Sorry NBC, no take backs. At least not until week twelve.
The [intlink id=”20″ type=”category”]Pittsburgh Steelers[/intlink] face off the Indianapolis Colts in this week’s edition of Sunday Night Football. Steeler Nation will be tuned in from coast to coast. Cris Collinsworth will be in the booth gleefully pointing out every mistake the Steelers make. Faith Hill will be there in her pleasingly tight dress, although sadly she’s chosen not to bring back the sexy hooker boots she wore three years ago.
The only person who won’t be there is Peyton Manning.
Obviously this match-up looked attractive back in June. It’s not like the Colts gave any indication their franchise player would miss the entire season. They signed him to a $69 million dollar contract in late July for crying out loud. Then again, unlike the Steelers and the $29 million they flushed down the crapper on [intlink id=”85″ type=”category”]Willie Colon[/intlink], the Colts were smart enough to insert a buy out clause that gets them off the hook if Manning never steps behind center again.
The point being this game was never the Steelers versus the Colts. It was going to be Peyton Manning against Blitzburgh. Remove Pey-Pey from the equation and you have an Indianapolis team who are fast becoming the NFL version of the Cleveland Cavaliers sans LeBron.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs COLTS OFFENSE
Even though the Colts smartly inserted that out-clause into his contract, they clearly intended on having their leader on the field this season. Their draft proves this fairly definitely. They spent their first round pick on a tackle and their second on a guard. You don’t beef up an offensive line until you have a franchise quarterback to protect. Or, in the Steelers case, you don’t beef it up even after you find one.
The Colts are like one of those erector sets you use to build a spider that can climb up steps and scare the bejeezus out of your cat. While the parts all move, they still need a battery. In football, your quarterback is your battery. And the Colts have replaced a high drain Lithium Ion with a couple of Duracells. Racist drunken Duracells that went to Penn State.
But let’s not be repetitious.
As I detailed earlier in the week, Kerry Collins is nearing the end of the line. He had his run with the Giants in the early 00s then found a Fountain of Youth for a few years with the Titans but the well has pretty much run dry. Now, despite Colts fans throwing him under the proverbial bus, it would be patently unfair to blame the team’s 0-2 start entirely on him. I love Chaz Batch but does anybody seriously think he’s appreciably better than Collins?
No, the fault lies with the Colts management. The Steelers constructed a team which had enough foundation that removing no single brick would cause the whole thing to come tumbling down. Are the Steelers a Super Bowl team with Batch? Probably not. Could they still win 10 games and go to the playoffs? Absolutely.
The Colts did not allow for this calculations. Since Edgerrin James departed years ago, they’ve relied exclusively on Manning’s arm to set up the run. Joseph Addai is simply not the kind of running back you can hand the ball off to 35 times expecting him to churn out consistent yardage. Not that they could count on a consistent running attack against the Steelers, even if Bret Keisel is nursing a bad knee and will be replaced by Ziggy Hood this week.
The Pierre Garcons and Austin Collies of this world are only as good as the guy throwing them the ball. Against a capable passing attack, this game would give me nightmares, particularly with[intlink id=”96″ type=”category”] Bryant McFadden[/intlink] missing his second straight game. B-Mac will be replaced yet again by Will.i.am Gay in the starting line-up with Kennan Lewis sliding into the nickel slot. Last week they did a fine job against the Seahawks motley crew of wide-outs. This week, they face a better caliber of receivers but a far lesser quarterback. Bet the under.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs COLTS DEFENSE
I bet once we moved on to the other side of the ball, you figured you had heard the last of the P-word. Amazingly, the Colts managed to not only build their offense around their quarterback, they designed their defense with him in mind as well. That’s some pretty impressive tunnel vision. I’m surprised they didn’t just change their name to the Indianapolis Peytons.
The Colts still play ex-coach Tony Dungy’s beloved Tampa 2. For those who aren’t football (or Madden 12) geeks, the Tampa 2 is basically a zone defense. The “2” comes in because there are almost always two players deep in the zone, which theoretically prevents big gains although often at the expense of stuff underneath. Dungy’s version emphasized speed and thus put a premium on smaller more athletic type players. A “bend but don’t break” philosophy featuring smaller players who can get after the passer is great when you can reasonably expect to be playing with a lead.
However, when you run that defense with a totally hapless offense, it’s a recipe for disaster. Too many three and outs puts your tiny D-linemen on the field for too many plays and they get gassed. Also, when your offense can be counted onto keep possession for a decent amount of the game, bend but don’t break is fine. When you have a sputtering offense which gives the opposing team chance after chance, sometimes on a short field, then it’s basically like inviting the other team to score. And that’s exactly what happened as in week one the Texans hung 34 on them while last week the juggernaut Browns threw up a crooky number (27).
The Colts had a top rated pass defense last season while teams ran up and down the field on them. Over the off-season, they finally cut ties with injury prone safety Bob Sanders. They also released starting corner Kelvin Hayden. The net result has been a team that now doesn’t do particularly well against either the run or the pass.
The Steelers offense will have their choice of how to attack. Mike Wallace had a big game last week and will likely do well this week against the Colts soft coverage. The Flash brashly predicted he would achieve the NFL’s first ever 2,000 yard season in 2011. Two games in he’s on pace for 1,850. This week would be as good as any to pad those stats.
One area I’d like to see the Steelers work on is the running game. Peyton Hillis had 94 yards a week after some guy named Ben Tate ran up 116 on them.[intlink id=”88″ type=”category”] Rashard Mendenhall[/intlink] was seventh in the league in rushing last year while this season he’s mired in eighteenth. As much potential as Mendy possesses, it may behoove the Steelers to utilize a two-pronged rushing attack after watching Issac Redman’s impressive 20 yard TD run. Regardless, this is a good opportunity for the revamped offensive line to work on their run blocking. I expect [intlink id=”85″ type=”category”]Chris Kemoeatu[/intlink] to miss another game with his ongoing knee issues which gives newbies Ramon Foster and Marcus Gilbert another week to mesh.
Once again, I caution Steeler Nation to take this game with a grain of salt. On paper, this is a game we should win going away. The Colts are a demoralized team looking for answers that are not forthcoming. Last week, the Steelers took care of business in a business-like manner and I fully expect them to do so again this week. Unfortunately, no matter what the outcome, it’ll be hard to know what we’ve really gleaned from such a victory.