The Steelers don’t consistently put pressure on opposing quarterbacks and William Gay and Brice McCain, their top two cornerbacks, are ideally suited as nickel backs. The Colts are second in the NFL in scoring (30.9 points per game) but they can also play defense. Indianapolis has allowed opponents to convert just 16 percent of their third downs (8-for-51) during a five-game winning streak, according to ESPN Stats & Information. And the Colts are tied for third in the NFL with 21 sacks. So much for the loss of Pro Bowl outside linebacker Robert Mathis to a suspension and then a season-ending foot injury collapsing the Colts' defense.
The Steelers need a signature win -- their Week 3 win at Carolina doesn't look as good right now -- but they won’t get it against the Colts.
Colts 31, Steelers 24
But Taylor has stayed close to the team, traveling to road games and attending meetings and serving as a de facto assistant to Steelers' defensive backs coach Carnell Lake as the 12th-year veteran works his way back from injury.
Taylor has watched plenty of film of Andrew Luck and to say he is impressed with the Indianapolis Colts quarterback is an understatement.
"He has an arm like Aaron Rodgers. He's athletic and mobile enough like [Ben Roethlisberger] and he studies like Peyton Manning," Taylor said.
Taylor may be laying it on a little thick but not by much.
Luck leads the NFL with 333 passing yards per game. The third-year veteran has thrown for more than 300 yards in five straight games. If Luck does it again Sunday at Heinz Field he will break a Colts record for consecutive 300-yard passing games held by Manning.
Here is what the Steelers are saying about Luck, and yes there is more from the loquacious Taylor.
CB Brice McCain: "He's good with his feet. You've got to tackle him when he tries to move and don't let him throw the ball when he's got people wrapped on him. Sometimes you get wrapped up on him and he still throws the ball. Sometimes it will be dumb passes but we've got to capitalize off that. If he [makes bad decisions] we've got to pick them balls. We can't let him complete those balls or let the ball hit the ground."
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau: "I think when Coach [Bruce] Arians was over there he had a quote, ‘This is the best young quarterback I've had.' Well, he had a guy with a name of Peyton Manning. We coaches always tend to live a little bit in the present [such as] ‘Our newest guy is the best one.' But still when you get that kind of praise from a man who's seen those type of players, we know he's good.
He's a combination of the athletic guys who can run and pick up a first down or keep the play alive and he has really good accuracy within his throws."
S Troy Polamalu: "You guys see what we see. He's smart, he's accurate, he's got great escapability. He's got two super-talented wide receivers, he's got two tough backs that run the rock hard and he's got a defense that does a good job of getting off the field fast."
Coach Mike Tomlin: "What he's able to do as plays break down with his legs I think creates an interesting discussion of problems for you from a defensive standpoint. They're problems that quite frankly [Manning and Tom Brady] don't present and probably have never presented. He's his own unique animal."
Taylor: "Just watching him reading his progressions from one to three or even one to four that's rare for a third-year guy but he went to Stanford so there you go with that. He's very competitive, he's bigger than what you think, he's more mobile than what you think. We've been watching tape and seeing guys just fall off of him -- and we've seen guys on him -- and he still make throws. He's a heck of a quarterback."
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.
“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.”
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.”
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The Oakland Raiders signed LaMarr Woodley to be a defensive difference-maker. However, it appears the former Pittsburgh Steelers star's season will end prematurely for the winless Raiders.
Oakland interim coach Tony Sparano said Thursday that the biceps injury Woodley suffered against Arizona is "long term" and indicated that Woodley is headed for the injured reserve.
Oakland signed Woodley, 29, to a two-year, $12 million deal over the offseason after he was cut by the Steelers. Woodley has been unproductive as a Raider, with just five tackles in six games.
Oakland defensive coordinator Jason Tarver said the Raiders will miss Woodley's physical presence, but he is looking forward to seeing the younger players get an opportunity.
"It's next man up," Wilson said. "Woodley was a big part of this team, this defense, but we have to step up."
