Ben Roethlisberger brings Colts' defense back to reality

PITTSBURGH -- The Indianapolis Colts spent the five weeks leading up to Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers dominating on defense.

They dictated how the games were played. It wasn't the other way around.

They couldn't be blocked on blitzes. They were an opportunistic unit, causing turnover after turnover. They made high-priced quarterbacks Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens and Andy Dalton of the Cincinnati Bengals, look like middle-of-the-road players. They rightfully strutted around feeling good about themselves.

Enter Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger.

The Steelers quarterback brought the Colts back to reality defensively by masterfully dissecting them in Pittsburgh's 51-34 victory. Roethlisberger was 40-of-49 for 522 yards and six touchdowns.

The Colts hadn't been embarrassed this badly since the New England Patriots scored 59 points against them in 2012.

"It's a nice, humbling experience for us," safety Mike Adams said. "We probably needed it. This whole week it'll be, 'The Colts' defense is not that good.' But we can redeem ourselves next week. We can't be wishy-washy on defense to be good. We have to be consistent."

The easy excuse would be that the Colts were without Vontae Davis, their top cornerback, for more than three quarters because of a knee injury.

No offense to Davis, but his presence wouldn't have stopped Roethlisberger from shredding the defense.

The Colts went from loading the box and using different blitz schemes to sitting back in a zone.

Bad move.

Roethlisberger continually found the soft spots in the zone to make the Colts pay. It started in the first quarter when he threw a 18-yard touchdown pass to Markus Wheaton. Darius Butler and Davis were both near Wheaton, but neither player was defending him on the play.

Then, there was the play on which Josh Gordy, who replaced Davis, and Butler easily let Martavis Bryant cut inside for a 5-yard touchdown reception.

"They dialed up some good calls where Ben found the soft spots in the zone," Butler said. "We're better than that. To a man, we have to lick our wounds."

Defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois was more blunt about what Roethlisberger did to them.

"It felt like he was one step ahead of us, and with a quarterback like that' you're not surprised he had success," he said. "I take my hat off to him being Big Ben. He came to play."

Remember when the Colts had 20 sacks during their winning streak?

Roethlisberger was barely touched, and Indianapolis didn't record a sack for the first time since its Week 2 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. He summed up his ability to avoid being taken down when he shook defensive lineman Art Jones off his leg and completed a 47-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown in the second quarter.

And third-down defense?

The Colts had held opponents to 4-of-41 in their previous four games. Pittsburgh was 8-of-13 on Sunday.

"I said earlier in the week he is a future first-ballot Hall of Famer, in my opinion," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said about Roethlisberger. "He's unbelievably accurate. He's big, he's strong. You have to be able to put pressure on him. You have to be able to get him on the ground. You have to get off on third down. You can't give up big plays."

The Colts will have to beat quarterbacks as talented or better than Roethlisberger if they expect to reach their goal of playing in the Super Bowl. That's why the video review of their debacle Sunday won't be taken lightly. The play, stop and rewind buttons on the remote will get plenty of use during the film session this week because the Colts have to attempt to regain their identity before facing the New York Giants' Eli Manning and the Patriots' Tom Brady in their next two games.

"This was a wake-up call," Jean Francois said. "We didn't want to take a loss like this, but it gives us a chance where we can look at every perspective. We can look at the coaching perspective. We can look the players' perspective and see what we did wrong because we're playing another Super Bowl quarterback in Eli Manning next."