Steelers Bengals Playoff Preview – Backup Running Backs Carry Pittsburgh’s Hopes

The last time the Cincinnati Bengals won a playoff game, Dan Quayle remained a heartbeat away from the presidency, David Letterman still worked for NBC, “car phones” were luxury items, Coke still sold in 16 oz glass bottles and Chuck Noll was still the Pittsburgh Steelers head coach.

It is the position of this Steelers Bengals playoff preview that Pittsburgh’s hopes of prolonging Bengals playoff drought likely depend on two Steelers playoff running backs – Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman– that no one in Steelers Nation had ever heard of when the Black and Gold’s initial 53 man roster was set.

  • Yes, how quickly we forget!

News that Kevin Colbert cut not one but two members of the Steelers 2015 Draft Class make way for wavier wire pickups sent Steelers Nation up in arms in a case of collective 2008 draft Déjà vu. Colbert and Mike Tomlin had fumbled away yet another draft. Or so it seemed.

One of Kevin Colbert’s wavier wire pickups was running back Jordan Todman, who could easily lead the Steelers in rushing in the Wild Card game vs. the Bengals. A day later Colbert added Fitzgerald Toussaint to the practice squad who will start tonight for the Steelers.

This could change should Pittsburgh advance DeAngelo Williams may return, but right now the Steelers playoff running backs are Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman. Ben Roethlisberger still has Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Martavis Bryant and Heath Miller to throw to, but the Steelers success might hinge on Toussaint and Todman’s ability to put in an “above the line performance.”

  • Mike Tomlin’s “The Standard is the Standard. Next man up” philosophy is about to get another test.

When DeAngelo Williams name first appeared on the Steelers injury report, Steel Curtain Rising observed that not only was the Steelers running back depth preciously low, but that the Steelers had made a conscious choice to go into the season with a backfield that was two men deep (its obvious no one on the South Side was counting on Dri Archer).

Who are Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman?

Of the two men, Jordan Todman is a much better known commodity.

Todman has been in the NFL since 2011 having spent time on the rosters of Minnesota and San Diego that season. After that, he spent three years in Jacksonville, where he appeared in 33 games and made 3 starts.

  • Jordan Todman has authored precisely one 100 yard game, a 104 yard effort that came against the Buffalo Bills in December 2013.

For his career, Jordan Todman has rushed for 472 yards on 117 carries for an average of 4.1 yards a carry and 3 touchdowns. In Pittsburgh, Todman has carried the ball four times, for 22 yards. Todman’s carries have come in the Steelers home wins against San Francisco, Cleveland and Oakland.

The Baltimore Ravens gave Fitzgerald Toussaint his NFL break in 2014, where he appeared in 4 games and rushed 6 times for 12 yards. The Steelers activated him from the practice squad several weeks ago, perhaps to keep Baltimore from claiming him, and since then the Steelers have rushed Toussaint 18 times for 42 yards.

  • That average is unimpressive, but most of that came against Cleveland, and DeAngelo Williams wasn’t doing much better.

Fitzgerald Toussaint also scored his first points in Cleveland, when he caught a Ben Roethlisberger 2 point conversion pass. Taking our cue from the Pittsburgh sports writers, who while they can’t reveal what they see in practice do nonetheless find ways to signal important information to readers, we know a little more the Steelers plans for their playoffs running backs.

Commenting on the Steelers running game going into the Wild Card vs. Cincinnati, Dale Lolley of the Observer-Reporter offered this observation “Every time somebody in the organization mentions Fitzgerald Toussaint, they add what a solid blocker he is.”

Other writers have reported similar comments. Answering a question about an NFL running back by talking about his pass blocking ability is kind of like saying the blind date you were on was “nice.”

Steelers Relying on Backup Running Backs in Playoffs the 21st Century Norm

Hats off to Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review for connecting some rather obvious dots. When DeAngelo Williams went down vs. the Browns, the image of Le’Veon Bell hyper-extending his knee in the season finale vs. the Bengals flashed through everyone’s mind. As well it should.

  • But as Adamski indicates, the Steelers starting backup running backs in the playoffs is nothing new.
  • Neither are late-season injures to starters, for that matter.

In 2011 Isaac Redman got the start in the Tebowing at Denver (and fans forget, Redman racked up over 100 yards) after Rashard Mendenhall tore his ACL late in the season. In 2007 Willie Parker broke his leg in week 16, leading to Najeh Davenport to start for the 2007 playoffs. And as Adamski reminds us, the trend goes back to Bill Cowher’s days, when Amos Zereoue started for Jerome Bettis, although Bettis had been out for several weeks.

  • The Steelers playoff record with backup running backs starting isn’t promising.

Zereoue, only a nominal backup at that point, led the Steelers to victory in the 2001 Steelers Divisional Playoff victory over the Ravens. Other than that, the Steelers are 0fwers or winless when starting backups.

Most of the analysis of the Steelers post-season prospects, including Steel Curtain Rising’s, has focused on Ben Roethlisberger and Martavis Bryant playing better and Keith Butler and the Steelers defense getting pressure and turnovers. That analysis is sound.

  • But for all of its potency, Pittsburgh’s offense still needs some production out of its running backs.

Against the Bengals it least, it appears that the Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 playoff hopes will go as far as Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman can carry them.

