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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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.

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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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Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for Playoff Clinching Win over Browns

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who saw his star pupil squeak by on the pass/fail portion of his qualifying exam, and now waits with baited breath as his student prepares to enter the “real world” here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the playoff clinching win over the Cleveland Browns.steelers, report card, grades, Cleveland Browns, playoff clinching win

Quarterback
While no one can claim that Ben Roethlisberger played poorly vs. the Cleveland Browns, the truth is elements of his performance are downright worrisome. Ben Roethlisberger’s two interceptions were very poorly thrown balls, heads up plays be his receivers prevented at least three more balls from being picked off.

If Ben Roethlisberger gives away interceptions like he did vs. the Browns, the Steelers season will quickly end in Cincinnati. This is a classic “Good but” performance if there ever was one. Grade: B-

Running Backs
The Browns were cued up on stopping DeAngelo Williams, and Williams found it difficult to find running room. He caught two out of two passes thrown to him, but was forced from the game by the beginning of the second half. Fitzgerald Toussaint quadrupled his carry total for the season, and while his 2.0 yards per average isn’t impressive, the determination he showed in playing to the whisle did. Toussaint also caught his first two point conversion pass. Grade: C+

Tight Ends
Heath Miller’s stat line reads like this: 3 catches, 18 yards, on 4 targets 1 touchdown and his longest pass was for 11 yards.

  • Fantasy football owners who started Heath Miller probably regret the move.

Mike Tomlin, however, does not. The ball could have been easily intercepted on both Miller’s touchdown and his 11 yard reception, but in both cases Miller outmuscled the defender to the catch. Those are the types of plays simply win games while failing to show up on fantasy football stats. Matt Spaeth and Jesse James both played, but neither had a target. Grade: B+

Wide Receivers
Antonio Brown showed that he is mortal, barely, but fumbling away the ball. The Browns failed to convert it into points, but that turnover coupled with Roethlisberger’s interceptions gave the Browns the courage they needed to give the Steelers a run for their money. Outside of that, Brown’s game was flawless. The same cannot be said for Martavis Bryant, who was only targeted twice, and saw one of those picked off (not his fault) and the other he dropped. Markus Wheaton had a solid game with a 40 yard catch that helped set up the Steelers second touchdown followed by an excellent touchdown catch. Darrius Heyward-Bey made his return to the passing offense with a bang on a 66 yard reception. However, he did drop two catchable balls, including a touchdown. Brown and Wheaton pull this group’s overall grade up. Grade: B

Offensive Line
Whatever is troubling Ben Roethlisberger, lack of pass protection cannot be called an issue, certainly not against the Browns. There were many plays when Ben could have written pages of his diary, the offensive line gave him so much time. And on those occasions, Roethlisberger made Cleveland pay. The Steelers run blocking, however, was not nearly what it needed to be, although DeAngelo Williams injury essentially meant the Steelers weren’t going to run much anyway. Grade: B

Defensive Line
Stephon Tuitt led the unit with a 2 sack day, he also dropped two Browns defenders behind the line of scrimmage and got to Austin Davis two more times. Cameron Heyward had a quiet day with one tackle, but that’s another example of how stats can mislead. Steve McLendon had one tackle, but it was for a loss. Grade: B+

Linebackers
The lack of pressure from the Steelers outside linebackers has been an issue of late, but Arthur Moats sacked Austin Davis once and recovered the fumble that Lawrence Timmons helped cause. James Harrison’s interception was exactly the type of play the Steelers defense needed after Roethlisberger had given them an opening to get back into the game. Harrison also batted away two passes, and he stuffed another runner to prevent a third down conversion. Ryan Shazier split a sack with Timmons. Vince Williams had 3 tackles and Bud Dupree. Grade: B+

Secondary
Let it be said that any of the teams making the NFL playoffs and their will provide the Steelers with a far stiffer test than the Cleveland Browns did, but the Steelers secondary seemed to step it up a bit after having been roasted by Ryan Mallett. Antwon Blake played a complete game, recording a sack and batting balls away while making no egregious tackling errors. Michael Mitchell was his usual self, as was William Gay. One take away and two other splash plays by the Steelers secondary were what was needed, especially on a day when the Steelers offense was turning over the ball. Grade: B+

Special Teams
On the negative side, the Steelers coverage team benefitted from another long return that got nullified by a penalty. And Chris Boswell missed another field goal. Granted, that was a 48 yarder, but the Steelers Super Bowl hopes could rest on Boswell’s ability to make another 48 yarder in another AFC North city just down I-75.

