Report card for Steelers divisional round victory over Chiefs

Quarterback 

Sunday night wasn’t one of the greatest performances for Ben Roethlisberger (he completed 20 of 31 passes for 224 yards, no touchdowns and one interception). However, he could have had a better fate, had Antonio Brown and Eli Rogers been able to hold on to touchdown passes. Of course, things could have been better for Roethlisberger, had he not checked out of a running play down at the goal line and had his subsequent pass deflected in the air and intercepted by Eric Berry in the second quarter. It wasn’t a suburb performance for No. 7, but he did find a way to make a spectacular play on the third and three pass to Brown late in the game that sealed the deal. Grade: C

Running Backs 

What more can be said about Le’Veon Bell? After breaking the franchise single-game postseason rushing mark a week earlier against the Dolphins in the wild card game, Bell broke his own record against the Chiefs, by rushing for 170 yards on 30 carries. If he isn’t the most explosive and dangerous offensive weapon in football right now, I don’t know who is. Grade: A+

Wide Receivers 

Aside from Brown’s 108 yards on six catches, there wasn’t much in the way of contributions from the wide-outs on Sunday. While Rogers netted 27 yards on five catches, Cobi Hamilton and Demarcus Ayers combined for 10 yards on two catches. Still, though, it’s hard to expect much from secondary receivers with little pedigree and even less experience. Grade: B-

Tight Ends 

The Steelers may not have had the still recovering from a concussion Ladarius Green, but Jesse James sure did provide some big catches and yards. All-told, he had five catches for 83 yards–including one for 26. Grade: B

Offensive Line

When your star running back rushes for 170 yards, and your franchise quarterback only gets sacks one time in 31 pass-attempts, it’s hard to criticize the offensive line. I won’t criticize the line, but a suburb performance by the unit could have been even better, had the offense been able to trade a couple of field goals for touchdowns. Grade: A

Defensive Line 

It was mostly a stellar performance for the defense, including just 61 yards against the run. It wasn’t a stand-out night for anyone on the line, but it was workman-like. Grade: B

Linebackers

James Harrison led the team in tackles with six and also notched the only sack of Alex Smith on the night. Harrison also came through by getting himself held by Eric Fisher during the two-point conversion try that could have tied the game late in the game. Ryan Shazier had five sacks and an interception, while Bud Dupree had four and caused the interception by Shazier, but pressuring Smith and hitting him just as he threw the pass. Grade B+

Secondary 

The Chiefs had just 172 passing yards on the night. Not much more can be said about that. Grade: A

Special teams 

The Steelers limited dangerous return man Tyreek Hill to 72 yards on four kickoffs. Also, Chris Boswell netted all the points for the  team by kicking a postseason record six field goals. Grade: A

Coaching

The Steelers were the better team in all three phases of the game, out-gaining the Chiefs 389 yards to 22y and stifling Kansas City’s return game. Again, a few touchdowns would have been perfection, but when you come out of Kansas City’s Arrowhead with a playoff win, that’s saying a lot. Grade: B+

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Steelers Hours Away from Some Unfinished Business in Divisional Round

When the Steelers lost to the eventual Super Bowl-champion Broncos last year in a divisional round match-up in Denver, didn’t it seem like things should have gone the other way?

Maybe that’s why, literally hours after that game ended, and tears were shed–including some by head coach Mike Tomlin–Pittsburgh was being championed as, well, a Super Bowl champion of the future, meaning 2016.

The Steelers went into Denver last year, missing Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams, Antonio Brown, Kelvin Beachum, and a few other key cogs. Yet, they kept on fighting until the very end, until third-string running back and important postseason contributor, Fitzgerald Toussaint, coughed up the football early in the fourth quarter, with his team up by a point and driving for more.

Pittsburgh couldn’t overcome this mistake, and they exited Sports Authority Field as 23-16 losers.

But the Steelers weren’t losers in 2015, they were simply compromised due to injuries; when those pile up, it’s hard to keep fighting through January and into February.

But 2016 is different. Actually, it’s now 2017; and while the Broncos, minus the retired Peyton Manning at quarterback, are home watching the postseason, Pittsburgh is back in the same position it was almost a year ago to the day: about to take on the AFC West champions at their home for the right to advance to the conference title game.

As I write this, the game should be mere minutes from kicking off, but thanks to an ugly ice storm that is or about to wreak havoc on the Kansas City-area, the game has been moved back to 8:20 p.m. (EST).

Is that good news or bad for the Steelers?

What did Bill Cowher often say about prime-time games at old Three Rivers Stadium and current Heinz Field? It gave the fans a few extra hours to “lube up” for the action.

In other words, a few extra hours to prepare might make Chiefs fans a little more “vocal.”

But on the other hand, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s first career start came on a Monday night in Week 3 of the 2004 season. The Steelers were supposed to play in Miami on Sunday afternoon, but a hurricane delayed the start of the game a mere 30 hours or so.

Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh won that game and kept on winning the rest, as they went on to finish with  a 15-1 regular season mark and the number one seed in the AFC.

Unfortunately, the rookie Roethlisberger proved to be not ready for postseason-play, and after barely escaping a divisional round match-up

Steelers, Chiefs, divisional round match-up

Photo credit: news3lv.com

against the Jets, Roethlisberger and the Steelers were no match for the Super Bowl-seasoned Patriots the following week in the AFC title game at Heinz Field.

But that was then and this is now; and last year was last year, and this year is this year.

The Steelers are battle-tested and actually drew a pretty decent divisional round match, this despite entering the playoffs as the number three seed and needing one extra victory to reach the Super Bowl.

Pittsburgh blew the doors off the Chiefs, 43-14, when the two teams met at Heinz Field in Week 4.

So what does that have to do with tonight? Nothing, other than to say that, revenge factor aside, I’d much rather be the team who won by 29 points in the previous match-up than the one who lost by that many.

Fun fact: since the Steelers first started winning playoffs games in 1972, they’ve only managed to make it as far as the AFC title game once, when beginning the postseason in the wild card round. That one time, of course, was in 2005, when they entered the playoffs as the sixth seed and didn’t stop winning until they were Super Bowl XL champions.

It says here that the Steelers will change that number from one to two tonight. The last time these two teams met, Roethlisberger threw five touchdown passes, while Bell rushed for 144 yards in his regular season debut.

Those guys–along with Brown–will do a lot of  those same things tonight, and the Steelers will walk away with a 28-17 victory.

That’s my prediction; what’s yours?

 

 

 

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Le’Veon Bell Leads in Dolphins Win Game Ball Voting with Silverback in Pursuit

To no one’s great surprise, Le’Veon Bell topped the rest of the Steelers Killer Bees in the game ball voting for the Steelers Wild Card victory over the Dolphins.

steelers vs. dolphins, steelers dolphins wild card game, steelers dolphins game ballsThat’s the kind of thing that happens when you make your playoff debut by setting Steelers records in one game that neither Franco Harris, nor Jerome Bettis, nor Willie Parker nor Rocky Bleier could top in their collective 58 playoff games.

James Harrison came in second in the voting earning 29 votes, which also is not surprising given his role in completely neutralizing the Miami Dolphins rushing attack. Next came Antonio Brown, who himself had a record setting day with his two touchdown performance that was good enough to earn him 17 votes.

  • Bud Dupree was the next highest individual vote getter, grabbing 14 votes, or one more than the Steelers offensive line, which was a write in vote.

Ben Roethlisberer was the only other player to reach double digits, reaching 10 votes. Ryan Shazier got close with 9 votes, followed by Lawrence Timmons with 7, and Stephon Tuitt who got 6. Jesse James got 2 votes, as did a write in favoring Danny Smith’s dismissal, followed by 1 vote for Mike Mitchell.

  • The write in success of the Steelers offensive line deserves to be commended.

The synergy between Le’Veon Bell and his offensive line is something truly incredible, and truly special. With that said however, the lukewarm support enjoyed by Stephon Tuitt and Mike Mitchell is perhaps a surprise, but this poll is about what you readers think, not about what yours truly thinks.

As always, Steel Curtain Rising thanks everyone who took out time to vote. Now its on to Kansas City!

 

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Mike Tomlin’s Record vs Andy Reid ahead of Steelers 2018 Home Opener vs Chiefs

The Vegas line had the Kansas City Chiefs holding a 2 point edge over the Pittsburgh Steelers heading into the January 2017 AFC Divisional playoff game.

The book makers favoredthe Chiefs despite the fact that Steelers held a 20-11 advantage in the series, including a 10-7 edge in games played at Arrowhead Stadium, a notoriously difficult place to play. But all of those were regular season match ups.

  • The Steelers and Chiefs have played in the playoffs once, with the Steelers losing in overtime.

That game came after the 1993 season, when James Harrison struggling to hold down a practice squad slot…. (Ha! fooled you didn’t I?) That’s a joke about Harrison, but the game was so long ago that it DOES precede Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell’s time with the team, as Bill Cowher fired Steve Furness after that playoff loss.

  • How have things worked out since that fateful day when a Mark Royals’ blocked punt opened the door to another Joe Montana comeback?

Well, per Dale Lolley, the Chiefs are 0-4 at Arrowhead since that win and 1-9 overall in the playoffs. The Steelers in contrast are 19-12 in the playoffs since that day.

The bottom line is that the Steelers and Chiefs don’t have a lot of playoff history so perhaps the operative metric should have been Mike Tomlin’s record against Andy Reid.