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Steelers Report Card vs Ravens 2014 Playoffs at Heinz Field

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who saw his star student ace his final quarter in high school, only to fall flat on his face during his first semester in college, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the playoff loss to the Ravens.

steelers, report card, grade, ravens, playoff, loss

The stat sheet isn’t too kind to Ben Roethlisberger, who threw for 334 yards, on 45 passes and 31 completions with one touchdown and two interceptions. Truthfully, his first interception could have been caught and was a miracle catch by Terell Suggs. The Ravens did what they could to take away the deep ball from the Steelers and Ben had no underneath check down to rely upon. Bruce Gradkowski came into a difficult spot and made a nice throw on third down and converted a fourth down. Ben Roethlisberger didn’t play his best game, but he certainly can’t be “blamed” for the loss. Grade: B

Running Backs
On the surface, the decision to start Ben Tate made sense. But if you accept that then why not sign an experienced veteran earlier in the season? Looking at the numbers Tate played a respectable game, but fumbled early and bobbled a pass that got intercepted. Josh Harris had 9 carries for 25 yards, but didn’t get a lot of running room. Tellingly, the Steelers turned to Will Johnson when they needed to convert in short yardage. Dri Archer ran once for a loss, but did catch 3 passes. The running backs weren’t asked to do a lot but, even then, they didn’t quite answer the call. Grade: C-

Tight Ends
Heath Miller came up with some clutch catches as he always does. But he also failed to come up with a few others that the Steelers needed. His fumble also made the Steelers 1 and done official. Moreover, he struggled in blocking particularly against Terrell Suggs. Miller’s catches bring the grade up, but the Steelers needed more from the tight ends than they got. Grade: D

Wide Receivers
Antonio Brown caught 9 passes, including one that almost went for a touchdown that he had little right to catch. Martavis Bryant had 6 catches including a touchdown, and Darrius Heyward Bey and one catch for six yards. The Steelers put up 356 yards of passing against the Ravens, and the wide receivers came up with 250 of those. A good night. Grade: B

Offensive Line
Baltimore’s ability to control the line of scrimmage and collapse the pocket was a big difference maker in the game. The Steelers relative lack of playoff experience has been noted, but Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster, and Marcus Gilbert have all started playoff games before. Pouncey and Foster have won them too. None of the savvy supposedly gained from playoff experience was evident vs. the Ravens. The Steelers needed a strong game from their offensive line. They got the opposite. Grade: F

Defensive Line
Baltimore ran the ball when it had to, in the first half. The defensive line made its adjustments, but by then the damage had been done. Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt got 4 tackles a piece, with the stat sheet showing that Heyward hit Joe Flacco twice. Fair enough, but Steelers front seven generated little pressure on Flacco, and the line must share part of that responsibility. Grade: C-

Going into the game one of the story lines was how would Baltimore’s inexperienced offensive lineman fare against the Steelers edge rushers who’d been making a lot of noise of late. The underdog won this battle in a big way. Jason Worilds personal foul penalty was boneheaded to say the least and he was a non-factor in the pass rush, as was James Harrison. Sean Spence did get a sack, and Ryan Shaizer did force a fumble in a nice play. Vince Williams had 3 tackles including one for a loss. Lawrence Timmons, turned in a strong game as he has all season. Grade: D

Three of the Steelers top four tacklers were members of the secondary, Troy Polamalu, Brice McCain, and Mike Mitchell. Polamlau did help in run support and got a lick in on Flacco, but for all intents and purposes he wasn’t an impact player. Mitchell’s personal foul penalty energized the Ravens to their first touchdown. McCain got his hands on a pick, but unlike Terrell Suggs, McCain couldn’t hold on. Welcome to the playoffs Mr. McCain. Flacco simply completed the throws he had to complete, and while the non-existent pass rush helped, the Steelers patchwork secondary also was a factor. Grade: D

Special Teams
Markus Wheaton had 3 returns which averaged 20.7 yards a full four yards below his season average. On the flip side, Jacoby Jones was held to 23.7 yards per return, in line with the Steelers regular season average, but well below Jones’ average for 2014. Brad Wing averaged below 40 yards per punt, but did pin the Ravens down twice inside the 20. Shaun Susiham made all 3 of his field goals. All of that points to an average night for the Steelers special teams, but Shamarko Thomas’ blocked punt was sensational coming at just when the Steelers needed it. The fact that the offense failed to capitalize doesn’t dim the brilliance of the play. Grade: A-

The Steelers coaches have taken a lot of heat for the Ravens performance, and this comes with the territory when you lose so badly in the playoffs. With that said, its important to acknowledge that the execution vs. game plan debate is legitimate. Even so, Todd Haley’s offense couldn’t protect its quarterback, couldn’t make the run threat real, struggled in the Red Zone, but did move the ball. Haely is certainly not responsible for the turnovers. And his backup entered without the offense missing a beat.

Dick LeBeau’s defense failed to pressure the passer, and its secondary failed to shut down the Ravens when it counted. However, the unit did eliminate the running game for an entire half.

