Desperate to get run game rolling

The Pittsburgh Steelers host the Indianapolis Colts this afternoon, where the Colts haven't won since 1968. Both teams have something to prove in one of the day's most exciting matchups.

PITTSBURGH – Four games out of first place with eight to play, the five-time defending AFC South division champion Indianapolis Colts are coming into today's game a desperate team.

Troy Polamalu said Indy won't be the only one.

"They better expect a desperate Pittsburgh Steelers team," Polamalu countered. "We're desperate just like everyone else."

The 4-4 Colts will play the 6-2 Steelers at Heinz Field this afternoon at 4:15, and the Steelers are only one game ahead of the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North with problems of their own.

The Steelers are banged up. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been playing with a sore right shoulder since the opener and also wears a brace on his right thumb. TV viewers may have noticed his thumb sickeningly bent underneath the football two weeks ago against the New York Giants.

Roethlisberger is expected to play today, with Byron Leftwich standing by.

Expected to miss today's game is running back Willie Parker, who injured his shoulder against the Washington Redskins. Tight end Heath Miller will also miss the game with a sprained right ankle, and left tackle Marvel Smith remains sidelined with back problems.

Smith's absence will put backup tackle Max Starks up against the game's second-best pass-rusher over the last seven seasons, Dwight Freeney, who has only three sacks this season but is looking to break out.

Redskins RDE Demetric Evans had only one sack coming into Monday night's game against the Steelers, but had 2.5 sacks in the game. Giants RDE Mathias Kiwanuka had only two sacks coming into his game against the Steelers, and also had 2.5 against them.

Freeney's bookend, Robert Mathis, is the Colts' sacks leader with five and he'll line up over Steelers right tackle Willie Colon, who, like Starks, is a better run blocker than pass protector. The Colts rank 25th in the NFL in stopping the run, so it could be the right time to "get back to Steelers football," as Parker put it after Monday night's uneven offensive performance.

"Right at 'em," Colon said. "But is that going to happen?"

That's the big question. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians should be looking to keep his battered quarterback free from the dead aims of Freeney and Mathis. Also, Colts interior tackles Keyunta Dawson and undrafted rookie Eric Foster weigh only 254 and 265 pounds, respectively. Linebackers Clint Session, Garry Brackett and Freddy Keiaho weigh 235, 235 and 226 across the board. Meanwhile, the Steelers' offensive line is probably bigger than its roster-listed average of 324 pounds per man. Colon, for one, sees every reason to fire off the ball and ignite the running game.

"That's the way we're built. That's how we get down," he said. "We'll go against anybody in a phone booth. You just got to put us in there first. We'll see what happens. It's not my job to say what we should do. All we've got to do is perform. But, yeah, we'd like to run at them. I think we could win in the trenches, but we'll see."

With Parker doubtful and Najeh Davenport having been cut Saturday, the Steelers would lean on Mewelde Moore and Gary Russell in the run game. Fullback Carey Davis should also expect to see more action without Miller available to motion into the backfield as a lead blocker. But Davis doesn't expect Arians to use a steady diet of power running plays against the small Colts.

"You can't really just sit up and pound them because they're not going to sit there and allow you to pound them," Davis said. "They don't have the five up front to stand up, so they do a lot of movement. Speed is their strength. They want to move around and make it hard for guys to get on them."

The lightning-quick Colts have had their moments against the run. They held the Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans to season lows on the ground. However, the New England Patriots gave undrafted rookie BenJarvis Green-Ellis his first start last week and the Pats rushed for 140 on the Colts. New England had four 13-play drives and punted only once. Colon sees that kind of ball-control potential in the Steelers.

"The bottom line is the running game could be lights out if we gave it enough tries," Colon said. "We know up front we can bang with them. We can get a hat on a hat and they're not going to be able to hold up. We understand that. Will it go down like that? We've got to wait till Sunday to see."

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