2:45 p.m.: Hi everyone from Heinz Field about 90 minutes before the Steelers take on the Colts. It's the start of an important three-game stretch for the Steelers over the next 11 days. They will play three AFC games all at home during that stretch. They host San Diego next Sunday and then play the Bengals on Thursday, Nov. 20. The Colts (4-4) are coming off a nice win at home over New England and their offense seems a bit more in sync with the return of Dallas Clark to the lineup. He's always been one of Peyton Manning's favorite targets and should be today, too. This game sets up to be a fairly close contest, but an important one for both teams as they begin the second half of the season. I'll be back shortly with inactives and more pregame comments.
Remember, we need your posts to keep the dialog going!
2:53 p.m.: The inactives are out for today's game. Steelers: CB Bryant McFadden, RB Willie Parker, LB LaMarr Woodley, OL Tony Hills, OT Marvel Smith, TE Heath Miller, DE Orpheus Roye and QB Dennis Dixon (3rd QB). For the Colts: DB Kelvin Haden, DB Jamie Silva, LB Jordan Senn, LB Buster Davis, C Steve Justice, WR Roy Hall, TE Tom Santi and DT Daniel Muir. Lawrence Timmons will start at OLB for Woodley and Max Starks will continue at LT for Smith. Matt Spaeth will start at TE for Miller. We'll see how this affects different coverage packages for the Steelers. Larry Foote could be on the field more in nickle situations and we may see a Bruce Davis siting. Maybe.
3:30 p.m.: The Steelers are out on the field warming up and while you can't tell much from that, Ben Roethlisberger is ou there doing some stretching and just a bit of throwing on the side. I'm sure the Steelers would love to control the line of scrimmage today and run the ball, allowing Roethlisberger a chance to throw just when necessary. He's certainly capable of winning a game on his own, but you still wonder just how healthy he is. We know this: he's healthy enough to play and to start, which is all that matters at the moment. \
NFL Films is here and there are a couple of guys with a camera and mic watching James Harrison warm up. That should make for some interesting footage once they compile the Steelers 2008 season video. Or show it on NFL Network. It's amazing how that idea, begun in the late 1950s by Ed Sabol and run for years now by his son, Steve, has blossomed into a tremendously profitable part of the NFL's empire. Not to mention the countless years of joy they've brought to football fans everywhere. From great video to symphony music to accompany it, NFL Films has been a big part of the NFL's success.
4:05 p.m.: Just about ready to go here and the Steelers are about to be introduced. Little bit of wind here, blowing across the field left to right as you face the open end of the field. We'll see if that presents any issues for the kickers today. The Steelers defense is being introduced, we should be ready to go in about 10 minutes.
4:17 p.m.: Losing Najeh Davenport doesn't improve the kick return game, but 15-yard penalty by the Colts makes things a bit better. A short, crisp passing game to start could get Ben into a nice rhythm. Three plays and a first down. So far, a good start. Look to see if the Steelers throw a lot of short, quick stuff then try to pull them up and hit a deep one.
4:22 p.m.: Looks like the Steelers are trying short passes and quick drops for Roethlisberger. It's about time. One thing you'll see a lot of today are runs between the tackles by the Steelers. The Colts do not have a defensive starter who weighs more than 274 pounds. One of the pleasures I get when I cover games is I sit next to our Gene Collier in the press box. Gene's sharp eye caught that stat. If you get a chance today, check out Gene's A-1 story on why Dan Rooney chose to support Barrack Obama in the recent presidential race. Very insightful stuff.
There's the first score of the game and the Steelers made it look very easy. Moore from a yard out. First quarter with 9:07 left, Steelers 7, Colts 0.
4:35 p.m.: That's vintage Colts, isn't it? Peyton Manning in 1:26 evens the score. Taylor is beaten on this play, but makes a nice recovery. But he has no hands and thus, Reggie Wayne is able to catch the ball, one miss later by Ryan Clark and it's a tie game. The more Manning plays, the healthier he seems. And that means the Steelers have to keep hammering the ball on offense. Ball control is the name of the game for the Steelers today. First quarter with 7:41 left, Steelers 7, Colts 7.
4:40 p.m.: That was ugly. It was also the Colts first sack in a month. Let the debate begin right here: did Big Ben hold it too long or did the O-line get beaten badly? You never want three-and-outs on offense, but when you have to keep a very good offense off the field, you really don't want them at all. Defense needs to make a stop.
