AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers are No. 16 in the NFL in total defense (357.9 yards allowed per game) and No. 21 in scoring defense (24.5 points allowed per game).

And the reality is the Steelers have been a middling defense for the last couple of seasons after playing it at an absurdly high level for the better part of a decade

There are numerous reasons why the unit has fallen off. One James Harrison won't entertain is that age has caught up with defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who turned 77 in early September.

[+] EnlargePittsburgh's James Harrison
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesJames Harrison was credited with a second sack of Andrew Luck on Wednesday.
"It's nothing about Dick LeBeau is getting too old," the veteran outside linebacker said. "You've got a bunch of idiots that don't know what they're talking about when they say that so I do take it a little personal."

Harrison is doing his part to defend LeBeau's reputation as well as restore the intimidation factor to a defense that has too often lacked it recently.

Harrison recorded his 15th multi-sack game while with the Steelers in a 51-34 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, though it didn't become official until Wednesday -- three days after Pittsburgh's victory.

Harrison had been credited with a sack of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and Elias Sports gave the 36-year-old Harrison a second sack on Wednesday, taking one that had been credited to strong safety Troy Polamalu.

"That's messed up," Polamalu said.

Then he laughed and conceded that Elias had been correct in crediting Harrison with both of the sacks that the Steelers managed against the Colts.

It seemed like old times in the Steelers' locker room on Wednesday with Polamalu and Harrison joking around. Moments like the one the two longtime teammates shared after practice almost didn't happen.

Harrison was content to walk away from the game when he officially retired in early September. When Jarvis Jones went down with a dislocated wrist a couple of weeks later and the Steelers needed immediate help at outside linebacker, Polamalu was among those who helped coax Harrison out of retirement.

Harrison said he would not have returned for any other team -- and that he would not have done so had his two sons been against it.

Even more than a month after coming out of retirement, Harrison still seems a little conflicted about having to put on hold his promise to spend more time with his sons.

"The big thing is not having that time with my kids like now. If I'm lucky I may get a few hours a week," Harrison said. "Being back right now it's still kind of hard because you're missing that time with them, you're missing those moments that you can't get back."

What Harrison has been getting back is his legs after not doing any football-related drills for more than nine months and it is showing.

Harrison, who is sharing snaps with Arthur Moats at right outside linebacker, helped the Steelers put consistent pressure on Luck last Sunday. That and the number of times that the Steelers hit Luck could bode well for the defense in the second half of the season.

"I like the direction we're going in," Harrison said. "We still have a lot of things we need to get better at."
PITTSBURGH -- There is no timetable for veteran cornerback Ike Taylor's return from a broken forearm.

But Taylor will play a key role in the coming weeks as the Pittsburgh Steelers try to fix cornerback Cortez Allen, who has already been demoted twice since signing a five-year, $25 million contract right before the start of the regular season.

Taylor
“I talk often with Ike Taylor about Cortez’s situation because he’s lived it,” Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. “He’s been that guy who’s been pulled out of games or maybe demoted in portions of games and has had bad tape out there and responded positively. Ike’s presence and experience in that regard is going to be helpful, but obviously Cortez has got to do it.”

Taylor will do his part to help shepherd Allen through the roughest stretch of his career.

He has obvious affection for and belief in the fourth-year cornerback, and no one at Steelers’ headquarters can better relate to what Allen is going through right now than Taylor.

Taylor, after all, experienced the sting of losing his starting job in 2006.

Then-Steelers coach Bill Cowher benched Taylor in late November, and he didn’t start for five consecutive games.

Taylor re-entered the starting lineup for the regular-season finale and then thrived after Tomlin succeeded Cowher in 2007.

If nothing else Taylor can point to himself as an example at football's loneliest position as someone who pulled himself out of a funk by working hard and not getting too down on himself.

Tomlin will also try to keep Allen’s confidence from bottoming out.

When he replaced Allen with Antwon Blake at nickel back last Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, Tomlin told Allen that he still had great belief in him and that he was simply doing what he needed to do to win the game.

Tomlin said the same thing to Allen after the Steelers’ 51-34 win over the Colts.

“It has no bearing on what I think he’s capable of, largely or in the long term,” Tomlin said of the in-game demotion.

