Well, we're all getting fired up about the new batch of recruits we drafted, and getting ready for camp and pre-season... I thought I'd pull this out from the end last year when we lost to Jax... Will our picks help solve some of these problems?... Either way, what better way to "pick-up" than where we "left-off"...
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Same old problems surface
By BOB LABRIOLA
Editor

The NFL playoffs are a culmination of a team’s season. For the 2007 Steelers, their playoff game was a reflection of their season, as well.

The 75th season in franchise history included a 10-6 record in the regular season and the 18th division championship since 1970, and both of those things occurred in Mike
Tomlin’s inaugural season as the team’s coach. Like Bill Cowher before him, Tomlin delivered a division title and a home playoff game in his rookie year.

But this 75th season also was one in which special teams breakdowns happened far too often based on the amount of time spent working on that phase of the game during the offseason and preseason, a season when the defense allowed a late game-winning drive four times.

NOT-SO-SPECIAL TEAMS

There are a lot of statistics that can be cited to make this argument, but the number of times bad special teams contributed to losses trumps all.

Against the Jaguars in the Wild Card Game, there were two plays that had the figurative impact of a punch to the solar plexus.

This was the first playoff game at Heinz Field since 2004, and that constitutes a long wait for Steelers fans, and so the place was rocking for the opening kickoff. “The crowd was pumped and we knew they would be,” said Jaguars tackle Tony Pashos, who also experienced this as a member of the Baltimore Ravens. “The Steelers have a great crowd, and they brought their A-game.”

The noise intensified as the Steelers took the opening kickoff and drove 80 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. If there was a lid on Heinz Field, it would have blown off, but then came Jeff Reed’s ensuing kickoff. Ninety-seven yards later, Maurice-
Jones Drew was shoved out of bounds at the Steelers 1-yard line by Anthony Madison.

“That was such a huge play, the first kickoff return that Maurice took back,” said Coach Jack Del Rio. “Our football team had just been jolted. We didn’t give up an opening touchdown drive all year, and to have them go down in the playoff game and start that way, that was a little bit of a blow that we took. We talked about the emotional surge that they were going to have early. We anticipated that. It’s a proud franchise. For Maurice to come back and deliver a blow to them and then be able to punch it in, that was a big lift.”

The other instance of a special teams breakdown came on a punt from the Pittsburgh 27-yard line with 2:50 to play and the Steelers leading 29-28.

Daniel Sepulveda’s punt traveled only 40 yards, and it was right down the middle of the
field, perfect for a return.

Dennis Northcutt obliged with a 16-yarder and the Jaguars got to start at their 49-yard line.

TOO MUCH BEND

The defense then took over, and repeated what it had done against Denver, the New York Jets, and the Jaguars on Dec. 16. That the Jacksonville offense was aided this time by a couple of blatant holding penalties going uncalled on a fourth-and-2 run by David Garrard is no consolation, and an additional 19 precious yards were allowed by a terrible display of tackling by Tyrone Carter.

“We didn’t keep our containment,” said James Farrior. “We had guys chasing him, but we
couldn’t get him.” What Farrior wouldn’t say is that Troy Polamalu was being do-si-doed by Marcedes Lewis, James Harrison was being pulled away from the hole by Khalif Barnes and Casey Hampton already had been gangtackled.

The Jaguars then got all the way to the Steelers’ 1-yard line before they ran out of downs and kicked the game-winning field goal. “To have it right there in your hands at the end and let it slip away, that hurts,” said Deshea Townsend.