The Indianapolis Colts (0-2) will travel to Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday night for the second of what many think will be at least nine road games this season. Following their week 2 loss to the Browns the Colts bandwagon has gotten lighter quicker than the wagon in The Oregon Trail after Jenny contracted malaria as fans have started to question every aspect of the Colts organization. The Colts, for their part, remain steadfast in their stance that all that is needed is better execution, that the mistakes being made are correctable, and that the improvement is being made.
And in the wake of their frustrating 27-19 loss to the Browns, the improvements were evident. The defense was able to contain RB Peyton Hillis for most of the game and the defensive line constantly harassed QB Colt McCoy. The offense was able to continue to run the ball better and the wide receivers and tight ends continued to show that they can get open and make plays. With every silver lining, though, there are storm clouds. The defense's improvements were undone by a bad game from three players (S Melvin Bullitt, CB Jacob Lacey, and WLB Kavell Conner) and QB Kerry Collins (with some help from the zebras) showed why this is a quarterback's league, as he drove his team's chances at winning into the turf along with each of his errant passes.
The Steelers are also a team set on improving. Following their Week 1 drubbing at the hands of the Ravens, the Steelers were out to prove that they were still among the NFL elite. To further that cause, the Steelers paid a Seattle-area high school (the Seahawks) to travel to Heinz Field Sunday for a Week 2 show down. As expected, the Steelers thrashed the Seahawks, leaving Seattle head coach Pete Carrol bemoaning, "$180,000 just doesn't get you what it used to". The Steelers will look to build on that success against a Colts team that could be on the ropes after two tough losses.
When the Colts have the ball
Base O v Base D Week 3 Pitt
Indianapolis Colts Offense
Pittsburgh Steelers Defense
87 WR R. Wayne
99 DE A. Smith
44 TE D. Clark
98 NT C. Hampton
74 LT A. Castanzo
95 DE C. Heyward
76 LG J. Reitz
92 OLB J. Harrison
63 C J. Saturday
94 ILB L. Timmons
71 RG R. Diem
51 ILB J. Farrior
72 RT J. Linkenbach
56 OLB L. Woodley
17 WR A. Collie
24 CB I. Taylor
85 WR P. Garcon
43 SS T. Polamalu
5 QB K. Collins
25 FS R. Clark
29 RB J. Addai
20 CB B. McFadden
The ability for the Colts offense to be successful will start and stop with QB Kerry Collins. His performance on Sunday was just another piece of evidence that the ability to run the ball and stop the run is not what wins games in today's NFL. The Colts were successful in both of those areas, but it was their quarterback's inability to complete passes in the second half of the game (along with some poor decisions from the refs) that was their ultimate undoing.
When passing, WR Reggie Wayne has been Collins' most popular target, being thrown at 18 times, 5 times more than the next most-targeted receiving options (TE Dallas Clark and WR Austin Collie, 13). Not only is Wayne Collins' most popular target, but he is also Collins' most trusted deep threat as well. Wayne has the highest yards per catch on the team, by far, averaging 15.6 YPC, with WR Pierre Garcon being the only other player on the team to average more than 10 ypc (11.2). Wayne is also the only receiver to catch a pass of more than 20 yards on the season (4 times).
Not only has Collins been wildly inaccurate, but the passes he has completed aren't going anywhere. Running the ball more effectively and dinking and dunking passes down the field can be useful, in spurts, but they will not beat teams in the NFL. If Collins and the offense don't start stretching the field and connecting on some deep passes, teams will continue to get more and more aggressive with their blitzing until the Colts' offense finds itself completely suffocated. In order to do this, WRs Collie, Garcon, and Gonzalez, if he can get on the field, must step up and make plays while Wayne and Clark draw the bulk of the defense's coverage.
On the ground, RBs Joseph Addai and Delone Carter have rushed for a combined 4.35YPC, up from 3.9 YPC a year ago. While the run blocking has definitely improved, and the running backs are hitting the holes with speed and decisiveness, the Colts still appear to be struggling in short-yardage situations. If they cannot convert 3rd- and 4th-downs in short-yardage situations, and are forced to continue to settle for field goals, the Colts will continue to lose games in the same manner they lost to the Browns.
