As it stands, heading into the 2015 NFL season, the Pittsburgh Steelers are more often than not viewed as an offensive juggernaut, while the defense is viewed as somewhat of the weak link on a team that has Super Bowl aspirations. It brings to mind another team of the same classification that ran roughshod over the AFC South during the 2000s up until the departure of their future Hall Of Fame quarterback, Peyton Manning.
Think about it for a second. It’s another debate entirely as to who the better QB is, Manning or Ben Roethlisberger, but the fact is that Ben is coming off a career-year in 2014, and has arguably the best offense in the league at his controls. Much like Manning did earlier this century in Indianapolis. In 2005, the Colts finished the season 14-2 and even set the NFL-record when they won 12 points where they never trailed at all.
One of their wins was a 26-7 thrashing of Pittsburgh on Monday Night Football, where on their very first offensive snap, Pro Bowl wide receiver Marvin Harrison scorched cornerback Ike Taylor for an 80-yard touchdown strike. However, the two teams would meet again in the Divisional Round, where the sixth-seeded Steelers went on the road and upset the first-seeded Colts, 21-18. Below are the position by position breakdowns noting the striking similarities.
Quarterback – As previously mentioned, both of these quarterbacks were at the top of their respective game, whether Manning in 2005, for instance, when he was at the helm of the best offense in the league, or Roethlisberger last year, when the offense basically set fire to the Pittsburgh record books. In 2005, Manning led the Colts to a 13-0 start and he threw for 3,747 yards, 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Running Back – As you can see, both these teams have their own sets of triplets, and this position is no different with Indy’s Edgerrin James and Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell. In 2014, Bell racked up the most yardage in a single season by a running back, with 2,215 total yards from scrimmage. However, James was no slouch either, as evidenced by his career total of 12,246 rushing yards, currently good for 11th all-time. In ’05, the 6-foot, 219-pounder ran for 1,506 yards and also had 337 yards receiving. Both were Pro Bowlers, but with Bell just turning 23 in February, the sky is truly the limit for him. If it weren’t for him suffering a hyper-extended knee late in the season, who knows where the Steelers’ season would’ve gone.
Wide Receiver – The Colts had Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne who led the aerial assault, while the Steelers relied on Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Bell. Bryant’s insertion later in the season proved to be a needed spark, as his 6-foot-4 frame plus deep speed added a new dimension to the Pittsburgh offense. In ’05, Harrison had 1,146 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Wayne had 1,055 yards and 5 scores. However, in 2014, Brown led the entire NFL in all categories except receiving touchdowns, when he caught 129 balls for 1,698 yards and 13 scores. Bell had 854 yards on his own, but it’s Bryant’s yards-per-catch average of 21.1 that has many wondering what he can do over a full season of work, as he only caught 26 balls for 549 yards and 7 scores last year.
As we can see, each team was fully loaded on offense, while their defenses had fingers pointed in it’s direction, often cited for blowing masterful performances of the offense during losses. Although their defense was arguably worse, the Colts defense was long ridiculed for being “sieve-like” and almost non-existent against the run. I can still remember like it was yesterday the day former Jacksonville Jaguars’ running backs Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew had a field day on them.
They were both prone to the big play, and that’s especially true of Pittsburgh, whose lack of a consistent pass rush has made them extremely vulnerable over the top the past few seasons. Pittsburgh fields several first round linebackers and some may be considered undersized like Ryan Shazier or Jarvis Jones, and the same can be said of the Colts that year, with their standouts, Cato June or Dwight Freeney. On the back end, the Colts had an intimidating presence of a safety in Bob Sanders, who struggled to stay healthy most of his career.
However, when he did, he was one of the best in the game, like in 2007 when he won the AP Defensive Player of the Year Award. The bottom line is there are a lot of common denominators when it comes to both of these ball clubs from these respective years. While Pittsburgh’s current defense is full of youth and exuberance, the Colts defense offered experience and little else in the standings, as they were often cited as “soft.” One can ask current Steelers outside linebackers coach, Joey Porter, all about that one.
The Colts went on to secure a Super Bowl victory with this cast in 2006 and their defense was probably worse than Pittsburgh’s. Is Pittsburgh’s current offense more explosive than the Colts? You be the judge of that, but once the Pittsburgh defense catches up to the offense, watch out NFL.