Allen’s inconsistency led to his losing starting job to Brice McCain before the Steelers’ game against the Houston Texans. The 6-1, 196-pounder allowed two touchdown receptions before getting yanked for Blake, who helped preserve the Steelers’ win with a late interception.

Tomlin said Allen and Blake will compete for the job of nickel back this week as the Steelers prepare for a critical game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Reading between the lines, however, it looks like Allen will open the Ravens game as the Steelers’ nickel back -- if he is willing to fight for it in practice.

It also sounds like Allen has to do a better job of fighting for the ball when it gets thrown his way in games.

“Often times he is in position because he does a great job of getting in position but position is just an element of (playing cornerback),” Tomlin said. “You’ve got to finish.”

Marcus Gilbert set to return, start

October, 28, 2014
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PITTSBURGH – Pittsburgh Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert is scheduled to practice on Wednesday after passing a series of concussion tests.

Barring a setback Gilbert will start Sunday night against the Baltimore Ravens, coach Mike Tomlin said.

Gilbert
Gilbert did not play in the Steelers’ 51-34 win against the Indianapolis Colts. Mike Adams started at right tackle in his absence. The offensive line did not allow a sack against the Colts, and Tomlin singled out the play of Adams at the beginning of his weekly news conference.

But Tomlin did not waver later in saying Gilbert will start against the Ravens if he is healthy.

Tomlin said starting nose tackle Steve McLendon has a good chance of playing Sunday night after missing the last two games because of a shoulder injury. Safety Shamarko Thomas is expected to return after missing the last three games because of a hamstring injury.

Ross Ventrone, who replaced Thomas on special teams, is the only Steelers player who has been ruled out for the 8:30 p.m. ET game against the Ravens on Sunday.

Ventrone went down in the Colts game with a hamstring injury, and Tomlin said Thomas will take his place on special teams.

As far as the bruised psyche of cornerback Cortez Allen, Tomlin said he still has confidence in the fourth-year veteran.

Allen lost his starting job last week and against the Colts he was replaced at nickel back by Antwon Blake after giving up a pair of touchdown receptions.

Tomlin said Allen will compete with Blake for the nickel back spot this week in practice.

“He’s got to lick his wounds and roll his sleeves up and come back to work this week,” Tomlin said of Allen. “We’ll watch him closely and expect him to do it and answer the bell that comes with putting bad stuff on tape. I would imagine that Baltimore’s going to work to attack him and he better work to defend himself.”

The Film Don't Lie: Steelers

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
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A weekly look at what the Pittsburgh Steelers must fix.

Cornerback Cortez Allen’s regression continued against the Indianapolis Colts, and the fourth-year veteran got yanked from the Steelers’ 51-34 win after giving up a pair of touchdown passes.

The Steelers replaced Allen at nickelback with Antwon Blake, who could remain in that role for the foreseeable future, including Sunday night's prime-time matchup against the Ravens.

Blake intercepted Andrew Luck in the fourth quarter to help preserve the Steelers’ most impressive win of the season. Allen, meanwhile, looks completely lost.

T.Y. Hilton turned him around with a double move late in the second quarter, and the Colts wide receiver caught a 28-yard touchdown pass even though Allen had given him a healthy cushion.

Allen leads the Steelers with two interceptions but inconsistency led to the Steelers replacing the 6-foot-1, 196-pounder as a starter with Brice McCain. Now Allen may have to fight to win back the nickelback job from Blake, who has primarily played special teams since signing with the Steelers last season.

What is most problematic about Allen’s play is he has either not adjusted to the NFL’s emphasis on enforcing the illegal contact rule on defensive backs or the former fourth-round draft pick is too often grabbing receivers because he doesn’t trust his technique.

PITTSBURGH -- Just two games into an NFL career that is suddenly brimming with promise, rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant has seven receptions for 123 yards and three touchdowns.

Bryant
Bryant did not dress in the first five games of the season but he already has more touchdowns than any Steelers player not named Antonio Brown.

Yes, that includes running back Le'Veon Bell, who has a pair of scores.

Bryant's emergence in the last week has given the Steelers a bona fide deep threat and a tall, speedy receiver to complement Brown, who is second in the NFL with 852 receiving yards.

