Los Pittsburgh Steelers cayeron ante los Denver Broncos en el juego divisional

Any Given Sunday

Finalmente los Pittsburgh Steelers cayeron ante los Denver Broncos derrotados en Mile High y así se terminó la campaña 2015.

Un año repleto de adversidades, bajo las cuales muchos equipos sucumben, se desgranan y desangran.

No los Steelers.

Harrison y Big Ben

Estoy conmovido por el equipo y por sus fans.

Al menos por la mayoría de ellos que muestran su orgullo de “nacionalistas acereros” en las redes sociales, donde todos convergemos para demostrar la pertenencia a una idea ética, a una visión humana del deporte, aún sabiendo del negocio detrás del show.

En este equipo hay una esencia humana por sobre el show.
Es lo que queda, al final del día.
El honor, el orgullo, la entrega.
Es el compañero.

Nada de esto se consigue sin una cabeza. Sin un líder.

Sin el Coach Tomlin.

Este es su equipo. Son sus muchachos. No existirían estos jugadores, este tipo de jugadores sin el Coach Tomlin.

  • En este final de temporada no me interesa el juego sino cómo los Steelers jugaron el juego.

Por eso, y pidiéndole permiso a KT y a ustedes, que en realidad no sé cuántos serán, quiero hacer algo un poco inusual. Traté de traducir (y espero poder transmitir el espíritu del texto) el extraordinario monólogo del film “Any given Sunday” de Oliver Stone, en la piel del Sr. Al Pacino.

Más allá de que en esta pieza actoral se hace referencia a la trama de la obra, como es lógico, creo que se pone de manifiesto el espíritu profundamente humano del deporte.
De lo que significa la palabra equipo.

Estoy orgulloso de ser parte de la Nación Steeler.

“No sé qué decir realmente.

Tres minutos
para la batalla más grande de nuestras
vidas profesionales.
Todo confluye al día de hoy.
O nos curamos, como equipo
o nos derrumbamos.
Pulgada a pulgada
Jugada a jugada.
hasta que estemos acabados.
Ahora estamos en el infierno, caballeros.

Créanme
Y
podemos permanecer aquí
y que nos tape la mie&@#,
o podemos pelear por nuestro regreso

a la luz.
Podemos trepar fuera del infierno.
Una pulgada a la vez.

one inch at a time2
Ahora, yo no puedo hacerlo por ustedes.
Soy demasiado viejo…
Miro alrededor y veo estas caras tan jóvenes
y pienso,
quiero decir…
Tomé todas las peores decisiones que
un hombre de mediana edad puede tomar.

Yo, oh,
derroché todo mi dinero,
lo crean o no.
He ahuyentado
a todos los que me han amado alguna vez.

he ahuyentado
Y últimamente,
ni siquiera soporto la cara que veo en el espejo.
Uds. saben, cuando te pones viejo,
las cosas te son arrebatadas.
.
Eso, eso es parte de la vida.
Pero,
uno sólo lo aprende cuando
empiezas a perder cosas.
Te das cuenta de que la vida es un juego de pulgadas.
Así como el football.
Porque en cada uno de esos juegos,
vida o football,
el margen de error es tan pequeño…
Quiero decir,
medio paso demasiado tarde o demasiado temprano
ya no lo consigues.
Medio segundo demasiado lento o demasiado rápido,
y no la atrapas.
Las pulgadas que necesitamos están
a nuestro alrededor.
Están en cada pausa de juego.
En cada minuto, en cada segundo…

En este equipo, luchamos por esa pulgada.
En este equipo, nos rompemos, y cada uno a nuestro alrededor,
en pedazos
por esa pulgada.
Nos AFERRAMOS con nuestras uñas
a esa pulgada.

Screenshot_2016-01-18-20-53-31

Porque sabemos,
cuando sumamos todas esas pulgadas,
que eso va a hacer la pu#@ diferencia
entre GANAR y PERDER.
Entre VIVIR y MORIR.

 

Y les diré esto:
En cualquier lucha,
es el tipo que está dispuesto a morir,
el que va a ganar esa pulgada.
Y yo sé
que si voy a tener algo más de vida,
es porque, aún estoy dispuesto a pelear
y a morir por esa pulgada.
Porque de eso se trata VIVIR:
Las seis pulgadas frente a tu cara.

six inches in front of
Ahora, yo no puedo hacer que lo hagan.
Tienen q mirar al tipo que está a su lado.
Mirarlo a los ojos.
Ahora yo pi que van a ver a un tipo
que irá con ustedes por esa pulgada.
Van a ver a un tipo
que se va a sacrificar por este equipo
porque el sabe que llegado el momento,
Uds van a hacer lo mismo por él.

Eso es un equipo, caballeros.
Y, o nos curamos ahora, como equipo
O moriremos, como individuos.
Eso es el football, muchachos.

that's football guys
Eso es todo lo que es.

Ahora, qué van a hacer?

 

El Dr. de Acero

 

 

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Steelers Report Card for AFC Divisional Playoff Loss to the Denver Broncos

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who remains proud of his star student, even if that student fell short of expectations, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the AFC Divisional Playoff loss to the Denver Broncos.steelers, report card, grades, Denver Broncos, afc, divsional, playoffs

Quarterback
Word on the street is that Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t affected by the shoulder injury. This teacher isn’t quite so sure, as Todd Haley seemed to call fewer downfield plays than usual. Still Roethlisberger 24-37-0-0 for 339 yards is impressive and he had at least one touchdown pass dropped and suffered from another non-pass interference call in the end zone. Most importantly, Roethlisberger did not turnover the ball. Grade: B

Running Backs
What a difference a week makes. After the Bengals game, Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman played so well fans could be forgiven for wondering where the coaching staff had been hiding them. The Broncos running defense provided a much stiffer test. Toussaint had difficulty running the ball, and Todman was completely ineffective. And while the Steelers have rightly refused to scapegoat Toussaint, his fumble was the turning point in the game. Grade: F

Tight Ends
Heath Miller had one catch for 5 yards and a very visible “drop” that was quite frankly more of a excellent play by the Broncos defense than anything done wrong by Heath. Jesse James posted an excellent 22 yard catch and run that really appeared to position the Steelers to deal Denver the death blow. Matt Spaeth had one catch for one yard. Grade: C+