On the positive side, the Anthony Chickillo forced a fumble just after the Steelers offense had made the score 25 to 12 which allowed the Steelers offense to put the game away for good. Grade: B-

Grading the Steelers Coaches
Todd Haley’s game plan was sound, although the Steelers inability to run the ball against a weak Browns run defense is a little puzzling, although not worrisome. More worrisome for Todd Haley has to be Ben Roethlisberger’s suddenly erratic performance.

  • Is Ben Roethlisberger simply trying to force the ball to Antonio Brown or is something else at work?

It says here that “Ben to Brown” is a winning combination, but quarterbacks should never get on one wide receiver. Regardless of its root cause, Todd Haley and Steelers quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner must correct this situation immediately.

People can critique the Steelers defensive effort from a number of angles:

  • The Browns won the time of possession battle…
  • Cleveland scored at the tail end of the first half…
  • They opened the 4th quarter by cutting the Steelers lead to 5….

All of these type of stats can be made to hold an ominous tone. But the bottom line is that Keith Butler’s defense kept sacked Austin Davis 7 times, secured 3 turnovers, and kept the Cleveland Browns out of the end zone despite 3 turnovers by the Steelers offense.

  • That’s the type of play that is going to help the Steelers win playoff games.

As noted above, the turnovers by Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown could have been devastating, but fortunately the Steelers defense minimized the impact of the first two turnovers, and neutralized the next. Equally importantly, the Steelers offense had the mental toughness to avoid allowing the turnovers to take on a snowball effect.

It is true that the Steelers hardly dominated the Browns, especially early on. But one week after the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers most disappointing performances, Mike Tomlin had his team in bounce-back form that, while not perfect, won the game. Grade: B

Unsung Hero
Early in the game vs. the Browns there was one player who seemed to take last week’s loss to the Ravens personally, and made it his business to avoid a repeat. This member of the secondary had 7 tackles, 1 pass defensed, one QB hit, another tackle for a loss and a sack and he made his moves early and often, helping set the tone for the game. And for that Will Allen is the wins the Unsung Hero Award for the Steelers playoff clinching win over the Cleveland Browns.

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Steelers Beat Browns Clinch Playoffs with an Assist from Rex Ryan

An injury to a key offensive starter. Gun slinging play from a franchise quarterback that alternates between brilliant and boneheaded. Defensive success through sacrificing yards for sacks and turnovers and Red Zone toughness.

  • If you were seeking to understand the Steelers 2015 season, it was all on display vs. the Cleveland Browns.

The Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Cleveland Browns to clinch a playoff spot, with an assist from Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills, and they did so in a way that provided their fans with both a sense of drama – and hope as the Steelers head to the playoffs.

Call Him “Bennie Gun?”

If Steelers Nation is to carry one big Worry with them into the playoffs, and yes that’s worry with a capital “W” on purpose, it is the sudden shift in play by Ben Roethlisberger.

  • Let’s submit that as a quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger has never “played by the rules” nor will he ever do so.

Most quarterbacks begin to fall apart when they make contact with defenders, that’s when Ben Roethlisberger has been at his deadliest. You have to take the good with the bad when it comes to Ben Roethlisberger to some extent or another. A boneheaded interception seemed to be a small price to pay for Ben’s ability to make something out of nothing.

But since the second half of 2013, Ben Roethlisberger has developed into a more mature, more polished product under Todd Haley’s tutelage. He’s learned to get rid of the ball more quickly, without sacrificing the free lancing style that makes Ben Ben.

  • But of late, the seemingly obligatory “stupid interception” has crept back into Ben’s game.

And it was back in force vs. Cleveland. Ben’s first interception came in the 1st quarter as he tried to hit Martavis Bryant. The Steelers defense held Cleveland to a field goal, but it came after Will Allen had sacked Austin Davis to force a Browns punt. It was exactly the type of play to breathe just enough life into the Browns to allow them to keep it interesting.

  • His next pick came on the Steelers first possession of the second half on an obvious attempt to force the ball to Antonio Brown.