Mike Tomlin, Andy Reid, Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers vs. Chiefs, Mike Tomlin's record vs Andy Reid

Mike Tomlin, Andy Reid shake hands after the Steelers 2014 win over the Chiefs at Heinz Field. Photo Credit: David Eulitt, The Kansas City Star

Mike Tomlin’s Record vs Andy Reid

Not including Steelers and Eagles annual preseason match ups, Mike Tomlin is 5-2 against Andy Reid. Tomlin’s games against Reid came in 2008, 2012, 2014, 2015, the 2016 regular season, 2016 playoffs and the 2017 season, which provides a fairly good cross section of both coaches work.

By 2012, both the Steelers and Eagles were in re-building phases as the Steelers prevailed at Heinz Field. In 2014 both the Steelers and Chiefs were fighting to establish themselves as playoff contenders. The Steelers got the better of that December 2014 tussle, while the Chiefs stayed home in January.

By 2015 and 2016 both the Steelers and Chiefs had reestablished themselves as contenders. In fact, Tomlin’s last victory against Andy Reid came in October at Heinz Field as Le’Veon Bell, steamrolled the Kansas City to the tune of 43-14.

Tomlin’s last loss to Andy Reid came in October 2015, with Ben Roethlisberger injured and Landry Jones making his first, unsuccessful, start.

  • At the time it was viewed as a “Tomlin Trap Game” but the Chiefs went on to win 11 straight.

As recently as January 2017, those two games perhaps, ominously, highlight the operative trend in Mike Tomlin’s record against Andy Reid. At the time Mike Tomlin was 3-0 against Andy Reid at Heinz Field, but Andy Reid had never lost to Mike Tomlin at home.

That changed in 2016 as Le’Veon Bell and Chris Boswell led the Steelers to a narrow playoff win against the Chiefs at Arrowhead. And in 2017 the Steelers again returned to Kansas City, where the Steelers vanquished the Chiefs to the tune of 19-13.

Going into Pittsburgh’s 2018 home opener, the Steelers hold a 23-11 edge of the Chiefs and their edge improves to 11-4 while playing in Pittsburgh, where Kansas City has not won since 1986.

 

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Even Though Injury Not Serious, Ben Roethlisberger Shouldn’t Have Been in Late vs. Dolphins

I’m not usually one to second guess when it comes to football games (okay, I’m a writer, so you better believe I’m one to second guess), but in the case of head coach Mike Tomlin’s decision to leave quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the game late into the fourth quarter of the Steelers thoroughly convincing 30-12 wild card victory over the Dolphins at Heinz Field on Sunday, I was actually first guessing things.

With Pittsburgh equipped with a 30-6 lead and possession of the football early in the fourth quarter, my uncle and I, enjoying the rare postseason blow-out at Primanti Bros. on Route 60, both agreed that pulling all key offensive personnel at that point was absolutely the right decision.

  • This didn’t happen, as Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Ben Roethlisberger took the field for what soon became a quick three-and-out, followed by a punt.

No problem.

Ben Roethlisberger, Cameron Ware, Steelers wild Card win Dophins, Roethlisberger injury dolphins

Ben Roethlisberber hit by Cameron Ware late in the Steelers Wild Card win over Dolphins. Photo Credit: James Lang, USA Today Sports

Miami then proceeded to march 70 yards on nine plays and closed to within 18 points on a short touchdown pass from Matt Moore to Damien Williams. The problem for the Dolphins, however, was that they burned 4:20 of game-clock and only 5:57 remained. What further decreased Miami’s chances of a miraculous comeback was a failed two-point conversion thanks to Ross Cockrell.

  • And what did the visitors in for good was an unsuccessful onside kick that Brown recovered with 5:55 remaining.

Sure, the score didn’t look like a blowout at that point, but it may as well have been. The Steelers had possession of the football, an 18-point lead and less than six minutes remaining to preserve things.

Therefore, not only did the Dolphins have to find a way to regain possession pretty quickly, they needed to score a touchdown and convert a two-point try, recover an onside kick, score a touchdown and convert a two-point try, recover another onside kicker and then make a game-winning field goal.

  • Maybe one of those things was going to happen over the final 5:55 of  the fourth quarter, but all of them?

Not a chance, given the way James Harrison, Ryan Shazier, Stephon Tuitt, Bud Dupree and Lawrence Timmons were corralling the Dolphins.

At that point, the Steelers Killer B’s (or Big Three, as they’re now being called in some circles) should have been excused to the sidelines. DeAngelo Williams was in for Le’Veon Bell was, but Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown remained in the lineup.

Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Tomlin, Steelers wild card win dolphins

Ben Roethlisberger never wants to come out of games. Mike Tomlin shouldn’t be so accommodating. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, PennLive

Unfortunately, not only did the Steelers not move the ball, they turned it over when Roethlisberger threw his second interception of the day with 4:23 remaining. No big deal, other than the franchise quarterback–the most indispensable member of the entire organization, as it pertains to competing the 2016 season with Lombardi in hand–suffered an ankle injury on the play and was seen wearing a walking boot after the game.

