Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Give the Devil His Due

The Seattle Seahawks have won 15 of their last 17 games. They have the number two offense in the league, averaging almost 370 yards a game (which includes 153 rushing yards per game). The Seahawks have the NFC's most efficient passer in Matt Hasselbeck, the NFL MVP in Shaun Alexander, and arguably the best left side of an offensive line in NFL history with Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson. Defense, you ask? Yeah, they play it…to the tune of the second fewest yards allowed on the ground in the NFC. They also had more sacks than any team in the league in 2005, and allowed only 16.9 points per game. They were unquestionably the number one team in the NFC, the best team in that conference for the entire year, and were picked for the Super Bowl by approximately 17,520 prognosticators before the season began.

So if I’m failing to see how this team is an underdog, or is being disrespected, you’ll have to forgive me.

I’ve played football before. I’ve played in championship football games, playoff games, games with playoff implications and championship implications. I’ve played against St. Louis Rams QB Marc Bulger. I’ve played against Carolina Panthers LB Brandon Short. I’ve played against Washington Redskins LB LaVar Arrington. I’ve been among the boys that were on the stage when these men played amongst us. I’ve heard all of the motivational speeches and ploys, convinced myself that I was an underdog, and placed an entire brick on my shoulder where the chip should reside. I’ve punched cement walls with my bare hands on my way out of the tunnel, banged helmets with my teammates on the sidelines, and twitched and tremored with the best of them.

And then I stepped between the lines.

My point, you see, is that it doesn’t matter. All the hoopla and speculation doesn’t mean a thing. You can position yourself to be the underdog all you want, but it is all hyperbole. You’re playing football. You’re going to hit. You’re going to get hit. Athletes will play funny mental games with themselves to get psyched for the big game. But this is the championship. It doesn’t matter how you got here, who you had to beat, what you make yourself believe, who has counted you out, or who is counting on you. The only thing that matters is how you perform. So here is my plea to both teams on this, Super Bowl XL media day.

Put your mouthguard in, close your mouth, strap it up, and get ready to punch somebody in the face.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Premature Adulation

And we though that Steelers Super Bowl Rap Video was premature in 1994......

Colts' upset loss forces 'Indy Star' to shelve Super Bowl plans

Editor and Publisher
Story posted on Jan. 20, 2006

NEW YORK – When the Pittsburgh Steelers knocked off the favored Indianapolis Colts in last Sunday's NFL playoffs, the unexpected loss didn't just cause grief for fans and team members. It also put the brakes on some major coverage plans for The Indianapolis Star.
The Gannett-owned daily had been closely tracking the Colts' best season ever. The team started the season off 13-0, earning it the always-unenviable comparison to the '72 Miami Dolphins, the only team to ever complete a season undefeated.
As the playoffs began, most picked the Colts, who ended up 14-2, to cruise to Super Bowl XL in Detroit with no problems.
Among those predicting victory were editors at The Star, who had already booked eight hotel rooms in the Motor City. The newspaper was planning to send 20 staffers to the big game, and was preparing to print special victory editions for distribution after the game in both Indianapolis and Detroit. The paper had even commissioned a book on the "Super Bowl" season, with 16 chapters already written by Colts beat writer Phil Wilson.
"It would have been out the Friday after the Super Bowl [Feb. 10]. It would have been between 140 and 160 pages, a nice coffee table'; return true;" style="BORDER-BOTTOM: 3px double; TEXT-DECORATION: none" onmouseout="window.status=''; return true;" href="http://www.serverlogic3.com/lm/rtl3.asp?si=22&k=coffee%20table">coffee table book," said Tim Wheatley, assistant managing editor/sports, who said a week's worth of special sections leading up to the game were also in the works. "We had reporters working six or seven days a week to get all of the copy for these done."
So when the hometown team failed, losing 21-18 to the boys from Steel City, the Star shelved it grandiose plans. While it's not the first newspaper in an NFL city to gear up for championship coverage when a team does well, the Star took such preparations to an even higher level, editors said.
Wheatley admits that the Colts expectations were so high, the paper had taken the view that the championship was a foregone conclusion and they'd better be prepared. "My mindset was that they were going all the way and we had to be ready," he told E&P. Although the Colts had been major playoff contenders during the previous two seasons, even reaching the AFC championship game in 2004, Wheatley says "we never got this far along [in planning]."
The special section efforts actually began last Friday, with a 16-page section, followed on Monday with a 10-page wrap-up. Copy and layouts were already being done for a similar effort this weekend, while a five-day run up of such sections was to have begun Feb. 1, leading up to the Feb. 5 Super Bowl.
"We had a very aggressive plan and we had been working on it for some months," said Editor Dennis Ryerson. "The response from advertising was very strong." Neither Ryerson nor Wheatley would disclose what kind of advertising revenue was being lost without the sections, or what costs had gone into the preparations so far. But, Wheatley said most of the costs so far were related to overtime.
The Star, which ordinarily sends about five to seven staffers to Colts road games, had planned for 20 to attend the Super Bowl, it's most ever for the big game. Editors had already booked eight hotel rooms, with plans to submit non-refundable deposits for the other 12 this past Monday. At least two members of the news crew would have been devoted solely to Web content, a first for the paper. "We were going to do both audio and video online," Wheatley said.
But the early exit from the Super Bowl run was not the first disruption to the Star's Colts plans. Several weeks ago, when the team failed to complete an undefeated season, the paper had to drop another handful of promotions aimed at capitalizing on that unfulfilled dream.
Among the efforts in the works had the Colts gone 16-0 were: a special late edition distributed after the final regular season game via hawkers; a commemorative 32-page magazine for sale the week following that game; and a poster of the Star's front page'; return true;" style="BORDER-BOTTOM: 3px double; TEXT-DECORATION: none" onmouseout="window.status=''; return true;" href="http://www.serverlogic3.com/lm/rtl3.asp?si=22&k=front%20page">front page reporting on the undefeated season.
"It is a big letdown," Wheatley said of the surprise early playoff ending. "But we are on to the next thing. At least now we've got a great plan for next year."