Fortunately James Harrison picked off the pass in a play that looked scripted to emulate Super Bowl XLIII. Make no mistake about it, Ben Roethlisberger looked sharp for much of the time vs. Cleveland. His touchdown passes to Brown and Markus Wheaton, as well as his two-point conversion pass to Fitzgerald Toussaint were pure Ben at his best.

But Antonio Brown also had to make a leaping catch that otherwise could have been intercepted. And Heath Miller had to outmuscle a defender on both his touchdown catch and a later third down catch.

  • Commonplace errors that a team can overcome in the regular season will kill a team in the post-season.

To that reality, factor in the injury to DeAngelo Williams. All of that means that Pittsburgh needs a pristinely perfect Ben Roethlisberger in the playoffs. Ben’s play vs. Cleveland shows that, at a very minimum, he must refocus.

Steelers Defense Does What It Can Do…

In the eyes of Mike Tomlin, the Steelers loss to the Ravens came down to the defense’s inability to produce turnovers. At the time it sounded like a technocratic apology for a lackluster performance vs. a weaker opponent.

  • That might have been partially true, but vs. the Browns, the Steelers defense vindicated their coach.

The Steelers defense got into Austin Davis’ face early and often, and the results speak for themselves. The Cleveland Browns managed two field goals at the half, and another one to begin the fourth quarter. But the first field goal came after Ben Roethlisberger’s first interception after the Browns advanced to the Steelers 9.

  • Once again, the Steelers defense delivered in the Red Zone.

Given all that followed, the Steelers trip to the playoffs and the Browns summary “execution” of its coach and GM, people will forget that Browns opened the 4th quarter by pulling to within five points. But the Browns final points of the Mike Pettine era represented another Red Zone success by the Steelers defense.

  • Lawrence Timmons and Arthur Moats ended the Browns next possession after 5 plays, with a sack-fumble that set the Steelers up at the Brown’s 8.

During his later years, Dick LeBeau’s defenses could be stingy with yards and, to a lesser degree, with points. But turnovers and pressure on the quarterback have been in short supply since 2010 and particularly since 2012. Keith Butler’s defense might not have the technical sophistication that LeBeau’s had, but he’s able to get pressure on the quarterback, (even if it STILL isn’t coming from the outside linebackers) and when the Steelers defense pressures the quarterback, the defense secures turnovers.

It’s no secret that the Steelers defense also secured two turnovers with William Gay game sealing grab coming just as word reached the Steelers bench that Rex Ryan had come through.

See You at Paul Brown Stadium

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 season is closed. The Steelers 10-6 mark and Wild Card slot might seem like a step back from 2014’s 11-5 AFC North Championship, but this group of Pittsburgh Steelers has weathered and overcome adversity that quite frankly didn’t face their predecessors.

  • And the headline, Steelers Beat Browns Clinch Playoffs does have a nice ring to it.

Once again, the Steelers will begin the playoffs at the same place where they’ll finish them – on the road at Paul Brown Stadium?

Can the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers conjure up some of the same magic that drove their 2005 brethren? If Ben Roethlisberger can play a little smarter, and the Steelers defense remains opportunistic then the answer is “Just maybe.”

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Vote Steelers Game Ball Winners for Pittsburgh’s Playoff Clinching Win Over Cleveland

The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Cleveland Browns 28-12, and thanks to an assist by Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills, the Pittsburgh Steelers will travel to Paul Brown Stadium to play the Cincinnati Bengals in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.

As we always do after Steelers victory, Steel Curtain Rising invites you, the citizens of Steelers Nation to vote Steelers game ball winners.

Ben Roethlisberger makes the ballot thanks to his three touchdown performance, although we readily acknowledge that the game was closer than it should have been thanks to two rather boneheaded interceptions.

Antonio Brown also makes the ballot, for his sterling 13 catch 187 yard performance. Heath Miller makes it, thanks to his physical presence on the field. Markus Wheaton also makes it on the strength of his 3 solid catches, including a critical touchdown pass. Darrius Heyward-Bey also gets a largely because of his 66 yard catch which set up a critical score for the Steelers.