  • This started a firestorm of criticism directed at Mike Tomlin Sunday night and all day Monday…and rightfully so.

I’m a huge Mike Tomlin supporter, but he, like everyone else in Steelers Nation, was/is well-aware of how key injuries either wreck or compromised Pittsburgh’s postseasons in the very recent past.

In 2014, a hyper-extended knee suffered by Le’Veon Bell absolutely wrecked the Steelers season as they had no viable backup at running back after cutting LeGarrette Blount in November.

A season ago, the Steelers put up a good fight, but they went into the postseason without their top two running backs and lost Antonio Brown and almost lost Ben Roethlisberger as they progressed through the Wild Card round and into the divisional portion.

  • How might both 2014 and 2015 have turned out without those key injuries?

We’ll never know.

Remember the 2008 finale at Heinz Field when Mike Tomlin insisted on playing his starters in a meaningless game against the Browns? Pittsburgh had the number two seed locked up and nothing to gain or lose, yet many key players–including Roethlisberger–started the game.

Early in the first half of what would be a 31-0 victory over the Cleveland Browns, Roethlisberger suffered a concussion and had to be carted into the locker room.

  • Obviously, if you know how 2008 ended, you know that Big Ben was fine.

But that was quite the scare.

Sunday was quite the scare, as well, but it looks like Roethlisberger will be fine and ready to go against the Chiefs this Sunday in the divisional playoffs.

As far as I and just about everyone else are concerned, that was one scare that was far from necessary.

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Le’Veon Bell Breaks Steelers Playoff Rushing Record – Now Pause & Think about What that Means….

For two straight off seasons, Steelers Nation has fretted and fidgeted while watching the Steelers asking the question “What IF.” The big “What IF” of course was “What if Le’Veon Bell had been playing?”

Going into the playoff loss to the Ravens in 2014 (2015, actually) Bell’s absence represented a loss of 34% of the Steelers total offense. It is harder to calculate the impact of Le’Veon Bell’s absence in the 2015 postseason because Bell missed the majority of the season injured or suspended.

But it is quite possible that Ryan Shazier and Ben Roethlisberger’s late game heroics wouldn’t have been necessary against the Bengals had Bell been available to kill the clock in the 4th.

In Pittsburgh’s wild card win against the Dolphins, Steelers Nation finaly got to see their “What IF” come true. So how did that work out?

Le'Veon Bell, Le'Veon Bell breaks Steelers playoff rushing record, Steelers vs. Dolphins, Steelers wild card win dolphins

Le’Veon Bell in his Steelers playoff record breaking performance against the Dolphins. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, PennLive

  • Le’Veon Bell ran 29 times for 167 yards and scored two touchdowns. In the process, Le’Veon Bell broke the Pittsburgh Steelers single game post-season rushing record.

Let’s restate that: In his first post season appearance, Le’Veon Bell broke the Pittsburgh Steelers single-game playoff rushing record. Now consider what that really means. Had Le’Veon Bell broken this record, say, for the San Francisco 49ers, he wouldn’t have turned many heads, no disrespect to Roger Craig or Rickey Waters.

  • But Le’Veon Bell broke the Pittsburgh Steelers playoff rushing record for a single game.

This is the same franchise that has sent Jerome Bettis, Franco Harris and John Henry Johnson (you forgot about him, didn’t you?) to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It is the team that gave Willie Parker, holder of the Super Bowl record for the longest run from scrimmage, his shot in the NFL.

What’s more amazing is the way in which Le’Veon Bell broke the record. As Peter King, who is no Steelers cheerleader, observed:

Watch the man. He’s got the oddest rushing style in football today. “The Great Hesitator,” Phil Simms called him on CBS, and that’s just about perfect. Usually, Bell lines up as the classic I-back, seven yards deep, and when he takes a handoff from Ben Roethlisberger, he’ll take a couple of jab steps toward a hole and almost stop in his tracks. Denver, under Mike Shanahan, had a one-cut running style; the back was told to hit up in the hole immediately—that charging into the hole was the one cut. Most coaches decry what they call pussyfooting.

Peter King then backed up his argument with a statistic, that someone on his staff deserves a ton of credit for unearthing:

I find this amazing: Emmitt Smith, the all-time rushing king, gained 860 yards in his best seven-game stretch. That’s 142 yards less than Bell’s current seven-game run.

So in other words, in the space of just 8 games, Le’Veon Bell broken a record set by one Steelers Hall of Fame running back that another Steelers Hall of Fame Running back couldn’t touch, and rushed for 142 yards more than Emmitt Smith rushed for during his best seven-game stretch.