At the end of the day, the crisp execution and smart play that had characterized the Steelers during the season’s final four weeks was largely missing, and as Mike Tomlin would be the first to say, “The Steelers are what they put on tape.” The Pittsburgh Steelers final 2014 Report Card will rate the coaches more well, but this Report Card is based solely on outcome and performance vs. the Ravens. Grade: D

Unsung Hero Award
This gentleman isn’t one of the Killer Bees. He’s not the rookie sensation who specializes in catching touchdowns. The stat sheet says he had 5 catches for 66 yards, which is respectable in today’s NFL, but will do little to make him the envy of the Fantasy Football owners next season.

But go beyond the numbers, and you’ll see why he was so special to the Steelers on a night when much went wrong. Those 5 catches came on 6 targets. And here is how they broke down: 1-11, 1-11, 1-12, 1-15, and 1-17 – all but the final catch (which came on 2nd and 20) went for a first down. You can’t score if you don’t move the chains in the NFL and this gentleman kept the chains moving for Pittsburgh. While the end result remains, his individual effort deserves far more recognition than he’s getting, and for that Markus Wheaton is the Unsung Hero of the playoff loss to the Ravens.

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Ravens Defeat Steelers 30-17 at Heinz Field

The Baltimore Ravens arrived at Heinz Field Saturday night wearing an 0-3 playoff millstone around their neck, an embarrassing loss to the Houston Texans and an escape like win vs. the lowly Cleveland Browns. In contrast, the Steelers had closed their season with 4 straight wins looking as a team that had hit its stride.

Some faithful in Steelers Nation have looked to the statistics and see the Steelers coming out ahead in terms of yards, plays, and time of possession and scratched their heads asking “Why?”

In a game like this, numbers that measure fundamentals and not Fantasy Football stats are what really carry the day. And on that front the Ravens dominated where it really counted and in doing so they revealed limits of how far the 2014 Steelers could realistically aspire to.

Bubble Gum, Spit and Duct Tape Secondary Only Gets Steelers So Far

Throughout Steelers Nation, fans are fingering any number of the Steelers flaws to explain the Raven’s first playoff win at Heinz Field. Most of what’s being discussed is on point and will find its way into this article further on down. But there’s something most are missing:

  • The Steelers secondary may have been good enough to get it to the playoffs, but lacked the talent to carry them through the playoffs.

Just six days before, Cris Collinsworth – whom no one will ever accuse of favoring the Steelers – praised the job that the Steelers “spare parts” secondary had done. The secondary earned that praise, as they pushed the Steelers over the Bengals. The Tribune-Review’s Rob Rossi noted how the group had virtually eliminated the long-ball in the season’s final weeks.

  • But the playoff introduce an entirely new dynamic.

And in this new dynamic, the Steelers secondary was out of its depth. Brice McCain had a shot at an interception – very similar to the one he made in the regular season a week ago. Interceptions are harder to make in the playoffs.

Steve Smith Sr., Owen Daniels, and don’t call him “David” Crockett Gilmore all had catches for over 20 yards. But the numbers only tell part of the tale. The Joe Flacco may have passed for fewer yards than Ben Roethlisberger, but he connected with his receivers when he had to….

…And there’s a reason for that.

Ravens Dictate at the Line of Scrimmage

Like all good Steelers-Ravens match ups, this one was won and lost in the trenches. It would be wrong to say the Ravens controlled the line of scrimmage all night. Saying they dominated at the line of scrimmage when they needed to would be right.

  • The Steelers defensive line offers a perfect example.

Credit Dick LeBeau and Johnny Mitchell for adjusting to shut down Justin Forsett in the second half. As Behind the Steel Curtain’s editor Neal Coolong pointed out, Forsett had fewer yards at the end of the game than he began the 3rd quarter with. All of those “Tackles for loss” look pretty on Vince Williams, Lawrence Timmons, and Jason Worilds stat sheet.

But such appearances fail to mask the reality that the Ravens imposed their will by rushing the ball down the Steelers throat during the final 26 yards of their first touchdown drive.

More importantly, the Ravens offensive line kept Joe Flacco clean, giving him the time he needed to pick apart the Steelers secondary.

  • The story is similar on the other side of the ball.

The Steelers offensive line struggled in the first half, but improved somewhat in the second half. There were times when Ben Roethlisberger had all day to throw. But the Ravens didn’t simply sack Ben Roethlisberger 5 times, Baltimore collapsed Pittsburgh’s pass protection at the worst possible times:

  • Haloti Nagata knocked the Steelers out of field goal range on their first drive
  • Elivs Dumervil ended a 3rd and 11 with a sack on the Steelers next drive, forcing another field goal
  • Brandon Williams sacked Ben Roethlisberger with the Steelers at the Raven’s ten, scuttling the series and helping force another field goal
  • Elivs Dumervil ended the Steelers final drive of the 3rd quarter by sacking Roethlisberger for a 12 yard loss
  • Courtney Upshaw’s final sack of Roethlisberger didn’t end the drive, Bruce Gradkowski kept it alive

But when Roethlisberger returned to the game, he promptly threw an interception in the end zone….

Steelers Stumble, Ravens Rumble

…It was that kind of a game for the Steelers. However, if any one word describes the 2014 Steelers it is “resilient.” The Steelers defense not only kept the Ravens pinned down against Pittsburgh’s end zone, Shamarko Thomas blocked a punt, netting a safety.

Suddenly, the Steelers were within 13 points…

…And just as suddenly, the ever reliable Heath Miller was fumbling the ball back to the Ravens.

  • And so ended the Steelers 2014 season.