"The more he plays the more A.B. is going to benefit from it because he is a threat," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said of Bryant. "We'll just continue to develop him. I think the key is not to do too much, just keep him right where he is and keep making plays."

Bryant has flashed in his first two NFL games even though the 6-4, 212-pounder is still learning the offense.

"We're playing package football with him," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "He's got to continue to work every day and round out all elements of his game."

What has to have the Steelers really excited about Bryant is he has been the anti-Limas Sweed so far.

The Steelers had high hopes for Sweed when they took the rangy, speedy wideout in the second round of the 2008 draft. Sweed never had a problem getting open but chronic drops suggested that he seemed to shrink from the moment.

Bryant has done anything but that, and the fourth-round draft pick has taken his early success in stride.

When asked if frustration set in at all when he didn't dress for the first five games, the Clemson product said, "The same thing happened in college. Patience is everything so I was fine. As long as you continue to work a lot things will come to you."
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers were credited with seven quarterback hits in their 51-34 win over the Indianapolis Colts. I imagine that number will rise significantly after the Steelers coaches review film of the game and adjust any statistics from it accordingly.

The Steelers consistently pressured Andrew Luck and knocked him down a bunch of times. The defense seemed to play with an extra burst, energized by the need to harass Luck as well as the offense’s fast start.

Harrison
Harrison
One thing jumped out to me during the track meet that broke out on the Heinz Field turf. After one play in which the Steelers belted Luck and forced an incomplete pass, none other than James Harrison helped him up and tapped him on the side of the helmet.

I figured that was a sign of respect for the way Luck kept getting up and hanging in the pocket to keep the Colts in the game, so I asked Harrison about the gesture after the Steelers improved to 5-3.

“Helping him up, that’s not a big thing,” the veteran outside linebacker said. “Everybody thinks that’s a big thing to help somebody up. That’s just sportsmanship.”

Harrison then fixed one of his patented glares on me, not having to say anything else to let me know that he did not appreciate the question -- or that he thought it was dumber than, well, sportswriters.

It was classic Harrison, and the home locker room is not the only place where the Harrison of old surfaced Sunday at Heinz Field.

Harrison easily played his best game since the Steelers coaxed him out of retirement in late September. He recorded a sack and was credited with a quarterback hit, helping the Steelers hit Luck early and often.

The play of the 36-year-old Harrison stood out enough that coach Mike Tomlin singled him out in his post-game news conference.

“It was great to see James Harrison show glimpses of James Harrison,” Tomlin said. “He’s starting to show us what he’s capable of. He’s worked his tail off to get to this spot.”

And he is not done working.

Harrison, a five-time Pro Bowler from 2007-11, said conditioning-wise he feels like he is coming out of preseason since he didn’t re-sign with the Steelers until Sept. 22 and has had to work his way back into football shape.

“I’m in the process of losing a little bit of weight so I can move a little better, and it’s starting to show,” Harrison said. “Each week is a little better than the week before.”
PITTSBURGH -- When the Pittsburgh Steelers' offense broke out it did so in a big way.

The numbers from the 51-34 win over the Indianapolis Colts are staggering.

[+] EnlargeRoethlisberger
AP Photo/Don WrightBen Roethlisberger joined some elite company with his career day against the Colts.
The 639 total yards were the most by the Steelers since 2002 and the third-highest in team history. The yards that the Steelers piled up as if they were playing a video game and not an actual opponent also translated into mega points.

The Steelers scored 50 or more points for only the sixth time in franchise history and the first since 1984.

The biggest question with the 5-3 Steelers at the midway point of the season and only a half-game out of first place in the AFC North is this: How do they bottle what they did against the Colts?

In short answer, they can’t.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger played a game for the ages while taking aim at the Colts and a slew of records. All you have to know about how rare his performance was is that Roethlisberger joined the iconic Y.A. Tittle as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for at least 500 yards and six touchdowns in a game with no interceptions, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

One positve sign after the Steelers eviscerated the Colts, who had been one of the NFL’s hottest teams: There was hardly any chest-thumping in the locker room after the resounding win.

“We played well but we left a lot out there,” Roethlisberger said after joining Tom Brady, Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as the only NFL quarterbacks to win 100 games in 150 or fewer starts. “We showed flashes of being really good but, like I said, I missed some throws and we turned the ball over so we still left stuff out there. But I’m sure any offense in the NFL will take it if they could be like this offense.”