Jerome Bettis, Jerome Bettis AFC Championship, Jerome Bettis Broncos

Jerome Bettis in the 2005 AFC Championship Game. Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images via BTSC

A little bit of research reveals that it’s not unusual for a Steelers running back to break the century mark in his playoff debut.

  • Barry Foster ran for 104 yards on 20 carries in the 1992 Steelers playoff loss to the Bills
  • Jerome Bettis ran for 102 yards in the Steelers 1996 playoff win against the Colts, although he injured himself
  • Merril Hoge rushed for 100 yards even in the 1989 Steelers New Year’s Eve upset of the Oilers

Rashard Mendenhall, Bam Morris, Frank Pollard and Rocky Bleier also had 100 yard (or near 100 yard) performances early in their careers, but these came after their first post season game.

All impressive efforts, to be certain. But if you really want to appreciate what Le’Veon Bell accomplished, look no further than to the comments made by Ben Roethlisberger:

I’ll never forget when Charlie Batch was here, he used to always tell me about how he would hand off and just watch Barry Sanders. I am not trying to put Le’Veon with Barry Sanders yet, but it is fun to sit and watch and just see what he is going to do because he is incredibly talented.

So if you’re keeping track at home, in addition to outperforming 3 Steelers Hall of Fame running backs, Le’Veon Bell’s playoff performance against the Dolphins has now drawn comparisons to two other non-Steelers Hall of Fame running backs.

Walter Payton, Walter Payton Steelers, Le'Veon Bell Walter Payton

Walter Peyton dives over the pile as the Steelers are powerless to stop him. Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images via NFL SpinZone

During Le’Veon Bell took a lot of heat during his rookie season with a lot of journalists both inside (see John Stiegerwald) and outside of Pittsburgh doubting his ability. Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell took the time to compare his game-by-game results to Walter Payton’s rookie campaign, despite getting needled about it on social media from some of his peers.

  • Three seasons, a couple of injuries, 2 suspensions, and 1 playoff game later, Bell is getting the last laugh.

As Ben Roethlisberger cautioned, it is still too early to categorize Bell alongside the Smiths, Harris, Sanders, and Paytons of NFL lore, but in Le’Veon Bell, the Pittsburgh Steelers certainly have a special running back.

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Steelers Sting Dolphins 30-12, as Pittsburgh Imposes Will on Miami in AFC Wild Card

The Pittsburgh Steelers 30-12 Wild Card win over the Miami Dolphins featured the first post-season contest where Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown shared the field together.

  • Pittsburgh’s Killer Bees dominated just as Mike Tomlin expected they would.

In dominating the Dolphins, the Killer Bee’s in premier Pittsburgh echoed in almost perfect rhyme with Steelers history, harking back to the Steelers and Dolphins playoff matchup of 1979. It was fitting then that the Steelers formula for success over the Dolphins today was as simple as it had been in heyday of the Super Steelers: Impose your will.

’16 Steelers Open in Lockstep Step with ’79 Predecessors

Resarch into the Steelers postseason history against the Dolphins brought to light a gem penned by legendary NFL scribe Vito Stellino who compared the first quarter of the 1979 Steelers playoff win over the Dolphins to Michaelangelo’s work of art in the Sistine Chapel. Those 1979 Steelers amassed 180 yards in jumping to a 20-0 first quarter lead, over a Dolphins that had lost its sea legs.

  • After 18 minutes, the Steelers held a 20 to 3 lead and already had 200 yards in total offense

OK, so use of “Lockstep” in the headline might be an exaggeration, but not by much. During those first 18 minutes, the playoff experience gap between the two teams, revealed itself. Pittsburgh did it whatever it wanted, while the Dolphins looked dumbfounded.

If sideline looks provide any indication, some members of the Dolphins were wondering if they even belonged there…

Steelers Turn the Tables as Bell Bludgeons Dolphins

Accepting a job as an NFL offensive coordinator means accepting a life of being second guessed. The Pittsburgh Steelers October loss to the Dolphins was difficult for many reasons, but one of those was Todd Haley’s decision to abandon the run despite Le’Veon Bell running with sufficient authority to take over the game.

  • Todd Haley didn’t make the same mistake twice.

Pro Football Reference classifies the Steelers offensive scheme as “Erhardt-Perkins” and the Steelers game plan echoed Ron Erhardt’s philosophy of “Throw to score, run to win” to a T.

  • The Steelers first two touchdown drives featured 7 passes and four runs
  • The Steelers third touchdown drive saw Le’Veon Bell run the ball 8 straight times

You can do that when your running back is averaging just under six yards per carry. While it is accurate to argue that the Steelers imposed their will on the Dolphins, Le’Veon Bell revealed that successful rushing is about more than just brute force. Certainly, the Steelers offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage, but time and time again, Le’Veon Bell patience in allowing holes to develop is what added direction and meaning to the line’s force.

