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-Division Preview: Steelers & Colts
By Chris Pokorny, PFCritics Writer
January 14, 2006
This Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers will take on the Indianapolis Colts for the third game of the 2005-2006 NFL divisional playoffs. Both teams met each other earlier this season, in a game that the Colts completely dominated on Monday Night. The Colts utilized their running game with Edgerrin James and rushed for over 100 yards, a rarity against the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense. Ben Roethlisberger was coming off of an injury and did not have the same mobility that he is capable of. Many think that the Colts are the best team in the league without question, but the Steelers have been very good in the past two months. Now that these two teams meet in the second round of the playoffs, who will come out on top?

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AFC Divisional Playoff Game - Team Stats
Pittsburgh Steelers - #6 vs. #1 - Indianapolis Colts
- Overall Record: 11-5
Road Record: 6-2
15th overall
(5th rush, 24th pass)
4th overall
(3rd rush, 16th pass)
- Overall Record: 14-2
Home Record: 7-1
3rd overall
(16th rush, 3rd pass)
11th overall
(16th rush, 15th pass)
Last Meeting - November 28th, 2005
Quarterback vs. Quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger: 17 of 26 for 133 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions. 3 carries, 21 yards.

Roethlisberger struggled when he faced the Colts during the season, but he was coming off of an injury. Although the Colts' defense deserves credit for shutting him down, Roethlisberger was not in sync the way he has been in recent weeks. He completely carved apart the Bengals' defense last week, eliminating any possible playoff jitters he may have.
Peyton Manning: 15 of 25 for 245 yards,  2 touchdowns, interception.

Note: Manning has had quite a bit of playoff experience the past few years. Although he has not made it to the Super Bowl, he performs well in every playoff game except when he faces the Patriots. Manning had no problems against the Steelers defense the first time around, but he knows that he cannot stand in the pocket all day long. His offensive line is very well rested though, and will give him the time he needs to make a play.
Running Backs vs. Running Backs
Willie Parker: 12 carries, 43 yards, 3.6 avg. 4 catches, 23 yards.
Jerome Bettis: 6 carries, 9 yards.

The Steelers were not able to get the running game going against the Colts. Parker is meant to be a fast running back, but the Colts' defensive linemen are so quick that it's hard for Parker to make a move. The Steelers offensive line cannot overpower the Colts, which is a reason why Bettis was not able to get past the line of scrimmage very often.
Edgerrin James: 29 carries, 124 yards, 4.3 avg.

Note: The Colts didn't need any other running back but James to dominate the Steelers in the running game, ended Pittsburgh's long streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher. James didn't have to break a big run, he simply continued to pound and pound away, running the clock down and frustrating the Steelers defense. Of course, it didn't hurt that Manning was picking apart the Steelers defense as well.
Receivers vs. Receivers
Hines Ward: 3 catches, 28 yards, 1 touchdown.
Cedrick Wilson:
3 catches, 44 yards.
Heath Miller:
4 catches, 26 yards.

All of the Steelers receivers were held in check pretty evenly. Ward was only able to pull in three catches, and the tight end Miller was limited to short-yardage plays only. Although the Steelers receivers had success against the Bengals last week, they'll have to depend on the big play off of play-action if they want to hurt the Colts.
Marvin Harrison: 4 catches, 128 yards, 1 touchdown.
Reggie Wayne:
5 catches, 62 yards.
Bryan Fletcher:
3 catches, 28 yards, 1 touchdown.

Note: With the amount of carries that James had, Manning mainly focused on getting the ball to his primary receivers - Harrison and Wayne. The Colts opened the game with a huge connection to Harrison, and never looked back. Anyone on the Colts offense can have a big day when Manning is your quarterback.
Defense vs. Defense
Defense: 2 sacks, 1 interception, 26 points allowed.

Note: The Steelers were able to get minimal pressure on Manning and intercept him once, but they simply could not stop the running game. They did not control the tempo of the game whatsoever, which takes away their intimidating approach that makes them so dangerous.
Defense: 3 sacks, 2 interceptions, 7 points allowed.

Note: The Colts defense stopped the Steelers running game, which threw off their entire gameplan. They were able to take advantage of Roethlisberger's rust, forcing him into 2 picks and sacking him three times. They are all well rested and should have a lot of energy right off the bat.
Special Teams vs. Special Teams
Jeff Reed: Reed has been consistent for the Steelers most of the year, and shouldn't have any weather problems inside the dome.

Antwaan Randle El has been a great punt returner in year's past, but the Colts are pretty good on special teams coverage.
Mike Vanderjagt: The Colts can always rely on Vanderjagt, who holds the NFL record for most consecutive kicks.

Note: Nothing too special on the kick return game, but nothing negative on the same note.
Final Analysis
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Indianapolis Colts
This week is all about Roethlisberger bouncing back. Although the Steelers defense could not stop the Colts the first time around, Big Ben can use his mobility to make a play with his feet. Roethlisberger will not be able to make enough plays from the pocket, so the Steelers must find a way to move the pocket to the outside. It'll be tough to do that with all of the speed on the Colts' defense.

The key to the Steelers offense has always been the running game. The Steelers can win a game without the passing game working better than they can when the running game doesn't work. They have gone to a new approach this season with a fast-paced back in Willie Parker. The Colts were too much for the Steelers offensive line the last time around, so the Steelers will have to formulate some different schemes for this game.

Defensively, the Steelers are on a roll. Although they were fortunate that the Bengals suffered an injury to Carson Palmer last week, they did a fair job of making sure Jon Kitna did not light them up. Troy Polamalu and the Steelers' secondary will be the key for the defense. Although James can dominate the game, if you take Manning off of his game early, a turnover could give the Steelers a two possession lead at some point.
We have seen Manning light up the Denver Broncos defense every year in the playoffs, so it'll be interesting to see how he does against the Steelers. He had no problems against them earlier in the year, and has never shown any "rust" just because the Colts were able to relax in the final few weeks of the regular season. He does not like to get sacked, and it'll come tough for the Steelers since the Colts' offensive line is very well rested.

It's not just Edgerrin James that beats the Steelers, because he couldn't get it done without the offensive line and Manning making so many audibles at the line of scrimmage. He will see another heavy workload in this game, but not as much as he did in the regular season. The Colts are likely to pass just a little bit more to counter the increased scoring by the Steelers offense.

The Colts defense must rattle Ben Roethlisberger with their front four. The Colts are talented enough to shut down Willie Parker, but Roethlisberger still has the ability to improve his gameplay with more mobility. If the Colts rattle him in the first quarter, they can take away any chance of the Steelers coming away with a victory almost immediately.
AFC Divisional Prediction
Winner - Indianapolis Colts
There is a reason that the Colts could have finished the season 16-0 if they really wanted to. There's a reason that the Colts already dominated the Steelers once this year. There's a reason why they have the best record in the NFL. The reason is simple: they are the best team in football.
Final Score:
Colts 31, Steelers 13.

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