Credit the John Harbaugh and his Baltimore Ravens squad – they were the better team at Heinz Field Saturday night. They made the plays when they needed to, they deserve the victory.

Ravens Advance, Pittsburgh Picks Up Pieces

The 2014 Steelers have been an erratic bunch, and for whatever reason they reverted to their early season form in the playoffs. It is impossible to know why.

  • Credit the Steelers for refusing to use the absence of Le’Veon Bell as an excuse, but clearly not having Bell hurt the Steelers.

But Bell’s absence had nothing to do with the epidemic of penalties, including three bone-headed personal fouls. Playoff inexperience may have contributed in part. But that fails to explain the poor line play (Maurkuice Pouncey, Marcus Gilbert, and Ramon Foster all have post-season experience) or execution failure by the likes of Heath Miller.

Steelers Nation may resist swallowing such a bitter pill, but the Ravens remain the class of the AFC North, as they have been since their November 2011 win at Heinz.

  • Baltimore proved it by advancing to the divisional playoff round.

The truth is that the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers probably went as far as their talent could take them, and for that, this team should hang its head high. For the first 3 quarters of the 2014 season, the Steelers slipped into “win a game, lose a game” mode, until late in the season when the team succeeded in stepping up its focus enough to string together four straight victories.

If this playoff loss can teach these players to apply the same lesson then next time they reach the post-season, then this loss will not be for naught.

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Steelers Lose to Ravens Rapid Reaction

Well folks, in our heart of hearts, everyone in Steelers Nation knew the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers magical mystery ride had to end at some point. Most didn’t think that sad event would occur vs. the Baltimore Ravens. But it did.

This isn’t the time to point fingers or single out scapegoats, far from it, but the truth is the Steelers failed on the fundamentals on several levels:

  • The Steelers offensive line struggled to win the battle of line of scrimmage
  • The Steelers corners had difficulty covering the Raven’s receivers
  • The Steelers reverted to their early season form, committing all sorts of costly penalties

At the end of the day, on this night at Heinz Field, the Baltimore Ravens simply played a better game, and were a better team.

None of that should detract from what this team has accomplished under Mike Tomlin during 2014. This is a young team that found its identity down the stretch. And if they came up short in the playoffs, there are now 30 some players who never wiffed post-season football, including the likes of David DeCastro, Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton, Stephon Tuitt, and Kelven Beachum, who now know what it is like to buckle the chinstrap in a game that is for all of the marbles.

Yes, this playoff loss to the Ravens was a disappointment. And as it is probably the final game for Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu, and also perhaps James Harrison and Brett Keisel, its a sad way to end.

But the 2014 Steelers have no need to hang their heads in shame. They returned the franchise to the post-season after twin 8-8 seasons and, hopefully, in the process learned some valuable lessons which they can build on.

Its now 2:14 here in Buenos Aires. Thanks to Carlos, Carlos, Claudio and Sergio who came out to Sugar to join Gustavo and I for the game at Sugar in Buenos Aires. Steel Curtain Rising will have a full analysis later tomorrow.

Until then we ask everyone in Steelers Nation to join us in saluting the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers.

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Watch Steelers vs Ravens in Buenos Aires

The Pittsburgh Steelers Fan Club of Buenos Aires is calling on all of the Black and Gold faithful in the porteño capital to join us to watch the Steelers-Ravens game at the bar Sugar, in Palermo.

Mind you, this is an informal gathering, but Sugar is the top expat bar in the city, and regularly shows NFL games. It will also give you a chance to meet El Dr. de Acero, the master behind this site’s Spanish articles, making Steel Curtain Rising the only bilingual blog in Steelers Nation.

Consider the Steelers track record when El Dr. de Acero and yours truly see games together:

That’s 5-3. Not a perfect record, but we’ll take it. Be part of the trend. Join us at Sugar (Costa Rica 4619) to watch the third Steelers-Ravens match up at Heinz Field during the Mike Tomlin era.

Go Steelers!

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Mira Steelers Contra Ravens en Buenos Aires Con Fanaticos del Negro y Oro

Queridos amigos de la Nación Steeler.


Contra todos los pronósticos de mediados de temporada, los Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) han ingresado por derecho propio y con autoridad a la postemporada y mañana, en la noche de Buenos Aires, recibirán en Heinz Field a los eternos rivales de división, los Baltimore Ravens (10-6)

  • Los Acereros llevan ventaja histórica de 15-7 (3-0 en postemporada).

En los juegos disputados este año hubo una victoria para cada equipo. Sin embargo, el último encuentro disputado en Pittsburgh, el QB Ben Roethlisberger ingresó al libro de records al lanzar por segundo juego consecutivo, 6 pases de TD y alzarse con la victoria por 43 a 23, tomando revancha del primer encuentro en Baltimore en donde estos se impusieron por 26 a 6.

  • La intensidad será invitada de honor a esta noche.
  • Intensidad en las tribunas y en el campo de juego.
  • E intensidad en cualquier lugar del planeta en donde se reúnan al menos 2 fanáticos de los Steelers para acompañar a su equipo.

Allí donde ondeen las Terribles Toallas Amarillas.

Buenos Aires no podría ser la excepción. Aquí también ondearán la Toallas Amarillas. El punto de reunión será el Sugar Bar, en Costa Rica 4619, en el Barrio de Palermo.

