Category Archives: Playoffs

The Super Six

The Super Six

The Pittsburgh Steelers are Super Bowl XLIII Champions.  How sweet it is to bring back another Vince Lombardi Trophy to the city of Pittsburgh.  It is well deserved.

I had to wait a few days to write this blog to let the victory sink in.  To be honest, I am still in the process of reading every Super Bowl article on the internet still.  You name it, the Post Gazette, Tribune-Review, ESPN, CBS SportsLine, Yahoo! Sports, etc.  I just can't get enough of this Super Bowl victory.  It was perhaps the most emotional game I have ever watched.  I can honestly say that I thought destiny (and the referees) were against us when I saw Larry Fitzgerald score a touchdown, to take the lead, with just under 3 minutes remaining.  I thought the game was over.

Then, our franchise QB, Ben Roethlisberger marches 88 yards down the field (in spite of a holding call on Darnell Stapleton).  To cap off the drive and the Super Bowl victory, Santonio Holmes made one of the best catches I have ever seen and possibly the best catch in Super Bowl history.  Give huge props to Big Ben Roethlisberger; he put together possibly the best 2-minute drive in Super Bowl history.

I won't review the game since you all have probably seen all the highlights and read all the analysis you can handle at this point.  However, in a future post, I will add all the Super Bowl XLIII highlights to our Steelers photo and highlight gallery.  What I will review is a few plays and thoughts from the Super Bowl.

James Harrison returns interception for 100-yards
The interception return was easily one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history and is now in the record books as the longest play for a touchdown in Super Bowl history.  I couldn't believe what I was watching and was going crazy in watching him go yard-by-yard on the way to a pick-six.  I think I was gasping for air just as much as James Harrison was by the time he reached the end zone.  That play was simply unbelievable.  That was most likely, at a minimum, a 10-point swing.

Troy Polamalu lining up face-to-face with Larry Fitzgerald
I personally think this matchup wasn't talked about nearly enough and should have been one of the post-game story lines.  Larry Fitzgerald, the best athlete on the Arizona Cardinals (and best WR  in the NFL) matched-up with Troy Polamalu whom is equally as athletically gifted.  Polamalu played bump and run with Fitzgerald to try to slow him up a bit and delay him from 'hitting his routes'.  The media downplayed this matchup.  Most people questioned why Kurt Warner didn't get the ball in Fitzgerald's hands earlier but you can't throw the ball to the guy if he's double and sometimes triple covered.  Give Ken Whisenhunt credit for moving Fitzgerald around later in the game to get better matchups.  I thought Dick Lebeau and the Steelers D should have started moving Troy Polamalu around to 'spy' Fitzgerald later in the game.  They didn't do it and you saw what happened.  Fitzgerald started torching our secondary.

Larry Fitzgerald scoring with just under 3 minutes to play
This was a devastating play and it really showcased why Fitzgerald is the best in the business.  He's got the intelligence, the speed, leaping ability, and the hands to dominate in this league.  I really thought this was going to end up being the game winning touchdown.  Larry lined up in the slot, beat his man, split the seam and was off to the races.  Troy Polamalu took a gamble and the Steelers defense paid the price.  Polamalu was over aggressive and attacked the out pattern which opened up a huge hole down the middle of the field.

Larry Fitzgerald beating Ike Taylor on the fade route
This is just another showcase of this guys ability.  Also, give props to Ike Taylor because he had absolutely incredible coverage.  It's just that if Fitzgerald gets his hands on that football in a "jump ball" situation, he almost always comes down with it.

The play of Big Ben
In watching this game, Ben Roethlisberger had an absolutely incredible game and really deserved the MVP award and that's not taking anything away from Santonio Holmes because he had an amazing game as well.  Ben Roethlisberger made some plays that showcased why he's an elite quarterback in this league.  His scrambling ability to buy time in the pocket was amazing.  In particular, the throw to Heath Miller in the first quarter while buying time and throwing across his body displayed his underrated athleticism, arm strength and his field vision.  Steve Young said it best (and I'm NOT a Steve Young fan) when he asked Ben, 'How do you do that', 'Do you have eyes in the back of your head'.  It sure seems that way, Young.

The playmaking of Roethlisberger doesn't stop there either.  His pump fakes caused the Arizona Cardinals cornerbacks major headaches as well as his ability to extend the play in the pocket.  His accuracy was "spot-on" in the biggest game in the world (or maybe I should refer to the Planet hereJ ).  For example, his 1st down throw to Holmes on the last drive displayed his accuracy and arm strength.  His throw out of the end zone (which resulted in a safety due to the Hartwig bogus holding penalty) was equally impressive.  His 2-minute drive was typical Ben fashion.  Even though I'll admit that I wasn't confident at the point, I knew that with Big Ben this game was not over.