4:50 p.m.: Is there any doubt who is a Pro Bowl player on the Steelers defense? Aaron Smith has just dominated today and his sack made the defensive series. He's long been their most consistent lineman and he continues to be the real anchor of the defense. Not saying Casey Hampton doesn't make plays, too, but Smith never comes off the field it seems. That gives Smith 40.5 sacks for his career, which puts him in 8th place all time on the Steelers list. He just passed the late Ernie Holmes.
4:55 p.m.: End first quarter, Steelers 7, Colts 7. Not a bad first quarter considering the Colts lit them up with that long TD pass to Reggie Wayne. The Steelers need to keep grinding it out and keeping the Colts offense off the field. Ben look OK, but has been a bit behind his receivers today, especially as they go longer down the field. But they'll adjust. The short drops and quick passes are probably the rule of the day. They start quarter two with a third-and-long. We'll see what the call is.
4:59 p.m.: Some trickery doesn't backfire on the Steelers because Ben has a great set of hands on him. Hey Mewelde, an easy pitch to the QB is the essential part of the flea flicker play. Ben threw that pretty much flat-footed 38 yards to Hines Ward and only a huge hit by Bob Sanders keeps him out of the end zone. Good call by offensive coordinator Bruce Arians not to sneak it in from the 1. It's what they pay RBs to do in the NFL. Second quarter with 13:21 left, Steelers 14, Colts 7.
5:06 p.m.: OK, what's the over-under on the amount of the fine Ryan Clark is going to get for that hit on Dallas Clark. No penalty. Shoulder to shoulder, but you could argue Dallas Clark was helpless on that play. The league probably will do just that, but we'll see. Looked like a clean hard hit to me, but I'm not Gene Washington. And I promise before this day is done, I'm going to find out why the devil Ike Taylor does that hand in front of the face thing. He's done it for a couple years. I'm making a mental note to ask about it. Let's see if they can follow that defensive stand with another nice drive. Got a chance to bury the Colts a bit here.
5:11 p.m.: Bob Sanders is just a monster. He's so much like Polamalu it's scary. And he's probably now the best player on the Colts defense now that Dwight Freeney isn't what he was a couple years ago. He makes a fine play on the Moore run on second down because the Steelers had opened a huge hole for him. Sanders fires in and gets ahold of a leg and doesn't let go. Terrific player to watch. And he's probably stoked by his alma mater's big win yesterday over the Nittany Lions. By the way, the Nits are now No. 8 in the latest BCS poll. Pitt is No. 21.
5:24 p.m.: Jeff Reed is money once again. Looks like Ward kept running up when Ben might have been wanting him to break to the post a bit. Probably cost them a shot at the TD, but you'll take what you can get in a game like this. You just have to keep scoring against a team like the Colts, because they can score quickly as we've already seen. So far a solid game for the Steelers. With 4:17 left in the second quarter, Steelers 17, Colts 7.
5:30 p.m.: The Steelers catch a huge break on the Harrison drop. Not a well-thrown ball, but it's one Harrison needed to catch. If he does, it's 7 points. Deshea Townsend got completely turned around on that play. Colts look good on this drive and if they can get some points, they'll be pretty pleased being down by a TD or less in this game.
5:35 p.m.: Nice little bullet dodge there by the Steelers. Would have been more sweet had Polamalu picked off that pass, but you'll take the punt and getting out of there with no score. Press box note: Everyone here is having a great time everytime Colts rookie WR Pierre Garcon's name is called. It's pronounced like the French word for "waiter" (gar-sohn) and every time it's mentioned folks chime in like they are calling over a French waiter. Small pleasures like that keep us occupied between plays. Honest.
Ugh. Terrible pass by Roethlisberger, thus giving the Colts a shot at redemption. Yet another underthrown ball. Hmmm.
5:45 p.m.: Peyton Manning sure is happy to have Dallas Clark back. The Steelers couldn't have asked for a worse ending to the half than what just transpired. It gives the Colts a chance to get back into the game in a big way and makes this pretty much an even game after 30 minutes. If the Steelers are thinking Townsend on Clark is a good matchup, they might want to reconsider. Clark is a big target and you almost have to double him especially close to the goal line.
Not a bad half for the home squad, but it could have been much better don't you think? Halftime: Steelers 17, Colts 14.
6:02 p.m.: Some halftime stats to chew on: Manning, 9 of 23 for 140 yards, 2 TDs and a passer rating of 89.0. Roethlisberger, 13 of 19 for 160 yards, 0 TDs and 1 really bad pick and a passer rating of 72.3. Steelers had 29 yards rushing on 16 attempts. The Colts 41 yards on 10 attempts. Hines Ward leads the Steelers in receptions with four for 71 yards. Time to start the second half.