Allí los esperamos un rato antes del partido.

Go Steelers!

El Dr. De Acero

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Should Steelers Play Troy Polamalu vs. Ravens?

Should the Steelers play Troy Polamalu vs. the Ravens in the playoffs? It is the elephant in the room that few in Steelers Nation want to discuss. But it is a question the Steelers must answer and a decision Mike Tomlin must make.

  • Playoffs are no time for experimenting in the NFL.

Yes, teams can and do unveil new wrinkles some times to great effect – Deshea Townsend’s 4th quarter game-sealing sack of Matt Hasselbeck in Super Bowl XL came on a play that Dick LeBeau installed the night before. Other times playoff innovations turn to disaster (see the Bills attempt to with shovel passes to Thurman Thomas in their second Super Bowl loss to the Cowboys.)

  • During the playoffs teams are wisest to stick to what they do best.

And that brings up a difficult decision for the Steelers. All season long the Steelers secondary has struggled. Cortez Allen, he of the big off season contract, regressed so badly he not only lost his starting role, but got benched altogether. Michael Mitchell, the Steelers first “splash” free agent signing in years, hasn’t been a bust, but his “splash contract” hasn’t translated into splash plays on the field.

But the Steelers defense has improved during the regular season’s last four games and, as the Bengals win would indicate, so has the secondary.

  • And that improvement has happened with the defense’s one, sure fire Hall of Famer, Troy Polamalu on the bench.

Pittsburgh Tribune Review columnist Rob Rossi observed, “Dick LeBeau’s looked smarter in December, huh?” and he goes on to observe that during the Pittsburgh’s final four games, the Steelers defense only allowed two passes of 30 plus yards. Completions of 30 yards – or more – were staples of the Steelers 2014 season’s first 12 weeks.

While Steel Curtain Rising has no wish to steal Rossi’s thunder, his argument is simple:

  • Without Polamalu, the Steeler defense is more conservative, more cautious and ultimately more effective. Don’t fix what isn’t broken.

Troy Polamalu at Similar Cross Roads Now as Levon Kirkland was in 2000

In an interesting way, the situation Polamalu finds himself in now is very similar, for different reasons, to the one Levon Kirkland found himself in 2000. Levon Kirkland was not the same caliber player as Polamalu. Troy Polamalu is, what in the words of Behind the Steel Curtain’s Ivan Cole, “a generational player,” one of those rare competitors who can single handedly alter the course of a game (see the 2008 AFC Championship).

  • Kirkland never quite broached that level.

But he was a beast and a freak of nature in his own rite.

While Polamalu dazzled and devastated with is acrobatic dramatic playmaking, Kirkland treated Steelers nation to the spectacle of a 300 pound inside linebacker covering players down the field – and doing it extremely well. Kirkland nabbed 11 interceptions in 144 games with the Steelers. For comparison’s sake, Ike Taylor only has 14 in 174 games. But as Kirkland shift from his 20’s into his 30’s, the extra weigh slowed him just enough to rob him of his effectiveness.

  • Troy Polamalu is almost certainly at a similar point in his career.

Polamalu’s free lancing gave opposing quarterbacks and offensive coordinators fits. He was one guy they had to account for on every play, and they could never be sure where he was. Doubtlessly, detailed film study from Steelers games from 2004 to 2010 would reveal countless times when Polamalu’s gambles left him in the wrong part of the field at the wrong time.

  • But Polamalu had the athletic ability to compensate for those mistakes.

And if he didn’t, the likes of Ryan Clark and Ike Taylor were skilled enough and athletic enough to pick up the slack. Clark is gone. Mitchell hasn’t played with Polamalu long enough to intutitively make course corrections when Polamalu free lances. Ditto Brice McCain and Antwon Blake.

  • Still, that doesn’t mean that Polamalu can no longer add value to this defense.

As Dale Lolley points out, Polamalu is still very effective up in the box, playing against the run. And for however much his athletic abilities have atrophied, part of Polamlau’s punch came from his innate playmaking ability which is something players rarely “lose.” And Polamalu has shown that he steps up his level of play in big games.

  • Should the Steelers play Troy Polamalu vs. the Ravens?

Mike Tomlin must make that decision. No one in Steelers Nation should envy his choice.

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Steelers Aseguraron División Norte de la Conferencia Americana

Semana 17

Los Steelers Aseguraron la División Norte de la Conferencia Americana y la localía para la postemporada al derrotar a los Bengals por 27 a 17

Mike Tomlin, Steelers, AFC North Champions







Hace tan solo siete semanas atrás la Nación Steeler se preguntaba cuán bajo podría llegar este equipo (Cuán alto, ya lo sabíamos. Habían pasado los Texans, los Colts y los Ravens.)

Con cada resultado adverso frente a un rival muy menor en calidad, se oían a gritos los pedidos de renuncias. Todd Haley, Dick LeBeau, Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert y hasta los Rooney cayeron en el reclamo.

  • La postemporada se veía tan lejana como el sol en el horizonte. Inalcanzable.
  • Se pasaba de la euforia a la desesperanza sin estaciones intermedias.
  • Luego de la derrota frente a Nueva Orleans en la semana 13, cada partido era un partido de postemporada.

