After The Black And Gold Rush

Tony Kornheiser said "the Steelers will get demolished" in Indianapolis. Sidekick Michael Wilbon didn't disagree and the two threw the phrase around with big smiles on their faces the rest of the show.

Michael Irvin said the Steelers "have no chance." His sidekick, Mike Ditka, went out on a limb and said "On any given Sunday … " but still expects the Steelers to lose.

It's happening locally: The Tribune-Review's Mike Prisuta wrote that the Steelers are "the least likely of the AFC's remaining contenders to advance to Detroit." But he's been on and off the bandwagon so many times this year I suspect he's confused and scrambling.

I shudder to even listen to Sean Salisbury and some of his pals, but I suspect the feelings are similar everywhere.

These experts are only feeding into the Pittsburgh Steelers' strange craving for disrespect. We see it all the time, and once again I suspect the Steelers will play better with the chip on their shoulders. And it's a real chip, not the one they manufactured as 3-point favorites in Cincinnati.

The reasoning most often given for picking the Colts is that the Steelers cannot rally if they fall behind. The consensus says the rested Colts will take an early lead and cruise, since the Steelers don't have the capability to rally with their passing game.

This notion may have been true even as recently as last playoffs, but has anyone watched Ben Roethlisberger lately? I suspect these experts are just sticking to well-worn clichés.

Laugh at their receivers, but the Steelers' passing game is dangerous. The receivers are better than they're being given credit for, and peripheral players such as Heath Miller and Willie Parker add to the arsenal.

The Steelers can run and pass, and that kind of balance allows them to take liberties with their play-calling. With Parker in the backfield, they can run or pass at any point, whether it be second-and-12 or third-and-1. The play-calling is dangerously unpredictable, and that's a new development.

And now they have their offensive line intact and its playing as well it ever has. I'm excited about what Kendall Simmons and Max Starks are doing, digging the twilight play of Jeff Hartings, and knocked out by Alan Faneca, who's playing the best football of his career. Marvel Smith was average at left tackle in Cincinnati, but he's still knocking off rust, if not battling pain, and I believe he can play better.

The Steelers are on a scoring binge of late, and the reporters who choose to remember the stone-age Steelers are only helping plant the Bedrock-sized chip on their shoulder. This one could be fun.

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Steelers personnel men are raving about Troy Polamalu's game in Cincinnati. Not stark raving mad about his two blunders, but mad about what he did in between them.

One, after watching film, said Polamalu was the reason Jon Kitna took three sacks in the third quarter, that Polamalu would cover his first read, and then bounce off to cover his second read. Maybe it's an exaggeration, but maybe not. You saw that diving interception. It was mad.

Faneca's also drawing raves, specifically for his block on Ifeanyi Ohalete to spring Bettis's 25-yard fourth-quarter run. But if you watch the play before – on the same "counter power" play in which Faneca pulls right – Faneca slammed into Justin Smith just as Smith was slipping a block by Miller. Smith came free and got a face full of Faneca, who buried the defensive end into the turf. Parker gained seven yards on the play. It's probably the play the source meant.

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See the forlorn look on the face of T.J. Houshmandzadeh after the Bengals' opening field-goal drive? Didn't look like a man who was winning a playoff game, did he? The TV announcers figured he was upset about the loss of Carson Palmer, and I'm sure he was, but I'll bet he was also thinking about that stupid bit he acted out at Heinz Field with the Terrible Towel. The clip was shown to the Steelers the night before and the defensive backs were in T.J.'s face about it all the way down the field. He'd probably forgotten about the shoe shine; he was probably wondering after that first drive what he could have been thinking when he did it.

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Houshmandzadeh at least comes off as more thoughtful than Chad Johnson, who reportedly got into a fight with his receivers coach – says Pro Football Talk – at halftime, and even took a swing at would-be peacemaker Marvin Lewis.

Anyone surprised? Anyone surprised that jackass receivers like Johnson and Plaxico Burress come up so small in the playoffs? The numbers aren't the half of it; it's the I-need-the-ball-for-you-to-win mentality that just kills teams. For both of these guys, bad games deteriorated into ugly, pitiful losses that sent fingers flying everywhere. Everyone remembers someone like these guys from high school. They sucked then and they suck now.

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Casey Hampton continued his torrid play against the Bengals. His quickness off the snap caused one holding penalty on a third-and-one play, and Hampton disrupted the Bengals' offensive line the rest of the game. Hampton moves so quickly down the line on the wide stuff, that when he gets there and throws his 335 pounds onto the pile, it adds to the punishment. That was the best thing The Fridge did for the '85 Bears, only Hampton's quicker off the ball and far more tenacious than The Fridge ever was.

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Did Ricardo Colclough roll up into a ball on his kickoff return Sunday? He looked like a frightened turtle. That ought to be the end of the great ball-man experiment. Ike Taylor was one legitimate replacement for Quincy Morgan. Willie Parker ought to be another. Perhaps those two starters can alternate back there with Dan Kreider, thereby forcing decoy Colclough out of the picture.

Parker has never returned a kickoff, although the Steelers promised to look at him there last August. That idea never came to fruition because he won the tailback job, but I'd love to see it happen now. Think of what he's learned as a runner this season; that and his speed could make him a playoff surprise.

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The Colts are now favored by 10 points over the Steelers, but expect the sharpshooters to bring that line down as the week goes on.

Handicappers will look at the last five meaningful games played by each team and notice the Steelers' whopping +2.1 yards-per-snap advantage at the line of scrimmage (rush offense and defense). The Steelers also have the better pass defense (yards per completion) and have a solid advantage in the yards-per-point category, which shows scoring efficieny and includes special teams and red-zone efficiency.

Of course, the Colts have the better passing game, and have played a more difficult five games. Not including their meaningless last two games, the Colts have faced .578 competition down the stretch versus the Steelers' .519 competition, which really isn't all that big of a difference.

Included in the Colts' stats is their loss to the Chargers, who are coached by Marty Schottenheimer, who is the mentor to one Bill Cowher. So look for that line to fall to 9 nationally and maybe 8 locally, and also look for a close game, if not an outright upset.


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