As the photo leading off this article suggests, for much of the game, Le’Veon Bell ran and the Dolphins could do little more than watch him.

Steelers Defense Earns Redemption Against Ajayi

Few things demoralize a defense more than getting run on consistently. Sure, getting burned on long pass plays hurts and is humilating, but they’re kind of like getting a Band-Aid ripped off. Even if it opens a new wound, the process starts and ends quickly.

  • Getting run on means you get beaten up physically on one play after another for an entire afternoon.

In their first meeting, Jay Ajayi became the first running back to run for 200 yards on the Steelers defense since the Clinton administration. The question going into the playoff game was, would Ajayi be able to do it again?

  • The Steelers defense took the field determined that the answer to that question be “no.” And they delivered.

Jay Ajayi managed a paltry 33 yards against the Steelers defense, as Sean Davis, Lawrence Timmons, James Harrison, Ryan Shazier and L.T. Walton all penetrated through the Dolphin’s offensive line to force tackles for a loss.

Bud Dupree, Matt Moore, Steelers wild card win Dolphins

Bud Dupree stones Matt Moore in the Steelers wild card win over the Dolphins. Photo Credit: Christopher Horner, Tribune Review

The Steelers defense matched their impressive effort against the run by mustering the turnover producing killer instinct needed to eliminate any Miami attempt to build momentum:

  • James Harrison hit Matt Moore with one of his patented strips sacks before the half,
  • Mike Mitchell strip-sacked Moore to end Miami’s first drive of the second half,
  • Ryan Shazier limited the Dolphin’s next drive to one play by intercepting Moore’s next pass
  • Stephon Tuitt tackled Moore from behind on its next drive as it sought to convert on 4th down

By that point the Steelers had built a 30 to 6 lead, and everything else that followed was little more than window dressing.

Steelers Set Sights on Kansas City

While Steelers pleased their head coach with their performance over the Dolphins, Mike Tomlin noted that “the road narrows from here.” The Steelers manhandled the Kansas City Chiefs in October, but the Chiefs have been nearly unstoppable since then.

  • On top of that, Ben Roethlsiberger was seen wearing a walking boot at Heinz Field after the game.

Suffice to say, the challenges that the Steelers face will get stiffer with each win. But the Steelers Wild Card win over the Dolphins shows that this group of players has arrived at the postseason ready, willing and able to win.

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Speak Out Steelers Nation: Vote Steelers Game Ball Winners for Wild Card Win over Dolphins

The Steelers beat the Miami Dolphins in the AFC Wild Card 30 to 12 and as we always do here at Steel Curtain Rising, we invite you the readers to vote Steelers game ball winners.

Steelers Dolphins wild card, Stephon Tuitt Matt Moore, Stephon Tuitt, Matt Moore, Steelers Dolphins game ball winners

Stephon Tuitt corrals Matt Moore in Steelers 30-12 playoff win over Dolphins. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune Review

Lead the ballot for the offense is Le’Veon Bell. No explanation needed here. If you’re a Steelers running back who breaks Franco Harris post-season single game rushing record in your first playoff game, you’re nominated for a game ball.

[yop_poll id=”48″]

After that, we have Antonio Brown, who scored his first 2 post season touchdown, and led Steelers receivers 5 catches for 124 yards. Ben Roethlisberger also gets a nod with his 13 of 18 passing with 197 yards and two touchdowns. After that we’ll nominate Jesse James, whose numbers won’t make fantasy owners happy, but game up big with block and in saving an interception.

On defense, Lawrence Timmons leads the balloting as he led the Steelers in tackles and sacked Matt Moore two times. James Harrison has the next ballot position, who was instrumental in shutting down Jay Ajayi.

Ryan Shazier gets the next nod, as he was all over the field and snuffed out a drive with an interception. Another player who was all over the field was Mike Mitchell, who had a sack and seemed to be in on every play.

  • Bud Dupree also gets the next defensive ballot slot, for his sack.

Rounding out the defensive ballot-place holders is Stephon Tuitt. Stephon Tuitt might have “only” had 4 tackles, but he led the defensive line, which completely shut down Miami’s running game.

Remember, Writings Not Only Allowed, but Encouraged

Remember, this poll is about who you think deserves to win a game ball, not about what I think. So if you think that Ross Cockrell, who had a solid game, deserves a game ball, write his name in. If you think that Sean Davis or Javon Hargrave deserves one, take a moment to write their names in.

  • Better yet, write their names in and leave a comment stating your case.

Thanks for taking time out to vote, and please remember to come back later for our full analysis of the Steelers playoff win over the Dolphins.

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Steelers Defense Holds 2016 Playoff Hopes in Its Hands

The 2016 playoffs are here and the Pittsburgh Steelers have the third seed in the AFC tournament. In other words, all of the blood, sweat, toil and tears of the last 16 games has simply opened the door for the Steelers to accomplish their real goal, winning the Super Bowl.

