Colts, Steelers meet while heading in opposite directions

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Ben Roethlisberger doesn't want to talk about the ending whenever it might come. There is too much to fear in the present for the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback to look too far into the future.
For this reason, Roethlisberger called a meeting this week for players only - of course via Zoom. Even in a three-game defeat that destroyed his team's boasting after an 11-0 start, the playoffs threaten. Roethlisberger, the only player on the roster with a Super Bowl ring, wanted to convey the sense of urgency it takes to succeed in January.
"I just wanted people to understand and repeat how important this time of year is," said Roethlisberger.
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The Steelers need the news to resonate quickly. Surging Indianapolis (10-4) visits Heinz Field on Sunday. The Colts won five out of six to take control of AFC South. And while Roethlisberger has been struggling lately - he's thrown eight touchdowns and six picks in his last five games - 2004 draftee Philip Rivers hasn't. The 39-year-old Rivers has a quarterback rating of 109.3 over the same period, in part due to the kind of balance the Steelers have found elusive.
"It's always a head game in a football game that we have to play against him," said Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler of Rivers. "We have to show him one thing and do another. It will be a difficult thing for us."
Despite Pittsburgh's current deficit, the Steelers (11: 3) can finish AFC North with a win in one of the last two games. Indianapolis will reach a playoff place with one win and one loss from Baltimore or Miami. This is exactly what Rivers signed up for when he disconnected from the chargers in the off-season.
"These are the NFL season games and times you dream of if you are at stake with something in December," Rivers said. "Obviously a damn good team, and at least they've kept that since I've been with it, and even as I grew up, you always saw them as tough and physical the way they play. They did that in the as part of their DNA for the last 17 years and took action against them. "
Maybe, but not so much lately.
Cincinnati shoved Pittsburgh around last Monday for a 27:17 surprise that turned the Steelers' slump into an almost complete crisis. Roethlisberger spent the week apologizing for his game, and coach Mike Tomlin had to tell broad receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to cut out the pregame dancing on the midfield logo after two opponents tweeted about it.
The glamor of one of the best tracks in franchise history is gone. The Colts have the verve and looks of a team that could cause serious damage well into January. The Steelers can't afford to look that far down the street. And they know.
"We have a great group of people who bought in," said Pittsburgh's defensive tackle against Cam Heyward. "It's a loss in three games, but that comes after a winning streak in eleven games." Hopefully we can get back on the horse this week. "
TACKLING MACHINE
Pro Bowl linebacker Darius Leonard sealed Indy's win last weekend by hitting the ball from Houston recipient Keke Coutee 19 seconds ahead.
He also recorded 12 tackles, making it 109 that season. This made him the first player in franchise history to play the 100 best tackles in each of his first three seasons.
"You must want to do a piece," he said. "I say in the crowd:" Let's bow, let's play. "
Leonard now needs six tackles to break Duane Bickett's club record (398) for the most tackles in his first three seasons. Leonard was Defensive Rookie of the Year and received the All-Pro award in 2018. He made his first Pro Bowl last season and had six games with at least 10 tackles this season.
RUNNING HARD PART 1
Colt's rookie Jonathan Taylor learned a lot about being an NFL that went back in October and November. It's paying off now. He's averaged 103.5 meters in his last four games and has moved within 158 meters to become Indy's first rookie 1000-yard rusher since Joseph Addai in 2006.
What has changed?
“The first couple of games you play with the game Philip calls it, you see what the defense gives you, you go through the task in your head and of course he has 17 years of experience seeing defensive looks and changes the entire game, ”said Taylor. “Then start this process again. But now I'm sort of getting used to it. "
RUNNING HARD PART 2
One of the main reasons Pittsburgh's offense has taken a significant step backwards over the past few weeks is the inability of the game in progress to take a step forward. The Steelers are the NFL's 31st offense, but they might find some momentum in Cincinnati after Benny Snell ran 84 yards.
Snell's performance came with starter James Conner, who was out with a quadriceps injury. While Conner is expected to be available, Snell numbers have earned a bigger share of the workload.
"I thought Benny (Snell) brought nice energy and good physicality, brought us some hard yards when we needed them, missed some people too, and went outside," said Roethlisberger. "It was nice to have that."
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Indianapolis-based AP sports journalist Mike Marot contributed to this report.
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More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
In this article
Ben Roethlisberger
Philip Rivers

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