NFL Playoff Preview: Steelers At Colts - By Darrell Laurant
Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial
|This weekend, they'd like to be the Pittsburgh Stealers.
No crushing pressure, no huge expectations. Sneaking into the NFL playoffs as a wild card from the AFC North, Bill Cowher's team hopes to hang around with the Indianapolis Colts, stave off any Peyton Manning to Marvin Harrison thunderbolts, eat up the clock, and then ... who knows?
"Nobody is going to give us a chance," Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Kendall Simmons said earlier this week, "and I know we're going to take advantage of it."
Stranger things have happened. True, the Indianapolis Colts jumped on the Steelers early on Nov. 28 and rolled to a 26-7 victory. But a few things might be different this time.
1. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger was coming off three weeks on the sidelines because of injuries in that game, and the rust showed -- he threw for only 133 yards and was intercepted twice. This time, he's back in the groove.
2. Pittsburgh has spent a lot of practice time preparing for the high-decibel chaos of the RCA Dome (Indy rock?), including working out a set of silent hand signals.
3. The Colts' cloak of invincibility has been frayed just a bit. Tony Dungy's squad was unbeaten when it faced Pittsburgh, but later lost at home to San Diego and on the road to Seattle.
On the other hand, as Roethlisberger pointed out: "It's going to take our A-plus game to beat their B-minus game."
Most disturbing to the Pittsburgh Steelers, perhaps, was their inability to run the ball for the first three quarters (29 yards on 17 carries) in their first meeting with Indy. Much of that was due to the ability of the quicker Colts' defenders (notably Dwight Freeney) to knife in behind the Steelers' forward wall and make plays in the backfield. And this week the Indianapolis Colts welcome back DT Corey Simon, a key player in its run defense, who had been sidelined for three weeks with an ankle injury.
These are two versatile teams with cerebral coaches, and viewers will see a lot of Peyton Manning fidgeting and checking off at the line of scrimmage as Steeler safety Troy Polamalu fidgets and checks off on the other side.
Pittsburgh may have the reputation as a no-nonsense, smash mouth outfit, but versatile wide receivers Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El, both former college quarterbacks, give Cowher a lot of potential for trick plays. In last week's victory over AFC North division winner Cincinnati, the Steelers burned the Bengals with a direct snap to Randle El, who pitched back to Roethlisberger, who hit a wide-open Cedrick Wilson for an easy touchdown.
In order to advance to the AFC finals, Pittsburgh will have to find some way to run the ball and set up Roethlisberger's passes. If the Steelers get behind early again, it's probably over -- Manning threw for 3,747 yards and 28 touchdowns for the Colts in 2005, Edgerrin James rushed for 1,560 and 13 scores, and receivers Harrison and Reggie Wayne both went over 1,000 yards.
"They're as good as it gets in the NFL," Roethlisberger said.
Was he being defeatist? Or just sneaky?
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