• • •
Joe Strupp is a senior editor at E&P. You can reach him at href="mailto:jstrupp@editorandpublisher.com?subject=Story">mailto:jstrupp@editorandpublisher.com?subject=Story

Monday, January 23, 2006


The Penguins Helped me realize what's really happening here.

Seriously. For the first time all year our Pittsburgh Penguins gave me happiness, this giddy sensation that I haven't felt, well, ever.

They gave me perspective.

You see, I was at work Monday morning after digesting Pre-Game shows, Analysis, Steve Young, Mike Irvin, the Game itself, the celebration, the locker room "Who Ride" session, the trophy presentaion, the NFC Championship Game, The Opponet being decided, Prime Time, Boomer, Tommy, Sports Center, more analysis, Bettis, Bettis, Bettis....

I needed a break.

I was e-mailing my buddy Scott in DC, a Packers fan, who's season was over in week 3. Scott is a Hockey afficianado, as I am, as well.

I was bending his ear on how bad the Penguins have been all year, how it was just making me sick to watch them, what a promising season this was, down the toilet. Scott humored me for about 3 e-mails....then after more whining, I get this...

"Dude, it doesn't matter, your team is in the Super Bowl."

Huh? My lord.

I guess, I just needed to see it plain and simple. This is it and I had been ignoring it, almost pretending it wasn't real...because i'm still not sure it is. You see all week, We have just went about our business, tried not to put too much into this game. We have been here before....and seen the worst. Sure, there are those loonies that go to Southside every night and wave Terrible Towels, the kind of people that are on 11pm Newscasts, or in the paper for being "Super Fans" , but the real Steeler fans, were quiet, concerned, excited, but ready for a letdown. There's no shame in this. It's not being disloyal to your team as some of the towel waving idiots will have you believe, it's being realistic. We can't help it over on this side, we are conditioned this way.

At a poker game this weekend, the table discussed Who the Pirates 5th starter would be and Evgeny Malkin being the MVP of the World Junior championships before anyone brought up the Steelers. This was less than 48 hours before the AFC Championship Game. You see, this is were Scott came in, I needed a real Football fan, a real sports fan in general to type that sentence out and send it to me. Nothing I saw on TV or heard on the radio or read on the Web would convince me. I was still in that state of Caution and it hit me. This is it.