On defense the Steelers game ball winners ballot include Lawrence Timmons who led the team in tackles and whose strip-sack sealed the Steelers victory. James Harrison also gets a nod, for helping the Steelers defense get the ball back after one of Roethlisberger’s interceptions. Will Allen also gets a nod on the strength of a stealer first half against the Browns. William Gay also gets a ballot spot thanks to his interception, as do Arthur Moats and Antwon Blake thanks to their splash plays.

  • But remember, you citizen of Steelers Nation, are not limited to these Steelers game ball winner ballot choices.

Do you think that Ryan Shazier or Michael Mitchell deserve a game ball? Write their names in. Ditto any other player you think stood out.

Thanks for taking time out to vote for Steelers game ball winners, and please check back later for Steel Curtain Rising’s full analysis of the Steelers playoff clinching win over the Cleveland Browns.

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15 Key Dates that Defined the Steelers 2015 Calendar Year

Regardless of whether the Pittsburgh Steelers, with a little help from Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills, can salvage their 2015 Season, the year 2015 will always be bookended by twin losses to the arch rival Baltimore Ravens.

Here are 15 moments that defined the Steelers 2015 calendar year

1 – January 5th 2015 – Ravens Bounce Steelers from Playoffs

No this isn’t important because the Ravens got their Heinz Field monkey off their back, it is important in how they did it. Joe Flacco exposed the Steelers corners, and the Steelers were surprisingly unable to generate any pass rush – twin themes who would go hand-in-hand throughout 2015

2 – January 10, 2015 – Dick LeBeau “Resigns”

In a move that shocked both Steelers Nation and LeBeau himself, Mike Tomlin informs LeBeau that he will not be back in 2015. LeBeau is allowed to “resign.” Later, rumors that Keith Butler’s impending departure more or less forced Tomlin to make a decision are confirmed. Regardless of the wisdom of the move, LeBeau’s legacy of excellence remains intact.

3 – March 9th 2015 – Steelers release Brett Keisel

Although Brett Keisel played extremely well for the Steelers in 2014, his injury vs. New Orleans apparently sealed his fate. Brett Keisel’s release ends an era on defensive line for the Steelers, one that started in September 2000 when Aaron Smith broke the starting lineup.

4 – March 11th 2015 – Jason Worilds Retires

All season long, the question of whether the Steelers would or should resign Jason Worilds and whether they should resign him dominates the debate in Steelers Nation. Worilds takes the decision out of Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin’s hands, by announcing his retirement lieu of a contract with potentially 8 figures worth of guaranteed money.

5 – March 15th 2015 – Steelers Resign Ben Roethlisberger and Sign DeAngelo Williams

When the Steelers resign Ben Roethlisberger to a contract, they also sign a free agent backup running back . That’s the way it worked in 2008 (Mewelde Moore was the free agent in 2008, for those of you taking notes), and that’s the way it worked in 2015. The decision to extend Ben Roethlisberger’s contract was almost pro forma, but more ignorant parties in the press and Steelers Nation kept suggesting the deal would not get done.

At the same time it looks like the Steelers are simply taking out an insurance policy, and a risky one at that given DeAngelo Williams age, as Le’Veon Bell is slated to make a full recovery. As it turns out, suspensions and injuries ruin Bell’s 2015 season, and DeAngelo Williams performs above almost everyone’s wildest expectations.

6 – March 22nd 2015 – Steelers Resign James Harrison

Deciding the James Harrison most certainly has something left in the tank and not wanting to see him finish out his days as a Tennessee Titan, the Steelers bring back James Harrison, both for the value he will offer on and off the field.

7 – April 10th, 2015 – Troy Polamalu Retires

This move is not quite a surprise as all accounts indicate that Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert and Keith Butler want Polamalu to retire. Still, the Steelers do not want to cut him and see a repeat of Franco Harris in Seattle.

Moreover, the fact that they resign Will Allen the next day shows that either Art Rooney II or perhaps Dan Rooney left the door ajar for Polmalu’s return in 2015. Troy Polamlau takes umbrage to being pushed out, but the Steelers legend’s decision to retire allows him to go out quietly, on his own terms.

8 – July 23rd & 25th 2015 – Steelers Extend Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert Contracts

To the disappointment of many in Steelers Nation, Art Rooney II decides to extend the contracts of both head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert, quashing any speculation about whether the two men will enter 2015 on the hot seat.