The game winning touchdown pass to Holmes in the end zone was perfect.  It couldn't have been thrown in any other place.  If Ben threw that ball a foot to the left, it's intercepted.  If Ben throws that ball a foot to the right, it's out of Holmes' reach.  Ben was simply incredible on the biggest stage in the world and in my mind, is well on his way to becoming a Hall of Famer.  Did I mention he's only 26?

Holmes Breakout Party (and a bit on Hines)
The play of Holmes' was equally as impressive.  He just made play after play after play.  I give him huge credit because I knew that the extra coverage was going to be rolled his way because of the injury to Hines Ward.  I thought the first reception to Hines Ward was instrumental because it scared the Cardinals in thinking that he was healthier than what he really was and opened the door for Holmes.

Hines played more of a decoy role in this game but he's equally as good.  The guy is a flat out football game that plays the game the way it was meant to be played.  Hines Ward plays tough, healthy/hurt, emotional, physical and great.  He's the ultimate Steeler and I can't wait to see him inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

With Ward not being 100%, it was time for Santonio to step up.  And step up he did, by winning himself the Most Valuable Player honors.  The media hype up rookie Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie all week and said he would shut down one of the Steelers receivers.  Well, that was far from the truth.  I think Holmes took a little offense to that as well.  Cromartie was used and abused by Holmes all game.  It was a complete mismatch and the Steelers exploited it.

Other Notes:

Offensive Line - While they played a decent game, especially the tackles (wow, did I really say that?) it just makes me wonder how good Big Ben would be with a solid o-line.  I think we'll see the offensive line addressed this offseason.  I am predicting that they'll be one new starter at guard and tackle come next year.  Our offensive line in short yardage situations is a terrible though.  The Steelers failed to score a touchdown on two occasions (1inside the 10 yard line, and 1 on the inch yard line) that could have put this game WAY out of reach, early.

Coaching - Overall, I think the coaching was good.  Both Whisenhunt and Tomlin had their guys prepared to play.  I'm more impressed with Mike Tomlin more than ever now.  I guess a Super Bowl victory in your second season will do that.  Bruce Arians had a better than expected game plan but I would have thought, I'd see more passes to Heath Miller especially with the early success.   Dick Lebeau had a great game plan as well but that is nothing new.  It's great that he'll be back next season!

Linebackers - The Steelers 'backers had an amazing game.  Harrison is simply a beast and must be accounted for on every play.  Woodley is an all-pro type player and we should be lucky to have him and he's only in his second year!  He dominated Levi Brown all day and clinched the game with the forced fumble.  Foote is still solid and very good against the run.  James Farrior is Mr. dependable and is the leader on defense.  He had a great game and is well deserving of his Pro Bowl status.  Farrior is playing like he's 24 years old, not 34.  It's a credit to his preparation.  Lawrence Timmons is a star in the making.  Timmons has his troubles in run defense, but he's great in pursuit, an explosive hitter, great in coverage, and has speed and burst.

O-line Final Challenge

The Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line has one more big challenge for the 2008-2009 NFL season.  And what a challenge it is, for the Pittsburgh Steelers 6th Super Bowl victory.  Truth be told, I think the Steelers offensive line issues have not received enough publicity this week. 

The NFL analysts have been more interested in Larry Fitzgerald and the Steelers defense more than anything else.  But the game could and probably will be decided up front on both sides of the ball.  The Steelers offensive line will have their hands full to say the least.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm are very familiar with the Steelers sub-par offensive line.  They know their strengths and weakness and you can expect that both have been relaying their knowledge to the defensive staff of the Arizona Cardinals. 

The Steelers have the advantage in run blocking against the Cardinals.  The Cardinals are an undersized front and are not nearly aggressive up-front as teams the Steelers are used too and have played against.  The New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, San Diego Chargers, New York Giants, Cleveland Browns, etc are all bigger and more aggressive defensive fronts that the Steelers have faced.  I would expect that the Steelers should be able to run on the Cardinals.  And make no mistake about it; we need Parker, Moore, and Russell to have a huge game which will in turn, open up the passing game. 

However, the Steelers have a disadvantage against the pass rushers of the Arizona Cardinals.  The Cardinals defensive front, while undersized, has very quick pass rushers coming off the corner.  This is by far the Steelers biggest weakness and could potentially win the game for the Arizona Cardinals and is a huge matchup for the Steelers.  Willie Colon will have his hands full and better not jump offsides to try to compensate for the speed rush.  Max Starks is the slowest footed left tackle in the league.  Ben Roethlisberger must get rid of the ball quickly, he must hit his quick hot reads, and must punish the Cardinals for sending blitzes his way (i.e. get the ball in Heath Miller’s and Mewelde Moore’s hands!)