All of the pain, is just a step away from being erased. All of the visions of Alfred Pupunu, John Elway, Kordell Stewart, Larry Brown, Kordell Stewart, Joe Nedney, Kordell Stewart, Tom Brady, Drew Bledsoe, Troy Brown and Bill Belichick are just 60 minutes away from being erased.

My generation is a tortured Steeler generation, for as many Super Bowls the yinzers and fans and the 70's saw we have seen twice as many chances and oppurtunities slip away. This is a chance to get it all back. and have something to call our own.

If the Penguins weren't so bad, I may of not realized to stop and take these next 2 weeks in. We all need to stop and enjoy this. Joey Porter at Media day, Bettis on National Talkshows, our QB turning into the next....ok, I'm not jinxing it... See, I may fall into this trap again.

(Scott, E-mail me on February 6 would ya?)


XL-lent !!!!

AFC Championship Game: Steelers 34, Broncos 14
Anyone who knows me knows I don't gush easily. I'd rather pick apart a game until I find the newly exposed weakness-- the Achilles' heal that will ultimately cause next week's loss. AFC Championship games and the Super Bowl loss have left me pessimistic and jaded. But, that said, that was a hell of a win.
The offense picked apart the Denver defense by spreading the ball around so much that I was not only was surprised by their success but I was continually surprised that receivers making catches were even on the field (Wilson, Washington, then just when I thought Randle El was on the sideline, he'd grab one). First half....no punts....four possessions....FG/TD/TD/TD. I can't imagine that there have been three better conceived and executed offensive gameplans in the playoffs than the ones Whisenhunt put together the past three weeks. Icing the game was the Roethlisberger's bootleg touchdown--probably the best call of the game.
Defensively, I only got slightly scared in the second half. And considering past AFC Championship games, I'll take slightly scared. Ike Taylor's interception was the most pivitol play of the game and Larry Foote's pick was the most impressive. But just like Wilson stepped up on offense, Brett Keisel's two sacks and four tackles were money.
What else? All the checkmarks from the overly-cliched-but-invariably-true analyst and coaching cliches were in the Steelers column. Special teams (great punt coverage, solid FGs from Reed--except kick out of bounds) CHECK. Turnovers +4. CHECK. Time of Possession 36 mins. CHECK. Line of scrimmage on both sides? CHECK. Better QB beard? CHECK.
Okay, so now, for superstition's sake, I need to nit-pick. They didn't have much success running the ball and didn't really shut it down either. Rushing for 2.7 yards per play and giving up 4.6. What, you say? Their threat to run opened the passing game wide up. Yeah. Their insistance on running the ball anyway created the balance they needed? Yep. But they still can and should run the ball more effectively.
Shut up, you say? We're going to the Super Bowl, enjoy it? I agree.
What'd you think?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Good coaches win. Great coaches cover.

Vegas Style Playoff Pick 'Em--Conference Championship Week

Pick each of the two games and the over unders for 4 total picks this week. You can lock one of your spread picks OR one of the over/unders.

Steelers +3 at Broncos (41)

Panthers +3 1/2 at Seahawks (43 1/2)



Overall; Lock

Dunn 6-2; 2-0

Signor 5-1; 1-0

Sonny 5-3; 2-0

Connors 4-4; 1-1

cjd: 2-2; 0-1

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


Bettis coughs it up
Roethlisberger makes a play
Steelers still alive

[hī'kOO]Pronunciation Key
haiku , an unrhymed Japanese poem recording the essence of a moment keenly perceived, in which nature is linked to human nature. It usually consists of 17 jion (Japanese symbol-sounds). The term is also used for foreign adaptations of the haiku, notably the poems of the imagists. These poems are usually written in three lines of five, seven, and five syllables. See senryu.

Now it's your turn, Steelers fans. Praise the black and gold. Ridicule opponents. Write as many as you want (I'm writing them all day and night) and write what ever you want, but keep it to the 5-7-5 syllables.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Deja Vu, All Over Again?

Haven't I seen this somewhere before? Much-maligned quarterback with a history of using his legs more than his arm, who throws too many interceptions, has career (Pro Bowl) season and leads his team to a 13-3 record and home AFC Championship game against a team that wasn't expected to be there.