When the Steelers have the ball
Base D v Base O Week 3 Pitt
Indianapolis Colts Defense
Pittsburgh Steelers Offense
93 DE D. Freeney
86 WR H. Ward
99 DT A. Johnson
83 TE H. Miller
95 DT F. Moala
72 LT J. Scott
98 DE R. Mathis
68 LG C. Kemoeatu
53 WLB K. Conner
53 C M. Pouncey
51 MLB P. Angerer
64 RG D. Legursky
50 SLB P. Wheeler
77 RT M. Gilbert
25 CB J. Powers
17 WR M. Wallace
33 SS M. Bullitt
7 QB B. Roethlisberger
41 FS A. Bethea
85 FB D. Johnson
27 CB J. Lacey
34 RB R. Mendenhall
Though not as smash mouth as they once were, the Steelers are still an incredibly balanced team. In 2010, the Steelers utilized the run and pass at an almost perfect 50/50 with 479 passes and 471 rushing attempts. Against a Browns team which prefers the run to the pass, the Colts decided to load the box with 8-man fronts and utilize numerous amounts of run blitzes in an attempt to bottle up RB Peyton Hillis and force QB Colt McCoy to beat them. Their strategy worked and failed. Hillis was kept in check for most of the day, but McCoy was able to utilize his mobility to avoid the rush and make plays on the run.
In dealing with QB Roethlisberger, they will find everything that McCoy brought to the table, and more. Roethlisberger tends to hold on to the ball longer than most quarterbacks would creating a double-edged situation for the Steelers. On one hand, Roethlisberger tends to take more sacks than most quarterbacks while also having a tendency to turn the ball over. On the other hand, Roethlisberger is often able to turn these situations into big plays, usually by finding a wide receiver that has been lost by the coverage open down field for a big gain.
Roethlisberger's most dangerous weapon is WR Mike Wallace, a speedy wide receiver that can stretch the field like few others. While the Colts standard Cover-2 scheme should provide good coverage on deep routes, SS Melvin Bullitt has struggled this year and, if he is able to play through a shoulder injury, will be targeted early and often by a Steelers' team eager to see if they can hit a few big plays and take the crowd, and the Colts, out of this one early.
Opposite Wallace is Pittsburgh mainstay WR Hines Ward. Ward, a 13-year vet, is no longer the big-play threat he was earlier in his career, but is still a consistent route runner with good hands. While Wallace will be stretching the field, Roethlisberger will use Ward to attack the soft spots in the Colts' zones. Ward is a great 3rd-down and red zone target, and if the Colts hope to force the Steelers into punt and field goal situations, they will be forced to pay extra attention to Ward in those areas.
On the ground, the Steelers will rely on 4th-year running back Rashard Mendenhall to attack a Colts defense which appears to have improved against the run. Through two games, opponents are rushing for 3.6ypc, a full yard less than the 4.6ypc average from 2010. Unlike the Browns game where the Colts felt free to load up against the run, however, the defense will have to play fewer 8-man fronts because of the threat of the deep ball from Roethlisberger. If Mendenhall is able to run effectively against the Colts base defense, the defense could be in for a repeat from opening day, when the Texans' offense was able to keep them off balance and second-guessing themselves the entire game.
Five key match ups
1. Kerry Collins vs. The Steelers Rush - Normally this match-up would be the opposing pass rush against the Colts offensive line. During the first two games of the season, however, it has become clear that not only is Collins not very mobile, but the blitz is also affecting him mentally. Collins appears to be staring down the rush on most plays and it is causing him to miss open receivers, not execute the proper timing on three-step drops, and throw balls into coverage after giving defenders time to adjust. The offensive line has progressed and will continue to progress as the season rolls on, but that progress will be meaningless if Collins is unable to trust himself and his team to deal with the opposing blitz. Against a team like the Steelers, a team that will blitz you before, during, and after the game, there's no time for second-guessing.
2. Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney vs. Steelers OL - It goes without saying that Mathis and Freeney are keys to the success of the Colts' defense, but against a quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger, who can be forced into mistakes, it becomes paramount that these two get after the Steelers quarterback from the first whistle. To help matters, the Steelers' OL has been depleted by injuries this season and Roethlisberger has a tendency to hold on to the ball too long. In a game that many expect to be a blowout, Freeney and Mathis may be the key to not only keeping it close, but also giving the Colts a chance at upsetting the 11-point favorite Steelers.