6:11 p.m.: He'll be in the Hall of Fame one day, but there's no doubt Marvin Harrison has lost a lot of what he had. Huge break on the dropped TD. He short-armed that ball and wasn't touched by Ty Carter, who flew over the top of him. I guess he's still dangerous, but I'd put my money on Manning looking for Dallas Clark, Reggie Wayne or Anthony Gonzalez before Harrison. And it's not been a good day for Deshea. The Steelers are lucky to hold the Colts to 3. With 8:14 left in the third quarter, Steelers 17, Colts 17.
6:12 p.m.: Anyone see that blade of grass that just stopped Gary Russell from returning a kick for a TD? You hate to see that happen when you know the Colts offense isn't going anywhere. A special teams score would have been huge.
6:15 p.m.: Not a stirring offensive series by the Steelers, who can't run on a defense that hasn't stopped the run all year. I think if they have to rely on Roethlisberger solely to move the ball on offense, it could be trouble. Just announced that Marvin Harrison is out for the rest of today with a concussion. He must've caught a knee from Carter, but I didn't see that on the replay. But even a glancing blow can cause a concussion if it lands just right. The Steelers need a turnover. We'll see what happens.
6:23 p.m.: My error on Marvin Harrison. He was questionable, not out, and obviously back in the game. Huge catch from Reggie Wayne on a play they should have been off the field, the Colts get 16 and a first down. This game as a weird feeling to it.
6:28 p.m.: Wow, huge play by Ty Carter, popping Anthony Gonzalez and forcing the ball loose. That was a big series for the defense because of the play Wayne makes on that tipped ball. That's demoralizing to a defense, but give the Steelers credit, they were tough when they needed to be. I think it's important that at some point the Steelers establish the run. The Colts are not a big defense and the Steelers need to get into that balanced attack again. Big drive here because it's late in the third quarter. Nice return by Santonio Holmes. Gets the Steelers out of a hole.
6:33 p.m. Update on Townsend's injury, it's a hamstring problem and his return is doubtful. During the TV break, Mike Tomlin was really giving head linesman Derick Bowers an earful. I mean for a full minute, too. OK, this is where you win games, the fourth quarter. End of the third quarter, Steelers 17, Colts 17.
6:38 p.m.: This looks more like the first drive, short drops and shortish passes. Great catch by Ward on the third-and-two play for 17 yards. He now has 100 yards receiving and he is second on the all-time Steelers list with 17 100-yard games, behind John Stallworth. This drive is looking great. Let's see if they can top it off.
6:45 p.m.: Rookie Eric Foster's tremendous lick on Mewelde Moore kept this a very viable game for the Colts. He made two good plays, actually, submarining to stop Moore on the second-down play. The Steelers were moving so well and to settle for the FG is almost a loss for them. The best thing they did was eat up more than eight minutes on that drive. With 7:57 left in the fourth quarter, Steelers 20, Colts 17.
6:52 p.m.: How huge was that stop? Now, the offense has to do its part, run some clock and get some points. Still plenty of time left (6:13) so going into an offensive shell isn't enough. I'm seeing comments that the Steelers defense is always asked to win games. That's true. Time for the offense now to put the dagger in the heart of the Colts.
6:57 p.m.: That was brutal. Throw was behind Holmes, but he also stopped on the pattern. Either way, the defense is now in a position to at least keep the game a tie. If the Colts score a TD, that's going to be tough to overcome. I guess watching the offense today, you wonder if they could come back down 4 points. And the Colts look like they are trying to use up as much clock as possible.
7 p.m.: Great play call that caught Polamalu napping. There's plenty of time left, but the way Ben and the offense have looked, 4 points is probably too much to over come. I know that seems odd, but the offense has three points so far in this half and shows little sign of being able to do what they want against the Colts defense. This would be a tough loss coming off the big win in Washington, but there's still time. With 3:04 left in the fourth quarter, Colts 24, Steelers 20.
7:01 p.m.: The Steelers have allowed more TDs today (3) then they have in the last 3 games. Thanks to Gene Collier for that stat. Nice play to get this to the 2-minute warning, but they have 56 yards to go in 2 minutes. That's dicey with this offense.
7:08 p.m.: This is slow torture. They only have one TO left and still a ways to go.
7:12 p.m.: This is a tough loss and nearly a miracle win. But now it's down to the locker room to see what Tomlin and the players think. This is one they should have won, but didn't. And turnovers killed them, especially the late INT. There will be questions about Ben and his health, I'm sure. The Steelers are 6-3 now and still in first place in the AFC North, but let's hope the Colts aren't involved in a tiebreaker with them. Final score: Colts 24, Steelers 20.
