Looking to ride defensive momentum

A history lesson, tape review, prediction, complete breakdown and much more in this Steelers-Colts game day preview.

MEMORABLE SERIES MOMENT

Colts 26, Steelers 7

Nov. 28, 2005 at RCA Dome

The 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers weren't in that much of a midseason funk during championship season. Nor was that offensive line as fierce as we fondly recall these days. Research shows that injuries wreaked havoc on the OL back in 2005 as Marvel Smith, Kendall Simmons and Jeff Hartings played hurt and right tackle Max Starks negotiated his first season as a starter. Smith returned from a sprained ankle for this game, but sprained his other ankle during the game and was replaced by Trai Essex. That opened the door for Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis to harass Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers fell to 7-4 with the loss, and lost the following week to Cincinnati, but regrouped to beat the Colts here in the playoffs.

TALE OF THE TAPE

"With Andrew Luck out, I'm coming after Scott Tolzien. I went back and looked at his two starts in 2013 when he was with the Packers. He's got an accurate arm but he stares down receivers. He threw three really bad interceptions in one game. The ball comes out quick. He has a funky delivery. He doesn't throw a lot of long balls, and the ones he throws are lollipops. You've got a rookie center, a rookie right tackle. The right guard is unathletic and a bit top heavy. So I'm coming after the quarterback." -- Steelers Radio analyst Tunch Ilkin.

TOP QUESTION

Will Colts punter Pat McAfee kick it out of bounds?

McAfee, the Plum High and WVU grad, tweeted a video clip of Steelers punt returner Antonio Brown's infamous high-flying kick to the head of Cleveland Browns punter Spencer Lanning during a 2014 game. Accompanying the video, McAfee wrote: "Hey, Antonio Brown, it's gonna be Thanksgiving ... my mom's gonna be there ... once again, none of this ... please ... thanks in advance." To which Brown replied, "You should just kick it out of bounds brother! Kidding, happy Thanksgiving Momma McAfee!"

THREE QUESTIONS: With RT MARCUS GILBERT

Q: What was the key to getting the running game cranked up in Cleveland?

MG: "I think we were doing too much in the offense, trying to get receivers on certain blocks they really couldn't make. I think we just played really sound fundamental football, lining up and just running the ball."

Q: What was Le'Veon Bell like? He had 90 yards on the first drive.

MG: "He was falling forward every time. He kept his legs moving. That was one change I saw in him. He was really trusting his legs, trusting us. If you have games like that, with his talent, we can go far."

Q: Was he showing any signs of being tired?

MG: "He's the most conditioned guy on the team, I believe. I train with him in the offseason. He puts in a lot of work. He takes pride in what he does. He wants to be the best. He goes out there and he gets it. He prepares and he plays like it. It's on us to make it happen for us."

GAME BREAKDOWN

What to look for from the Steelers at 8:30 tonight at Lucas Oil Stadium:

ON OFFENSE:

The 5-5 Steelers will be facing the 5-5 Colts and the league's 30th-ranked defense, which will be without free safety Clayton Geathers. Also, top cornerback Vontae Davis is listed as questionable. The Colts give up 27.3 points per game and rank 32nd in pass defense. They're tied with Jacksonville for last place in interceptions with only three, but have a decent pass rush with the 35-year-old Mathis, as well as OLB Erik Walden, who has eight sacks. Rookie T.J. Green will start in place of Geathers at free safety.

ON DEFENSE:

Frank Gore still has a lot of jump left in his game and he's still tough as nails and he'll still hunt you up and run you over. He also does a great job pass blocking and will stick his head in there with enthusiasm. WR Donte Moncrief is questionable, but TY Hilton and Phillip Dorsett are both 4.3 speedsters who can take a quick slant a long way. The Steelers will have to tackle the catch tonight, something that's been hit and miss throughout the season.

PREDICTION

It could be another big day for the Steelers defense. Presumably they'll find a way to get past the Colts' porous offensive line and sack the quarterback, Tolzien, who's playing his first regular-season game in exactly three years. This game could mirror the one last Sunday in Cleveland. Steelers, 30-20.

BY THE NUMBERS

1: Rank of Colts' net punting average (47.0/Pat McAfee) in the NFL.

2: Rank of Colts' field goal percentage (95.2/Adam Vinatieri) in the NFL.

5: Rank of Colts' kickoff return average (26.5) in the NFL.

DOWNLOADS

* The Steelers haven't won on Thanksgiving in 66 years. They've lost their last four and six of seven. Their only win was in Chicago in 1950, 28-17, over the Cardinals behind Joe Geri's 101 yards rushing and two touchdowns. The Steelers' last Thanksgiving game was a 22-20 loss at Baltimore in 2013.

* The Steelers have all of the series edges on the Colts: 16-6 regular season, 5-4 at Indianapolis, 2-0 at Lucas Oil Stadium, 3-2 in November and 2-1 in November at Indianapolis. The Steelers are also 5-0 in the post-season against the Colts.

* Antonio Brown needs three catches for his fourth consecutive 80-catch season, and 93 receiving yards for his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season. His 77 receptions lead the NFL and his 907 receiving yards ranks fourth.

* Splash plays anyone? James Harrison is 2.5 sacks away from 80 with the Steelers; Will Gay would break a tie with Rod Woodson for most interceptions returned for a touchdown with a sixth; and Brown needs a fifth punt return for a touchdown to break a tie with Antwaan Randle El for most in team history.

* Steelers TE Ladarius Green played 12 snaps his first game off the PUP list and 8 last week, but those numbers could increase significantly tonight. Said offensive coordinator Todd Haley: "I would expect him to be ready to be full-go this week."

* Sammie Coates, on the other hand, remains hindered by two broken fingers. "You have to catch your way back to confidence," Haley said.

PARTING SHOT

"I'm over the stats. They say they've got the worst passing defense. Not this Thursday they won't. That's how this league is. They'll play to the best of their ability and that's how I'm treating each week. I won't underestimate anybody.  " -- Steelers guard Ramon Foster.


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