Ramon Foster agreed.

“Our job now is to go back and not get comfortable with success,” the Steelers’ starting left guard said. “We have to be on top of our job next week and the week after that and continue to build.”

To Foster, the offense’s play against the Colts wasn’t just a testament to the talent the Steelers have on that side of the ball. It also showed how the Steelers stuck together when the offense struggled and came under heavy criticism outside of team headquarters.

“There was a lot of growing pains along the way," Foster said. "Our job was to not get frustrated. You can’t have guys splitting saying, ‘Why isn’t this working? Why isn’t that working?’ We showed that if we hold it together the way we did and not do what we did against Cleveland in the first game of the year and not sputter out [in the second half] that we can be special.”
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PITTSBURGH -- The question triggered something that helped Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey make sense of how his quarterback laid waste to a defense that had not given up a single point the previous Sunday.

That is why Pouncey's face broke into a knowing smile a couple of moments after he was asked if he had seen anything behind closed doors that portended the kind of record-setting performance Ben Roethlisberger put together when the Steelers needed it to secure a signature win.

"I'm glad you mentioned that," Pouncey said in an upbeat, but hardly euphoric, postgame locker room following the Steelers' 51-34 win against the Indianapolis Colts. "Usually, he's a little more relaxed before [games], but he was zoned in today. He didn't really say much."

His actions spoke volumes during a wild shootout Sunday that is more commonly associated with the Big 12 than it is the NFL.

Roethlisberger made a powerful statement by outplaying Andrew Luck and showing how good the Steelers' offense can be when he is at the top of his game.

In retrospect, we should have seen this coming.

OK, maybe not the 522 yards and six touchdowns and such sublime play that Roethlisberger fit the ball into tight windows when the situation dictated it -- or simply found the open man the multiple times the Colts generously offered up chunks of passing yards to Big Ben with broken coverages.

But the best game of Roethlisberger's career has its roots in back-to-back subpar performances in a close win against the Jacksonville Jaguars and then an embarrassing loss to the Cleveland Browns.

Roethlisberger has a competitive streak longer than the three rivers that meet in Pittsburgh, not far from Heinz Field. You knew with his résumé and competitive snarl that somebody was going to pay for that loss to the Browns, a team he usually owns.

What brought everything together for Roethlisberger and an offense that is good enough for the Steelers to contend in the AFC: the challenge of matching the prolific Colts offense.

It probably also didn't hurt that Roethlisberger had to have heard all of the questions last week about Luck's greatness and how the Steelers could possibly stop him and the Colts.

"He won't admit it, but I'm sure," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said when asked if all of the Luck chatter motivated Roethlisberger. "You don't ascend to the position that he is professionally without that competitive fire burning. There was a lot written and said about their offense and their quarterback, and rightfully so. Some of it by me."

That had to fire up Roethlisberger even though he downplayed the Luck dynamic after becoming the first quarterback in NFL history with multiple 500-yard passing games.

"I don't know anyone who's more competitive than [No.] 7," Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel said, "and I've met a lot of dudes that have played in this league, and I've never met anyone who wants to win more than him."

Keisel is one of Roethlisberger's closest friends on the Steelers and has seen that competitive side everywhere from a football field to a fishing hole.

That is why it didn't surprise him Roethlisberger outplayed Luck.

Keisel, though, had such respect for Luck -- and the way he kept getting up after being knocked down like a bowling pin -- that he made a point to seek out the third-year man after the game and compliment him.

Keisel gushed about Luck in the Steelers' locker room.

But he also added: "I say all of that about Andrew, but Ben was the top dog, no doubt. He stood in the pocket, made big throws, big plays, flipped the field. It was amazing watching Ben."

Rapid Reaction: Pittsburgh Steelers

October, 26, 2014
Oct 26
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videoPITTSBURGH -- A few thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers' 51-34 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday at Heinz Field.

What it means: The Steelers made it closer than it should have been after losing a fumble on consecutive possessions in the second half. But they still put together their most impressive performance of the season in winning the second of back-to-back games for the first time this season. They also notched the signature victory that eluded them and arrive at the midway point of the season 5-3 and just a half-game behind the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger played perhaps the best game of his career, setting Steelers single-game records for completions (40), yards (522) and touchdown passes (six). Roethlisberger won his 100th game in his 150th career start, joining Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Terry Bradshaw as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to reach that milestone in 150 or fewer starts.

