Steelers @ Titans is GOTW

Once again the Steelers game promises to be the Game of the Week in the NFL.  Since Thanksgiving weekend the Steelers have played at New England, versus Dallas and at Baltimore consecutively.  Each game received the top announcing crew for the respective network and this week will be no different as Jim Nantz and Phil Simms travel to Nashville to cover the game.

TitansSteelers

Notes

Titans Press Release
Steelers Press Release

In the News

Do the Steelers really want home field?

Everyone in the NFL wants to be home for the playoffs, but there’s one AFC team where the home-field factor actually has been a disadvantage … and you’re looking at it.

Four times in the past 16 years, the Steelers had home-field advantage entering the playoffs — 1992, 1994, 2001 and 2004 — and four times they failed to make it to the Super Bowl. Three times they lost the conference championship game, and once they were bounced in the divisional round.

James Harrison for league MVP:

“If I had to vote right now, I’d vote for James Harrison,” Dungy said on Sirius radio. “He’s just been phenomenal in anchoring a defense that’s playing as well as anyone in the league and he does so many things for them. … He’s like a Randy Moss or Dwight Freeney. You have to set everything to block him first before you set up any other plays.”

Harrison

Keisel may play against Titans:

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that he is hopeful starting defensive end Brett Keisel will be able to play in Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans. Keisel has missed the past three games with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee.

Walker admits spitting on Berger by accident

“It was just a slobber moment,” Walker said.

NFL Instant Replay: On the Money in Baltimore

The NFL officials finally got one correct! Hurray!

They failed to call it right against San Diego, taking away a touchdown to give the world a freak: the first 11-10 score in NFL history.

They’ve thrown penalty flags against Steeler players only to apologize for their mistakes later in the week.

But on the third down pass into the end zone from Ben Roethlisberger to Santonio Holmes they got it right. It was initially ruled down one inch away from the goal line. Reviews clearly showed that the ball broke the plane and the call was reversed.

The Ravens and their fans can whine all they want, but it doesn’t change the fact that instant replay didn’t let the Steelers drive 92 yards in the final 3 1/2 minutes of the game, that distinction belongs to the Ravens defense.

This time the officials were on the money! Good job, guys. And thanks to the NFL officials scheduler-guy for not placing Ed Hoculi in Baltimore on that day.

Must Wins Won, Bonus Time Next

Shooting down the Ravens to reach 11-3 has the Steelers in a good position before  heading into the playoffs.  Next, they face the 12-2 Tennessee Titans in a showdown for the number one seed in the AFC. The Titans will be missing two stars on their defensive line, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Albert Haynesworth, so one hopes that will relieve some of the pressure on Big Ben.

“To me personally, there’s no pressure,” Roethlisberger said of next week’s trip to Nashville. “I mean, you go down to Tennessee, it’s not like we have to win. We want to win, but we don’t have to. I think we can go play more relaxed and have fun. I think it’ll be another great game.”

For now the “must win” portion of the schedule has been completed. The next few will be bonus wins, games with the potential to shoot their seeding straight to the top and keep the wheels turning.

It’s time to keep the mojo mojinating and the confidence building. Forget about resting players and potentially allowing rust to build, it’s the last thing they need. There will be plenty of time to rest during that first round bye week while the wild card teams fight it out with the lesser divisional winners.

It’s time to snatch some bonus wins from the Titans and Browns thus ensuring the AFC playoffs go through Heinz Field.

Slug Fest Lives Up to Hype

The Steelers arrived in Baltimore as the underdog.  They left as AFC North Champions.

The game was originally scheduled for 1p.m. Eastern.  But talk of bounties, thuggery, the Ravens’ cocky defense, the Steelers’ Number One Defense, the “rookie wunderkind” at quarterback and a division title in the balance helped propel this matchup to CBS’s premier afternoon matchup.  It was a good move because the game lived up to the hype as both teams pounded each other for 60 minutes.