Meanwhile, Sparano said reserve tight end David Ausberry may miss some time with a foot injury, but the team is hopeful the injury isn't long-term.
Pro Football Focus' Sam Monson builds a strong case for Brown, who leads the NFL with 719 receiving yards this season after finishing second in the league with 1,499 receiving yards last season.
The PFF piece is the latest example of Brown starting to get his due as a premier wide receiver. In the past there were questions about whether the fifth-year veteran was a legitimate No. 1 receiver, because he is 5-foot-10 and 186 pounds in a league that covets tall wide receivers.
"From the day I got here he wasn’t a household name other than special teams, and you’ve just seen the guy ascend and put himself up there with the great receivers in the game right now," said Todd Haley, who took over as the Steelers' offensive coordinator in 2012. "He continues to get better, and that’s the exciting thing."
Brown is having an All Pro-caliber season even though no one has emerged as the Steelers' clear cut No. 2 wide receiver, something that would help divert some attention from Brown. Markus Wheaton, who starts opposite Brown, has slumped after a promising start, and former No. 3 wide receiver Justin Brown was a healthy scratch last Monday night.
Wheaton, Brown, Lance Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey and rookie Martavis Bryant are all trying to solidify roles, and for now the Steelers are content to play their receivers -- well, at least the ones not named Antonio Brown -- based on situations.
"You’d love to see somebody jump up and say, 'Hey, we can’t have this guy off the field,' and that’s usually the way it works, so right now we’re kind of in that process and we just need guys to make plays," Haley said. "When your number’s called you need to step up and make the play, and if you don’t there’s some guys champing at the bit to show that they can do it."
The Steelers don’t seem to be in a hurry to set a hierarchy after Brown, the two-time Pro Bowler. It could change on a weekly basis, but quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said he doesn’t have a problem with a largely rotating cast at wide receiver.
"We work every day with all of them, so it’s really just knowing who’s out there on a particular play, because each guy may run a route a little bit different," Roethlisberger said. "As long as I know who’s in there as we’re going, I’m fine and I feel confident with whoever’s in there is going to make a play."
Shazier hasn’t played since hurting his knee in the Steelers’ 37-19 win against the Carolina Panthers on Sept. 21.
The Steelers could have a tough decision to make Sunday when they host the Indianapolis Colts. They will likely err on the side of caution with Shazier and the Steelers may want their first-round pick to go through more than a couple of full practices before putting him back on the field.
“If not this week he certainly isn’t far away,” defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said of Shazier’s status.
Right tackle Marcus Gilbert (concussion) and nose tackle Steve McLendon (shoulder) each missed practice for the second consecutive day. McLendon isn’t expected to play against the Colts and it’s not looking good for Gilbert, especially if he is unable to practice on Friday.
Safety Shamarko Thomas will probably miss a third consecutive game because of a hamstring injury as the second-year man again was limited in drills.
Cornerback Ike Taylor, who is a month removed from breaking his forearm, practiced on a limited basis on Thursday for the second consecutive day.
“You can just tell he’s feeling pretty good and he’ll be back as soon as he can, quicker than most people,” LeBeau said. “He’s a tough guy.”
Taylor said he hasn’t been cleared to start lifting weights yet, and he is slowly rebuilding his strength in his forearm. The 12th-year veteran said he started doing cardiovascular work last week and that practicing again albeit in a limited capacity is another step in the right direction.
Taylor, who has stayed close to the team since getting hurt, said he does not have a timetable as far as when he might be able to return to game action.
“I’m at every meeting, every practice, every game. As far as mental-wise I ain’t missed a beat,” Taylor said. “I’m enjoying every moment. It just sucks to be off the field.”
“I remember seeing that close up,” Heyward said. “And the thing I love about it is he’s wearing down these centers so if I have to go against them, they’re tired. I’m telling you once Dan starts really using that body nobody can block him.”