Stock watch: The offense played its best game of the season in large part because the Steelers were aggressive from the start and Roethlisberger was so in sync with his receivers. Antonio Brown had another monster game -- the NFL's leading receiver caught 10 passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns -- but he also got a lot of help. Rookie Martavis Bryant, who had yet to dress for an NFL game at this time last week, caught five passes for 83 yards, and two touchdowns and tight end Heath Miller re-emerged in the passing game. Miller caught seven passes for 112 yards and a touchdown on the Colts' outmatched secondary.

What were they thinking? The Steelers need to toss the play that gives Roethlisberger the option of pooch punting into the nearby Ohio River. The Steelers inexplicably pulled it out near the end of the first half, and it almost cost them dearly. Roethlisberger punted after taking a long look at the defense on fourth-and-4 from the Colts' 34-yard line. Defensive end Ricky Jean Francois blocked it, and Colts quarterback Andrew Luck almost drove Indianapolis for a touchdown that would have cut the Steelers' lead to 35-24. The Colts had to settle for a short Adam Vinatieri field goal but only because Luck ran out of time. That sequence could have been a huge momentum shift. Fortunately for the Steelers, Roethlisberger and the offense were too good for that boneheaded call to matter.

Game ball: Roethlisberger was sensational in outdueling Luck. He needed only a little more than two quarters to tie his career high with five touchdown passes in a game. His 320 passing yards in the first two quarters were the most Roethlisberger has ever thrown for in a half, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Injury report: Running back Le'Veon Bell left the game in the second quarter with an ankle injury but returned after a brief absence. Safety Ross Ventrone, who has been playing special teams with Shamarko Thomas out, left the game in the third quarter with a hamstring injury and did not return.

What's next: The Steelers host the Baltimore Ravens next Sunday night. The Ravens, who beat the Steelers 26-6 in Baltimore on Sept. 11, fell to 5-3 earlier today after losing 27-24 to the Bengals.
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier will start today against the Indianapolis Colts after missing the last four games with a sprained knee.

Shazier has been listed as probable on Pittsburgh's final injury of the week and his return should help the Steelers with tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener a prominent part of the Colts’ passing game.

The Steelers will be without one of the starters on their offensive line against the Colts, who are tied for third in the NFL with 21 sacks.

Right tackle Marcus Gilbert has been deactivated after suffering a concussion last Monday night in the Steelers’ 30-23 win over the Houston Texans. Mike Adams will make his first start of the season in place of Adams.

Joining Gilbert on the Steelers’ inactives list because of injuries are nose tackle Steve McLendon (shoulder), cornerback Ike Taylor (forearm) and safety Shamarko Thomas (hamstring).

Wide receiver Justin Brown, cornerback B.W. Webb and quarterback Landry Jones are the Steelers’ healthy scratches.

The Colts are without starting wide receiver Reggie Wayne (elbow) and Hakeem Nicks will start in his place. Running back Trent Richardson (hamstring) will play against the Steelers but the third-year man will be limited.

Ahmad Bradshaw will start in place of Richardson.
A by-the-numbers look at the Indianapolis Colts-Pittsburgh Steelers game on Sunday at 4:25 p.m. ET.

-8: Steelers’ point differential, the worst of any team with at least four wins

.810: Colts’ winning percentage in games decided by eight or fewer points since 2012, the best in the NFL

1: Colts’ NFL rank in time of possession (36:56)

2: Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell’s NFL rank in yards from scrimmage (938)

3: Passes thrown by Colts quarterback Andrew Luck that should have been intercepted, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the most by any quarterback this season.

