NFL Preview - Indianapolis (5-2) at Pittsburgh (4-3) (ET)
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Pittsburgh Steelers have been here before.
The team won its first game in Week 1 at home against Cleveland, then quickly plummeted with a 20-point loss at Baltimore in Week 2. It beat Carolina convincingly in Week 3, then lost to a previously winless Tampa Bay team seven days later.
And that was just in September. The season's second month has already included more of the same, with a win at Jacksonville followed by a 21-point loss to the Browns and then by last week, a primetime defeat of the Houston Texans in which the Steelers rallied from 13-0 down to win, 30-23.
They're hoping the roller coaster stops this week, when they host Indianapolis.
"We don't want to be satisfied with the way we played," running back Le'Veon Bell said. "It was good but there are definitely things we can do better."
Bell is second in the league with a weekly average of 134 yards from scrimmage and he churned out 145 against the Texans, against whom Pittsburgh scored three touchdowns and a field goal during a torrid stretch that covered less than three minutes in the second quarter and erased the double-digit deficit.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hit 23-of-33 passes for 265 yards and two scores and was not intercepted against Houston, a nice recovery from the 21- of-42, 228 yards, one TD and one INT stat line he produced in the debacle in Cleveland.
On defense, the Steelers forced two turnovers in the second quarter outburst and recovered another fumble in the fourth quarter. It was at least a mini- revelation for a team that's posted just 64 takeaways since the outset of the 2011 season - last in the NFL. Incidentally, the Colts have turned the ball over 13 times already this season, the fourth-highest total in the league.
"It's not anything mystical," Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. "When we are doing what it is that we are supposed to do and playing with energy, it happens."
And it'll have to continue to blunt the momentum of an Indianapolis team that's won five straight.
The Colts became the first team to post two games with 500 or more total yards in 2014 after reaching 506 in their dominant 27-0 beating of Cincinnati in Week 7. And while their five-game win streak pales when compared to the 23 in a row they reeled off in regular season play in 2008-09, it's still the longest they've managed since then-QB Peyton Manning left and the Andrew Luck Era began.
Luck completed 27-of-42 passes for 344 yards and two scores against Cincinnati. He leads the league with 2,331 passing yards through seven games and is tied with, of all people, Manning, for the league lead in touchdowns with 19.
His five straight 300-yard games have also equaled Manning's franchise record.
The run game chipped in with 171 yards - its best output of the season - against the Bengals, and the average of 134.8 yards on the ground since Week 2 is fifth-highest among 32 teams.
But if the defense continues to play as it did while pitching its first shutout since 2008, it'll be moot.
"You don't feel like you have to do too much when you're playing with a defense like that," Luck said. "They do and have done a heck of a job all year."
Only one of five opponents during the win streak has managed more than 17 points and the Colts have allowed 271.8 yards per week during the stretch, which is best in the league. The paltry 135 yards the Bengals managed was the lowest number for any team this season.
Indianapolis was No. 20 in the league last year, allowing 357.1 per week. This season, it's the only team in the league in the top five among both offenses and defenses.
"The whole defense is feeding off of each other right now," coach Chuck Pagano said. "The energy that they're playing with, the effort that they're playing with right now. Anytime you have success like they're having, the confidence level is at an all-time high."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Aerial Circus-Like Atmosphere
If you're a fan of big-play receivers - and who among us is not? - then this is the game for you. Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown is tops in the league with 719 receiving yards and the Colts' T.Y. Hilton is close behind at No. 3 with 711 yards. Hilton has been targeted 68 times in seven games and that number could rise if Reggie Wayne is unavailable with the elbow injury that's labeled him doubtful.
Keeping Up With the Lucks
Speaking of big-play players, the Steelers are going to need top-end production from both Brown and Bell if the game turns into a shootout rather than a defensive slugfest. Pittsburgh is in the league's top 10 in both rushing and receiving - averaging 128.6 and 258.1 yards, respectively - thanks to the pair, and Brown is also a force on punt returns in addition to his league leads in receptions and yardage.
The Colts - after reaching 30 points three times in victories and hitting for 24 and 27 in their two losses - have pretty much proven they'll score on anyone.
So the challenge for Pittsburgh becomes trying to match that output with its own offense. Brown and Bell will get their chances and Roethlisberger clearly knows how to win big games, but this Indianapolis team seems destined for higher achievement.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Colts 28, Steelers 24