Y afortunadamente el equipo pareció cohesionarse y finalmente se ha logrado el objetivo de pasar a los juegos de enero en la mejor situación posible, dadas las circunstancias: ganando la división y obteniendo la ventaja de la localía.

Las claves de un juego clave para los Steelers

Poco antes del inicio del juego publiqué vía Twitter las que a mi juicio eran las claves para quedarse con este juego de domingo por la noche:

  • Presionar a Andy Dalton antes de que conecte con A.J.Green
  • Permitir pocas yardas después de la atrapada
  • Detener a Jeremy Hill lo más cerca de la línea de scrimmage que se pueda (en los últimos dos juegos contra Cleveland y contra Denver los números del ataque terrestre de Cincy habían sido excelentes: 244 yds, 3 TD y 207 yds y 1 TD respectivamente)
  • Estar muy atentos a las devoluciones de patadas
  • Obtener turnovers

Y a poco de iniciado el partido Antonio Brown dispensó a los Bengals de un poco de su propia medicina devolviendo 71 yardas para TD una patada de despeje.

La ofensiva acerera había iniciado un poco perezosa como lo hace habitualmente. Ese día se agregaba un factor más: Ben no había realizado los ejercicios precompetitivos en el campo debido a una indisposición digestiva (tal se reportó). Pudo esto tener algo que ver con ese comienzo errático?

Las cosas empeorarían para Cincinnati puesto que Brice Mc Cain interceptó un pase de Dalton a Green.
Pero de esta oportunidad los locales no sacarían ventaja puesto que la serie ofensiva acerera siguiente fue 3 y fuera.

Giovanni Bernard pondría el marcador iguales en 7 antes de finalizar el 1er cuarto y Pittsburgh cedería la posesión del balón debido a un mal centro de Maurkice Pouncey que perdería Ben Roethlisberger entre sus piernas.

En la serie ofensiva de Cincinnati, Cam Hayward capturó al QB Dalton llevándolo 8 yardas hacia atrás en 3er down y permitiendo que los Bengals se llevaran sólo 3 puntos producto del fumble recuperado.
En lo que quedaba del 2do cuarto, los Steelers ingresaron por primera vez a la zona roja pudiendo solamente empatar el partido en 10 a través de un gol de campo.

  • Brice McCain tendría su segundo gran momento de la noche al interceptar otro pase dirigido a AJ Green y devolverlo hasta la yarda 28 de Cincinnati.

Con un pase lateral al WR Martavis Bryant y gracias a dos soberbios bloqueos de Heath Miller y de Markus Wheaton que despejaron el camino de 21 yardas hacia la zona final, el novato anotó su octavo TD de la temporada.

En la última serie acerera de la primera mitad, otra vez en zona roja, Big Ben voló al receptor Antonio Brown debiendo conformarse con otro gol de campo para finalizar 20 a 10 los primeros 30 minutos.

El tercer cuarto tuvo como episodio excluyente la lesión de Le’Veon Bell. (hiperextensión de rodilla producto de un tackle al límite de la legalidad). Este hecho produjo una conmoción tal dentro de la ofensiva acerera que esa serie finalizó con un pase de intercepción de Ben que Dalton convertirá, a su tiempo, en 7 puntos.
Ya en el 4to cuarto y con el marcador apretado en favor de los locales, por 20 a 17, con Bell fuera del juego, reemplazado por Dri Archer y por Josh Harris, el punter acerero Brad Wing lanzó un pase muy defectuoso, en una jugada de engaño de despeje que puso a la ofensiva de Dalton casi en campo rival.

Con el balón, casi en campo rival, cayendo solo por 3 puntos, promediando el último cuarto y con uno de los jugadores más importantes y significativos de la ofensiva acerera fuera del campo por lesión, Cincinnati (y muchos de los miembros de la Nación Steeler) sentía que podía dar vuelta el resultado y llevarse con ello el título divisional.

Con 5:43 por jugar el CB N°41 Antwon Blake, robó el balón de las manos de Green provocando y recuperando el fumble que cambiaría el curso del partido definitivamente a favor de los Steelers: Algunas jugadas más adelante, el líder receptor del equipo y segundo de la liga, Antonio Brown, atrapó un pase de TD de 64 yardas. 27 a 17 para los locales.

Pero el juego no finalizó hasta que Jason Worilds capturó a Dalton en 3er y 10 para poner un 4to intento a 19 yardas de la conversión.

Pero, por qué ganaron los Steelers?

Si uno observa las estadísticas encontrará que algunos de los ítems ponen a los Steelers en desventaja.
En efecto, los Acereros casi no acarrearon el balón, llegando a sumar sólo 29 yardas en todo el partido, aun con Bell en cancha (quien completó sólo 20 yardas)

  • En zona roja la hoja de estadísticas dice que los locales no convirtieron en 2 incursiones dentro de la yarda 20 y los Bengals convirtieron 2 TD en 3 viajes.
  • Para seguir, hubo 3 turnovers por lado: 2 INT y 1 fumble.

Pero entonces, dónde estuvo la diferencia?

Es que los Acereros ganaron en cada uno de los terrenos en que se juega este deporte:

  • A la ofensiva, a la defensiva y en los equipos especiales y ganaron en la comparación de turnovers, no en cantidad sino en calidad de oportunidad (algo que no figura en las estadísticas)

La ofensiva de Haley ha mostrado un desarrollo superlativo.

Y como dije la semana anterior el papel de Mike Munchak en la performance de la LO ha sido crucial. Tanto la línea ofensiva como Ben se han mantenido sanos y creo que ello se ha debido a la utilización de pases cortos y rápidos hacia las bandas o a receptores en rutas de escape (como Bell y Miller).
Ben Roethlisberger tuvo un juego en el que fue creciendo con el correr de los minutos.Completó 24 de 38 pases para 317 yardas aéreas, 2 TD y 1 INT

Me parece oportuno resaltar el carácter del equipo en general, y de la ofensiva en particular, para sobreponerse al escenario más temido: la lesión de cualesquiera de los integrantes de las “Abejas Asesinas”. Y parece que ese empuje anímico provino del lado de la defensiva.

  • A la defensiva la maduración es muy llamativa.

Decía antes que la puesta a punto fue sucediendo desde la línea de golpeo y hacia atrás.
Cam Hayward con 7 tackles y 1 sack, Stephon Tuitt con 3 tackles nunca dan por terminadas las jugadas ni se desentienden de ellas hasta el final.

Las embestidas de los linebackers, Harrison y Worilds, sin embargo, fueron bien contenidas por los Tackles de Cincinnati a pesar de lo cual Worilds se las ingenió para alcanzar a Dalton en una ocasión
Lawrence Timmons fue otra vez, el líder tackleador del equipo con 11. Ha tenido su segunda mejor temporada de su carrera, alcanzando los 87 tackles.

En el fondo del campo se ha visto tal vez el mejor partido de la secundaria. Brice Mc Cain con dos intercepciones, A. Blake con el fumble provocado que significó el cierre del partido, Will Allen con 7 tackles al igual que Blake.

Parece que ha calado hondo en estos jugadores el mensaje del Coach Tomlin de “Next Man Up”.
Entre los Linebackers y los profundos han permitido poquísimas yardas luego de la atrapada por segundo juego consecutivo. Y esto fue fundamental para contener a la ofensiva rival siempre que no se llegaba a presionar a Dalton.

En la defensa del acarreo se obtuvo también un resultado más que satisfactorio, ya que se limitó las yardas por acarreo a la mitad o menos de lo que había producido la ofensiva bengalí en los últimos 2 juegos.

Si hablamos de los turnovers, la cantidad de puntos netos obtenidos por las ofensivas a partir de ellos, favoreció a los Acereros 14 a 10. Sin embargo hay que hacer notar que el fumble provocado y recuperado por Blake significó mucho más que 7 puntos.

Significó restar puntos al rival (al menos 3) y significó finalizar el partido. Fue un fumble perfecto en el momento perfecto


Los equipos especiales también ganaron el duelo: Shaun Suisham estuvo perfecto (2 de 2 goles de campo), contuvieron a los peligrosos regresadores de Cincinnati y A. Brown devolvió un punt para TD con el que se abrió el marcador.

El punto más débil de esta escuadra fue el punter australiano Brad Wing, quien no sólo lanzó una intercepción sino que pateó dos despejes un poco cortos.

La postemporada le dá la bienvenida a un viejo conocido: Los Pittsburgh Steelers

Desde 2011 que los Steelers no juegan en enero, ocasión en que cayeron en tiempo extra frente a los Broncos del muy prematuro pasador estelar y ahora olvidado Tim Tebow.

  • Esta vez la expectativa no podría ser más: se medirán dos equipos con una rivalidad tan intensa como antigua.

Estos dos equipos sencillamente se odian. Y lo demuestran en el campo de juego, sin tapujos ni disimulos.
Será un encuentro muy cerrado, tremendamente físico e intenso. Con dos QB capaces de remontar un resultado adverso.

La incertidumbre acerera está centrada en saber si podrá jugar Le’Veon Bell.
Para el caso en que no se cuente con él, el equipo ha fichado al RB Ben Tate, un corredor más que interesante, para hacer dupla con Josh Harris, quien tuvo un acarreo de casi 60 yardas en el primer toque de balón, el domingo pasado, anulado finalmente por un holding previo.

  • Personalmente no creo que Bell esté en condiciones de jugar. Él mismo lo dijo: “no quiero jugar pensando en la rodilla, quiero poder hacer los cortes como lo hago siempre”

Sería una absoluta injusticia, si Bell no puede iniciar el próximo sábado, que el equipo pierda y Le’Veon se quede sin postemporada después de la brillante temporada regular que tuvo.

La verdad es que su año merece finalizar con él haciendo sonar la campana hasta Arizona.
No menos…

El Dr. de Acero

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Steelers Secondary a Primary Reason for Win Vs. Bengals

The Pittsburgh Steelers entered their Sunday Night Football matchup with Cincinnati Bengals  certain of three things:

  1. Their playoff ticket was already punched
  2. beating the Bengals would set Pittsburgh as the destination of that ticket
  3. Playing at Heinz Field in the post-season would require overcoming the team’s unquestioned link: the secondary

The underlying irony of the Steelers 27-17 win over the Bengals is that secondary was the primary reason for Pittsburgh’s win.

Steelers Defensive Backfield Hardly Secondary Concern

During the Steelers awful 0-5 stretch in 2009, no unit got stung more the secondary, which got scorched by some of the NFL’s most mediocre quarterbacks. A year later, the unit bounced back, only to have Aaron Rogers having his way with them in Super Bowl XVL. A year, later Tim Tebow shoed the Steelers out of the playoffs with a single overtime pass.