Wide Receivers
With Antonio Brown out Martavis Bryant was going to have to step up with a monster game, and step up Bryant did. Yes, he dropped the first pass thrown to him, but Bryant excelled after that catching 9 passes for 154 yards. Darrius Heyward-Bey also played well and helped set up the Steelers second score. Sammie Coates had two targets and made good on both of him, and was quite impressive. Markus Wheaton was well defended in the end zone, but the pass hit him right in the numbers and he should have caught it. He had a decent day as a receiver beyond that, but the Steelers needed that catch. Grade: B

Offensive Line
Ben Roethlsiberger only gave up 3 sacks, a number that seems low, although that is in part a measure of how his sack totals have dropped on Todd Haley’s watch. Still, those sacks came when the Steelers could least afford it. Denver has a stout run defense that shut DeAngelo Williams down last time around, and this time they did it again. Like they did in a number of other areas, the Steelers needed a little more from their line. Grade: C

Defensive Line
If you throw out the CJ Anderson’s one long run, the Denver rushing stats look almost as anemic as the Steelers do. One problem, that 34 yard scamper came with Denver backed up on its own 5 yard line. Stephon Tuitt led the defensive line with 4 tackles one for a loss and one quarterback hit. Steve McLendon had 3 tackles, although he got blocked on the 34 yard scamper. Cameron Heyward did not record a tackle. The Steelers needed to get just a little more pressure on Peyton Manning, and those contributions could have come from the line. They didn’t. Grade: C+

Linebackers
James Harrison was an absolute monster out there, leading the linebackers in tackles, registering a sack, a quarterback hit and tackling three ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage. Ryan Shazier was second in tackles for Steelers defensive lineman, and although he did not have any splash plays of the week before, he played a solid game. Lawrence Timmons also played a very sold game. Jarvis Jones helped deflect a pass and has now logged to quality playoff performances in a row. Bud Dupree had 3 tackles, one of which went for a loss. Grade: B

Secondary
A couple of stats stand out here. First, Denver found itself in 3rd and long until late in the game, and Denver was 3-15 on third downs (although those three conversions did come on their last drive.) Both of those stats show that the secondary is doing its job. William Gay led all Steelers defenders in tackles, including one behind the line of scrimmage and had another pass defensed (that, had it been intercepted, could have ended the game.) Mike Mitchell had 3 tackles and a pass defensed. Antwon Blake had a quiet game, and that’s generally good for him. The secondary had a solid day, but given how poorly Manning was throwing the ball, it might not be too much to expect the Steelers defensive backs to come down with one. Grade: B-

Special Teams
Chris Boswell was 3-3 on field goals and knocked kickoffs through the end zone, although it did look like his on sides kick hadn’t gone 10 yards. Outside of that, the Steelers special teams were atrocious vs. the Denver Broncos. A long punt return set up Denver’s first score. Markus Wheaton looked clueless on punt returns and two costly turnovers were narrowly avoided. Jordan Berry’s punts were erratic and otherwise short. The Steelers special teams were a liability in the playoffs vs. Denver, and only Boswell’s kicking keeps this grade from being lower. Grade: D

Coaching

The Pittsburgh Steelers went into Denver without its top running back, its top wide receiver and with quarterback at less than 100%, yet led the game from the middle of the 1st quarter until the middle of the 4th quarter.

Sure, there are things you can find fault with – why didn’t the Steelers figure out a way to run the ball better? Tomlin’s clock management critics will no doubt insist that he be fired for taking a time out with 2:22 remaining. Why didn’t Tomlin allow Chris Boswell to attempt a 52 yard field goal? Of course going for the deep ball on 4th and 1 will be seen as a mistake.

  • Really, all of that is missing the point.

The Steelers coaches didn’t fumble the ball away in the 4th quarter, not did they muff the punt returns, nor did they not pickoff one of those wounded ducks Petyon manning was slinging.

The Steelers game plan was solid, and the player executed it well. Moreover, after such an emotional win as the one that came over the Bengals, there was no sign of a let down. Grade: B+

Unsung Hero
Maybe it is because he is 33 and realizes his chances for a Super Bowl are dwindling. Maybe it’s because he’s at a point where his experience can make up for any steps he’s lost. Perhaps he simply wanted it more and went out determined to make it happen, but for the second straight week Steelers Will Allen safety put himself at the center of almost every key defense stop, clocking in with 6 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss, 1 pass defensed and another quarterback hit, and for that Will Allen wins the Unsung Hero Award for the Steelers Playoff loss to the Denver Broncos.

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3 Critical Mistakes Doomed Steelers Playoff Chances Against Denver Broncos

All playoff losses are painful, but the Pittsburgh Steelers 23-16 loss to the Denver Broncos feels all the more poignant for one simple reason – the Steelers could have won the game. One year ago at Heinz Field the Baltimore Ravens clearly classed the Steelers out of the playoffs. The Steelers, even in their weakened state not only could have won in Denver, but would have had a shot at taking out New England.

  • Alas, none of that was to be.

In strict analytical terms, the Steelers had a half-full/half-empty performance against the Broncos in Denver, but at the end of the day their defeat can be traced to 3 elements: Piss poor special teams, missed opportunities, and one mortal mistake.

Steelers Special Teams Struggle in Denver

This is one time when you wish you were wrong. When Pittsburgh qualified for the playoffs Steel Curtain Rising called out the Steelers special teams a unit that needed to step up if the Steelers were to climb the Stairway to Seven. By definition, you can’t step up if you’re a liability.

  • The Steelers special teams were a liability against the Broncos.

Things got off to a bad start for the Steelers special teams when Omar Bolden returned the opening punt 42 yards. You don’t win playoff games by spotting Peyton Manning, even an ailing 39 year old Peyton Manning, the ball on your own 30 yard line. The Steelers defense forced a field goal, but points were precious in a game that promised to be close.