While the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line has been better later in the season, they must put together a good performance Sunday in order for the Steelers to hoist their sixth Lombardi trophy. 

Mike Tomlin Named Coach of the Year

Mike Tomlin has been named as the motorola Coach of the Year.  Congrats Mike Tomlin. 

This is definitely a shot at Ken Whisenhunt whom wasn't even in the hunt for the coach of the year. Whisenhunt coached in the weakest division in the league and posted a 9-7 record.  However, give credit to the Arizona Cardinals for winning when it counts: In the playoffs.  Whisenhunt also helped make "believers" out of the Arizona Cardinals fan base and team alike.  The Cardinals do have talent (top 5 draft picks for the past decade will solve that problem) though.

Meanwhile, Mike Tomlin was in a good situation from the beginning.  He became head coach of an extremely stable franchise.  Additionally, he had a solid core players with a good mix of veterans and young talent.  Give credit where credit is do though. Mike Tomlin does not have the best assistants in the game (aside from Dick Lebeau).  Not even close.  He has done an excellent job over the past 2 years.  He posted an impressive 12-4 record (3-0 in the playoffs) in what has been described as one of the toughest schedules in the history of the National Football League.

It could be a sweed day

The rookie wide receiver from Texas, Limas Sweed saw his most playing time of his short career in the AFCCG against the Baltimore Ravens.  All I can say is if he continues to drop balls like he did in that game, his career will be short-lived.

In defense of Sweed, I saw a few positive plays:

  • His crushing block on the Raven's DB, Ivy, on a pass to Heath Miller
  • His interception "break-up"
  • His critical 3rd down reception to keep the chains moving in the 2nd half of the AFCCG
  • His speed - He was able to gain a step on several of the Raven's defensive backs
  • His ability to separate - He was open on several occasions during the AFCCG. Was this due to the lack of depth in the Raven's secondary or is Sweed starting to create mismatches?

In analyzing Limas Sweed this past week, a few things are obvious to me.  Number one, Sweed has great upside.  I really think his combination of size, speed, and athleticism is a mismatch to opposing defenses.  And let's face it; we haven't seen this type of size at the wide receiver position since Plaxico Burress played for the Steelers.

However, Limas Sweed, at this point, may have the worst hands of any offensive-skill position currently on the Steelers roster.  He dropped a touchdown pass that could have sealed the victory for the Steelers in the AFCCG.  Note to Limas Sweed, this is the playoffs!  A play like that, in a game of that type of magnitude could have cost the Steelers the game.  You could tell in recent interview with Coach Mike Tomlin that he is NOT happy about Sweeds' lack of concentration.  A lack of concentration could cost the Steelers the Super Bowl regardless of the play: a missed first down, a dropped touchdown pass, a fumble, or a dumb penalty.

Honestly, I don't think Sweed has very bad hands.  I've seen his statistics at Texas.  I've seen his highlight videos at Texas as well.  The guy can flat out play.  His problem is a lack of confidence, a lack of concentration, a lack of focus, or a combination of these.  His physical attributes are NFL talent for sure.  Take for instance, the touchdown drop against the Ravens.   On the replay, his eyes were not even focused on the ball.  He was either looking for the end zone, or looking for a defender.  He must understand, that if he catches the ball, he'll see the end zone sooner rather than later.  If a defender was there (which he wasn't) what difference does it make?  It's the NFL, he has to expect to get hit, whether he catches the ball or drops it, the defender will hit him so he might as well catch the ball.

 This week he will be playing the biggest him in his life.  It's hardly the time for lack of focus and concentration issues.  We need Limas Sweed to pull through this Sunday especially seeing additional playing time due to Hines Ward's knee injury. 

Sweed, if there was any time to step up and make a play, Super Bowl XLIII would be it.

Coach Lebeau Set to Retire?

Per a rumor by Pro Football Talk (PFT), Dick Lebeau may retire after Super Bowl XLIII.  As mostly everyone knows, Dick Lebeau is the beloved Steelers defensive coordinator and the inventor of the zone blitz schema. 

The Pittsburgh Steelers (not just the defense) should win this Super Bowl for their future ‘Hall of Fame’ coach Lebeau.  What would be a better treat then winning this one for him since he’s been so instrumental to the Steelers success both past and current.  His defense plays the way football was meant to be played.  In addition to winning Super Bowl XLIII for coach Lebeau, the Steelers players should carry their coach off the field on the player’s shoulders.  That’s the type of respect that Lebeau deserves. 