  • Since the Steelers last hoisted the Lombardi, Pittsburgh the secondary has repeatedly been singled out as the team’s weak link.

And that came before 2014, where the Steelers pass defense ranked 27th in yards allowed, 28th in touchdowns allowed, and 25th in interceptions. The stage was set. Andy Dalton might not strike fear into anyone’s heart, but A.J. Green certainly should and does. Just 3 weeks before the duo had teamed for 224 yards, and they arrived at Heinz Field looking for more.

Not Your Older Brother’s Bengals

Cincinnati might be making its fourth straight playoff appearance, but it entered each of its three previous trips to the post season with a whimper. Just over one year ago, the Bengals had come into Heinz Field on Sunday Night fighting for a first round bye only to get “pimp slapped” to quote BTSC’s Ivan Cole, by the Steelers.

  • The Steelers struck first, with the defense forcing a 3 and out and Antonio Brown electrifying the Steel City with a 71 yard touchdown return.

But these are not your order brother’s Bengals. Yes, Brice McCain picked off an deep pass for A.J. Green, but the Bengals defense forced a 3 and out of their own and took 7 plays to convert a short field into 7 points of their own.

These Bengals made it clear they weren’t conceding the AFC North crown, no they were going to claw and scratch with everything they had to get it.

Steelers, Bengals Adjust Game Plans

In their first match up at Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati couldn’t run, but the Steelers couldn’t stop A.J. Green through the air, and the Bengals couldn’t stop Le’Veon Bell on the ground or in the air.

  • Both teams executed new game plans to avoid old mistakes.

The Bengals focused on shutting down Le’Veon Bell and it worked – on the ground at least. Bell held him to 20 yards rushing, tying his season low. They also committed themselves to rushing the ball with Jeremy Hill and they succeeded. Hill not only reached the century mark, his strong play also allowed Dalton to use play action effectively, especially early in the game.

On defense the Steelers committed themselves to protecting against the deep ball and they succeeded – the Bengals didn’t have a catch of more than 19 yards.

McCain and Blake Deliver as Difference Makers

The Steelers 2014 off season was one of their busiest ever. Yet their moves to address their biggest area of need, cornerback, generated far more skepticism than enthusiasm. First was signing Brice McCain, whom Pro Football Focus had rated as the NFL’s worst cornerback in 2013.

Next, came their decision not to draft a corner early in the 2014 Draft, while Dick LeBeau and Carnell Lake instead chose to talk about some guy named Antwon Blake whom the Steelers plucked from Jacksonville’s waiver wire.

So it was that, midway through the second quarter, Dalton again looked deep for Green. He couldn’t quite deliver on target and the ball deflected off of Green’s hands. Brice McCain smelled blood and attacked, picking off the ball and returning it 31 yards.

That was the 1st turnover produced by the secondary turned into a touchdown.

The next turnover came wrapped in more than a bit of irony, considering that it amounted to the secondary bailing out the special teams, and by implication the coaches:

Bouchette’s probably got a point, but if Mike Tomlin didn’t believe in his defense, his defense certainly believed in itself. 3 plays after Pittsburgh’s fake punt, Dalton found Green in Steelers territory, Antwon Blake may have allowed the catch, but never stopped hustling – forcing Green to cough up the ball and then pouncing on it.

  • With 3:51 left the smart move would have been to burn up the clock.

But as Mike Tomlin declares, “The Steelers live in our hopes not our fears.” Ben Roethilsberger missed on a deep strike to Bryant, but two plays later he connected with Brown for 63 yards.

Cincinnati got the ball back, and could have theoretically mounted a comeback – but the Steelers defense shut them down cold.

Defense to be Player in Steelers Playoff Run Too?

“The Word” was that the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers would go as far as their offense would take them. But in two straight games now, their defense has stepped up to provide the plays that make the difference between 11-5 and a division championship and 9-7.

It will be interesting to see how the dynamic evolves as Pittsburgh proceeds through the playoffs.

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Rapid Reaction Steelers Defeat Bengals 27-17, Win AFC North

The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 27-17 at Heinz Field to finish the season at 11-5 and claim their 4th AFC North title of the Mike Tomlin era. With the win secured, the Steelers now move on to the playoffs, where they will face AFC North arch-rival Baltimore Ravens next week.

  • The win however, came at a high cost.

During the third quarter, Steelers 2014 MVP Le’Veon Bell was injured and did not return to the game. The early diagnosis was a hyper-extended knee, but nothing definitive has been confirmed. His replacement Josh Harris did run 59 yards from scrimmage, but the play was nullified via penalty.

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Although both the Steelers and the Bengals had clinched playoff spots, the game had a playoff atmosphere. Both the Steelers and the Bengals committed 3 turnovers, but the Steelers were able to turn their into points.

The critical play of the game came after a 17 yard A.J. Green catch that saw Antwon Blake first force a fumble, and then recover it. 3 plays later Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown hooked up for a 63 yard touchdown pass which sealed the victory for Pittsburgh.

Folks, its now 2:31 here in Buenos Aires, and work looms tomorrow. Steel Curtain Rising will have a full analysis later in the day on Monday. 

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