Markus Wheaton was a disaster as a punt returner. Not only did he not seem to know when to signal fair catch, he wasn’t able to catch it. On one occasion pure luck prevented a turnover, and on another it was Ross Cockrell’s alert play. That inaugurated the drive that saw Fitzgerald Toussaint fumble – no one should blame Wheaton for the fumble, but it was not the way to start a game-sealing drive.

  • Jordan Berry boomed off a couple of pretty punts.

He also had two 27 yard punts, one of which allowed Denver to kick a field goal, and he had another touchback when the Steelers sorely needed to pin the Broncos down near their own end zone.
Chris Boswell played well with his 3-3 effort on field goals and making the touchback automatic on kickoffs, but Boswell’s game had its faults as his on sides kick was poorly executed.

If you remove the long return, the turnover on downs, and the fumble recovery, the Denver Broncos average starting field position was at their own 27. The Steelers average starting field position was at their own 20. In a game decided by field goal kickers those seven yards make a big difference.

Steelers Missed Opportunities vs. the Broncos

Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell chose to make missed opportunities the focus of his post-game analysis and so he should. In general, the Steelers played smart football vs. the Broncos, but they still left a couple too many plays on the field.

  • Markus Wheaton dropped a touchdown pass that would have dramatically altered the game’s dynamic
  • On 1st down with Denver at their own 5, Steve McLendon and Lawrence Timmons missed shots on CJ Anderson’s 34 yard scramble, setting up an eventual Denver field goal
  • William Gay missed an interception on Denver’s game willing drive (credit Emmanuel Sanders with a great pass defense)

You can expand or modify this list in any number of ways. But the bottom line is simple:  if the Steelers make plays in those situations, they likely win the game. Even though they left those plays on the field, the Steelers controlled the game and were closing in on the kill with 11 minutes left to play….

One Mortal Mistake Dramatically Shifts Momentum to Denver

Webster’s on-line dictionary defines “Fumble” as “To fail to catch or hold the ball.” That’s a rather mundane definition for a play that transforms a football field into a scene of pure chaos in a millisecond. Fumbles differ from interceptions because, even when they’re forced, they bounce in unpredictable ways, offering an unexpected opportunity to whoever can recover it.

  • 4th quarter fumbles in playoff games often take on a life of their own.

Twice in the 1980’s, Denver went to the Super Bowl in part because of fourth quarter fumbles, if you count the 1989 Steelers failed exchange between Bubby Brister and Chuck Lanza.

In the 21st century, the Pittsburgh Steelers have an uncanny relationship with 4th quarter fumbles. Jerome Bettis opened the 4th quarter of the Steelers 2004 divisional playoff game vs. the Jets by fumbling to the Jets, but the Steelers defense forced a punt. A year later against the Colts, a late 4th quarter fumble by Bettis was negated by a Ben Roethlisberger shoe string tackle, Bryant McFadden’s career play, and Mike Vanderjet’s missed field goal.

From Ben Roethlisberger, to Mike Tomlin, to Art Rooney II, the Pittsburgh Steelers have acted with class and refused to use Fitzgerald Toussaint’s fumble as a scapegoat for this loss. And, as indicated here, had the Steelers made plays in other areas that fumble could have been little more than a footnote. (And for the record, Toussaint wasn’t being careless with the ball, Bradley Roby made a heck of a play.)

Commentators overuse the concept “momentum changer” in football, but the simple reality is that Toussiant’s fumble dramatically shifted momentum in Denver’s favor.

  • Prior to that play, Denver’s offense didn’t so much move down the field, as it muddled down it.

But the fumble breathed new life into Denver. Perhaps Peyton Manning is only an average passer at this point in this career, but he remains a master on-the-field tactician, and the fumble gave him a much needed second wind. As he did in his first game against the Steelers, Peyton Manning outfoxed the Steelers defense, adding insult to injury by burning close to 7 minutes off the clock in doing so.

The Steelers had 3 minutes to make a go of it, but ultimately they could not.

Going Where Mike Tomlin Will Not

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin walks the walk. The Pittsburgh Steelers define “success” with Lombardi Trophies. Chuck Noll set that standard in the ‘70’s and Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin unflinchingly accepted it.

  • But if there was ever a season where a Steelers coach could be granted a dispensation and allowed to accept a moral victory it was the Steelers 2015 season.

Reporters asked Mike Tomlin on the impact of injuries on the game and the season. He stopped them cold. “We’re not into that” – End that entire line of questioning. A big part of the 2015 Steelers success is the locker room’s embrace of the “Next Man Up” philosophy.

  • Mike Tomlin doesn’t mouth those words:  He lives them.

But bloggers don’t face those constraints. While Steelers felt Antonio Brown’s absence and probably would have won with him in the game, Martavis Bryant, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Sammie Coates stepped up admirably.

On defense James Harrison made plays that a man of his age should be able to do. Ryan Shazier, Jarvis Jones and Stephon Tuitt all put in strong efforts.

In the end, these efforts weren’t quite enough, but the 2015 Steelers have every reason to be proud.

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Pittsburgh Loses Playoff Game to Denver, but Steelers Nation Can Still vote Steelers Game Ball Winners

Alas, the Pittsburgh Steelers lost the AFC Divisional Playoff game to the Denver Broncos to the tune of 23 to 16. Normally we only do Steelers game ball winner polls following wins, but as this is the end of a season that saw a number of Steelers make valiant efforts, we’re doing it after this playoff loss.

steelers, broncos, game balls, playoffs

Just how much Ben Roethlisberger was affected by is injury and/or the pain resulting from it will forever remain unknown. Unlike, say the Steelers Monday Night Football loss in San Francisco in 2011, there’s no question that Ben Roethlisberger should have been on the field, but he still was less than 100%.

  • And while Ben did miss Antonio Brown, the man who accounted for 1/3 of his passing offense, he protected the ball.

Martavis Bryant had a monster game, both as a receiver and as a rusher. If Bryant can remain sober and sustain this development, the Steelers will have their best wide receiver tandem since Lynn Swann and John Stallworth.

Darrius Heyward-Bey and Sammie Coates also get ballot slots because of the strong games they had. (Jesse James does not, as he did have one nice catch, he did not block well on the play that Fitzgerald Toussaint fumbled on.)

