MEMORABLE SERIES MOMENT
Steelers 51, Colts 34
Oct. 26, 2014: Heinz Field
Last year's game should impact this year's. At least that's how the Indianapolis Colts are talking this week. "We felt like we kind of got dominated a little bit. It will be a different story this year. You don’t forget it," Colts linebacker Erik Walden said in the locker room following the Colts' win last Sunday over Tampa Bay. Ben Roethlisberger completed 40 of 49 passes for 522 yards and 6 touchdowns. He wasn't intercepted or sacked. "Preparation, man," explained Antonio Brown. "Preparation met opportunity and we were able to click." The focus for the Pittsburgh Steelers this week, though, has been the defense. DC Keith Butler was repeating "39 points" like he was Jim Mora repeating "Playoffs." So it's not the 51 points the Steelers are looking at from last year, but the 34 the Colts scored.
TALE OF THE TAPE
"The biggest thing to me is (Matt) Hasselbeck's getting rid of the ball really quick. He's getting the ball into the hands of his receivers. (Frank) Gore doesn't look the same to me that he has in the past. He's still a tough guy but he's not making as many guys miss. He's not breaking as many tackles as he has in the past. Their offensive line is average at best. Even when (Hasselbeck) gets rid of the ball quickly he's getting hit. He's got to get rid of the ball because he's not going to run away from pressure. T.Y. Hilton is special, and (Donte) Moncrief looks like he can be special. Dwayne Allen is a tough guy. He's just good. He can run and block. Coby Fleener is not a tough guy, not a very good blocker. He's never at the point of attack." -- Steelers broadcast analyst Tunch Ilkin.
How will the Steelers utilize their cornerbacks?
For one, this week's competition should have Antwon Blake motivated to tackle much better. That's been the mystery about this alleged tough guy. Also, Butler hinted that Blake may be rested to allow him to continue with his core special-teams duties, so look for Brandon Boykin to rotate in as a slot corner in the nickel, with William Gay and Ross Cockrell outside.
THREE QUESTIONS: With CB ROSS COCKRELL
Q: As a young, growing corner, what do you have to work on?
RC: "It's technique but it's also just patience and just letting the game come to you, not trying to jump things. Everything's moving fast, moving crazy, but you still have to be contained and in control."
Q: Coming so close to winning that game in a frenzied environment last Sunday, will that help this team grow?
RC: "We're definitely gonna grow from this. That was really my first time being in a hostile environment like that. We were in New England the opening game of the season but I wasn't on the field. K.C. was one, but it wasn't the same. It definitely is a learning experience and that's how I'm looking at it. I wish we could've got the W, but it was a great learning and growing experience for me and for a lot of other young guys as well."
Q: Does it signal to the Steelers that they can win anywhere?
RC: "Anywhere. Yeah, that's right. It's a game of inches. You know everybody always says that. I've just been extremely blessed to be on this team. There's a lotta love here, support, and guys are always uplifting each other and that's the best thing about it."
What to look for from the Steelers tonight against Indianapolis:
In spite of four turnovers, the Steelers went to the wire at Seattle. They also turned it over three times in losses to Kansas City and Cincinnati. This has been their life of late: Turn it over and lose. So it's been one half of the mantra this week, don't turn it over. They must keep an eye on free safety Mike Adams (10 interceptions since start of 2014) and block Robert Mathis (4 sacks) and they should be able to take care of the ball.
Don't turn the ball over, and tackle the catch. That's the other half, particularly after the Steelers' poor tackling in Seattle. "If you look at a lot of the teams we’ve played," said Butler, "when we do tackle the catch, then the ball comes loose. Maybe receivers don’t want to catch it across the middle. Not that we are taking illegal hits on anybody or anything like that, but when you tackle as soon as they catch the ball there’s going to be a price to pay for it. And if teams see that on film, then it makes a little bit of a difference whether they catch it or not."
