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Big Ben back in the saddle

New Page 1

Pittsburgh, PA - The two most significant words said by Steelers coach Bill Cowher during his news conference Tuesday were "Probable" and "Ben."

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, out the past three games while healing from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, is probable for Monday night's game against the 10-0 Indianapolis Colts.

Cowher added some levity when asked if he's confident Roethlisberger will be ready for the big game.

"I'm 75 percent confident he'll be ready to go," he said, referring to the percentage given to players listed as probable. "He's probable and seems ready to go."

That was the good news for Cowher and the Steelers yesterday.

The bad news? They're playing the Colts. Cowher stopped short of anointing the Colts as the second coming of the 1972 Dolphins, the only team to finish a season undefeated.

"We obviously face a big challenge Monday night going into Indianapolis to face the best team in football," Cowher said. "I can see why they are 10-0. They don't have a whole lot of holes in them. They are a very complete team. They are a very balanced team. They haven't been in many close games."

The Colts are averaging 39.8 points in their past five games. They rank second in the NFL in total offense at 379.9 yards per game and are led by quarterback Peyton Manning, who's averaging 326.8 passing yards and 3.0 touchdowns in his past three games.

They also feature tailback Edgerrin James, the league's second-leading rusher with 1,116 yards.

The Colts defense features two of the league's top defensive ends in Dwight Freeney (seven sacks) and Robert Mathis (10 sacks), and it allows just 15.2 points per game. The Colts, though, have softened of late, yielding 24.6 points their past five games, including 37 last Sunday in an eight-point win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Perhaps the return of Roethlisberger, who watched Charlie Batch lead the Steelers to consecutive wins before Tommy Maddox lost in overtime Sunday in Baltimore, will invigorate the Steelers offense and put pressure on the Colts.

That is, of course, if Roethlisberger is fully healthy.

Cowher is concerned Roethlisberger might be rusty because of his time off.

"The speed of the game is something that, hopefully, he can get acclimated to quickly," Cowher said. "Time will tell."

Roethlisberger has a 112.4 passer rating (tops among NFL starting quarterbacks), but doesn't appear in the league rankings because he has insufficient pass attempts (130).

Still, his ability to throw over top of defenses could potentially prevent the Colts from loading up at the line of scrimmage like the Ravens did Sunday in upsetting the Steelers in overtime, 16-13.

Baltimore held the Steelers to an average of 2.8 yards per rush on 25 attempts and forced them into a season-high 38 passing attempts. That was with Maddox at quarterback.

With Roethlisberger, the Colts might have to respect the pass more, which could benefit the running game.

"I think if you look at Indianapolis, they are going to do what they do," Cowher said. "Their defensive line is very, very active. Those two ends, Mathis and Freeney are very, very fast, particularly when they play at the (RCA) Dome and deal with the noise. ... I don't see them deviating. When you are 10-0, you are not going to change a lot of what you do week in and week out."

As for playing the Colts on a national stage Monday night, Cowher could not mask his enthusiasm.

"If you can't get excited about a game like this, then why are you in this business?," he said. "If you are a competitor and you have an opportunity to play the best, how can you not relish that opportunity and not look forward to it? We are looking forward to it. It is a big-time challenge."