3. Colts' Running Game vs. Steelers' Defense - The Colts have shown improvement in their ability to run the ball in each of their first two games, but face their toughest test so far on Sunday night. While we firmly believe that winning in the NFL comes down to passing the ball and stopping the pass, the Colts best hope for success this year is to employ the same keep away strategy that has been used against them for the better part of the last 13 seasons. With QB Kerry Collins still struggling to acclimate himself to the Colts' offense, they will continue to heavily rely on the legs of RBs Joseph Addai and Delone Carter. While the pair has shown a great ability to hit the hole and go, the team has still struggled in short-yardage situations. Converting short-yardage 3rd- and 4th-downs will go a long way to helping the Colts get a win.
4. Colts Fans vs. Third Party Ticket Sellers - We have seen how the Colts, especially their defense, responds when playing in front of a large, energetic crowd. We have seen Colts players challenge fans to continue to support the team while Manning is out. Now, after losing the first two games of the season, and facing one of the best-traveling fan bases in all of sports, Colts fans will be more tempted than ever to sell their tickets to the opposition. If they choose to do so, one has to wonder how that will effect the team. They are professionals and will fight until the last whistle of the season, but they are also human. A hostile crowd on their home turf, along with an early score or two from the Steelers, and the Colts may become emotionally detached from the game.
5. Cris Collinsworth vs. My Mute Button - I like Cris Collinsworth. I met Cris when I was two years old! I think Cris, when talking purely about the Xs and Os of football is one of the best color commentators out there. My problem with Cris is that he too often strays from the Xs and Os and gives a romantic view of the game (and usually the Colts) that I simply do not agree with. With the current state of the Colts, I expect Collinsworth to be going heavy on the romantic and light on the Xs and Os, and I feel that this match-up could be over before it gets started.
The injury reports
RB Jonathan Dwyer
LB James Farrior
NOT INJURY RELATED (PROBABLE)
DE Brett Keisel
C Maurkice Pouncey
DE Aaron Smith
NOT INJURY RELATED (PROBABLE)
WR Hines Ward
NOT INJURY RELATED (PROBABLE)
Identifying the coverage
Who(Visually): Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth
Where(Audio):1070 AM The Fan WFNI and 97.1 HANK FMWho(Audio): Bob Lamey and Will Wolford
Who(Are we going to hear about non-stop): TOM BRADY. Because Manning being out will be Cris Collinsworth's cue to TALK ABOUT TOM BRADY. Because when Peyton Manning is out, we need to TALK ABOUT TOM BRADY.
Is the game on in your area? As of this moment, as long as you live in North America and have a TV - yes. Sources close to the situation, however, have informed me that NBC has entered furious last-second negotiations with the NFL in an attempt to 'flex' the Colts into the Serie A futbol league. If successful, the game will be replaced with a moving 3hr 15minute tribute FOR TOM BRADY, performed by Cris Collinsworth, with musical guests Ben Roethlisberger and the "RINGS, DUDES" Band.
- The Colts are 6-12 all-time in regular season games against the Steelers. There is no recorded history of playoff games between the two teams. Wait, there is, it's just more depressing than the sentence, "starting quarterback, Kerry Collins." So we're going to ignore it (0-5).
- The Colts are 2-2 (counting playoffs) against the Steelers since 1998. The Colts have scored 17ppg and given up 19ppg in that time period
- Starting QB Kerry Collins (bottoms up!) has a 5-3 lifetime record against the Steelers. He has completed 63.8% of his passes for 1107 yards, 6TDs and 2INTs.
- In 3 regular-season games against the Steelers, Reggie Wayne has caught 15 passes for 209 yards and 1 TD.
- Dallas Clark has faced the Steelers twice and has caught 5 passes for 43 yards and a touchdown.
- Joseph Addai struggled in his only match-up against Pittsburgh, running the ball 12 times for a total of34 yards. He also added 2 receptions for 13 yards.
- Dwight Freeney has had some success against the Steelers (shocker), accumulating 3.5 sacks against the Steelers in a 3-game period.
- Robert Mathis, on the other hand, has only recorded 1/2 sack against the Steelers in his career.
- Ben Roethlisberger has struggled against the Colts in the regular season. He's completed 68.7% of his passes for 413 yards, 1 TD and 5 INTs.
- Mike Wallace and Rashard Mendenhall have never faced the Colts.
- The most interesting match-up this week is clearly the battles of the coaches. Which will prevail: Mike Tomlin fist pumps or Jim Caldwell blinks? Too close to call at this point.
Songs of the week
Snark from the cutting room floor
No snark this week. It will return next week when we're not setting up for a live show. Instead, you're forced to stare at Justin Timberlake's weird facial expression.