Avoid The Rush

The Steelers need to run early and often Sunday night to keep quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in one piece. However, the Steelers' run game has struggled over the years against the Indianapolis Colts.

Stopping Peyton Manning has been the priority for the Pittsburgh Steelers whenever they've played the Indianapolis Colts these last 10 years.

Sunday night, with Manning out and Kerry Collins at quarterback for the 0-2 Colts, the Steelers' priority becomes Dwight Freeney.

Freeney's been one of the premier pass-rushers in the NFL, and together with Robert Mathis is part of an elite pass-rushing tandem. Together they've combined for 170 sacks and forced 78 fumbles.

That's bad news for Steelers tackles Jonathan Scott and Marcus Gilbert – or maybe good news for running back Rashard Mendenhall.

Want to keep your franchise quarterback upright against a terrifying pass rush? Run into the league's 29th-ranked run defense.

Yep, the Colts can't stop the run.

Again.

Their statistics annually take the fall for a defense so bent on getting to quarterbacks that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said "they trample the runner on the way to the pass."

Catchy philosophy, but lousy run defense.

Except when they play the Steelers.

"Yeah, they present a stunt problem, and always have," said Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.

The Steelers and Colts have played four times since former coach Tony Dungy installed his cover-2 defense and attacking four-man front in 2002.

That same year, the Colts allowed 4.3 yards per carry and the Steelers, behind Amos Zereoue's 87 yards, averaged 5.5 in a 28-10 win.

But the Colts got better in 2005 and their games against the Steelers became bigger. With the Colts allowing a 28th-ranked 4.4 per rush that season, the Steelers could average only 2.7 in both the regular-season loss and the shocking upset win in the playoffs.

In 2008, the Colts allowed 4.2 per carry and the Steelers could muster only 2.1 against them in a 24-20 loss at Heinz Field.

"They did a great job when Bob Sanders was there," said Steelers veteran lineman Trai Essex. "We just had a hard time accounting for him in our scheme, because they do a good job of rotating the backers and bringing down the safety."

Sanders, now with the San Diego Chargers, is an injury-prone but talented strong safety. The two-time All-Pro missed 46 percent of the Colts' games from 2004-2010 (counting postseason), but he was there for the last three games against the Steelers, and according to NFL.com made 7, 9, and 10 tackles to help stuff the Steelers' run game.

"That's always been our biggest problem, but I think we've got a great scheme this time around," said Essex.

It'll help that Sanders has been replaced by Melvin Bullitt, and even Bullitt is listed as questionable after missing practice this week with an injured shoulder. Behind Bullitt on the depth chart is Joe Lefeged, an undrafted rookie out of Rutgers.

"Well we feel real good about it," Arians said of the Steelers' game plan. "And I think we're confident up front. The run part of it doesn't have me as concerned as the pass blocking because they're tremendous pass-rushers. When they're at their place, they're even better."

Ergo, the importance of running the ball against the Colts.

"No, you gotta stay balanced," Arians said. "They're going to stack the box with two good safeties and you've got to be able to throw the football."

Will Arians max protect?

"You can help both (tackles)," he said. "But you won't have as many guys getting out.

"It's a fine line between getting guys out, throwing the ball quick, and protecting if you want to throw it further down the field. Hopefully we can do both those things. We don't want to give up what our advantage is in speed by trying to block too much."

Or run too little.


Steel City Insider Top Stories