Steel City Sports Pre-Game

<b>Pittsburgh vs. Indianapolis</b><p> The Pittsburgh Steelers enter Week 7 with a record of 2 - 3 and inexplicably holding first place in the AFC North. I say inexplicably because when you look back at the first 6 weeks of the season, this team in all honesty should be struggling to stay in contention for the AFC North crown rather than holding the torch.<p>

Here are three bits of evidence for the court of fans to help explain why on earth the Pittsburgh Steelers, after extended moments of horrid defensive play, lackluster blocking, a starting quarterback change, and two decisive losses to open the season, are in first place of the AFC North.

Exhibit A: The Cleveland Browns.
They are a thrown helmet and blocked field goal from being 4 - 2 and in control of their fate, but they are lost at 2 - 4 and already seem to be cursed for the season, even though it's way too early to make that call. It's pure serendipity for the Steelers that no matter how well the Browns play, they always find their way back to heartbreaking losses loaded with insane plays and inane decision-making.

Exhibit B: The Head of "The Kimo".
Should the Steelers somehow win the Super Bowl this year, one moment will forever define what cliché-prone sportswriters call "The Turning Point." When Browns kicker Phil Dawson's loaded foot sent the pigskin toward it's metallic destination, one thing was clear - the kick was straight and true. The sole obstacle to the goal posts, a statement win, and destiny was a large black synthesized plastic helmet resting on the head of Kimo von Oelhoffen. It was a guided missile versus "The Kimo", destiny versus "The Kimo", and the pure forces of darkness versus "The Kimo". As the Pittsburgh Steelers later celebrated an amazing victory, one truth was known: "The Kimo" won.

Exhibit C: The Cincinnati Bengals.
This last bit of evidence is rather simple in nature. In a division where the Cincinnati Bengals reside, anything and everything is possible. When the Steelers desperately need a win to stay in the hunt for a division title, the Bengals are there. When the Steelers need a loss or scare to kick them in the rear, the Bengals are there.

Of course, all of this evidence may be moot as far as the AFC South Indianapolis Colts are concerned. Still, during the Bill Cowher era the Steelers have never lost on Monday night when playing at home. They are a whopping 9 - 0 and look strong to make it 10 - 0. It won't be easy, but it's too late to take mulligans. Besides, the Steelers are out of them at this point.

Defense: James Farrior is playing great football right now. He's not flashy, he's not making mind-numbing plays, but do yourself a favor and watch him whenever the defense is on the field. Watch how quick he is off the ball. Watch how he chases down running backs and receivers alike. Watch how he goes from sideline to sideline. Watch the grunt work he puts into 60 minutes of football and you will see why the Steelers signed him.

The Colts are an unflashy unit. Under guru Tony Dungy, the Colts defense is much improved over last year's bunch. This group will never win any awards and they still aren't the type of defense that will win a Super Bowl, but they have the ability to stop the Steelers, especially if the defensive line can win the battle over Hartings and Co.

Advantage: I like the Steelers defense. The matchup to watch is on the lines. I really think the Steelers defensive line will get good penetration consistently.

Offense: Tommy Maddox has given the offense a shot in the arm, that's evident. However, the real improvement comes from the Offensive Line. Jeff Hartings' knee injury seems to have healed to the point that his quickness is coming back. Kendall Simmons continues to improve. Alan Faneca continues to create the best openings for Jerome Bettis and if I were Cowher, I'd make it a point to run plays behind Faneca more often. Speaking of Bettis, he ran pretty well last week against a good, albeit demoralized, defense. Some of the holes he opened for Bettis were downright ridiculously huge. The Bus'll get his holes this week, but he won't have a 4-lane highway to travel on.

The Colts feature a Pro Bowl receiver in Marvin Harrison. He's perhaps the best receiver in the AFC (and has been for a few years now). It will be imperative that the defense contains him. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Colts play a lot of empty set and spread offense, especially if the offensive line can't create holes for Edgerrin James, who I can't believe is not 100 % yet after undergoing season-ending surgery last year. I don't want to test that theory, so I'm assuming the Steelers will respect his potential abilities. The No. 2 receiver is a familiar face in Qadry Ismail. He's had some of his best games against the Steelers.

Advantage: In a close call, I honestly like the Steelers. I think Bettis will tear up the Colt defense which, although second in the league at defending the pass, is 27th against the run.

Quarterbacks: Tommy Maddox is turning into the story of the year at quarterback. Rick Reilly had an article about him in last week's Sports Illustrated. He's a great story in the same manner that Kurt Warner is. What makes him different is that he's been run out of the league already. He's not going anywhere if he can't continue his solid play. It's been said all along that the Steelers needed a quarterback who could be efficient and Maddox gives them the best shot right now.

Peyton Manning, whom Peter King listed in his Top 50 Quarterbacks of All-Time (that's right, All-Time), has fallen on some hard times since his break-out season back in 1999. Many times he's taken the field already down by a touchdown or two; and when James went out last season, it was evident how you beat Peyton Manning. You make him force the throws and attempt the impossible. When he does, the interceptions will follow.

Advantage: I'd take Peyton Manning any day, but this is Monday night in Pittsburgh. Tommy Maddox gets my pick.

Outlook: The Steelers by 7, but it won't be easy. Expect a pretty intense game.

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