8:13 p.m.: Not a very happy locker room, particularly the area around Ben Roethlisberger's locker. Ben just sat and stared for a while into his locker, then took to the showers, then took some time to get dressed. He decided to address media at his locker. He often is brought into the media room for interviews, but decided to stay there to do them. After some time, he addressed media.
He took the blame for the loss, citing the two interceptions he threw (his third was the one in the end zone at game's end). He said he would make "no excuses" for his play and that he "let his teammates down." He was a stand-up guy about the game but he took this one very hard. Our Bob Smizik will concentrate his column tomorrow on Big Ben, be sure you catch it. He'll be much more in-depth about the situation than this blog will be. Bottom line is Ben's feeling pretty blue about his role in this loss.
Mike Tomlin was a bit terse after the game, but very professional. He said there's "a fine line" between winning and losing in the NFL and he gave the Colts due credit. He mentioned that the Colts are not a team that allows you to beat them deep. They play the Tampa 2-deep zone (created by now-Colts, former-Tampa coach Tony Dungy) and said the short throws are what you take against the Colts defense. Tomlin mentioned that the Colts want you to get impatient so you go deep, which plays into their hands.
I also promised you the reason why Ike Taylor waves his hand in front of his face when he makes a big play. Taylor, who had two tipped balls land in Colts' receivers hands, one for a 65-yard TD pass to Reggie Wayne, explained why he does the hand wave thing. "It's for a face off," he said. "It's just what it is. Like mano-a-mano. One on one (with a receiver)" He actually did this after answering several questions about the tipped balls. Ron Cook's column tomorrow will discuss the up-and-down day the secondary had in the loss to the Colts.
Total yards: Steelers 326, Colts 290
Rushing yards: Steelers 55, Colts 62
Turnovers: Steelers 3, Colts 0
The final two stats tell the story. The Colts small, quick defense suffocated the Steelers run. They often put 8 or 9 players close to the line of scrimmage daring the Steelers to pass. And the turnovers, all courtesy of Ben Roethlisberger INTs were killers. The one late in the first half and the one in the fourth quarter both leading to Colts' TDs.
Ben's QB rating for the day was 60.0. Peyton Manning's was 95.8.
8:51 p.m.: Final thoughts. The Steelers are now tied with the Ravens atop the AFC North and are no longer unbeaten in the AFC (5-1). Next week, San Diego comes to town for what is now a huge matchup for the Steelers. The Chargers won today beating hapless Kansas City by a point, 20-19. But they only won because KC scored with seconds left and decided to go for the win with a two-point try. It failed, Chargers win (gutsy call by Chiefs coach Herm Edwards, by the way). After SD next week, the woeful Bengals come to Heinz for a Thursday night game.
If you look ahead to those two weeks, the Steelers need to win to go to 8-3. Over the same stretch, the Ravens play at the Giants next week and then host the Eagles. Both games will be very tough for them to win, so if the Steelers take care of business, the division should be fine.
Looking down the road further for the Steelers there are some tough games. Following the Bengals game, the Steelers have a long 10-day layoff before traveling to Foxboro to play the Patriots on Nov. 30, then return home the following week to host Dallas. Neither game will be an easy one, but you can bet they are pointing to Dallas as a more winnable game. Then two tough road games in a row: At Baltimore and at Tennessee. A split of those two games, particularly a win against the Ravens, should be enough for the Steelers to win the division. The Steelers end their season at home on Dec. 28 vs. Cleveland.
The Steelers are going to be dogged by questions about Roethlisberger's health. Your comments on this blog, much appreciated by the way, tell you that much. The ire seems aimed at Ben and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians for the most part. The Steelers would be much better off with a healthy Willie Parker in the backfield, backed up by Mewelde Moore. And Matt Spaeth had a nice game today (6 catches, 53 yards), but Heath Miller is a better vertical threat for the Steelers. And getting LaMarr Woodley healthy for this stretch would be great, too. Lawrence Timmons gave a good account of himself today, but Woodley's pass rushing ability would have been welcomed today.
A lot of talk among the players in the locker room after the game was about finishing games. The Steelers have made some turnovers and poor plays at the end of halves to put them in tough places in their three losses. Today's game was a prime example, where turnovers just killed them. Not scoring a TD when they were first-and-five at the Colts' 5 in the fourth quarter was the quintessential example of not finishing. Settling for a field goal when you need seven points against a very good team likely comes back to haunt you. And it did.
That's it for this week's blog. I'll be with you again next Sunday live from the Chargers game, which also is a 4:15 start. Thanks for taking the time to read and post comments.