3 and 21-10 with a dramatic, unforgettable fourth quarter, but Pittsburgh appeared to clinch the victory with 1:20 remaining when Colts quarterback Peyton Manning was sacked on fourth down at the Colts 2 with the Steelers ahead, 21-18. On the ensuing play, Colts linebacker Gary Brackett forced Steelers running back Jerome Bettis to fumble and cornerback Nick Harper recovered. Harper returned it to the Colts 42, and after Manning completed two passes, Indianapolis kicker Mike Vanderjagt lined up for a potential game-tying field goal. Vanderjagt missed from 46 yards and the Steelers won twice more to win Super Bowl XL.