In spite of their tackling woes on pass defense, the Steelers are allowing an OK 11.6 yards per catch the last five games. Not a good number, but right with the Colts' 11.4. Combine that with the Steelers' huge edge at the line of scrimmage and the Steelers should win. Their problem has been finishing on offense. The Colts could be the tonic for that woe. Again. Steelers, 34-24.
BY THE NUMBERS
66: Percent of targeted passes Blake allows to be caught. This "burn rate" is the third worst in the NFL among front-line cornerbacks.
6-1: Steelers' record following games in Seattle. They're 1-7 in Seattle but their average margin the following week -- all games have been at home -- is +8 points.
3: Number of times Jerome Bettis was named AFC Offensive Player of the Month. Brown just won for November to become only the second Steeler with multiple honors.
450: Last week was Roethlisberger's third 450-yard passing game to tie Peyton Manning for second place behind Dan Marino (4) in NFL history.
80: Number of tackles by Steelers' leading tackler Lawrence Timmons. He's led the team in tackles four of the last five seasons and is the only NFL player with 30 sacks (30.5) and 10+ interceptions (10) since 2007.
19: Yards per catch this season by Markus Wheaton, which surpasses the numbers of this game's supposed deep threats Martavis Bryant (18.9) and Hilton (16.1). Wheaton is fourth in the NFL.
* Don't forget Allen, the Colts' tight end, when you're recounting the great offensive skill players at Clemson around QB Tajh Boyd in 2011. Joining Allen in the NFL from that team have been WRs Bryant, DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins, and running back Andre Ellington. Through 11 games this season, the group has combined to catch 164 passes for 2,353 yards (14.3 avg.) and 20 touchdowns, and has rushed for 279 yards (7.2 avg.) and 4 touchdowns. Clemson lost four of its last six games that season to finish 10-4. It lost to WVU in the Orange Bowl, 70-33.
* Most drafnicks know that the other Colts tight end, Coby Fleener, was named after former Washington offensive tackle Joe Jacoby. What about Steelers return specialist Jacoby Jones? "Yep. I was named after Joe Jacoby, too," said Jones, whose mother's sister came up with the name. Jacoby just shrugged his shoulders in explanation. "I don't know. Beats me, bro. But that's where they got it from. And I got my middle name Rashad from Ahmad Rashad." Jones said he never heard of Fleener, who is third on the Colts with 39 receptions.
* Hasselbeck, 40, has won his last four starts (last two games and two games earlier in the season) to become only the third quarterback in the Super Bowl era to win four consecutive starts in his 40s. The others are Warren Moon, who was 41 during a stretch over the 1997-98 seasons for Seattle, and Brett Favre, who was 40 for Minnesota in 2009.
* Few running backs are more respected in the league than the Colts' Gore. But at age 32, he's averaging under 4.1 yards per carry for the first time in his career. He's averaging 3.6 per carry, and only 2.5 in the last four games. The Colts don't have much behind him. Their next leading rushers are injured QB Andrew Luck, recently IR'd RB Ahmad Bradshaw and rookie Josh Robinson, now on the practice squad. The Colts just picked up Daniel "Boom" Herron, the former Ohio State back who gained 37 yards rushing for Buffalo this season. Herron hasn't carried in five weeks.
* Heath Miller is questionable with a rib injury. If he misses, the Steelers will need snaps from rookie tight end Jesse James, who's been active the last three games and caught four passes for 23 yards and a touchdown. "He’s doing a very good job," said offensive coordinator Todd Haley. "Like most young guys there is an acclimation period. He was too heavy when he got here. He got himself in really good shape now. He is running faster. He has much better stamina. He is hanging around two of the best teachers from a player standpoint in Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth, so if you just pay attention to what they are doing you have a chance."
"We have to get a better rush, we've got to do a better job of covering, we have to tackle and be where we are supposed to be when we have to be there, and we've got to coach better. Those things usually end up in giving up as many as 39 points. I mean, 39 points. I don’t want to say what I think about 39 points because it wouldn't be legal for y'all to print or put on TV. We shouldn’t be giving up 39 points. We have to do a better job." -- Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler.