Well, the state of the team is pretty darn good right now. The Super Bowl win has been covered to death so I’ll just lead you here, here and here and let you start to explore for yourself.
So the talk now is whether this was the greatest Supgreatest Super Bowl everer Bowl ever. I think for me personally, it is because I had a personal stake in the game. But it wasn’t the greatest Super Bowl game ever. There are at least half a dozen ahead of it. The way I see it, a game is declared exciting if it’s decided within a minute or so of the end of the game. A good game is a game that’s not only decided late, but involves a tight score throughout the game where you can never make a prediction of who is going to win. In that sense, this game wasn’t one of the greatest. Pittsburgh was ahead for 3 quarters and it sure looked to everyone watching like they were going to win. It wasn’t until the safety that got the Cards within one score that people started to take notice. Even if you want to say that a great game is one that is decided in the last minute, regardless of the rest of the game, this isn’t the best. Super Bowl XXXVIII and Super Bowl XXXIV were both decided on the final play (XXXVIII was Adam Vinatieri’s game winner over the Panthers and XXXIV was Mike Jones’ game saving tackle of Dyson at the 1 yard line to put the Rams over the Titans). And that’s just the last 10 years. Super Bowls X, XXV, and XXXVI were also decided on the last play. So if XLIII wasn’t the greatest because of it’s last minute suspense, and it wasn’t the greatest due to 4 quarters of suspense, then it isn’t the greatest ever. Sorry.
John Clayton at espn.com says the Steelers are one of a handful of teams we could see in the Super Bowl again next year. I want to see what happens with free agency first, but I have a bad feeling about this team next year. I think Clayton makes a good point with the easy schedule next year. But I think with the decent play in the Super Bowl by some free agents (I’m looking your way O-Line), we may see a lot of new faces next year. I wouldn’t expect those new faces to be upgrades, either. I think we’ll have at least 2 new offensive linemen next year. They weren’t the most talented unit in the NFL, but they were starting to gel a bit towards the end of the season. It’s a shame we won’t be able to continue that momentum. I don’t think the Steelers will be bad. I see us above .500 and competing for a division title (same old same old around here). But I sure wouldn’t pencil us in for Miami next year quite yet. Lets hope they prove me wrong.
- Congrats on reaching the top of your profession. Now, embarrass yourself for a bunch of cameras.
There are a lot of theories out there on what will happen on Sunday. Too many to link to, so I’ll just list some stories here that have been repeated a lot and give my take.
Coach Whisenhunt knows the offense: Ed Bouchette of the Post Gazette has this one pretty well nailed. Coach Whis knows the gist of the Steeler blitzing schemes. So does every other coach that looks at tape of previous Steeler games. The real benefit here is that Whisenhunt knows the offensive players psyche’s better than anyone. But the impact from that is minimal at best.
Wow. The Cardinal receiving corps is good: Well, there’s some merit to this one, but I think this is akin to saying that Einstein was smart. Everyone recognizes this as a major matchup, but no one know really how it will play out. I’ve heard a lot of people suggest that the Steelers just need to get pressure on Kurt Warner. Easier said than done. But I think the Cardinal receivers are best downfield. Making them go to quick timing routes would get them out of their comfort zone and be a good offshoot of blitzing even if we don’t get to Warner.
Will Hines play/be effective?: It’s obvious he wants to play. I think with the entire off season to rest, I’d expect him to play. Remember Terrell Owens a few years ago in the Super Bowl playing with a sprained ankle and fractured fibula? As long as he can stand and he won’t do permanent damage, he’ll be out there. As for being effective? We’ll see. TO had 9 catches for 122 yards in Super Bowl XXXIX (Wikipedia). Hines is better and tougher than TO, right?
Arizona is a bunch of newbies to the Super Bowl. The Steelers are experienced: I don’t buy this one as an advantage at all. Just look at Super Bowl XXXVI (New kids on the block Patriots beat experienced Rams. Start dynasty). Or Super Bowl XLII (Inexperienced New York Giants beat said Patriots. Hopefully end dynasty).
Overall, my impression of this game is that it will be one of tempo. If it turns into a track meet, I don’t think anyone will favor Pittsburgh. I think the Steelers will try to make sustained drives and just keep that dangerous Arizona offense on the sidelines. I think the Cardinals will use their run game to open up the passing game and get a lot of big plays. Just like a college basketball game, the slower tempo usually will win out. However, the team that prefers the slower tempo doesn’t always win. One of the beautiful things about football is that points are the result of sustained drives that require a lot of effort, but they can be gained through gambles in a pinch. So one team can dominate a game, but if they don’t go up by 3 or 4 scores, the game isn’t over. The Cardinals are very capable of cashing in on some of those gambles.
I see the Steelers blitzing as usual, and forcing some short passes over the middle. It’s up to the secondary to turn those into incompletions. I think our offense should be able to put up a few touchdowns on the Cardinals. Although they have improved over the course of the playoffs, the Arizona defense is still one of the weaker defense we will have seen in the post season. It’ll be an entertaining game at the very least.
- We’re going to the Super Bowl. ‘Nuff said.
- msnbc.com says the two teams are total contrasts.
- ESPN says the Steelers must nurse their bruises from the Baltimore game before heading to Tampa.
- Anquan Boldin is apparently a jerk. At least to people who don’t know him on a personal level.
I could keep linking things because there’s a lot out there, but I’ll stop for now. There’s plenty of time in the next two weeks to get to a lot of links. Believe me: with 2 weeks of airtime to fill, the media will leave no stone unturned. …and of course I’ll be talking about the Steelers intermittently in the next two weeks with my usual stats nerd slant.
So I’m really intrigued by this Steeler defense vs. Cardinal offense matchup. Arizona has a ton of weapons on the offensive side of the ball, and they’re very balanced (despite the number of times you’ll hear the name Larry Fitzgerald in the coming weeks). Not only that, they’re probably the hottest unit in the league right now. It’s scary how much they’re clicking on all cylinders. So that offense vs. the number 1 defense in the league is juicy. Throw in the fact that half of Arizona’s coaching staff are former Steeler employees and you’ve got yourself a chess match. Coach Wiz is very familiar with Dick LeBeau’s blitzing schemes. So you better believe LeBeau is cooking up some new stuff and I can’t wait to see it. I don’t think we’ll have a problem with the run. But at first glance, I don’t like Larry Fitzgerald vs. our corners because of his leaping ability. He’s 6-3 and our tallest corner is Ike Taylor at 6-2. That’s a wash, but Larry can jump out of the stadium. All you have to do is throw the ball up and he uses a terrific combination of speed, leaping ability, timing and hands to come down with it. If you don’t believe me, ask a Pitt fan. He single handedly made Rod Rutherford into a decent QB.
On the other side of the ball, I see an opportunity. I’ve heard a couple (but, I’ll admit not many) talking heads mention Arizona’s surprising defense as a reason for their recent success. Not true at all. Philly moved the ball up and down the field this weekend and left some points on the field (they’re still wondering who kidnapped David Akers in Philly), and STILL put up 25 points on them. That’s not the sign of a good defense to me. Plus, I didn’t see a good job by the Cardinals of keeping McNabb in the pocket or covering the receivers over the middle. Those are two things that will play right into the Steelers hands.
So that’s just a quick first impression analysis. I like the matchup if I’m Pittsburgh. I think we just need to keep Arizona from out-scoring us (easier said than done, I guess). But I see some things to worry about (as always). I did absolutely no research before this, so there are no stats to back up any arguments. I’ll come back later with some hardcore number crunching for you.
So, the Steelers have made it to another AFC championship game. It seems like an annual occurrence, or at least biannual at worst. Make sure you Steeler fans out there appreciate that. It’s exceedingly difficult to reach this level of success year in and year out. However, it’s exceedingly frustrating to get tripped up by it as much as the Steelers have.
As for the matchup this week: its a mystery. The way these two teams play defense, there is a very good chance that neither team will break the 20 point barrier. That means one fluke play can be the difference. One key play here and there are all that decided the first two, after all. So this basically comes down to a coin flip, and anyone that tells you different is thinking at too much of a detailed level and missing the big picture.
However, there are some interesting things to watch for. The offensive line was, well, not offensive against San Diego (as opposed to the rest of the year). Now there is a HUGE gap between the defensive lines from Cleveland and what the Chargers put out there on Sunday, and what Baltimore will bring next weekend. Can the O-line carry the momentum? I’m thinking no, but I’d love to be proved wrong. Another story is Ben. He wasn’t forced into scrambling last weekend, so we didn’t get to really answer the question of how tentative he would be. With the Raven’s blitzing schemes, that will change. Will he actually throw the ball away more? (fat chance) Will he make some ill-advised passes to get rid of the ball quickly and not get hit? (getting warmer) Will he go back to being the same old risk/reward Ben? (I hope so)
Should be an interesting week in the ‘Burgh. I shudder to think what would happen if our Black ‘n Gold blow another championship game in Heinz Field. I would think that you would put a watch on the bridges for jumpers, but there’s just way to many of them in Pittsburgh. I happen to have worked for a summer in Ballimer and lived to tell about it, so I can assure you I will watch this game with a lot of interest and I’ll have a full report next week.
Side Note: I just got done watching the Pens beat the Flyers 4-2. Moving the cookie monster to the first line was genius. I’ve been complaining for awhile now that we need more scrappers. Well, Therrien didn’t have any coming, so he moved one to a place where he can be more productive and it’s already paid off in a goal. I wish I would have thought of that, but that’s why Therrien gets paid to be a coach and I don’t I guess.
- So if you’ve been living under a rock, your back must be killing you. And we get the Chargers next week. Ok. That will be all for the really cheesy jokes. You’re welcome.
- The word right now is that Ben’s a go.
- The Chargers have their own injury worries with LaDainian Tomlinson not looking so good and Antonio Gates playing hurt. (Anyone remember him tearing up Pitt in the sweet sixteen? I still hate him for that).
So the Steeler’s defense is pretty solid. That’s a fact. I won’t even talk about them as a show of ultimate trust. Honestly, if you lead the league in passing defense, rushing defense and total defense, there really can be no complaints. The Chargers have a terrific rushing attack (even if LT doesn’t play, Darren Sproles is a terrific back), but I don’t see that as the key aspect of the game. The Steeler’s D will keep them in check for the most part. They really haven’t given up a huge game to anyone this year. The offense for Pittsburgh, however, is another story. I think the Steelers fell into the same trap that Pitt did. They remembered that this town really likes solid defenses, but forgot that you need at least one point to win.
A couple of questions for us on offense. The first one is our quarterback. Ben has always been the play-maker, but will he still be able to play at his highest after suffering a concussion (assuming he even plays at all)? No one can answer that but him. But I’m not too worried. If he doesn’t look right, we have the luxury of a tested winner as a backup with Leftwich. If Roethlisberger plays, you can bet Tomlin will be loyal to him and let him make more than one mistake before he yanks him. But Tomlin’s not an idiot. He won’t leave Ben out there if he can’t win.
The squad getting the most blame is the offensive line. The Steelers have put up the worst rushing numbers in recent memory, and Ben’s been sacked so many times that he finally couldn’t hold off the odds of a concussion. Now, like any situation, there are two sides of the story. The Steelers have had a ton of injury problems at running back this season, and Ben’s tendency to hold on to the football longer than he should is well documented. My view is that the O line is definitely the weak link on the team. Ben scrambles a lot to extend plays, but he usually stays in the pocket for only the typical 3 seconds or so. Most of the sacks he has taken this year have been inside the pocket where he has a reasonable expectation of how long he has to throw. The running back problem is nothing that has stopped us before. The Steelers have a long history of relying heavily on their backs, which generally results in a lot of injuries. This has never stopped the Steelers from racking up huge rushing numbers before because they’ve always been good at following their blocking schemes, holding their defender up for just enough time to get a hole, and letting the back get into the second level of the defense. It has never been hard to be a running back for the Steelers. That’s why we keep finding these guys like Willie Parker and Mewelde Moore. The Steeler’s offense has made names for a lot of backs because it’s very easy to roll up big games when every time you touch the ball you can usually get 3 yards before even meeting a defender. This year, however, it doesn’t seem like the offense can hold anyone up for any length of time. One of the secrets of the Steelers is that they don’t ask their offensive linemen to dominate the defensive linemen. They only ask them to hold them up for 2 seconds to give the halfback a hole. It seems like this year, they aren’t capable of that. But they are improving. Remember that Eagles game at the beginning of the year? We thankfully haven’t seen another performance like that again. We’ll see if they’ve improved enough to punch a ticket to the AFC championship game.