4: Total third-down conversions allowed by the Colts in their past four games

9: Steelers wins against the Colts the 11 times they have played in Pittsburgh

10: Colts players who have at least one sack this season

11: Sacks allowed by the Colts

17: Wins by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in 18 career October games at Heinz Field

18: Receptions Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton needs to break Marvin Harrison’s team record for most receptions in first three seasons (179)

18: Colts drives that have been at least 10 plays

19.3: Points allowed per game by the Steelers at home since 2012, fourth fewest in the AFC

26.7: First downs per game for the Colts, second-most in the NFL

34: Catches by Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown that have resulted in first downs

36: Catches by Hilton that have resulted in first downs, tops in the NFL

45: Catches tight end Heath Miller needs to move past John Stallworth and into second place on the Steelers’ all-time receptions list

87.9: Shaun Suisham’s field-goal percentage since joining the Steelers in 2010, tops in franchise history

96.0: Roethlisberger’s passer rating, 11th best in the NFL

100.5: Luck’s passer rating, seventh best in the NFL
PITTSBURGH – Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier is likely to return to action on Sunday after missing the last four games because of a sprained knee.

Shazier is listed as probable for the Steelers’ 4:25 p.m. ET game against the visiting Indianapolis Colts on the team’s final injury report of the week.

Shazier
The Steelers will probably be without a starter on the offensive side of the ball as right tackle Marcus Gilbert is listed as doubtful after suffering a concussion last Monday night. Mike Adams will start his first game this season if Gilbert is unable to play against the Colts.

The Steelers have ruled out safety Shamarko Thomas (hamstring), nose tackle Steve McLendon (shoulder) and cornerback Ike Taylor (forearm) for Sunday.

The Colts have ruled out starting wide receiver Reggie Wayne (elbow) for their first game in Pittsburgh since 2008 while running back Trent Richardson (hamstring) is questionable.

Here are my projected healthy scratches for the Steelers with the assumption that Gilbert won’t play against the Colts: wide receiver Justin Brown, quarterback Landry Jones and cornerback B.W. Webb.

Colts vs. Steelers preview

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
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The streaking Indianapolis Colts will try to win their sixth game in a row on Sunday when they visit the Pittsburgh Steelers. Slowing down quarterback Andrew Luck will be the Steelers' priority, and they have to find a way to minimize his impact or score enough to keep pace with the 5-2 Colts. Beating Indianapolis would give Pittsburgh a 5-3 record at the halfway point of the season as well as a signature win.

ESPN Colts reporter Mike Wells and Steelers reporter Scott Brown take a closer look at the 4:25 p.m. ET game at Heinz Field.

Brown: Mike, the Steelers’ passing game has been torched by the likes of Mike Glennon and Brian Hoyer this season. The Steelers' pass rush has been average, and they are suspect in the secondary. That is not a good formula for stopping Luck. What is the best way to contain him, if that is possible?

Wells: Blitzing Luck is the best way, but that appears to be a problem for the Steelers. Luck has done an exceptional job of spreading the ball around this season. He is not just focusing on receivers Reggie Wayne or T.Y. Hilton. Luck had back-to-back games where he completed passes to nine different receivers this season. His biggest problem, though, is interceptions: He is tied for third in the league in that category with seven. The Colts have survived Luck’s miscues so far, but they won’t be as fortunate once they get to the playoffs and face teams that can make them pay for their mistakes.

The Steelers are a tough team to figure out. One week they get blown out by Cleveland, and then they come back and use an incredible performance in the second quarter to beat Houston. What is Pittsburgh’s identity?

Brown: Mike, I can’t figure out this team quarter to quarter, much less game to game. The defense certainly isn’t the one that people are accustomed to seeing. There is no intimidation factor, no swagger, and the Steelers are really just trying to get by defensively as they retool a unit that is in transition. The Steelers have the potential to forge a personality as a dynamic offensive team, as they have the NFL’s leading receiver in Antonio Brown, the second-leading rusher in Le'Veon Bell and, of course, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers have moved the ball this season, but they have too often bogged down in the red zone. Maybe scoring three touchdowns in the last three minutes of the second quarter Monday night against the Texans will serve as a springboard for the offense. It had better put up a lot of points against the Colts if the Steelers are to beat one of the NFL’s hottest teams.

I normally don’t associate the Colts with the kind of defense they played in absolutely stifling the Bengals on Sunday. Is Indianapolis' defense underrated?

