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Eyes in the Backfield
18 things to watch for in the Steelers/Colts game
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Last week we came up with a big win. This week, the Horse comes up against a tough team playing at home. The Colts and Steelers haven't met since that awful day in January a couple of years ago. The stakes aren't quite so high when the two teams meet at Heinz Field on Sunday, but it's a big game nonetheless. This week:
1. Watch for Roethlisberger to shoulder the load. He had to leave Monday night's win with a bum wing, and didn't practice all week. He came back to practice today, and will probably start on Sunday. With Willie Parker already out, a gimpy Roethlisberger is going to have tough it up. If he isn't effective, the Colts may well have a chance to win.
2. Watch for total domination. The Steelers are 18-5 against the Colts all time. The Colts franchise hasn't won a game in Pittsburgh since the 60s. This series has been utterly one-sided. The surprising thing is that the teams have only played 23 times. Considering that neither Indianapolis nor Baltimore is that far from Pittsburgh, it's odd the conference rivals have met so infrequently.
3. Watch the blitz, because you may not see what you think you see. Because the Steelers run a 3-4, they bring pressure from odd angles, but not always in the blitz form you think. A safety or linebacker may come on the rush, but that doesn't mean the blitz is on. The Colts have a young line that is in transition, and several players have shown a propensity for confusion. Much of the Colts pass blocking problems early on were guys not knowing who to block. Don't be surprised to see more missed assignments on Sunday.
4. Watch the wind sock. Heinz Field is a notorious house of pain for kickers, and wind gusts could wreak havoc with the Colts' passing game as well. Manning has had two amazing games in Indy and two tough games in windy weather on the road. A sloppy field or high wind will spell doom for the Colts.
5.Watch for a chance to get one back. Most of us have had the Colts marked down for a loss in this game since the schedules were released. Indy simply doesn't win in Pittsburgh. If the Colts can steal one, they'll be set up in prime shape for a playoff run. If not, they are faced with a tough but manageable road through the end of the season. This isn't a must win game, but a loss makes every game a playoff game until Christmas.
6. Watch the deep ball. Pittsburgh loves to hit the big play, and will try to exploit the backup corners Indy will feature. On the bright side, the Steelers give out sacks like candy (a phrase which sounds oddly perverse). If the Colts can get pressure, they can force bad throws and picks.
7. Watch the coaches. The single greatest advantage the Colts have over the Steelers is on the sideline. Mike Tomlin has had some early success in his career, but has a penchant for strategic blunders. Tony Dungy has held this Colts team together with chewing gum and bailing wire, and they have responded with solid efforts almost every week, and don't quit during games.
8. Watch the grudge match. Troy Polamalu and Bob Sanders are the two most high profile safeties in football. Sanders is generally regarded as the best in football, but it's a title that Polamalu contests. Both men will attempt to lay claim to the title by destroying the other's offense.
9. Watch for towels. Pittsburgh fans refer to their towels as 'terrible'. One can only guess this is because they dislike bathing. It's a cheap shot, I know, but 18 is a lot of things to come up with each week.
10. Watch for demons. Most Colts fans can't think of a road game at Pittsburgh without shedding a tear for the 95 and 96 Colts. Watching the ball dribble of Aaron Bailey's chest broke many hearts in central Indiana, and the loss in 06 didn't help our Steelers complex. I'll never forget pulling up to Three Rivers Stadium for the 96 playoffs and being terrified because a group of Steelers fans had mauled a bus full of Colts fans, breaking the windows with rocks. Pittsburgh hasn't been kind to us, and it would be great to exorcise some of those demons on Sunday.
11. Watch for zero rushing yards. Sure it is a blunt prediction, but sadly it is possible. The Colts struggled running at home against the Pats last week. Now they face the Steelers who have the best statistical defense in the NFL. They also have the third best run defense in the league.
12. Watch special teams. The Steelers are among the worst in the league, and for once, the Colts might have an advantage. Even though injuries have depleted the ranks of available players, the Colts did a passable job against New England. A big return could be just enough to get the Horse over the top.
13. Watch for zero turnovers. The Colts are in the middle of the pack with 12 takeaways, but 8 of those turnovers came in a two game stretch against Houston and Baltimore. There have been long stretches of the season without a single momentum changing play. The Colts technically forced two last week, but one was on fourth and long, and should have been batted down. The other was a recovery on the multiple lateral play to end the game.
14. Watch third down. Indy's defensive failures are simple. Teams successfully convert third downs at a 46% rate. The good news? The Steelers are near the bottom of the league in 3rd down offense, converting 36% of the time. The Colts defense has been ok in terms of getting teams into third down, but the corner play has made it hard to get off the field.
15. Watch and enjoy the greatness. This game features three strong candidates for the AFC's all-decade team at the wide receiver position. Hines Ward, Marvin Harrison, and Reggie Wayne have gotten it done on a consistent basis for years. Ward kills you softly with his ability to move the sticks.
16. Watch the backup backs. With Willie Parker out, the undersized but effective Mewelde Moore will carry the load for the Steelers. Bill Polian implied Dominic Rhodes will get more carries this week for the Colts. This matchup will likely decide the game.
17. Watch for a healthy debate. Deshawn insists the Colts can afford to lose this game, but Demond thinks this is a textbook must win. It looks like the Colts will need 10 wins to make the playoffs, and he doesn't think they are capable of winning 6 of the 7 remaining games. Deshawn feels mellow because he expects to lose, but feels like it'll still be ok. Demond is already nearing his boiling point. Maybe 'healthy' isn't really the right word to use.
18. Watch for bad news. We simply can't see any way the Colts win this game. Pittsburgh is the better team right now, and one of the elite teams in the AFC. Too many 10 plays drives will doom the Horse late as Pittsburgh plays keep away and wins 20-14. Sorry, it's the most optimism we can muster.
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