All current and past Steelers players feel strongly for the coordinator and praise him not just for his coaching ability and personality but they respect him as a ‘dad’ type figure.   In fact, many players have referred to him as coach ‘dad’.  Players love him, opposition fear him. 

Coach Dick Lebeau is well respect (and well deserved) not just throughout the Pittsburgh Steelers organization but also within that National Football League circles.  He was a Hall of Fame player (is not yet inducted but should be) and a legendary coach.  In fact, some coaches including Baltimore Ravens (now NYJ head coach) coach, Rex Ryan have even studied coach Leabeau’s defensive schemes and reused it within their own defensive schemes.  Lebeau has been praised by former NFL quarterback and ESPN analyst as saying “Dick LeBeau is arguably the best ever to coach defense. … He has done it on such a consistent basis over a long period of time.”

Note to Steelers players…. Let’s win Super Bowl XLIII for Coach Dick Lebeau!

Polamalu Seals AFCCG

Troy Polamalu comes up with big play after big play.  Sundays AFC Championship game against the hated division rivals, Baltimore Ravens was no different.

Polamalu finished the day with 5 tackles, 4 solos, and of course the game clinching 40-yard interception for a touchdown with only 4 minutes to play.  Troy Polamalu Intercepts Joe Flacco

However, it seemed that Troy made more plays than what the above statistics show.  Polamalu had one of his best games of the season and showed no signs of his calf strain injury that kept him sidelined for most of this past week's practices.  He was simply all over the field.

Three plays really displayed why he's one of the best safeties in the league:

1) His display of closing speed when Ravens, rookie QB, Joe Flacco rolled out to his left.  Polamalu closed in an instant to register a sack and a Ravens 10 yard loss on the play.  Polamalu displayed why his closing speed, athleticism, and tackling ability is much talked about by NFL analysts.

2) Polamalu's play on 4th and short.  With his 40+ inch vertical leap, Polamalu leaped over the offensive line of the Baltimore Ravens to grab Flacco and prevent him from picking up a short yardage first down.  A critical play for the Steelers and Polamalu showed unbelievable athleticism.

3) His interception return for a touchdown that "sealed the deal" for the Steelers.  Flacco completely didn't see Troy Polamalu breaking on the ball from the opposite direction.  Troy read the rookie QB's eyes and made a great jump on the ball and an even nicer catch.  Then, of course the rest is history.  Polamalu made a few guys miss and returned the interception for a 40-yard touchdown which sealed the victory for the Steelers with just under 5 minutes remaining in the 4th quarter.

If Polamalu can have a similar game in the Super Bowl, he can possily "seal the deal" on his future Hall of Fame bid for the National Football League.

Steelers-Ravens Weather Conditions

Dress warmly Steeler fans.  The current temperature in Pittsburgh is 25 degrees with a wind chill of 15 degrees.  Expect the temperature to drop significantly as game-time approaches.  As displayed earlier today on ESPN, there is a good bit of snow at Heinz Field.  It appears that the field will be cleared of all snow by game time but expect snow flurries (per weather.com) later this evening in the mass of 1-3 inches.

The National Weather Service has issue a winter weather advisory for the Pittsburgh area.  For details, click here.

Expect Heinz Field to be a bit sloppy with these weather conditions and the wetness of its natural grass turf.

Who does this favor?  Well, its difficult to say.  I think the bad weather and field conditions will favor the Baltimore Ravens defense both against stopping the run and offensively, running the football.  Fast Willie Parker has struggled with cut-back ability at Heinz Field when conditions are bad.  In contrast, the Ravens have more success playing power football with the run game with north-south runners Ray Rice, and LeRon McClain at tailback.

However, if the Steelers can stop the running game of the Ravens, I feel this will put tremendous pressure on rookie quarterback, Joe Flacco.  This will allow a Steelers attacking defense to blitz the inexperienced QB.

While the bad weather may be a negative for the Steelers running attack, the passing game shouldn't struggle too much.  The Ravens secondary is beat up and if given the time to throw the ball, Ben Roethlisberger should be successful.  The wide receivers know their routes which give them the slight advantage while the defense could "slip up" (literally) on the grass at Heinz Field.  Let's hope the offense play calling by Bruce Arians can take advantage of these situations.

Steelers-Ravens Gameplan

Offense

The Steelers offense needs to be at the top of their game today versus the Ravens. The key to the Steelers is easy. They need to convert on critical third downs and do not, under any circumstances, turn the ball over. If the Steelers don't turn the ball over, I believe they win this game. The Titans should have won last week against the Ravens, but turnovers was the deciding factor.

