The onset of Peyton Manning neck AIDS transformed what would have been an early season test for the Steelers into the second week of a two-week respite before that team has to travel to Houston to prove that it still belongs among playoff contenders after the Week 1 meltdown in Bawlmer.
The Colts got rolled by said Texans in Week 1 and were decidedly beat at home last week by the Browns. An 0-2 start is a signpost toward mediocrity, but there's still hope for redemption. Once a team hits 0-3, it's pretty much over. The Colts know this, which is why if the Steelers beat Indy, that can at least won't have beaten a team that played as flat as the Seahawks did in Week 2.
Beyond Peyton, the Colts will be without linebacker Ernie Sims and potentially Gary Brackett and safety Melvin Bullitt as well. Brett Keisel is out for the Steelers, thus giving Ziggy Hood his first start of the year. Ziggy played exceedingly well on the other side of the D-line in relief of Aaron Smith for most of last season. Tomlin has been making a habit of subbing on the line the first two weeks, so I have little concern that Ziggy won't be used to playing from that side of the line.
As I said last week, my biggest concern going into this game will be Jonathan Scott and Marcus Gilbert going against defensive ends Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney. While the Steelers look like the superior team in nearly all other aspects of this match-up, the tackles are so overmatched that this particular disadvantage could, if not gameplanned around properly, potentially swing the game for Indy. Gilbert got beat badly a few times against the Seahawks, not a team noted for its dominant pass rush. And Jonathan Scott is Jonathan Scott. Suffice it to say, I wouldn't be surprised if the Steelers offense has to rely heavily on two tight end sets to give help to their beleagured bookends.
If Ben Roethlisberger doesn't get strip-sacked five times from the edge rush and manages to correct his own early season accuracy issues, then I don't see this being much of a contest. Of course, Ben has been a frustrating through two weeks. His stats improved last week, but he got fortunate a few times when he judgment lapsed on occasion. A solid outing out of him would be as encouraging as any other positives the Steelers could take away Sunday night.
The Steelers have had recent success against Kerry Collins, who lost to Pittsburgh in the '09 opener and made his first appearance of the season last year in relief of Vince Young, but provided little offensive spark in the 19-11 Steelers win in Week 2 last year. Further confounding the Colts hope is the fact that Collins has been dealing with a right shoulder injury. While the Colts say it's not significant, even if that's true, it's limited practice time for their starting quarterback this week. With Collins still struggling to pick up Indy's offensive scheme, any loss of practice time will be costly going against a defense as complex as the Steelers'.
Complex though it may be, the Steeler D has yet to force any turnovers. Yeah, I know, Polamalu dropped what would have certainly been a pick-six last week. James Harrison was close to another pick. And when a quarterback is as off-target as Tarvaris Jackson was, whether a team gets turnovers or not is of little consequence. But like I said - don't expect the Colts, decimated as they are, to show up quite as listless as the Seahawks. So the signs of life that the Steelers defense showed last week have to manifest themselves once again and then some.