McCullers’ sheer size makes him an intriguing long-term prospect at nose tackle where the Steelers are still searching for a worthy heir to five-time Pro Bowler Casey Hampton.
And McCullers is playing sooner than expected because of an injury to starting nose tackle Steve McLendon -- and the reality that the Steelers need some mass up front with teams rushing for an average of 114.1 yards per game against them.
McCullers played 10 snaps against the Texans but Cam Thomas, who started in place of McLendon, only logged 18 of them with the Steelers playing nickel much more than their base defense.
Assuming McLendon is out for at least another week it will be interesting to see how the Steelers split snaps on Sunday between Thomas and McCullers -- and how much of base defense they play against the high-powered Indianapolis Colts.
McCullers, the second of two sixth-round picks that the Steelers made in May, said his play against the Texans boosted his confidence. The fact that Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick ran right past McCullers as he was driving Myers backwards in the third quarter is part of his learning process.
Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell, who stays on McCullers constantly, pointed out during the film review of the game how McCullers lost sight of the quarterback. Heyward, meanwhile, said the Steelers are trying to “pull out” a nasty streak in the soft-spoken McCullers.
“If I use my hands and stay low I’m not worried about a nasty streak,” McCullers said. “That’s not me.”
The player known as "Big Dan" at Steelers headquarters understands what his teammates and coaches are trying to do as far as motivating him.
“They see it in me that I can be a great player,” McCullers said.
Getting McCullers to that point will only help players like Heyward, who would benefit greatly from playing next to a nose tackle who demands constant double-teams.
“He’s built like the Marcus Strouds, the John Hendersons that (rarely) come around,” Heyward said. “Dan can be a really good player in this league. We’re just waiting for him to decide.”
And Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck couldn’t say enough good things about Roethlisberger.
“His ability to extend plays is incredible [and] maybe the best in the league what he does in finding an open guy if something breaks down,” Luck said. “I know as a quarterback if you can [do] that every now and then, it can be demoralizing for a defense, and he certainly does a great job at it.”
Luck leads the NFL with 333 passing yards per game.
“He’s emerging as one of the best in the league, and I think a lot of us saw that coming,” Roethlisberger said. “I always enjoy watching other quarterbacks because anything you can take, whether they’re older or younger, and use it in your game, I think you’ve got to do it. Hopefully he has a bad day because our defense is playing well.”
Roethlisberger is hoping to play enough well enough to deliver a victory, one that would leave the Steelers with a 5-3 record at the halfway point of the season, and reach a career milestone.
Roethlisberger will try to win his 100th career game on Sunday, and the 11th-year quarterback would join some pretty exclusive company.
If Roethlisberger beats the Colts, he will become just the fourth quarterback in NFL history to win 100 games in 150 or fewer starts, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Sunday will be Roethlisberger's 150th start.
The only other players to accomplish that feat are Tom Brady, Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw.
“Amazing, great football player,” Luck said of Roethlisberger. “I know when I was a rookie, I watched a lot Steelers tape to try and learn [former Steelers and Colts offensive coordinator] Bruce Arians’ offense and ended up watching a lot of Ben and the things he does, did [and] still does. So a ton of respect for how he plays football."
The Pittsburgh Steelers running back ranks among the NFL's top three in rushing yards (599), yards from scrimmage (938) and first down (44).
"I don't even think we've used him to the full potential," Roethlisberger said. "When we go no-huddle and I'm calling the plays I like to get him out in empty sets because you can utilize him in mismatches. I still think the best is yet to come from him."
One of Bell's best attributes is his versatility and he is as comfortable catching the ball after lining up as a wideout as he out of the backfield. Bell caught eight passes for 88 yards in the Steelers' 30-23 win over the Houston Texans last Monday night, and his 43-yard catch-and-run served as the catalyst in a 24-point explosion late in the second quarter.