On defense James Harrison gets the first ballot slot, for his excellent read on the direct snap and his sack of Peyton Manning. William Gay also gets a slot as he was a leading tackler and played well, although he did drop what could have been a game-sealing interception.

Ryan Shazier, Will Allen and Lawrence Timmons all get the next ballot slots for the defense as each put in strong games, as did Jarvis Jones.

Chris Boswell is the only special teams player to get a ballot slot for the obvious reason.

Write in Your Choice

Remember, you’re not limited to these choices for Steelers game ball winners. If you think someone deserves a vote, say perhaps Heath Miller, write their names in and vote for them.

Please check back soon for Steel Curtain Risings full analysis.

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Steelers Broncos Divisional Playoff Finds Both Franchises at Crossroads

You want to know one of the nice things about the NFL? There are very few one way streets. All roads in the NFL might not lead to Rome, ask the Cleveland Browns, but roads double back  to intersect again.

  • And so it is with the Steelers Broncos Divisional Playoff matchup.

Looking at the X’s and O’s, the Steelers December victory over the Broncos probably offers the best clue to understanding today’s AFC divisional playoff matchup.

It’s a given the Ben Roethlisberger needs to show something and that Markus Wheaton, Martavis Bryant, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Heath Miller and, yes, Sammie Coates must step up their games in Antonio Brown’s absence. Ditto Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman with DeAngelo Williams out.

  • But you knew that already.

An analysis of the X’s and O’s says that the key to this game will depend on which Steelers defense shows up. If the Steelers defense of the first half of the Broncos game makes even a brief appearance, the Steelers 2016 off season will begin in earnest. However, if the Steelers defense of the second half of that game shows up in full force, the Steelers have a shot at going to Foxborough.

  • But that tells us very little about the story underlying today’s game.

For that you must look back further.

Steelers Getting Tebowed Leads to Transition

The date was January 8th 2012, the site was the same as today, Denver’s Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Steelers had opened the 4th quarter trailing by 10 points, but a Ben Roethlisberger to Jerricho Cotchery connection and a Shaun Shuisham field goal had tied it in regulation.

The Denver Broncos got the ball to start ove time. Tim Tebow hit Demaryius Thomas over the middle. Ike Taylor missed the tackle. Ryan Mundy couldn’t get into position to take a shot. 80 yards later and Demaryius Thomas ended it all in the end zone.

  • Steelers Nation suffered the ultimate buzz kill.

2011 Pittsburgh Steelers failed at a chance to defend their AFC Championship and atone for the defeat of Super Bowl XLV. But it went beyond that. That loss marked a fundamental shift for the franchise. Shortly afterwards, I remarked to Tony Defeo that I felt I had the feeling that Steelers fans must have had in 1980, when the Super Steelers run can to a sobering end as the Houston Oilers ended their playoff chances.

  • But this thread doesn’t just involve the Steelers, it involves the Denver Broncos too.

Tim Tebow was a terrible quarterback blessed with an uncanny ability for finding a way to win when all appeared lost. That made for some dramatic finishes to football games, but John Elway was smart enough to know that he shouldn’t stake his franchise’s future on an intangible quality.

So he did something about it. He went out and got Peyton Manning, convincing Manning that, like Elway, he still had enough to win Super Bowls in his late 30’s.

  • Elway’s first test of that ability came next season, on Sunday Night Football, against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

If Steelers Nation has blotted that game out of their collective memory, we’ll forgive them. Much screamed to be forgotten. Its synthesis, however, is rather simple. All night long, Peyton Manning engaged in a chess match with Dick LeBeau and Troy Polamalu, while James Harrison watched in street clothes from the sideline.

  • And at each and every critical juncture, Peyton Manning outfoxed LeBeau and Polamalu.

In a word, Peyton Manning schooled the Steelers defense. Yes, the Steelers 2012 defense would finish the season as the NFL’s number one overall in terms of total yards. Yes, the defense would keep the Steelers in games they had no business being in late in the season (see the 2012 7 turnover fiasco vs. the Browns).

  • But Petyon Manning revealed that “Coach Dad” had no clothes.

It may have difficult for some of us (read: Steel Curtain Rising) to see at the time, but with 20/20 hindsight, Peyton Manning revealed the bitter truth that Sunday Night opening day loss.

Steelers and Broncos Two Teams at Diverging Crossroads

Now the Steelers and Broncos meet and again the venue is Mile High, and again it is the playoffs. But this time the backstory is decidedly different.

Peyton Manning is in the twilight of his career. One would have to be a fool to discard the possibility that number 18 would be able to find a way to move the needle in dramatic fashion just one more time. And he might.

But the number of quality football games Peyton Manning has left in him are measured in single digits –at best. Objectively speaking, Steel Curtain Rising is already on the record saying that Pittsburgh’s best plan for success is to dare Peyton Manning to beat the Steelers defense.

  • And this is a very different Steelers defense and, for that matter, offense, than the one that lost to Tim Tebow.

On defense, Cameron Heyward, Steve McLendon, Lawrence Timmons, James Harrison and Will Allen are (about) all that remain. In terms of personnel, the Steelers offense hasn’t seen as much turnover since 2011, but the backfield is completely new, Matt Spaeth is back, and the offensive line presents a mix of old and new.

Regardless of the outcome, assuming that Ben Roethlisberger neither risks nor suffers greater long term injury as a result of playing today, the Steelers Broncos Divisional Playoff marks as much of a new beginning for the Pittsburgh Steelers franchise as it does an ending for the Peyton Manning era of the Denver Broncos.

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Key to Victory over Broncos? Dare Peyton Manning to Beat the Steelers Defense

The Pittsburgh Steelers issued a bleak final injury report before their divisional playoff game against the Denver Broncos. Ben Roethlisberger is injured but expected to play. Antonio Brown is out. So too is top running back DeAngelo Williams.

  • The Steelers offense will miss these men vs. Denver, but it is the other men on the injured list who must make a difference.