9 – August 10th, 2015 – Jerome Bettis Enters Hall of Fame

After several years of frustration, legendary Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis takes his rightful place in Canton, Ohio at the Pro Football Hall of Fame as the face of the Steelers franchise. Bettis is the first Steeler of the second Super Bowl era to enter the Hall of Fame.

10 – September 10th 2015 – Missed Opportunities Cost Steelers vs. Patriots

Beyond headsetgate, the Steelers defensive struggles to stop Tom Brady, but the team is surprisingly competitive in a 28-21 loss to the Patriots. Although the Steelers last touchdown is of the garbage time variety, the Steelers did miss two field goals, which teases that the Steelers could have been competitive against the defending Super Bowl Champions.

11 – October 3rd 2015 – Steelers Lose in OT to Ravens

A shaky performance by Michael Vick (and that’s being generous) and two missed field goals by Josh Scobee cost the Steelers an overtime decision to the Baltimore Ravens. Not only do the Steelers lose their first AFC North game, but it also gives them another AFC loss. These twin realities will haunt the Steelers later.

12 – October 19th 2015 – Landry Jones Leads Steelers Over Cardinals

Never in the history of Steelers football has the third string quarterback position aroused so much passion in Steelers Nation has it has with the case of Landry Jones.

Even after a strong preseason in 2015, fans continued to question Landry Jones roster spot. The idea of “Landry Jones to the Rescue” was laughable to many. Yet Jones came off the bench to help the Steelers beat the Cardinals after an injury to Michael Vick.

13 – November 1st, 2015 – Steelers Lose to Bengals

The loss drops the Steelers to 4-4 and costs the Steelers the services of Le’Veon Bell to an MCL tear. It’s also the first game in which Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and Bell play together. The Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 offense power quartet’s total time on the field together last just over 1 quarter….

14 – November 5th 2015 – Cortez Allen’s Goes on IR

Really, Cortez Allen going on IR this is a culmination of a series of disappointing events, from Senquez Golson’s season-ending surgery to Shamarko Thomas’ benching to the acquisitions of Ross Cockrell and Brandon Boykin showing that essentially nothing has gone according to plan in the Steelers secondary in 2015.

15 – December 27th 2015 – Steelers lose to Ravens

With a clear shot at the playoffs, against a 4-10 team playing its backup quarterback, another Mike Tomlin team gets tripped up by a trap game.

And that’s the way it was for the Pittsburgh Steelers year two thousand fifteen. What will 2016 bring? Mike Tomlin and the Steelers will begin answering that on Sunday vs. the Cleveland Browns on the shores of Lake Eire.

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Épico triunfo de los Steelers contra los Broncos en Heinz Field

Todo parecía una maldita broma.

Los Pittsburgh Steelers llegaban a este domingo ubicados en el puesto 7 para 6 vacantes a la postemporada y al último juego como local en temporada regular.
Delante de ellos se alzaba la primera defensiva de la liga en puntos y yardas totales permitidas y en yardas por aire, y tercera defensiva contra el acarreo.

Los Denver Broncos eran el último gran escollo, que “en teoría”, separaba a los Steelers de la postemporada. Los otros contendientes directos, New York Jets y Kansas City Chiefs, habían ya ganado sus partidos de manera relativamente sencilla y esperaban.

El inicio del partido no podía ser más auspicioso. Luego de la primera serie fallida de los locales, Denver cedía el ovoide por fumble alrededor de su propia yarda 20.
La ofensiva de Ben Roethlisberger no dejó pasar la oportunidad y se llevó 7 puntos.
Luego de eso… todo fue cuesta abajo para nuestra defensiva.

La rotación de la tierra

Comencemos por decir que en 5 series ofensivas, Denver anotó TD en 4 (en la primera cedió el fumble ya mencionado):

  • La 31° defensiva en yardas aéreas estaba justificando con creces el lugar que ocupaba.
  • Era un festival para el juego aéreo.
  • Brock Osweiler, pasaba y anotaba TD acarreando, lucía más como John Elway que como el QB que realmente es.

El ex acerero WR Emmanuel Sanders recibió un pase en la más absoluta soledad del backfield producto de la confusión entre LBs y profundos, y luego de 61 yardas anotó el segundo TD de su equipo. Antes de finalizar el 1er cuarto Sanders tenía 8 recepciones, 100 yds y 1 TD.

