Countdown: Steelers vs. Colts

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Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3) vs. Indianapolis Colts (5-2)
Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014
Heinz Field
4:25 p.m.; CBS

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SERIES HISTORY**: Steelers lead, 19-6 (5-0 in the postseason). The Steelers lead 9-2 in Pittsburgh.   

LAST MEETING: Steelers 23, Colts 20, Sept. 25, 2011, Lucas Oil Stadium: Shaun Suisham's 38-yard field goal with four seconds left in regulation finally decided a back-and-forth affair that had been tied at 10-10, 13-13 and 20-20. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger threw for 364 yards and a touchdown, an 81-yard strike to WR Mike Wallace, and S Troy Polamalu returned a fumble 16 yards for a touchdown after a sack and forced fumble by OLB James Harrison.   

LAST WEEK: The Colts dominated the Bengals, 27-0, in Indianapolis. Indy's 371-yard differential in total offense (506-135) was the second-highest total in franchise history and the highest since 1967 (418 vs. Atlanta). The Colts forced three-and-outs on the Bengals' first eight possessions and 10 times overall. The Steelers fell behind the Texans, 13-0, but rallied for a 30-23 victory at Heinz Field.

WHEN THE COLTS HAVE THE BALL: They'll look to possess it on the way to scoring points. Indianapolis ranks first in the NFL in average time of possession per game (36:56), passing yards per game (329.6), total yards per game (452.9), and No. 2 in points per game (30.9).

QB Andrew Luck leads the league in passing yards (2,331) and completions (199) and is tied for the top spot in touchdown passes (19). He directs an offense that's seemingly as effective in three-tight ends sets as it is while operating with three wide receivers. The ball usually comes out of the pocket quickly, but Luck is tough to tackle when he hangs onto it and he's as mobile as he needs to be on bootlegs or when taking advantage of a running lane, something he'll willingly do. Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict was injured trying to tackle Luck last Sunday. It's not necessarily a passing game heavy on deep balls, but the Colts have plenty of success on crossing routes, misdirection throws (away from a bunch formation or similar strong-side overload) and on check-downs to the running backs.

WR T.Y. Hilton (711 receiving yards) plays a lot like Antonio Brown. The Steelers can't allow him to get behind the secondary and let the ball go over their heads (when that happens, even medium routes become big plays). And the Steelers will have to tackle the catch.

Both Colts backs have amassed over 500 yards from scrimmage (Ahmad Bradshaw 548, Trent Richardson 541) and they've combined for nine touchdowns (seven by Bradshaw, including six receiving). They'll run a little outside zone, but whatever they're running they'll hit it up in there.

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WHEN THE STEELERS HAVE THE BALL**: They'll need to run it well enough and avoid negative plays/penalties often enough to stay out of third-and-long against a blitz-happy defense that ranks No. 1 in the NFL in third-down efficiency (20 conversions on 77 attempts, 26.0 percent).

Indianapolis is tied for third in the NFL with 21 sacks, 20 of which have been amassed in the last five games (all victories). The Colts are coming after the quarterback on third down, and while they're coming they're playing press coverage outside because of the faith they have in CB Vontae Davis and CB Greg Toler. Indianapolis is capable of generating pressure with a four-man rush, but it also isn't shy about bringing seven rushers or more.

It's not a star-studded defense but everyone, it seems, can run and hit and tackle. Possessing the ball against these guys would serve two purposes – stressing a unit that isn't used to playing extended minutes and preventing Luck and Co. from getting onto the field. It's easier said than done.

SPECIAL-TEAMS HEADLINERS: Colts K Adam Vinatieri is 14-for-14 on field goals this season, including a 52-yarder, and has made his last 20 attempts in succession. P/K Pat McAfee has three successful onside kick conversions this season (Jacksonville, with one, is the only other team that has pulled that off) and has an NFL-best 44.8-yard net punting average. WR Griff Whalen has averaged 27.6 yards on kickoff returns. The Steelers average 16.2 yards per kickoff return (No. 31 in the NFL) and had back-to-back 13-yard efforts in the second quarter against Houston.

THE X-FACTOR: Can the youngsters the Steelers turned to against Houston for either the first time or in an expanded capacity (WR Martavis Bryant, NT Daniel McCullers and/or DE Stephon Tuitt) provide as much or even more of a spark against Indianapolis?

THEY SAID IT: "The guy is just a tremendous quarterback. He is a future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. You turn on the tape and he doesn't look any different. He looks better than in my years at Baltimore (secondary coach 2008-10, defensive coordinator 2011). It seems like he is getting better with age." – Colts coach Chuck Pagano on Ben Roethlisberger.

"We're right where we need to be. We're not where we'd like to be, obviously, but we're fine right now." – WR Lance Moore on the 4-3 Steelers.

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