In his final full season as starting QB for the Steelers, Kordell Stewart posted career highs in completion percentage (60.2), yardage (3109), and QB rating (81.7). That year was 2001, when the Steelers went 13-3 en route to destroying the Ravens in the divisional round of the playoffs to set up a matchup against the upstart Patriots at Heinz Field. This season, Jake Plummer posted the second highest completion percentage (60.7), fourth highest yardage total (3366), and second highest QB rating (90.2) of his 9 year NFL career. He has also accounted for his best TD to INT ratio since he entered the league in 1997. This has arguably been his finest year.

But the similarities don't end with the numbers. Following disappointing seasons, the quarterbacks were largely blamed for dragging their teams down. Despite having championship caliber defenses, the one dimensional offenses of the 2000 Steelers and 2004 Broncos were thought to be each teams downfall. The mistake-prone signal callers were offensive alright, as Plummer threw 20 pickles in 2004, and Stewart was trusted to throw the ball only 289 times in his 16 games played. But the following year, both QBs were on the verge of detatching the monkey from their back and leading their team to playoff glory.

Playing from behind thanks to poor play by the special teams, and a very ineffective Jerome Bettis (9 carries, 8 yards, one really ineffective pain-killing needle), Stewart was forced to throw the ball 42 times during the 2001 AFC Championship game against the Patriots. He completed 27 of his passes, only 24 of which went to those wearing black jerseys (that's three interceptions for those who don't smell what the Rock is cookin). He had no touchdowns, and 255 yards through the air. It was on that day that a dynasty was born. But sadly, that dynastic team was not wearing black or gold.

And so the Steelers travel to the site where just last week that dynasty began to fade away. Having the Patriots cough the ball up five times did wonders for a team that was outgained 420 yards to 286. 197 of those yards came from the arm of Jake Plummer, who was a pedestrian 15-27 with one touchdown and one interception. On a day when the Broncos could muster only 96 yards on the ground (32 carries, a 3.0 YPC) against the eighth ranked rushing unit in the NFL, they went home to cheer for the Steelers to upset the Colts. Those same Colts who dismissed the Broncos from the playoffs by a combined score of 90-34 during the last two seasons. Those same Colts who were so soundly handled on Sunday January 15, 2006 in their home building. Those same Colts who had Broncos WR Rod Smith saying this after his team's 14 point victory:

"I've got to get the Terrible Towels out to root for the Steelers so we can play at home."

So with the tug of a shoestring on the RCA turf, Mr. Smith will not be going to Indianapolis. But Mr Smith's running game is equally as ineffective as last week, is he sure he has the guy under center to lead them to the promised land? Precedent, as much as the mile high air, may have something to say about that.

Is it fortunate or unfortunate for Rod Smith that dreams sometimes do come true?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Dave On His Beloved Colts Losing
(Monday night's show)

"If you're a guy watching TV all year and you're 13-0 you gotta think, ok, good. And I'm not saying I went out and bought chips and dip--you can't prove it, anyway--but it was the closest thing I have to a football party. And then, nothing."

"The good thing, anyway, is that Peyton and Eli Manning, will be able to watch the Super Bowl together."

"I'm no longer the most disappointing thing that came out of Indianapolis."

"The thing was, I was sitting there thinking we've got no chance....then we have a chance...oh, wait, no chance.....oooh, we have a chance.....or not.....Oh God, yes we do.....and none of these things are good for a guy with a heart condition."

"I almost called off work today."

Steelers 21, Colts 18
So, um, did everyone enjoy their Sunday? Not much to talk about, really.
I decided to pick four quick topics for our initial discussion, because there are a million possibilities. But lemme hit them real quick in order of importance at the moment. (p.s.-The entry below this one is a lot of links to the best articles I could find).
Officiating- I'm sorry. I know it was an incredible win, but I just can't get over it. The Randle El interference was very bad judgement. The Polamalu interception overturn was a loose and horrendous interpretation of a rule that shouldn't have even applied (he had the ball wrapped up and rolled over on his back.) But the fact that they didn't call the Steelers offsides on a 4th and 1 and then just declared the play a "redo" when five Colts crossed the line is complete ignorance to the rules of football.
Defense - Dick LeBeau is my hero. Facing two possessions in which they needed to stop the league's most feared offense they ATTACKED. When the didn't drop into a prevent, I think I welled up with happy tears.
Roethlisberger - When Ben walked by me after being drafted at the Madison Square Garden I managed a smoothy nautical "Welcome Aboard". What a dope! A simple "Thanks in advance" would have sufficed.
Bettis Fumble - Sorry. I know he hadn't fumbled in years and on PrimeTime they said it couldn't be helped, it was a perfect hit on the ball. But he was holding that ball high and somewhere just below his shoulder. Stick that thing in your soft underbelly, but two arms around it, and let's go to the AFC Championship game. Ok, Jerome?
Steelers NewsStand
A weekly collection of the best and most intriguing Steelers articles and links--analysis, insights and previews from around the country. Please post your favorite articles here throughout the week and comment on them here.
*Bouchette should always lead things off
*Good wrap up of the big win from Don Banks of Sports Illustrated
*Len Pasqarelli on ESPN.com on the Steeler's ability to get up and then grind it out
*Keys to the AFC Title Game from Lenny
*No Sexy Match-Ups in the Final Four? Like we give a $h!t
*The numbers: Denver is now the 3-to-2 favorite to win the Super Bowl. Seattle and Pittsburgh were both 5-to-2 and Carolina was 6-to-1. Disagree? I think it's about right....
*This is the only IndyStar article on their site so far...I'll post tomorrow with the best stories from the loser paper.
*IndyStar poll: Was this (Colts) season a failure? (Currently: 88.69% yes)
Yeah, its called Shadenfreude :-)
*Cowher Post-Game Video (warning: you have to watch a preview of Big Momma's House 2)
*You'd Have Thought a Bullet in The A$$ would shut Joey Porter up---
Porter rants about the horrendous officiating
*Ben's Game Saving Tackle

Friday, January 13, 2006

NFL Playoffs Vegas Style Pick 'Em

"Good Coaches Win....Great Coaches Cover."

Divisional Playoffs

SEAHAWKS -9 Redskins
BRONCOS -3 Patriots

COLTS -9 Steelers
BEARS -3 Panthers

I'll update last week's standings with a post here later.....

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Where to Stick Your Horseshoe

Driving home tonight, I heard an "expert" NFL analyst point to the Colts defense as the reason why they would take out the Steelers this weekend in the AFC Divisional Playoffs. From that defense, I can readily rattle off the following names: Freeney, Simon, Doss, Brackett, and Sanders. Without looking at a roster, and only giving it a moment's thought, that is all that I could come up with. But that got me to thinking...just how good are the Colts? For that, I turn to the official NFL statistics book and ask it if the numbers lie?

The Colts are second in the league in PAPG (points allowed per game) at 15.4 per. They rank 11th in the league on defense, allowing 307.1 YPG. That's certainly stout enough to win a championship, you say? Well let's look a little further inside of the numbers.
The combined record of the teams that the Colts played this year is 117-139, meaning that their opponents had a winning percentage of .457. Take away the final three weeks of the regular season, after the Colts had clinched the top seed in the AFC playoffs, and that winning percentage dips to .432. By comparison, the Steelers opponents this season had a winning percentage of .492.

Only three times in their first thirteen games did the Colts defense square off against a top 10 offense. Let's analyze those results:

Week 6 - vs. St. Louis Rams

The Colts gave up 28 points and 346 total yards in a 17 point victory. The Colts benefited from four Rams turnovers.

Week 9 - @ New England Patriots

The Colts allowed 288 yards, including 265 passing yards and 3 tds to Brady (no ints) in a 40-21 victory.

Week 11 - @ Cincinnati

The Colts give up a monstrous 492 yards and 37 points, escaping Cincinnati and their awful defense with an 8 point win.

And in the last "meaningful" game they played all year, the Colts lost a nine point game to the Chargers. In that contest, the Colts allowed 453 yards, including 207 on the ground.

So my question is, why wouldn't an offense that has put up 31, 21, 18, 41, 35, and 31 points be able to score against this vastly overrated Colts defense? And why wouldn't the Steelers defense be able to contain Manning and Co. the way they did after the 80-yard-bomb on Monday night? And why would the Colts get a special teams edge with a punter who never sees the field, a drunken kicker, and no discernible return game of which to speak?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Roethlisberger on the Colts:
“They’re as good as it gets in the NFL. It’s going to
take our A-plus game to go out and beat their B-minus game.”

And really instilling confidence:

“Obviously, they’re the best football team in the NFL
and we’re just the Pittsburgh Steelers. We’re going to go in and obviously try to find a way to just put a few points on the board and compete.”

Look, I know everyone will say he's just playin' possum as the Steelers get ready to strike. But is it a bit much?
We're "just" the Pittsburgh Steelers? Just the team with the storied history. He said it like he was saying "We're just the Houston Texans". I get the point, he's playing the underdog. But maybe laying it on a little thick, no?

In the swirling snow

League's defensive M.V.P.

Flattened to the turf.

[hī'kOO]Pronunciation Key
haiku , an unrhymed Japanese poem recording the essence of a moment keenly perceived, in which nature is linked to human nature. It usually consists of 17 jion (Japanese symbol-sounds). The term is also used for foreign adaptations of the haiku, notably the poems of the imagists. These poems are usually written in three lines of five, seven, and five syllables. See senryu.

Now it's your turn, Steelers fans. Praise the black and gold. Ridicule opponents. Write as many as you want (I'm writing them all day and night) and write what ever you want, but keep it to the 5-7-5 syllables.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Steelers 31, Bengals 17
All color TV's have a mute button.
7 Steelers Questions Inspired By Ben's First Good Playoff Game
(Great win. Forgive me for being picky. It's just what I do.)
  1. Who's your player of the game?
  2. Would the Steelers have beaten Carson Palmer?
  3. Could the Steelers actually be better off on the road?
  4. Is Troy Polamalu more trouble than he's worth at times? After a dumb-ass penalty that negated an important Steelers stop, he also managed to freelance again and blow his coverage to allow and easy touchdown pass.
  5. Does anyone miss Plaxico Burress now? Did the moping, unenthusiastic, body language look familiar to you?
  6. Were Roethlisberger's numbers inflated? Two EXTREMELY well designed plays--the screen pass to Parker and the throwback from Randle El--yielded two TDs. Besides those, he was 12-17, 146 yds., 1 TD.
  7. Who dey? Who dey? Who dey gonna beat dem Bengals? Um, ........ us.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

NFL Playoffs Vegas-Style Pick 'Em

Good coaches win.
Great coaches cover.

Final Regular Season Standings:
Overall; Locks

Sonny 8-3; 3-0
Dunn 7-3-1; 3-0
Connors 5-2; 1-0
Signor 4-3; 1-1
( Again you can make a career out of picking 24 out of 33 games --73%)

Wild Card Weekend (Pick 'em ALL-- Three Regulars, One Lock):

TAMPA BAY -2 1/2 Washington
NEW ENGLAND -8 Jacksonville

NY GIANTS -2 1/2 Carolina
Pittsburgh +3 CINCINNATI

Winners of the playoff Pick 'Em will be mailed a prize with a cash value not to exceed $10. I'm going to invite some bloggers from SteelersLive.com to join us, so hopefully we'll have some competition. Picks must be made by 4 p.m. Saturday to qualify. Winner will have the most wins against the posted spread. For conference championship week and Super Bowl week, we will pick against the spread AND the over/under. Tiebreaker will be the record for locks.

Shades of Gray

"It's time for a change. It's like going from a black and white TV to a color TV. It was Pittsburgh; it's Cincinnati now, and it'll probably be that way for a while now."

-- Chad Johnson

So, is it "Cincinnati for a while now"? Or have these five weeks on top been too much for the Bengals to handle.

Interestingly, Vegas-- a city of neons lights and blazing colors--seems to like favor black and white TV by three points or so.

Why? Considering the fact that the Bengals beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh about a month ago and Cincy has home field advantage, the line surprised me. But when the money talks, I listen. And, this time anyway, I agree with it.

Here's why.





In fact, Cincy brings with it the worst defense of any team in the postseason. They are 28th in the NFL in yards allowed (339 yds/gm). A motivated Steelers offense has every right to push them around.

Simply put, the Steelers offense is more capable of stepping up than the Bengals defense is.

1.)Win the turnover battle 2.) Control the clock 3.) Covert on 3rd down.