But it is fitting that the Pittsburgh Steelers start the 2016 playoffs in the same spot that they started the 2016 regular season:  with the Steelers defense carrying their Super Bowl hopes.

James Harrison, Steelers 2016 defense

James Harrison in the huddle with the rest of the Steelers defense. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

That was true in September and it remains true in January, and everything we’ve seen along the way confirms that equation. Certainly, the poor performances were not confined to the defense in losses to Philadelphia, Miami and Baltimore. But the Steelers loss to Dallas drove home the message:

The Steelers story in the 2016 playoffs will be the same. It’s true that the offensive line must protect Ben Roethlisberger and open holes up front for Bell (or DeAngelo Williams). Likewise, someone, be it Eli Rogers, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Ladarius Green or even Sammie Coates is going to have to take pressure off of Antonio Brown.

  • But offense wins game, defense wins championships.

There’s no disputing that the Steelers offense has improve during his 7 game winning streak, but the real difference makers have come on the defensive side of the ball. After the Dallas game, Mike Tomlin ended the linebacker rotation, and started Bud Dupree and James Harrison. Has anyone missed “linebacker by committee?”

  • Sean Davis has replaced Robert Golden, and you’d have to go back 15 years to find a Steelers rookie defender who has made a bigger impact.

Things looked bleak with Cameron Heyward was lost for the season. This site went as far as to recall the “Game over, man! Game over” scene from Aliens on the day Cam Heyward went on IR. But since then Stephon Tuitt, Javon Hargrave, and L.T. Walton have stepped up their games. These three gentleman must continue to deliver in the post season.

Steelers 2016 defense, stephon tuitt, steelers vs. Bills

Stephon Tuitt after sacking Tyrod Taylor earlier this season. Photo Credit: Peter Diana, Post-Gazette

Ryan Shazier has stayed healthy, and the longer he plays, the better he gets. Lawrence Timmons has ended those early season rumblings about his best days being behind him.

  • IT says here that, barring injury, the Steelers linebackers and defensive line won’t wilt under postseason pressure.

So, just as it did when the regular season started, the Steelers secondary hold the primary key to success on the post season.

Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler boldly gambled when they tore up their 2015 defensive backfield depth chart and recreated it almost from scratch. Sean Davis has come through and Ross Cockrell has quietly become a solid starter at cornerback. Artie Burns struggled, both in coverage and in tackling, but has improved tremendously during the second half of the season.

At the end of the day, the Steelers 2016 Super Bowl hopes are riding on these rookie’s ability to sustain their regular season success into the playoffs.

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Mike Tomlin Bill Cowher Photo Shows Just How Lucky Steelers Nation Is. Now Enjoy the Playoffs

The Mike Tomlin Billy Cowher photo against the backdrop of the Steelers six Lombardi Trophies interspersed with images of Mike Tomlin, Bill Cowher and Chuck Noll offered Steelers Nation a priceless portrait.

After Super Bowl XLIII, Steel Curtain Rising waged a mini-campaign pushing for the Steelers to snap an actual photo of Tomlin, Cowher and Noll with the six Lombardi’s back when that was still possible, but based on what we know now, Noll’s health probably wouldn’t have allowed it.

Alas, the picture of Pittsburgh’s 3 coaches with the Steelers Six 6 Lombardi trophies never got taken.

Bill Cowher, Mike Tomlin, Chuck Noll, Steelers Six Lombardi Trophies, Mike Tomlin Bill Cowher photo

Bill Cowher interviews Mike Tomlin. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Yet this single, powerful image conveys the legacy of excellence that defines this franchise.

The Mike Tomlin Bill Cowher photo should also serves another purpose: It reminds Steelers Nation just how lucky we are.

Cowher-Tomlin Transition Resulted in a Decade of Excellence

History doesn’t always lend itself to symmetry, but when it does it makes an occasion a little extra special.

Exactly 10 years to the day after he resigned as Steelers head coach, Bill Cowher returned to Pittsburgh to interview Mike Tomlin ahead of the Steelers AFC Wild Card game vs. the Miami Dolphins. Here’s what has happened since The Chin stepped down:

  • The Steelers have never ended a season with the L’s outnumbering the W’s
  • 7 of those seasons have produced playoff teams
  • 4 of those seasons have resulted in AFC North Championships
  • 2 Lamar Hunt AFC Championship trophies have been added to the case
  • 1 Super Bowl Championship, a record 6th for the franchise, found its home in Pittsburgh

Some will write off this record by insisting “Tomlin has only won with Cowher’s players.” This site has already debunked Colin Cowherd and Jason Whitlock’s tired nonsense. In the pressure cooker that is the NFL, a medicore coach can only ride the coattails of a successful predecessor for a very short time.