Early in the game it appeared the Steelers would be able to move the ball.  They made first downs on each of their first three possessions but stout efforts by the Ravens along with a few key drops and penalties stalled  those drives.  Similarly, the Ravens’ first three drives yielded only two punts and an interception.  But despite superior field position (they twice started drives on the Pittsburgh side of the field) they posted only two field goals to take a 6-3 halftime lead.

After swapping punts in the third quarter the Steelers took possession at their own one yard line.  On the first play Big Ben hit San Antonio Holmes on a quick pass out to the ten but Holmes was stripped and the Ravens recovered on the sixteen.  As usual, the Number One Defense held their ground.  The Ravens were forced to settle for a field goal and a 9-3 lead.  It was their final score.

After both teams traded punts the Steelers finally sustained a second-half drive.  They made it to the Baltimore 26 before Big Ben was sacked and fumbled away their opportunity.  A quick Ravens’ 3-and-out later and the Steelers drove again, this time scoring three to make it 9-6 early in the fourth quarter.

Points were at a premium and through three plus quarters of play the teams had managed merely fifteen.

With time running down the Ravens threatened to put the game away on their next drive.  They made it to field goal range at the Steelers 27.  But that Number One Defense came up large again when Lawrence Timmons sacked Flacco for a seven yard loss and forced a punt.  The clock read 3:36 remaining when the Steelers took over on their own eight. Only twice had they sustained drives of more than six plays and both times settled for field goals.  Eleven plays later after several clutch throws from Big Ben to Hines Ward and Nate Washington the Steelers had a 3rd and goal from the Baltimore four yard line.  Only fifty seconds remained when Santonio Holmes pulled in the winning touchdown.  Just when it looked like the Ravens defense would dig in and force a field goal attempt, the Steelers did what they do best lately:  snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

After a Steelers penalty and a thirteen yard return the Ravens took over at mid field with 43 seconds to go.  Four plays later Flacco went deep to the Steelers’ endzone but backup cornerback William Gay intercepted the ball and sealed the victory.

Another stellar performance by the defense capped another late comeback by the offense.

It was a slug fest to the end and the Steelers landed the final blow.

Big Ben is the Comeback Kid

There were 92 yards between the Steelers and the Raven’s goal line.  Roughly 2:45 later and Big Ben was hitting Santonio Holmes for the game-winning touchdown.

Three of their last five victories have required a late-game comeback of some sort.  The controversial ending in San Diego had a late 4th quarter drive to set up the winning field goal by Reed.  Last week against the Cowboys saw a late drive tie the game before Deshea Townsend provided the winning margin with a touchdown on an interception return.  And in Baltimore where they had lost five straight the Steelers offense once again provided late-game excitement.

What is it with this offensive unit that can flounder for 55 minutes only to turn it on when the game is on the line?  Is it the play-calling throughout that is lacking?  Those comebacks usually require the hurry up or no-huddle approach.  One could speculate that in those situations the play-calling falls to the quarterback.  It’s an interesting concept that merits further consideration.

But for now it’s all about the late-game heroics of the offense and the Comeback Kid.

Welcome to the Real NFL, Rookie

Now Joe Flacco remembers what it’s like to play against the top defensive unit in the NFL.  After two straight months of beating up on the mid-tier teams and the bottom feeders of the NFL, the Ravens ran head first into a freight train.

Full of ill-advised bravado and superficial confidence, the Ravens offense was soundly whipped on it’s own turf.

And while their mouthy, bounty-paying, over-confident defense rested on the sidelines, they had the opportunity to see a Number One Defense in action.  One doubts they were taking notes, but they should have been.

While he was only sacked twice Flacco was hurried and harrassed most times he dropped back. He finished the day a dismal 11 of 28 for 125 yards and 2 INTs, the final one coming on a desperation attempt late in the 4th quarter, ending any hope of a Ravens’ comeback.

Welcome to the NFL, kid.

