When Seeing Isn't Quite Believing

Mike Prisuta noticed a deft twist at the Mike Tomlin press conference: The Steelers' coach praised a winless opponent, and he was telling the truth.

It's standard operating procedure for Mike Tomlin to morph into Lou Holtz when it comes to analyzing the upcoming opponent during the weekly Tuesday media briefing, a tradition of over-stating, over-rating and over-aggrandizing Tomlin both respected and honored yesterday on the South Side.

It's airtime on a TV show, mostly.

But there was also more than a hint of legitimacy when it came time for Tomlin to assess Kerry Collins and the Indianapolis Colts.

"We imagine he will be better and they will be better than what we're looking at on tape," Tomlin stated.

He had a point.

Collins is no Peyton Manning (is anyone?) and the Colts are seemingly universally viewed as screwed without The Great Peyton Manning in NFL circles. But that doesn't mean they can't and aren't getting better.

They must have been gawd-awful in Houston (34-7) for openers. But against Cleveland in Week Two the Colts improved to Just Good Enough to Lose.

It ended Browns 27, Colts 19. And the only reason the Colts ended up as close as they did was a meaningless, oh-by-the way, 83-yard drive that dented the end zone with 24 seconds left. But the Colts had nonetheless managed to look more like a football team and less like a team with a guy out of the retirement home trying to replace an all-time legend at quarterback prior to that.

Indianapolis scored on four of its first six possessions (including a one-play, end-of-the-first-half kneel down) against Cleveland.

The problem was the Colts settled for field goals each time, including threes from the Cleveland 9, 18 and 21-yard lines.

Indianapolis outrushed Cleveland 109-106 and had two backs average over 4 yards a carry (Joseph Addai 4.6 and Delone Carter 4.2).

The problem was the Colts weren't able to convert a second-quarter third-and-1 (Carter got stuffed), which resulted in one of the field goals from in close.

And Indianapolis contained Browns running back Peyton Hillis reasonably well, holding him to 70 yards on 26 of his 27 carries.

The problem was the one long run Hillis broke, a 24-yard touchdown burst with 3:55 remaining that broke the game open.

The Colts had actually been within 14-12 at the outset of the fourth quarter before they surrendered 13 consecutive points thanks in no small part to an interception and 28-yard return, a 43-yard punt return and a sack/strip/fumble recovery by Jabaal Sheard.

So that Browns encounter, unlike Indy's visit to Houston, might have easily had a different ending. It was still a loss, but it wasn't necessarily an experience the Colts are doomed to repeat.

Collins only arrived in Indy in late August. He's still trying to absorb the new offense and assimilate with his new teammates. With another week devoted to those pursuits he'll be that much further along in the process. And he's seen the Steelers' defense recently, another aspect of the upcoming trip to Indiana that wasn't lost on Tomlin.

"He moved the ball pretty easily against us," Tomlin recalled of a Collins relief appearance against the Steelers on Sept. 19, 2010 at Tennessee. "He was capable of reading coverage and distributing the ball rather freely.

"They actually scored and recovered an onside kick and were driving again as time expired."

Collins threw for 149 yards against the Steelers a year ago, when he brought the Titans back from a 19-3 deficit to within 19-11 and then launched a ball into the end zone from the Steelers' 31 with 20 seconds left for what could have been the tying touchdown.

"That experience is not lost as we prepare for this one," Tomlin insisted.

He sounded pretty believable while doing so.

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