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Colts' momentum on defense to be tested by nemesis Ben Roethlisberger

HOUSTON -- It’s probably a good thing that many of the defensive players inside the Indianapolis Colts locker room weren’t around the previous three times they faced the Pittsburgh Steelers under coach Chuck Pagano. The results haven't been pretty.

2014: 51-34 loss

2015: 45-10 loss

2016: 28-7 loss

“Pittsburgh, they’ve been getting the better of us the last few years,” Colts safety Darius Butler said. “You can definitely say it’s a good thing that a lot of the guys weren’t here for those games. We’re going to go out there and fight [next Sunday]. We’re going to protect our turf and try to come out on top.”

The only two players still on the roster that played in all three games are Butler and cornerback Vontae Davis. The lopsided contests were just part of the problems for the Colts. The biggest problem has been Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger in those three games totaled 1,107 yards on 78-of-108 passing, with 13 touchdowns, no interceptions, and no sacks.

“They have playmakers,” Colts defensive lineman Al Woods said. “It is what it is. Elite quarterback, elite wide receiver, an elite running back and an elite offensive line. They got it. It’s definitely going to be a dogfight. It’s going to be a physical game.”

The Colts have spent most of the season hovering near the bottom of the NFL in defense. But what gives them the slightest bit of hope against the Steelers (6-2), who are 11th in the league averaging 363.8 yards a game, is they’re coming off back-to-back solid defensive performances.

Indianapolis held Cincinnati to 276 yards of total offense in Week 8 and then held Houston to 288 yards on Sunday despite not having Vontae Davis and linebacker John Simon. They lost rookie safety Malik Hooker (knee) earlier this season. Cornerbacks Nate Hairston and Pierre Desir are gaining confidence as each week passes.

This is the same defensive unit that gave up 473 and 518 yards to Tennessee and Jacksonville in Weeks 6 and 7, respectively.

“We’re just trying to stay consistent,” Colts defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins said. “Even though the wins aren’t showing up, I sense that we’re getting better in certain areas and we’re starting to come together as a defense.”

A noticeable change has been from the communication standpoint, according to the defensive players. Things started to change after they picked apart by Jacksonville's Blake Bortles (330 yards) two weeks ago.

But Bortles and Andy Dalton aren’t Roethlisberger. The Jaguars and Bengals also don’t have Le'Veon Bell or Antonio Brown on their roster. The Steelers are coming off their bye week and bringing a three-game winning streak to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis next weekend.

“We’re going to have our hands full,” Colts cornerback Rashaan Melvin said. “Ben understands the defenses he faces. He has weapons all over the football field. The running back, receivers, great skill guys to help him make plays. He does a great job finding the weakness of the defense and exploiting it.”