I expect the Steelers to open up the game in a spread offense. The Steelers should spread the Baltimore Ravens defense out with 4 and 5 wide receivers. The Ravens secondary is a bit beat up with Rolle out so this could result in Nate Washington having a big game.  This will neutralize the Ravens' heavy blitzing and make a tough defense respect the Steelers passing game. The Steelers offense should not play conservative and tight. This will play right into the Ravens defensive plans which will make this game a much closer game than what it could be. Heath Miller and Mewelde Moore should pose significant receiving threats to the Ravens. Also, the offensive line will be a huge matchup against the Ravens imposing defensive front. The Steelers offensive line played their best game against the San Diego Chargers a week ago, but the Ravens are a much better and more aggressive defense. If Hartwig, Colon, Starks and company can keep Big Ben clean then the Steelers should be successful at Heinz Field today.

Defense

The #1 Steelers defense must play opportunistic football today at Heinz Field. The Steelers are relatively healthy today and will pose a huge challenge to the Baltimore's rookie QB, Joe Flacco. Dick Lebeau will try to confuse Flacco will different defensive looks. Per ESPN, the Steelers defense are going into this game with over 100 defensive plays at their disposal. The Steelers defense must shut down the Ravens running attack early and often. This will put the game on Joe "cool" shoulders which is exactly what the Steelers want. If McClain and Ray Rice have success running the football, the Steelers could be in for a long frustrating day.

Expect Troy Polamalu to be all over the field again today. Troy will start things off supporting the run defense as being an 'extra' in the box. Then, he'll drop back into a zone on obvious passing downs. Also, it is absolutely critical that LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison can get to Flacco today. Last game, the Steelers had trouble getting to the quarterback without sending more defenders than what the Ravens could block. This could expose our secondary and Flacco has the offensive line and the strong arm to make the Steelers defense pay for their mistakes. It is very important that the Steelers pass rush is at their best today. This will make Flacco make quick and possible poor decisions which could result in turnovers. Turnovers which will hopefully result in points in favor of the Steelers.

Predictions

Turnovers is the name of today's game. If the Steelers o-line can protect Big Ben and give Willie Parker some room to run then I expect the Steelers to be victorious. If not, the Steelers could be in for a long and disappointing afternoon. The same goes for the Ravens, if the Steelers can stop the run, and get to Flacco early and often then the Steelers will have an excellent chance of winning today's game. I am going to be optimistic in this prediction but I feel the Steelers win: 27-17.

Offensive Player Of The Game: Hines Ward

Defensive Player Of The Game: LaMarr Woodley

Steeler Mania

Pittsburgh Steelers mania has started in the the 'Burgh this week with the Ravens coming to down for the AFC Championship showdown.

Leading up to the big game there has been several things which is adding extra fuel to the fire for tomorrows smash mouth game including:

1) Injury reports of Rolle, Suggs, Polamalu, and Hartwig
2) Trash talking  can be found everywhere including between players, fans, bloggers, and and team forums
3) Steelers Rally
4) The major of Pittsburgh temporarily changing his name in order to remove the 'Raven' reference

And to get the fans fired up for tomorrows game, check out some of these popular items posted on the Planet Steelers forum.

Pittsburgh Steelers Tribute Video

Here we Go Steelers, Let's RUN OVER those Rat Birds:

Steelers Run Over Ravens

Baltimore Ravens Fans Yapping

Is it just me or is there an aweful lot of Baltimore Ravens fans and players yapping.  It all started a couple of weeks ago when a big mouth Baltimore blogger makes unnecessary comments about the terrible towel.  If you haven't heard about it, please check out the Planet Steelers forum where it has been discussed numerous times.

There is several other instances of trash talk going on.  How about the comments about the Primani Brothers sandwiches as reported by KDKA.  Then, theres Derrick Mason plastered on the television talking trash.  Oh, and how about cry baby Ray Lewis still whining about the Santonio Holmes touchdown.  As indicated, all Ray Ray wanted is for "4th down".  Hey Ray, what makes you so confident that you would have stopped us on 4th down anyway?

In conclusion, Is this what the Raven's fans, bloggers, etc have to resort to?  I know Baltimore doesn't have any tradition but that doesn't give them the right to bash Pittsburgh trademarks.  Actually, I take that back, the Ravens tradition is that they are, and will always be the Cleveland Browns.  Thats right Baltimore, your still the same loser Browns team.  You just moved from one subpar city, to another.

All in all, this game is shaping up to be one for the ages.  What else could you expect out of Ravens vs. Steelers, Round 3.

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