  • Barry Switzer would serve as exhibit A, and Mike Martz (nod to Jim Wexell) gives us exhibit B

Point made. Let’s move on because the Bill Cowher Mike Tomlin photo transcends both of its individual subjects to tell us something about the Pittsburgh Steelers as an organization.

The “Other” Rooney Rule Works, and Works Well

Many saw and still see Mike Tomlin’s hire as a product of “Rooney Rule.” Named after Dan Rooney, the rule requires franchises to interview minorities for head coaching vacancies. Mike Tomlin did get hired because of a Rooney Rule, but one very different from Roger Goodell’s.

As Mike Silverstein, aka “Homer J” on Going Deep with the Steelers, has pointed out time and time again, Dan Rooney’s rule for hiring coaches is pretty straight forward:

  • Hire the best guy, and stick with him as long as you can.

Rooney followed that rule with Chuck Noll. Ten years later he’d added 4 Lombardi Trophies where they’d been none. Ten years removed from his hire date, Bill Cowher had yet to bring home “One for the Thumb” but he was closing in on his 4th AFC Championship game. Cowher lost that AFC Championship game as well as his next, but the Rooney’s stuck with Cowher, and he delivered in Super Bowl XL.

  • Too many Steelers fans don’t quite understand how lucky they are.
Super Bowl XL Lombardi Presentation, Bill Cowher Lombardi Trophy, Dan Rooney, Art Rooney II, Kay Cowher

Bill Cowher stands with Kaye Cowher, Art Rooney II and Dan Rooney on the dias after Super Bowl XL. Photo Credit: Mike Urban, Seattle P-I

In college, I roomed with a New York Jet’s fan, who endured Leon Hess’ firing of Pete Carroll after one season. Hess justified his knee-jerk decision by explaining he was 80 and wanted to win a Super Bowl before he died. Hess replaced Pete Carroll with Rich Kotite.

  • For the record, Rich Kotite went 3-13 and 1-15; Pete Carroll is 103-72 and wears a Super Bowl ring.

During the same time frame, the NFL saw Ted Marchibroda take an Indianapolis Colts team that had been 1-15 in 1991, to the 1995 AFC Championship game. If you’ll remember, quick action in the end zone by Randy Fuller on a Hail Mary was what sent Pittsburgh, and not Indianapolis to Super Bowl XXX.

  • Shortly afterwards, the Irsays thanked Ted Marchibroda for turning the team around by firing him and promoted his offensive coordinator Lindy Infante.

For the record, Infante took the Colts to the playoffs in the next season (where the Steelers clobbered them) and went 3-13 a year after. As my friend observed then, “Aren’t you glad you root for a team where that kind of stuff doesn’t happen?”

The answer then and now is “Yes.” And if you claim to be a Steelers fan yours should be the same.

The Playoffs are Here Steelers Nation, Enjoy Them

In just over 24 hours the Pittsburgh Steelers will host their 12 playoff game at Heinz Field.

While durability is becoming an issue, Ben Roethlisberger is still in his prime and he’s about to start a playoff game for the first time with Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. Players like Eli Rogers, Ladarius Green and Jesse James have stepped up during the 7 game winning streak.

  • Cobi Hamilton and Demarcus Ayers, two guys whose names you probably had to look up during training camp, have also delivered big plays when it has counted.
Pittsburgh Killer Bees, Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown

Pittsburgh’s Killer B’s, Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell are set to play their first playoff game. Photo Credit: Gene J. Puskar, AP NY Daily News

Ryan Shazier is about to play his third playoff game. Think back to how he stepped up when all hope was lost last year the playoffs against Cincinnati, and then consider how much he’s grown since then.

Shazier isn’t the only linebacker making impact plays – he’s joined by fellow rookie Bud Dupree, and Lawrence Timmons and James Harrison – two veterans who know how to win Super Bowls. Also keep in mind the growth of rookies like Sean Davis, Javon Hargrave and Artie Burns.

Honestly, after all of that, if you’re a Steelers fan focusing on the draft or free agency, then its time to throw in your Terrible Towel.

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers are a team that is entering the playoffs on a hot streak not unlike 2005 or 2008.

Does this mean Steelers Nation should count Lombardi’s before they hatch? No! There’s a reason why ESPN’s Bill Barnwell (who never likes the Steelers) is only giving Pittsburgh a 4.2% chance to win the Super Bowl.

Take the measure of the 2016 Steelers position-by-position against any number of teams in the 2016 playoffs, and the Steelers probably come up short. But during their 7 game winning streak, players from across the Steelers depth chart have shown an uncanny ability to make plays at critical moments.

  • And that, my friends is a characteristic of champions.

As Chuck Noll always reminded us, it’s about the journey not the destination. But reaching the Mountain Top is a realistic possibility. Enjoy the ride Steelers Nation.

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