Will Allen, Robert Golden, James Harrison, Ryan Shazier, Vince Williams and Cameron Heyward were all listed as probable. These men will play. And if the Steelers are to defeat the Denver Broncos at Mile High for the first time since 2009, Allen, Golden, Harrison, Shazier, Williams, Heyward and the rest of their defensive brethren must play the game of their lives.

Which Steelers Defense Will Show Up vs. Denver?

When Mike Tomlin let Dick LeBeau go and tabbed Keith Butler as Steelers defensive coordinator, Butler was charged with reviving a unit that at lost its luster. Make no mistake about it. Credit Dick LeBeau fielding competitive defenses during 2011 and 2012 as he fought off the toll Father Time exacted his playmakers.

  • But those number one Steelers defense in 2011 and 2012 (in total yards allowed) masked multiple deficiencies.

Those Steelers defenses couldn’t pressure the passer, and suffered from a chronic failure in securing turnovers. The first thing the Butler needed to do was to change that. How did he do? The numbers are interesting as the 2015 Steelers defense:

  • Dropped from 18th in yards allowed to 21st
  • Improved from 18th to 11th in points scored
  • Jumped from 25th to 6th in interceptions
  • It also forced 3 more fumbles and recovered 5 more fumbles than the 2014 Steelers defense

Those are impressive improvements numbers, but they too mask inconsistency. There’s no secret black magic behind the 2015 Steelers defense success – they secure turnovers. There’s a common thread to the Steelers 3 worst losses of the season – they could not force a turnover against the Patriots, Chiefs, and Ravens.

  • NFL coaches normally focus on the turnover differential, but the Steelers are only 2 ahead on the season.

And true to form, in the Steelers losses to the Bengals and the Seahawks they came out on the wrong side of the turnover differential. It was only in the Monday Night loss to the Ravens that the Steelers won the turnover differential and lost the game. Overall, the Steelers are 11-2 when they simply force a turnover.

So what does all of this mean for the Steelers divisional playoff game against Denver?

Steelers Defense Must Dare Peyton Manning Beat Them

No, Steel Curtain Rising has not suffered a bout of momentary insanity, although readers can be forgiven for thinking so based on the sub headline above. Peyton Manning is a first ballot Hall of Famer and considered by many to be the best quarterback in NFL history. And true greats often have a way of digging deep to find one final turnkey performance.

  • But the smart money for the Steelers defense vs. the Broncos will be to dare Peyton Manning beat them.

Seriously. Think it through logically and it makes sense:

Even in his prime, the phenomena of “Regular season Peyton Manning vs. Postseason Playoff Peyton Manning” haunted Manning. And Peyton Manning’s prime is long past. Numbers don’t lie:

  • This season, Peyton Manning has thrown 9 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions
  • At home Peyton Manning has been worse, throwing 1 touchdown and 8 picks
  • Peyton Manning is 0-4 in post season games with a temperature below 40 degrees

They’re forecasting temperatures in the 30’s in Denver for the AFC Divisional Playoff Game.

But while Manning has been injured, the Denver Broncos have revitalized their running game. The Denver rushing offense is only ranked 17th, but it has improved over the later part of the season. Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson rushing averages trend up as the season goes on, and they combined for over 200 yards in the Broncos season finale vs. San Diego.

  • The 2015 Steelers defense ranked 5th against the run.

On paper, Keith Butler’s game plan against the Broncos is simple: Keep Steve McLendon in the game, use whatever combination of Jarvis Jones, Bud Dupree, Arthur Moats, Stephon Tuitt along with Heyward and Harrison to get in Manning’s face. And it does without saying that the Steelers defenders must finish tackles.

  • And yes, Ross Cockrell, William Gay, Michael Mitchell, and Antwon Blake must come down with a few turnovers.

At the beginning of 2015 season, it was said that the Pittsburgh Steelers would go as far as their offense could take them. Going into the Pittsburgh’s playoff game against Denver, the Steelers will depend on Keith Butler’s defense to carry it to victory.

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Forget Sammie Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey Must Step Up in Playoffs with Antoino Brown Out vs. Broncos

The Pittsburgh Steelers injury report for the Divisional playoff showdown vs. the Denver Broncos is in, and the news is grim for Steelers Nation: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is listed as questionable, Antonio Brown and DeAngelo Williams are listed as out.

  • Gotta love going up against the NFL’s number 1 defense without at least 2 of your 3 top offensive weapons.

Antonio Brown’s absence is not much of a surprise. While Pittsburgh reports indicated that he was likely to play, several national outlets predicted he would not. Score one for the national media over the Pittsburgh media. However, those are issues for the Watch Tower to sort out.

Now the focus falls on beating the Denver Broncos without the Steelers 2015 team MVP.

Who Steps Up with Antonio Brown Down?

With Antonio Brown out vs. the Broncos, the Steelers need someone to step up. Just how badly will the Steelers miss Antonio Brown? In 2015 Brown:

  • Accounted for 29% of the Steelers offensive yardage
  • Caught 34% of completed passes and 23% of passes thrown
  • Was the target of 32% of all passes thrown
  • Scored 31% of the Steelers offensive touchdowns

Replacing a man who has accounted for about a third of your offense is no simple task. With Brown gone, most people are looking to 4th round draft pick Sammie Coates as “The Next Man Up.”

That’s logical, because with Brown out Coates will not only get a helmet, he get playing time. And the Steelers are going to need him to catch whatever comes his way, regardless of whether that comes from Ben Roethlisberger’s hands, Landry Jones‘ or Michael Vick‘s.

  • But to expect a rookie with one catch to his name to fill the void left by Antonio Brown borders on ridiculous.

The Steelers first line of defense in Brown’s absence are Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton. Both men have had their ups and downs during the season, but both have shown they’re capable of making plays. But to some degree or another, both men have benefitted from opposing defenses focusing on Brown. It says here that both men will probably rise to the challenge, but saying it and doing it are different things.

There are several reasons for this. First, distribution of targets and catches shows that it is the top three and not top four recievers that are the focus of the Steelers offense. That means Heyward-Bey automatically gets in the game more frequently. Second, with defenses focusing on Wheaton and Byrant, Bey should have more opportunities to get open.