Wells: It is very underrated. I didn’t think this defense had a chance once linebacker Robert Mathis, last season’s sack leader, was lost for the season with a torn Achilles. The unit appeared to be headed for a rough season after it had only one sack over the first two games. But defensive coordinator Greg Manusky has taken a hold-nothing-back approach with his defense. With two cornerbacks who can blanket receivers, Greg Toler and Vontae Davis, Manusky is loading the box and constantly blitzing. That is why the Colts have 20 sacks and nine turnovers during their five-game winning streak. They have also held their past four opponents to 4-of-41 on third down. People might not have respected the Colts' defense before, but now teams have to take notice.

The Steelers have a history of being a good defensive team. They are 15th in the league in yards allowed a game. Are they on the decline defensively?

Brown: That is a great question. The Steelers have to hope it doesn’t get any worse defensively, or they could be in trouble. They have some promising young players to build around in rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier and rookie defensive end Stephon Tuitt. But the Steelers have serious questions at outside linebacker, especially if 2013 first-round pick Jarvis Jones doesn’t develop into a pass-rushing force. Cornerback is also an issue, a position at which the organization has not drafted well or neglected, depending on your vantage point. Cortez Allen is the Steelers’ best young cornerback, and he recently lost his starting job to Brice McCain. Allen has the physical ability to develop into a No. 1 cornerback, but the 2011 fourth-round pick has to become more consistent. It could get worse before it gets better on defense, given some of the holes that the Steelers have tried to spackle over by moves such as coaxing veteran outside linebacker James Harrison out of retirement.

The Colts seem like they have something going with Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw at running back. Richardson seems to be playing much better than he did last season. Is part of the reason that Bradshaw has eased the pressure on Richardson to carry the Colts' ground game?

Wells: Richardson might never live up to the expectations as being the No. 3 overall pick in 2012, but he is running better than he did last season, when he eventually was demoted. He is running with more confidence and making better decisions. Having Bradshaw has been a blessing for Richardson because he doesn’t have the burden of carrying the load in the backfield. Neither player has a problem sharing the work, and it helps that Bradshaw is familiar with sharing the load in the backfield. He went through it while with the New York Giants.

Brown looks like he could surpass the 1,499 receiving yards he had last season. What makes him so successful, and what type of challenges will he present to the Colts’ secondary?

Brown: I thought Brown would have a really tough time matching his production in 2013, when the fifth-year veteran set a Steelers record for receiving yards in a season. He has been even better this season and has scored five touchdowns after reaching the end zone eight times in 2013. Brown is an excellent route-runner, makes tough catches in traffic and is dazzling after the catch. The Colts will have to limit the damage Brown does after the catch, and I would imagine they will do everything they can to take him out of the game. But no team has succeeded in doing that, even though a reliable complement opposite Brown has yet to emerge.

PITTSBURGH – Dri Archer’s world-class speed has yet to translate into any significant kickoff returns, and Pittsburgh Steelers special teams coordinator Danny Smith said the rookie has to learn to rely on more than just his greatest attribute.

“There are a lot of fast guys working at McDonald’s that can’t play this game,” Smith said. “Right now he thinks it’s about speed and as you know, it isn’t.”

Archer
That has become pretty apparent with Archer averaging just 17.9 yards on nine kickoff returns, the worst of any NFL player with at least nine kickoff returns.

But Smith said he is not frustrated with Archer as much as he is realistic with the rookie. And, Smith added, it is way too early to get down on the third-round pick, considering he has played all of five NFL games.

“You press as a mature, experienced coach,” said Smith, who is in his 20th season coaching in the NFL. “Now you’re talking about a young kid that’s played [five] games -- hell yeah, he presses. You talk to him about not [pressing], but I think it’s pretty natural. We’ve got to fight through it together.”

The Steelers need more out of their kickoff returns and they were confident that the explosive Archer would turn in game-breaking plays on special teams when they drafted the former Kent State star.

Archer is the fastest player on the team – he ran the 40-yard dash in a blazing 4.26 seconds at the NFL scouting combine last February – and Smith said the 5-foot-8, 173-pound Archer just needs to be more patient and let the game come to him.

“As soon as that kid makes a big play, we’ll all be hopping on the bandwagon and we’ll all be celebrating, ‘Hey, this is what we thought he was,’ ” Smith said. “It will come. It really will. I’ve seen it too many times because of his work habits and because of his athleticism and because of his want-to. I think he’s going to be fine, and the sooner, the better.”

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