Bell is not even halfway through his second NFL season but he has already set a Steelers record for most yards from scrimmage (2,197 yards) after two seasons. The 2013 second-round pick needs just 295 yards to pass Franco Harris for the most rushing yards by a Steelers player in his first two seasons.
Bell is also close to another milestone.
If the 6-1, 225-pounder gain 50 yards from scrimmage Sunday against the visiting Indianapolis Colts he will pass Barry Foster and Jerome Bettis for the most yards from scrimmage by a Steelers player in the first eight games of a season since 1970, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Bell's emergence has led to fewer carries for LeGarrette Blount, who was signed in March to complement Bell, but it doesn't appear that the Steelers are overworking him.
Bell is averaging just under 22 touches per game and the Michigan State product said he has learned this season to avoid hard hits, something that should also allow him to thrive while weathering the grind of an NFL season.
"We don't want to run him until the wheels fall off but you've got to have him out there because he can do a little bit of everything," Roethlisberger said, "and that's why I think he's one of the best all-around backs in the game."
But the pick looks as puzzling seven weeks into the NFL season as it did when the Steelers made a luxury selection even though they had more pressing needs, especially on a defense that is in transition.
Archer has rushed for 37 yards on seven carries and caught just four passes for 9 yards in five games. Archer, who missed two games because of a sprained ankle, is on pace for 129 rushing and receiving yards combined this season.
That is 33 less than what Chris Rainey, another speedy but small back, managed in 2012, the only season the former fifth-round pick played for the Steelers.
The Steelers never figured out how to maximize Rainey's speed and versatility before dumping him after one season because of off-the-field issues.
They are running into the same issues with Archer in part because getting touches for the 5-foot-8, 173-pounder has been as problematic as it looked when the Steelers drafted him with Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount already atop the depth chart at running back.
Bell has been an absolute stud in his second season and he is so valuable that the Steelers are having a hard enough time finding playing time for Blount much less Archer.
The biggest indictment of the Archer pick to date is he has not provided the jolt that the Steelers had hoped for on special teams.
Archer routinely gets tackled short of the 20-yard line and that is when teams aren't kicking the ball out of the end zone.
Archer may be one of the fastest players in the NFL but he is last among those with at least nine kickoff returns (17.9 yards per return). General manager Kevin Colbert said after the Steelers picked Archer that they took him so high because they viewed the Kent State product as a starter because of his kick-return ability.
So far that hasn't translated into Archer making an impact in the kicking game.
It is way too early to condemn the pick, and Archer could develop into the dynamic kickoff returner and player who can exploit mismatches that the Steelers envisioned when they drafted him.
But considering the dearth of promising young cornerbacks on the roster it is right to question whether the Steelers wouldn't have been better off addressing that position -- or any number of other ones on defense -- before taking a player like Archer.
Shazier, who has missed the past four games because of a sprained knee, was held out of the Steelers' first practice of the week along with right tackle Marcus Gilbert (concussion) and nose tackle Steve McLendon (shoulder).
Safety Shamarko Thomas (hamstring) and cornerback Ike Taylor (forearm) were limited participants in practice.
Thomas has missed the past two games, but Tomlin said the second-year man is also close to returning. Taylor took part in some drills for the first time since breaking his forearm in the Steelers' 37-19 win against the Carolina Panthers on Sept. 21.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning is among nearly two dozen current and former NFL players appearing in a new series of public service announcements denouncing domestic violence and sexual assault.
Officials of the No More Project said Wednesday that the players will appear in video and print PSAs to shed light on the issues. Several had personal experiences with the issues, including Troy Vincent, an NFL executive whose mother is a survivor of domestic violence, and Pittsburgh cornerback William Gay, whose mother was killed by an abusive partner.
Celebrities, athletes, corporate sponsors and others donated resources for the spots. The new video PSAs will premiere during "Thursday Night Football" this week when the San Diego Chargers play the Denver Broncos.
Previous spots from the group have aired more than 27,000 times nationwide since September 2013, in addition to being shown during the past 4 weeks of NFL game broadcasts.