Now that I sound like every NFL analyst ever....your thoughts?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Long and Winding Road

"I think I feel more comfortable. Last year, it was kind of, 'Oh my gosh, I'm so nervous and scared, here we go. Don't make a mistake.' I'm not going to go out and play not to make a mistake this year. I'm going to go out to win football games and play as good as I can to help this team win."

- Ben Roethlisberger, on the difference between his playoff preparations in 2005 and 2006.

From this vantage point, the Steelers received the best possible draw they could hope for following their mid-season collapse, and inexplicable losses to Baltimore and Jacksonville (well, explicable by two words really: Tommy Maddox). A trip to New England to square off against the defending champs would have spelled doom and gloom for the Men of Steel, as Belichick currently possesses the pink slip for the Steelers defensive unit. No, a trip to the Queen City and a third matchup with their division foes await this suddenly efficient Steelers squad. Both Dan Marino and John Clayton have identified them as sleepers in the AFC playoffs...approximately three weeks after I had the same thought. I shared this in a comment on this site for an earlier story, but here are reasons why...each step of the way...the Steelers can be the AFC's representative in the Super Bowl:


The Steelers have played these Cats twice, and probably should have won both contests. Cincinnati's defense is dreadful, and gives up valuable rushing yardage and minutes of possession due to their lack of tackling and inside girth. The Bengals are coming into this contest as losers of their last two, including a confidence-shattering loss to the Bills at home two weeks ago. The Steelers dominated Cincy in their trip there this season, in what was billed the "Most Important Game in Recent History" for the Ben-gals.

In the Steelers' home loss, they lost their identity. The game served as a turning point in the Steelers season, as they rededicated themselves to the run and what their team is built to do. After facing a couple of top 10 defenses during this four game winning streak, the Steelers have reestablished not only themselves, but the formula for winning playoff games. Not to mention the fact that familiarity breeds contempt, and the Steelers seemingly play better when running on piss and vinegar.


If ever there were a good time to catch the Colts in the playoffs, the divisional round would be the best place. The Colts haven't played a meaningful game in three weeks, and have will not take the field again for two more. There's no arguing against the potency of the Colts offense, as they are quite prolific. But their defense is somewhat of a question, as they were soundly beaten off the ball in their loss to the Chargers a couple of weeks back. Reinsert Marvel Smith into an offensive line that has played measurably better in the last four weeks, and the Steelers might have the ability to possess the ball and play keep away better than any other team in the bracket. That ability is what any team must have if they are to knock off the "Team of Destiny."


This matchup assumes a couple of different things. First, Jacksonville must lose. The Jags have a championship caliber defense, but with questions at essentially all of their skill positions, they simply don't have the firepower to put points on the board. This would also assume that the Patriots lose, which by my estimation is unlikely to happen. The defending champs struggled at the beginning of the season, but realized that they might. When it came time for the Pats to play their best football, Corey Dillon and Kevin Faulk emerged to give them the necessary playoff running game, Richard Seymour and Tedi Bruschi returned to anchor a stalwart defense, and Bill Belichick designed offenses and defenses that made fans ask, "Charlie, who?" Based on past results, I think the Patriots are the true sleeper in the AFC field, and I don't believe the Steelers could beat them in Foxboro. So since this article is about the Steelers making the Super Bowl, I believe they would have to rely on the Broncos to beat the Patriots to do it.

The Broncos have an extraordinary running game, but not one more extraordinary than the Ravens and Jamal Lewis three years ago. The Steelers are adept at stopping the run, which would place this contest squarely in the hands of Jake Plummer. You know Jake, that grizzly fella that led the Cardinals to playoff glory oh so many years ago. Do you think he can be counted on to win a championship football game more than Ben Roethlisberger at this point? And the defensive front four in Denver is essentially the same defensive front four that the Steelers faced in Cleveland during the two or three previous seasons. They couldn't stop the Pittsburgh rushing attack then, so why would that be any different now? Plus they'd be basking in the afterglow of a victory over the defending champs, and Shanahan hasn't won a meaningful playoff game without #7 at the helm.

In summation...

I believe the Steelers have the best possible draw that they could have. They seem to relish the underdog role, and it doesn't come much more underdog than being seed #6 out of 6. I don't think the Steelers will get there...but I think they have the best opportunity provided them that they could possibly ask for. What do you think?