Slug Fest in the Bird’s Nest

Ah yes, it’s Ravens Week for the Steelers. It promises to be a slobber-knocker, a knock-down drag-out last-man-standing slug-o-rama! It’s a real first-team-to-9-wins hoedown! Yeah buddy. No knives or guns allowed though, somebody tell Ray Ray to leave his shiv in the locker room. All brass knuckles must be properly taped.

This is a game of significance. For the Ravens to entertain any hope of winning the AFC North division, they simply must have this game. Win it and they’re a tie-breaker away from the lead – they would need the Steelers to lose at least one more conference game either at Tennessee or hosting the team formerly known as The Fighting Quinns of Cleveland.

But if the Steelers hold serve then they all but guarantee another AFC North title for Pittsburgh. It’s a division they haven’t necessarily owned, but they’ve won it half the time since inception in 2002.

While both the Steelers and Giants have shown recently that a team can take to the road and still succeed in the Super Bowl, most prefer a week to heal before hosting playoff games.

Games between the Steelers and Ravens are always hyper-physical. I don’t recall the Ratbirds’ injury report following week four but the Steelers were down two running backs. Willie Parker is still running hurt and Rashard Mendenhall won’t play in another NFL game until 2009. But they’re all Big Boys and it’s games like these where they earn that green.

So put on your eye black, grab your bludgeon of choice and settle in for a brawl this Sunday afternoon, you won’t be disappointed.

It’s the Offense, Stupid

A question if you please, “What is the force most likely to derail the Steelers‘ goal this season?”  The answer, of course, “It’s the offense, stupid. “  Or, “It’s the stupid offense!”

And while I have your eye, “When will Bruce Arians’ reign of terror end?”  If you said, “It’ll be over when we awake,”  then congratulations!  (“Wake me when it’s over,” is also acceptable.)   Yes, we need only wake to be free of this terrible offensive nightmare.  We?  Hey Coach Tomlin, wake up!

Somebody needs the attitude to create an interlude in the funkitude.  Haha! Forget the X’s and O’s.  Hugs and kisses will get us nowhere.  It’s the NFL, stupid.  That’s right, forget the X’s and forgo the O’s.  Time to don the Big Boy pants and the Steelers-toed boots and shove a foot deep up the Ravens where the sun never shines.  Style points need not apply.  Right, Coach?

It’s identity building time.  Or is that character building time, stupid?  The defense has it.  They have an identity and they have identifiable characters.  They’re the black knights guarding the goal line, “None shall pass.”

What is the identity of the offense?  There’s no quit in them, so that’s good.  But when was the last time a team “no quit” its way to a championship?  “We won’t stop!” ain’t bad.  Better yet, “Stop us if you can!  We left our X’s and O’s at home.  Just gonna line up here and run you over.  You can’t stop it.  Better move.”  They aren’t there yet.

Sometimes you are what you is.  This is a defensive team with an offensive albatross around its neck.  Stupid.

Baltimore Game Looms Large

Back in November with the Steelers sitting at 6-3 following a gut-wrenching loss to the Indianapolis Colts (does that game remind you of anything?) conventional wisdom stated that the Steelers must win their next two games. Both of those were at home and against some of the weaker foes (San Diego, Cincinnati) they would face for the remainder of the regular season.

They did it and then some. No, it wasn’t easy nor was it always certain. However, the Steelers now find themselves sitting at 10-3 with the pesky Ravens pecking at their heels.

Not much has changed. As it stands, the Steelers have the second seed in the playoffs. If they falter against the Ravens then their seeding would likely slide to sixth considering that they’ve already lost to Indianapolis (9-4), the other current wild card team. Not winning the division means they’ll need to dust off the old road-warrior mind set of 2005 and yet again take the road less traveled to achieve the annual ultimate goal. After hosting the Steelers, Baltimore travels to Dallas (who may well have thrown in the towel by then) and closes out hosting Jacksonville. After traveling to Baltimore, Pittsburgh travels to Tennessee before closing out at home versus the former Fighting Quinns of Cleveland.

The Baltimore game looms large and it bears repeating: it’s a must win.

Prediction: Steelers win 19-9.