The Steelers signed Darrius Heyward-Bey during the 2014 off season, and projected him as a special teams player. In fact, he only had 5 targets in all of 2014. But since then he’s earned a spot in the offense, and played well while Martavis Bryant served his substance abuse suspension.

  • Heyward-Bey’s role declined with Bryant’s return, but he has seen action, as recently as the Cleveland game.

Heyward-Bey still has the breakaway speed that made him a 7th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. Early in the season his hands were solid but, while he made a spectacular 66 yard catch vs. Cleveland, he also dropped a ball that could have been a game changer.

If Heyward-Bey is to be effective, he not only needs to gain separation from receivers, but catch the ball down field. With the Denver Broncos defense free to focus on stopping Wheaton and Bryant, Heyward-Bey must make defenses pay with his hands, and use his speed to open up underneath routes for Heath Miller and Fitzgerald Toussaint.

Other Injured Steelers Not Named Ben, Brown or Williams

In addition to Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers fullback Will Johnson is listed as questionable with a hamstring.

Safeties Will Allen and Robert Golden, linebackers James Harrison, Ryan Shazier and Vince Williams, defensive end Cameron Heyward and tight end Matt Spaeth are listed as probable on the Steelers injury report, although Spaeth, Harrison and Allen are listed as not injury related.

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A Primer on Steelers Broncos Playoff History

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos are not playoff “rivals” the way the Oakland Raiders, Dallas Cowboys, Houston Oilers, Baltimore Ravens, and New England Patriots are, but the Steelers and Broncos have a rich playoff history.

Sunday’s divisional playoff game between the Broncos and the Steelers marks the 8th time Pittsburgh and Denver have squared off in the NFL post season. For the record, the Broncos enter this Sunday’s game with a 4-3 edge in playoff games.

Scroll down or click on the gold links below to relive a key moment in Steelers Broncos playoff history.

1977 – Distractions Detour Super Steelers

1977 AFC Divisional Playoffs
December 24, 1977, @ Mile High Stadium
Denver Broncos 34, Pittsburgh Steelers 21

Steelers Broncos Playoff History Backstory:  Histories of the 1970’s “Super Steelers” regard the 1977 season as “The Lost One.” Unlike 1976, which saw the Steelers open and close the season with devastating injuries while playing with absolute domination in between, distractions defined the Steelers 1977 season. Al Davis sued Chuck Noll and the Steelers. Mel Blount took offense to Noll’s “Criminal element” comment. L.C. Greenwood temporarily signed with the World Football League. And this only begins the list….

Stats that StandoutTerry Bradshaw’s three interception game is a biggie, and Lynn Swann going 1-6 is another.  The Steelers tied the game twice, but never led.
Steelers Broncos Playoff History Takeaway: The Denver Broncos scored 34 points on the Steel Curtain defense, the most that unit ever gave up in the post-season.
Aftermath:  The 1977 Denver Broncos went on to win the AFC Championship, but lost in Super Bowl XII to the Dallas Cowboys. The 1977 Steelers early playoff exit loss prompted Noll to make a number of roster changes and update his offensive philosophy.…

1978 – Steelers Offense Unleashed

1978 Divisional Playoffs
December 30th, 1978 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Pittsburgh Steelers 33, Denver Broncos 10

Steelers-Broncos Playoff History Backstory:  Of all of Chuck Noll’s teams, the 1978 Steelers are regarded as the best. The defense was still excellent while the offense was exploding. The 1978 Steelers took the NFL by storm, going 14-2 in the regular season, only dropping games to the LA Rams and the Houston Oilers.

Stats that StandoutRobin Cole, Steve Furness, Donnie Shell, Dwight White and Joe Greene combined for 6 sacks of Craig Morton. John Stallworth also caught 10 passes for 156 yards, his first 100+ post season effort.
Steelers Broncos Playoff History Takeaway:  Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, and Franco Harris all scored touchdowns, a post season first for a trio that would go on to terrorize opposing defenses over the next 20 games or so.
Aftermath:  The Steelers crushed the Houston Oilers in the AFC Championship game the following week to the tune of 35-5 in a sleet-filled fest at Three Rivers Stadium. Shortly thereafter, in only the Super Bowl matchup between multiple Super Bowl winners, the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XIII. Red Miller’s Broncos faded in the seasons to come.

1984 – Steel Curtain Crushes the Orange Crush

1984 AFC Divisional Playoffs
December 30, 1984 @ Mile High Stadium
Pittsburgh Steelers 24, Denver Broncos 17

Steelers-Broncos Playoff History Backstory:  After missing the playoffs in 1980 and 1981, 1984 marked Pittsburgh Steelers third straight playoff appearance. But this one carried a big difference. Terry Bradshaw had retired, giving way to Mark Malone. Most had expected the 1984 Steelers to sink, but they flew winning the AFC Central Division Championship and ruining the San Francisco 49ers almost-perfect season along the way. In his second season, John Elway led Denver to a 13-3 regular season record.

Stat that Stands OutMark Malone threw no interceptions, John Elway threw two.
Steelers Broncos Playoff History Take Away:  This was the last playoff win for John Stallworth, Mike Webster, Bennie Cunningham and Jack Lambert (although Lambert was injured, and did not play).
The Aftermath:  A week later in the AFC Championship game vs. Miami, Dan Marino made the Steelers sorely regret not drafting him. The 1984 Steelers were a surprise, and one could be forgiven for thinking the Steelers reloading process following the first Super Bowl era was gaining momentum.

Alas, the opposite was true. It would be five years before Chuck Noll would return to the playoffs, and he’d post losing records in 3 of the 4 seasons in between, causing Dan Rooney to fire his brother Art Rooney Jr. as the head of scouting.

1989 – ’89 Steelers (Barley) Miss a Mile High Miracle

1989 Divisional Playoffs
January 7, 1990 @ Mile High Stadium
Denver Broncos 24, Steelers 23

Steelers-Broncos Playoff History Backstory: The Denver Broncos bounced back from an 8-8 season in 1988 and were the odds-on favorite for the AFC Championship. In contrast, the 1989 Steelers started the season losing their first two games by a combined score of 92-10 and were shut out 3 times during the season. But Chuck Noll stood behind his team, and the 1989 Steelers made the playoffs, and then shocked the world by upsetting the Houston Oilers in the Astrodome.

