Even though the Steelers will be without RB Willie Parker for Sunday's game against the Colts, expect Pittsburgh to take every opportunity to run the ball down Indianapolis' throat. Mewelde Moore is likely to get the start, and the Steelers should have confidence with his ability to run inside the tackles. If the Steelers employ a zone blocking scheme for this game, they'll go behind road-grater Chris Kemoeatu and Justin Hartwig.
The Colts are allowing four yards a carry in their first eight games, the biggest weakness of the team. If Keyunta Dawson is unable to maintain leverage on the line, Gary Brackett, the team's leading tackler, will likely have to take on blockers and be unable to make plays in the backfield.
In the AFC Divisional game these two teams last squared off in, Manning tried to force-feed Wayne when he was locked in single coverage on Bryant McFadden. The pressure the Steelers were getting was outstanding, and McFadden held his own en route to a Steelers win. Manning is going to be looking for that kind of match-up, especially with as much blitzing as the Steelers will do from the edge.
Taylor and Townsend's ability to handle Wayne in zone or man coverage will go a long way in determining the outcome of this game. The Colts aren't a great running team, and the only way Manning is going to keep himself protected is by keeping a tight end in to block. If Taylor and Townsend can make some plays – like Townsend did in Week 9 against the Redskins – they will be able to suffocate the Colts' talented offense.
Woodley is listed as questionable for Sunday's game due to a calf injury, meaning he has a 50-50 chance of playing. It was reported that Keyaron Fox took more snaps in practice this week, but Timmons would get the start if Woodley can't go. Either one of them will be instrumental in breaking down the Colts offensive line from the outside-in. The Steelers linebackers are the best group in the NFL, and the more success Timmons or Fox can have in beating Diem, the better off their inside linebackers – James Farrior in particular – will have in creating penetration.
Diem has been a part of a unit that's only allowed nine sacks this season – 4th in the NFL. A lot of that has to do with Manning's quick release and smarts inside the pocket. Diem will either deal with Woodley's brute strength and size, or Timmons' other-world speed. Either way, the match-up isn't favorable for him, and he'll likely have tight end help with a running back chipping on his way out of the backfield.
The Steelers are going to look to run the ball, especially on first downs, where the Colts are giving up four-plus yards per play on first downs this season. The Steelers are among the worst in the NFL in efficiency on first down, so the potential of a lot of mid-distance third-down situations looms heavily.
With TE Heath Miller out with a calf injury, Ward is going to have to be even more of a factor on intermediate routes. Since the Steelers will likely bunch their receivers as they have this season, Sanders will have to pick one of them up since he'll be close to the line for run support. Ward is the Steelers' biggest threat inside the hashes in this game, but he's going to have a real tough match-up with the speedy and physical Sanders, should these two lock up.
|The Coolong Scorecard|
Neal Coolong writes a blog called "On The Black Side" and his match-ups column appears weekly on Steel City Insider.