Todo en la defensiva era un caos. Conversaciones presurosas antes de cada snap, movimientos de idas y vueltas de los profundos, cambios de posiciones, marcación en zona con mucho espacio de colchón para los receptores, cargas infructuosas…
Y todo para nada. Osweiler distribuía el ovoide a discreción.

  • 295 yardas totales permitidas por la defensiva en la primera mitad, 88 de ellas por tierra.
  • Ocho de ocho conversiones de 3er down.

Todo era lisérgico.
El marcador estaba en 27 a 13 para Denver.

Si bien se mira era un juego de 2 anotaciones, no parecía tan terrible…
A menos que uno haya estado mirando el partido: una cosa era el marcador y otra muy distinta las alternativas del juego.

Big Ben y su ofensiva habían logrado mantener a distancia de tiro el marcador.
Pero se sabía que si Denver poseía el ovoide anotaría TD. Era una verdad natural: como la rotación de la tierra.

Steelers Contra los Broncos: Noche y día

Lo que sucedió y se dijo dentro de ese vestidor es para nosotros un misterio y sólo pertenece al equipo.

  • La cuestión es que que Osweiler tenía la posesión del ovoide al comenzar el tercer cuarto. Había que pararlos YA!
  • Y la marea cambió.

Primer pase desviado en 2do y 20 por Ross Cockrell, y primer punt del partido para Denver.

  • Los profundos se pegaron a sus marcas, ya no había receptores libres.
  • Sanders desapareció del juego. La ofensiva visitante se vio obligada a despejar una y otra vez.

Denver terminó el 3er cuarto con un sólo 1er down en 4 series. No convertiría ni uno sólo más en todo el partido ya que finalizaría con 9 de 17 intentos
Ryan Shazier tuvo su primer INT de su carrera, en un momento clave que valdría 7 puntos más en el marcador.

Big Ben siendo Big Ben, Antonio Brown siendo Antonio Brown.

 

Enorme. Pero, para mí, aún con sus más de 180 yardas y sus 2 TD, su logro quedó opacado por la resurrección de la defensiva.

 

Cuando el partido se moría y parecía que al final teníamos amarrada la victoria, para terminar de destrozar nuestras coronarias, Ben lanzó una impensada intercepción que dió nueva vida a Denver que ya había fracasado en convertir un 4to down.

Menos de 2 minutos en la yarda 42 de Pittsburgh y perdiendo por 7, Osweiler tenía la oportunidad de empatar, transformarse en héroe e ir a OT.
Pero esa defensiva no estaba dispuesta a entregarse y cortó toda posibilidad de avance. Otro 4to down y fuera.

Increíblemente, los Steelers ganaron el juego más impensado de la temporada y de mucho tiempo:

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Los Pittsburgh Steelers remontaron un déficit de 17 puntos por primera vez desde 1997 contra los Colts.

Frases como “somos los Steelers y podemos ganar este juego y mucho más” dichas a medio tiempo, me parecían más bravuconadas de fans inflamados por el deseo que una posibilidad real.

  • No había sustento en la realidad para tal epopeya.

Se han cargado las tintas sobre Antwon Blake. Pero, si bien es cierto su bajo rendimiento y que no creo que deba ser titular, de alguna manera mantiene el favor del Coach Mike Tomlin. Es injusto, sin embargo, culpar sólo a él cuando lo que falló fue la defensiva entera.

Uno de los datos más llamativo, a mi juicio, es el número de pases defendidos. Los Steelers promediaban 4.23 pases desviados por partido. Así por ejemplo, contra los Bengals la semana pasada defendieron 5 pases, contra los Colts 8 y vs Seattle sólo 1.
En la primera mitad del partido no pudieron desviar ni tan solo uno de los 18 pases que lanzó Osweiler. Pero luego defendieron 10 pases. Y todo en una sola mitad!! Ryan Shazier fue el defensor más prolífico en este rubro con 3 desvíos, seguido de Will Allen con 2.

Coach Mike Tomlin se refirió a la remontada de la segunda mitad: Dijo que en el vestidor sólo le pidió a los jugadores que “dejaran de patearse el trasero”.

La sugerencia tuvo su efecto.

Enhorabuena.

El Dr. de Acero

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