INDIANAPOLIS — When Ben Roethlisberger visits the RCA Dome for the first time tonight, he'll glimpse at Peyton Manning and try to steal a few tips.
It'll be one of the few times in Roethlisberger's 1 1/2 NFL seasons he's played the role of fan.
"I'm excited to watch Peyton in person, I think it will be fun," Roethlisberger said.
How much Roethlisberger enjoys the show will depend on three things — how well he plays after missing three games, how well Manning performs and whether the Steelers (7-3) can become the first team to knock off the unbeaten Indianapolis Colts (10-0).
For the second straight week, the Colts will get an up-close look at one of the league's emerging stars. Last week, Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer shredded the Colts defense for 338 yards and two touchdowns — and they don't want a repeat.
Meanwhile, the Colts offense seems nearly unstoppable.
Manning has regained his two-time MVP form. He's topped 300 yards in two of the last three games, thrown 18 touchdowns in the last seven games and rapidly has ascended the league-leading charts in both touchdown passes and passer rating.
The Colts also have the AFC's top rusher in Edgerrin James (1,116 yards), two of the top three receivers and have scored at least 31 points in five straight games.
That kind of production worries Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher, a defensive mastermind.
"I think what we're playing is a very confident team. They're unbeaten for a reason," Cowher said. "I think it's going to take our best game to beat them, and it's a great challenge and a great opportunity for us."
Roethlisberger has spent the past month eagerly awaiting this chance.
He hasn't played since the Steelers' last Monday night appearance, a 20-19 victory over Baltimore on Oct. 31. After knee surgery on Nov. 3, Cowher held out Roethlisberger for three games and there was a noticeable difference in the Steelers.
Pittsburgh struggled to win at Green Bay, then lost 16-13 in overtime at Baltimore last weekend, snapping a franchise-record 11-game road winning streak.
Roethlisberger has an 18-1 regular-season record as a starter and has lost only two games in his career — both to New England.
He figures it will take some time Monday to get reacquainted to game speed, although the Steelers can't afford to wait long. Pittsburgh needs a victory to stay in contention for the AFC North title and a first-round bye in the playoffs, and it hasn't lost two straight since the middle of the 2003 season.
"We have to approach it like it's the biggest game of the year, because that's what it's going to take to beat a team like Indianapolis," Roethlisberger said.
The Colts are prepared for a steady mix of running by speedster Willie Parker and power backs Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis, who have been slowed much of the season by injuries, and Pittsburgh's zone blitzes.
James will face the league's No. 3 run defense, an intriguing matchup that could force Manning to do more work. Manning lost 28-10 at Pittsburgh in 2002, his only previous game against the Steelers. Pittsburgh, Arizona and Carolina are the only teams Manning has not beaten in his eight-year NFL career.
"I think they face a defense that jumps around a lot, they will show you one thing and do something else," Roethlisberger said of the Steelers defense. "You never quite know what you're going to get. From my perspective, they are fun to watch as long as I'm not going against them. I think it will be fun."