Stat that Stands Out:  Heretofore unknown and/or horrendously underappreciated outside of Pittsburgh, Steelers fullback  Merril Hoge dominates Denver with 100 yards rushing by the first half, and 180 all-purpose yards from scrimmage, cementing his status as one of Steeler Nation’s first heroes of the post-Super Bowl era.
Plays You Wanna Have Back:  Trailing 24-23 with 2:20 left to play and needing 45 yards to get into Gary Anderson’s range, Bubby Brister fires a missile at rookie Mark Stock who drops it at the Steelers 41…
Plays You REALLY Wanna Have Back:  Two plays later, on 3rd down, Chuck Lanza, (who was drafted to be Mike Webster’s heir apparent) is in for future Hall of Famer Dermontti Dawson. A poor Lanza snap causes a Brister fumble and a Broncos recovery.
Aftermath:  The Denver Broncos go on to beat the Cleveland Browns in the 1989 AFC Championship, but get slaughtered in the Super Bowl by George Seifert’s San Francisco 49’s to the score of 55-10. Despite the 89 Steelers playoff loss to the Broncos, Chuck Noll remains convinced that, with players like Dawson, Rod Woodson, Carnell Lake, and Greg Lloyd, he has the talent to win big. However, he hires Joe Walton as his offensive coordinator, a decision that turns out to be a disaster for all parties involved.

1997 – 2 Goal Line Interceptions Is Too Many

1997 AFC Championship Game
January 11, 1998 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Denver Broncos 24, Pittsburgh Steelers 21

Steelers-Broncos Playoff History Backstory: Two years prior, the 1995 Pittsburgh Steelers had lost a heart breaker in Super Bowl XXX. Despite free agent turnover at quarterback, right tackle, outside linebacker, defensive end, safety and cornerback Bill Cowher’s Steelers seemed to defy gravity. Meanwhile at age 37, John Elway was facing “Now or never” time in his career, but for the first time he had a good defense and offensive weapons, not the least of which was Terrell Davis.

Stat that Stands Out:  Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart threw two interceptions in separate goal line situations as Chan Gailey chose to throw rather than pound it in with Jerome Bettis.
What IF Moment: Despite the picks, Kordell Stewart brought the Steelers to within three with just over 2 minutes left to play. Unfortunately, the Steelers defense could not get the ball back as the Broncos offense killed the clock. Carnell Lake, playing cornerback due to the ineffectiveness of Donell Wo0lford, said that he felt the Steelers would have won the game had Rod Woodson still been in Pittsburgh.
The Aftermath:  The Denver Broncos went on win the Super Bowl, the first of two for Elway. The Steelers lost more free agents that year John Jackson and Yancey Thigpen but, unlike in years past, the players the Steelers had drafted to replace them couldn’t cut the mustard.

2005 – Steel Curtain Begins to Rise

2005 AFC Championship Game
January 22, 2006 @ Invesco Field at Mile High
Pittsburgh Steelers 34, Denver Broncos 17

Steelers-Broncos Playoff History Backstory: At 7-5 and coming off a 3 game losing streak, the NFL had left the 2005 Steelers for dead. Bill Cowher challenged his team to run the table, and they complied. They beat the Bengals in the Wild Card game, shocked the Colts by upsetting them in the AFC Divisional Playoff round. The Broncos, for their part were number 2 seeds, and had just knocked off the defending Champion New England Patriots.

Stat that Sticks Out: How about Ben Roethlisberger going 21-29-275-2. True, Ben threw a couple of “Almost interceptions” but clearly a franchise quarterback was blossoming before our eyes.
Steelers Broncos Playoff History Take Away:  Shortly before the game ended, Dan Rooney and Art Rooney II arrived down on the field to accept the Lamar Hunt Trophy. Dan Rooney extended his hand to Bill Cowher. As Cowher put out his right hand, his left hand shot up with his index finger pointing upward and he could be lip read saying, “We still got ONE more game.”
The message and meaning was clear:  The Steelers 2005 AFC Championship victory represented a means, not a goal.
Aftermath:  The Steelers advanced and triumphed in Super Bowl XL, the Steel Curtain had Risen Again, and Pittsburgh’s Second Super Bowl era had begun.

2011 – Steelers Get Tebowed….

2011 AFC Wild Card Game
January 8, 2012 @ Sports Authority Field at Mile High
Denver Broncos 29, Pittsburgh Steelers 23

Steelers-Broncos Playoff History Backstory:  The Pittsburgh Steelers were declared “Old, Slow and Done” after the Baltimore Ravens devastated them on opening day. Yet the 2011 Steelers fought back, and finished 12-4 including an incredible midseason upset over the New England Patriots. Tim Tebow was the story of the 2011 Denver Broncos. While his mechanics and the quality of his play left a lot to be desired, week after wee Tebow simply seemed to find new ways to win games.

Stat that Sticks Out:  Tim Tebow to Demaryius Thomas for 80 yards and a touchdown on the first play of overtime.
Steelers Broncos Playoff History Take Away:  Was this a lucky loss for the Steelers? Losing in overtime in such dramatic fashion demoralized Steelers Nation, but the Steelers, who entered the game with a long  injured list, lost Brett Keisel, Casey Hampton, and Max Starks during the game and likely would have not only been promoting players from the practice squad, but giving them snaps had they won.
Final Farewell:  This the last game for Super Bowl veterans James Farrior, Hines Ward, Bryant McFadden, Mewelde Moore and Chris Kemoeatu.
The Aftermath:  The Patriots slaughter the Broncos in the following week, and John Elway has seen enough, and brings Peyton Manning to Denver. The Steelers enter salary cap purgatory and Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin begin a rebuilding process over the course of two back-to-back 8-8 seasons.

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Michael Vick’s Playoff Record Proves He Deserves 2nd Look If Ben Roethlisberger Can’t Play

Pittsburgh’s injury report for the Steelers AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Denver Broncos offered a mixed bag. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will attempt to practice, but Mike Tomlin indicated Landry Jones will get extensive work in practice.

