Despite the return of Ben Roethlisberger this Monday night, the Steelers will test the Colts defense by doing what they do best -- running the ball.
"That's what we have to do," running back Jerome Bettis said. "That's the type of football team we are. Nothing out of the ordinary."
How important is Roethlisberger's return to the Steelers? Well, consider these facts. The Steelers quarterback is 18-1 in the regular season as a starter. And his 112.4 quarterback rating would lead the league if he hadn't missed three weeks of action, reducing his attempts to just 130 -- below the minimum required to qualify.
But it's his leadership and mobility -- the latter of which will be under scrutiny since he's returning from arthroscopic knee surgery -- that makes the difference for Pittsburgh. The Steelers know that even with him back in the lineup, they simply can't get into a shootout with the Colts like the Bengals did. Their offense isn't set up to do that. The Colts lead the league in points scored with 305.
"Our offense is built for the way we play football," Roethlisberger said. "We run the ball, we're a pound-it, grind-it team. As a quarterback, of course you want to throw the ball, but as long as we win the football game, I'll take it."
But just because the Steelers don't throw the ball as much as some of the other teams around the NFL, that doesn't always translate into a low score at the end of the game. For example, they threw the ball just 11 times against the Titans in their opener, but put 34 points on the scoreboard. However, that's the exception, not the rule for Bill Cowher's team.
"If we have to be in a shootout, it will be difficult for us," Bettis said. "For us to score 45 points, that's tough. I don't think we're that type of offense."
One of the big factors that plays favorably to the Colts offense in this matchup is third-down conversions, an area where the Colts offense and the Steelers defense are at opposite ends of the spectrum.
"They're the number one team in the league on third down," coach Bill Cowher said. "We've improved up to number 29. So we're making strides. You look on paper and say it's not a good matchup."
The Colts have converted 54.2 percent of their third downs, while the Steelers defense has allowed opponents to convert 42.9 percent of their third downs.
Two areas of strength for the Pittsburgh defense is their rush defense and
the blitz. They're leading the league defending the run, allowing just 3.2 yards
per carry. And the Steelers have been successful with their blitz packages
because they disguise them well.
Both of those strengths will be put to the test Monday night as they face Edgerrin James, the league's second-ranked running back. With 1,116 yards, James has averaged a healthy 4.5 yards per rush. And the Steelers will have to do their best job ever of not tipping off their blitzes as Manning has been red hot against the blitz. He's completed 60 of 86 passes for 795 yards and nine touchdowns in blitzing situations this season.
Cowher is 6-0 against the Colts as a head coach. And while he knows that the Steelers must control the clock with the run and keep Peyton Manning off the field, his defense will have to step it up a notch, especially against the pass for the Steelers to stay in this game.
The Colts have a four-game winning streak on Monday Night Football, including two wins this season. They've won their first ten games of the season and their last 18 out of 19 regular season games. The Colts can set a franchise record for consecutive wins at home (10) with a win over Pittsburgh.
Colts: Peyton Manning has only faced the Steelers one time in his career. He completed 32 of 48 passes for 304 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in a 28-10 loss on Oct. 21, 2002....Colts head coach Tony Dungy is 1-2 in his coaching career against the Steelers, and 0-1 against them since joining the Colts... Edgerrin James needs 594 yards over the next six games break his career-best season of 1,709 yards (2000)...The Colts have five receivers this season who have caught 25 or more passes....WR Marvin Harrison is 149 yards short of 12,000 receiving yards.
Steelers: Both starting offensive tackles for the Steelers were back at practice on Thursday. LT Marvel Smith (high ankle sprain) and RT Max Starks (knee) both expect to play against the Colts....RB Duce Staley didn't suit up for last week's game against the Ravens after leading the team's rushing attack the previous two weeks. He will dress for Monday night's game....LB Clark Higgins leads the Steelers with six sacks despite missing three games after sports hernia surgery....Kicker Jeff Reed has converted 18 of 22 field goal attempts for the Steelers this year (81.8%).