After an embarrassingly long break, SteezBros is back for the playoffs. Hopefully, we can return as strong as the Steelers did on Sunday.
The Steez picked a good time for their best offensive performance of the year. There was a sense early in the game that things might be different for the offense when Bruce Arians called three consecutive run plays to open the game. The result: 22 yards and two first downs. Despite the rushing success, the offense was held scoreless until the very end of the first half due to repeated failures on third down. Big Ben led a 77 yard touchdown drive with less than two minutes left in the half, highlighted by an incredible 41 yard completion to Hines Ward. Pittsburgh got the ball back after halftime and proceeded to drive 66 yards, capped by an 8 yard Heath Miller TD reception, that effectively put the game out of reach at 21-10. The team added a Gary Russell TD and a late Willie Parker TD to finish off the streaking San Diego Chargers.
Count me as one of the many Steelers fans that didn't see this offensive outburst coming. The team looked like I hoped they would at the start of the season - a reliable running game, a play action passing game, and Big Ben regularly converting third downs. The reason for the success was undoubtedly the great play of the offensive line. The O-line has been the weakest link of this time all year, but they played like stars on Sunday. They repeatedly pushed around the Chargers defense in the running game. Ben Roethlisberger was only sacked once. The line wasn't confused by stunting defensive players and Mewelde Moore did a nice job in pass protection. Willie Parker also played one of his best games of the year, showing lateral quickness that has been missing since his he injured his knee and a willingness to run hard between the tackles.
I also want to give credit where credit is due. Bruce Arians, you called your best game of the year. You stuck with the run. You mixed formations. You called deep play action passes and stayed aggressive even with a big lead. You controlled the clock. You kept your QB clean, two weeks after sustaining a spinal cord concussion. You actually called two running plays on 3rd and and 4 (both would have worked, one was negated by penalty). Nicely done. Now please, if you want to save your job, put together a game plan for Baltimore that plays to this team's strengths.
Most importantly, Big Ben looked sharp. For one of the few times all season, Ben had a nice pocket and significant time to throw. He was accurate and decisive. The ball was coming out of his hand with more zip than I've seen all season and he threw several deep balls that were oh so close to being perfect. His best throw of the game was the deep ball to Nate Washington that resulted in a pass interference. Nate was double teamed, but the ball was placed so perfectly that had it not been for Eric Weddle grabbing Nate's arm, Ben would have ended up with a 220 yard, 2 TD game (which would have earned him some media publicity) instead of the 180 yard, 1 td game. If Ben and the offensive line play this well in the following weeks, this team will bring home its 6th Lombardi trophy.
IMO, the defense didn't play up to its unbelievably high standards. The defense showed little resistance to the Chargers opening drive that took 4 plays to score a touchdown and quieted the home crowd. After that drive, the defense tightened up and played better in the first half, only allowing a field goal that mostly resulted from bad field position. I know that the majority of the Chargers points and yards came in a meaningless 4th quarter, but I'm still worried that this defense peaked mid-season and is on the decline. There seemed to be openings in the passing lanes for Philip Rivers. The Chargers scored a quick TD after the Steelers took a 28-10 lead, when the defense knew that all it needed to do was force a time consuming drive. The Chargers points and yardage were further inflated with another meaningless touchdown drive later in the 4th. Rivers had more than 300 yards passing, the first time the Steelers allowed this all year. Keep in mind, this happend with San Diego's offense only playing for three quarters (the Chargers had one offensive play in the 3rd quarter). Ike Taylor struggled to cover Vincent Jackson and Chris Chambers.
On the positive side, the defense allowed only 15 yards rushing to Darren Sproles. It has also been rumored that Troy P. , who had a very quiet day, had a stomach virus and an injured calf, which would explain some of the weakness in the secondary.
Mike Tomlin did a nice job preparing the troops this week and held the team together after a fast start by the Chargers. The team played with intensity and was the only home team of the weekend that looked well rested, as opposed to rusty. The team also had a nice game plan that was more reminiscent of the 2005 Super Bowl team, than the 2007 version. Coach Tomlin has done a nice job all year. Let's see if he can have more playoff success early in his career than Bill Cowher did.
With the Ravens coming into town next week, I'm expecting a bloody battle between two hated teams. More to come this week.
Quick hit thoughts:
- Carey Davis is terrible. He is a poor blocking fullback, a poor runner, and brings nothing to the passing game. He was stopped one yard short of a first down on two receptions, gained nothing on another reception, and was stuffed at the goal line on 4th and one. Why did he get four touches this game?
- Who saw that punt return touchdown coming? It was a key play that changed the momentum of the game. My biggest fear for this game was the special teams match up. Turns out I was dead wrong. Although we did allow a long return to Sproles.=
- The advantage of having a bad punter is sometimes the punt will hit an opposing player in the head.
- Big game from Keisel. The week off must have done some good for his injured calf.
- The Steelers were stuffed again on 4th and goal from the one. Hopefully this doesn't kill us later in the playoffs.
- Willie Colon: is it that hard to line up on the line of scrimmage?
- Lamarr Woodley is back. Two huge sacks in this game. Although he might see a fine for his late slam of Rivers. I would disagree with the fine, but it was awfully similar to a fine he got earlier this year.
- James Harrison gets held more than any player I've ever seen. This is from Ben Riley, a writer for Football Outsiders and not a Steelers fan: : "Did anyone else notice that James Harrison was getting held on virtually every play in the fourth quarter? In fact, I don't think I saw a clean block on him the entire game."