Antonio Brown remains in the NFL’s concussion protocols with a sharp contrast between local and national reports as to the likelihood of him playing. Running back DeAngelo Williams has been described as “On the outside looking in,” meaning that Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman would again have to carry the Steelers running game.

  • No NFL team wants to head to a playoff game with its top three offensive stars on the injury list.

But fortunately the Steelers have the luxury of knowing that some of their heavy hitters may not be able to go so they can plan ahead. As he’s indicated, Mike Tomlin’s contingency plans are already underway, but it says here that Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley might be wise to expand their thinking.

Should Landry Jones Enter Denver Game as QB Number 2?

Most observers expect Ben Roethlisberger to start for the Steelers in the playoffs against the Broncos.

In his video following Mike Tomlin’s press conference, Ed Bouchette all but alluded to Ben Roethlisberger’s history as a drama queen. Dale Lolley advised his readers that when Ben talks about an injury, as he’s doing now, he usually plays. But the Steelers are wise to prepare an understudy, as no one knows how effective Ben will be.

  • The question is, should Landry Jones be Steelers QB number 2 against the Broncos?

Prior to Pittsburgh’s playoff win over the Bengals, Landry Jones had been one of the more pleasant surprises of the Steelers 2015 season. The Steelers gave not one, but three other quarterbacks the chance to unseat him from the 3rd slot on the depth chart, and Jones fought them off.

When injuries forced him into the game against Arizona, it was Landry Jones to the rescue. While Jones did not play particularly well in his lone start vs. the Chiefs, he also closed out a competitive game vs. the Raiders.

  • Unfortunately, Jones was completely ineffective vs. the Bengals in the playoffs.

In his press conference, Mike Tomlin admitted that Landry Jones must improve if he plays vs. Denver, and indicated that extra preparation should help.

Fair enough. Mike Tomlin, Todd Haley and Randy Fichtner know a little more about preparing quarterbacks for games than I do the Steelers coaches would do well to remember that they do have another quarterback on their roster with playoff experience. His name is Michael Vick

Michael Vick Playoff Experience Means He Deserves a Second Look

If memory serves, it was Hines Ward who once said comparing the intensity to an NFL playoff game to an NFL regular season game is like comparing regular season to preseason. Indeed, the NFL playoffs seve as a crucible that separates the average from the good and the good from the truly great. Legendary Steelers linebacker Greg Lloyd holds cult hero status here on Steel Curtain Rising, but what were his signature playoff moments?

  • Bruce Gradkowski is no superstar, but the Steelers offense didn’t miss a beat when he went in for a few snaps in the Steelers 2014 playoff loss to the Ravens.

It is true that, save for a phenomenal 4th quarter vs. the Chargers, Mike Vick struggled as a starter. And while Steelers beat reporters cannot share what they see in practice, they’ve all but confirmed that Vick has struggled in practice. Fair enough.

  • But Mike Vick has six playoff starts and two playoff wins under his belt.

Vick’s playoff passer rating just a shade below his career passer rating and is below his rating for the Steelers this year. But Vick has started four playoff games on the road, and won in hostile environs such as Lambeau Field. Mike Vick has been tested by the NFL’s playoff crucible.

At this point, Landry Jones is almost certainly in the Steelers plans for 2016 and perhaps beyond. Given that, and given the positives from him earlier in the year, Mike Tomlin is wise to name him his QB number 2 for the divisional show down vs. Denver.

But if Roethlisberger can’t play and Jones falters, Tomlin should make sure that Michael Vick is ready to step in.

Other Steelers Injury Updates Prior to Denver Game

Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and DeAngelo Williams are not the only names on the Pittsburgh Steelers injury report heading into the playoff game Denver.
Fullback Will Johnson (hamstring), inside linebacker Vince Williams (hamstring) and safety Robert Golden (shoulder) are on the injured list but expected to play vs. the Broncos.

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Video Proof of Why the NFL Should Not Fine Joey Porter

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has declared discussion about the Steelers Wild Card win over the Bengals verboten, although in doing so he hit the entire Bengals organization in square in the face with a 2×4:

Cincinnati is afforded the opportunity to sit around days after the game and rehash what happened. We’re not afforded that opportunity. We have a challenge, a formidable one, waiting on us in Denver.

Tomlin’s attitude is right. Cincinnati has all winter, spring and summer to fret over what went wrong. The Steelers, in contrast, only have 3-4 days to prepare for their AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Denver Broncos.

What Steelers Can’t Discuss, Steelers Nation Can

Tomlin’s view has been seconded by Steelers management, as the Pittsburgh Steelers have banned the media from talking with outside linebackers coach Joey Porter. It was of course during an altercation with Adam “Pacman” Jones that drew a second unsportsman like conduct flag on the Bengals after an illegal hit by Vontaze Burfict on Antonio Brown who’d just been overthrown by Ben Roethlisberger.

In the immediate aftermath of the game, speculation swirled as to what Porter was doing on the field, and whether his intent was to goad the Bengals into committing a penalty.

Behind the Steel Curtain’s Tony Defeo first suggested it Porter may have stirred the pot, Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review went a step further and getting Jeff Hartings, Ike Taylor and James Farrior on the record about Porter’s role. MMQB’s Peter King also implied that he thought Porter had an ulterior motive.

  • Speculation has mounted regarding whether the NFL will fine Joey Porter or not.

Assistant coaches generally are not allowed on the field, although they can take to the field to help attend to an injured player. Given Joey Porter’s reputation for proactive behavior – James Harrison got his first start because Porter got thrown out of a game before the kickoff – the assumption that Porter went out on the field with an agenda is an easy one to make.

Fortunately for Porter, the video evidence suggests something else.

As you can see, Joey Porter really was out on the field minding his own business, and it wasn’t until the Bengals attempted to interfere the trainers attending to Antonio Brown that Porter got involved with one of the Bengals. Moreover, Porter is clearly not acting as an aggressor nor is it even clear that he says anything.

The NFL could very well fine Joey Porter for entering the field of play. However, the evidence is clear, the NFL should not fine Joey Porter for his actions at the end of the Steelers-Bengals playoff game.

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