Game Day Matchups

Neal Coolong breaks down the top matchups in Sunday night's Steelers-Colts game:

OLBs LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison vs. Ts Jeff Linkenbach and Anthony Castonzo

It's the second week in a row the Steelers will face a rookie protecting the edge. While Woodley got a sack on Seattle's QB Tarvaris Jackson, rookie RT James Carpenter held his own for the most part. Harrison will get his shot at Castonzo, taken one pick after Carpenter in the 2011 NFL Draft. Castonzo – who's played well in two games this season – should have his hands full.

Linkenbach has struggled so far, and Woodley will likely attack him straight ahead the whole game. If Linkenbach cannot protect the edge, QB Kerry Collins, who missed time in practice this week with a sore throwing shoulder, will be forced to step up in the pocket and make throws. Mobility is not his best trait, so expect the Steelers edge rushers to pin their ears back and go after Collins.

CB Ike Taylor vs. WR Reggie Wayne

Taylor has played outstanding football so far this season, picking up where he left off last year. Most teams' strategy has been to not even bother running the ball, which has made the Steelers the team thrown against the most per game. Taylor gets far fewer targets than opposite corner William Gay because of his outstanding technique and fundamentals.

Wayne is a better receiver with Peyton Manning under center, which could be said about any receiver. Even without the All-Pro quarterback, Wayne is producing at a higher level than the rest of his offense. Wayne has always been an excellent route runner, and that discipline is being rewarded by Collins, especially on deep passes. Wayne is averaging 15.6 yards per catch on 11 receptions this year.

LT Jonathan Scott vs. DE Dwight Freeney

Manning's absence doesn't directly affect Freeney, but it does put him on the field more often, and in less likely passing situations. Freeney's stats aren't eye-popping as of yet this year (1 sack, 1 forced fumble), but his relentless pressure is always a challenge for any offensive tackle, particularly in a hostile, prime-time environment.

Scott has had two consecutive rough outings against two tough defensive lines. With the hit QB Ben Roethlisberger took in Week 2, Scott is going to have to really focus on getting the lightning-quick Freeney under wraps. One hit can change the course of the game and of the season.

RT Marcus Gilbert vs. DE Robert Mathis

On the edge opposite Scott and Freeney is perhaps an even more compelling match-up. Mathis may not have Freeney's quickness, but he's more powerful and plays just as hard. He's notched two sacks in two games, and is so powerful, he's difficult to block man-to-man. Expect Gilbert to get help from TEs Heath Miller and/or David Johnson because it's a very tough assignment for the rookie.

Gilbert is making his first prime-time NFL start, but this is a guy who's played in two SEC championship games – both in front of rowdy crowds. He performed reasonably well in Week 2 filling in for the injured Willie Colon, although he did allow the near-killshot of Roethlisberger. Week 3 is going to be much more of a challenge.


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