Saturday, December 20, 2014

Gameday: Kansas City Chiefs

1:00pm
Heinz Field
TV: CBS (map)
Radio: WDVE and other affiliates

What To Watch For

1. Streaks Are Made To Be Broken

The Chiefs haven't thrown a touchdown pass to a wide receiver this season. That basically guarantees that they'll have at least 2 against the Steelers. The Steelers have a propensity to let teams break streaks against them. Two years ago, the 1-7 Chiefs did not have a lead in regulation all season (their only win was in overtime) and the Steelers let them run out to a 10-0 lead to start the game. I can live with the Chiefs breaking their streak of no touchdown passes to a wide receiver if Ben Roethlisberger also breaks the Chiefs streak of not allowing a 300-yard passer this season.

2. Record Breakers

Last week, several Steelers broke single-season team records. Even more will be broken this week. Against Atlanta, Ben Roethlisberger broke his own record for passing yards in a season. This week, he needs just 10 completions and 3 passing touchdowns to break his own records in those categories. Le'Veon Bell broke Barry Foster's yards from scrimmage record and Ray Mathews' record for receiving yards by a running back. Bell still needs over 400 rushing yards to break Foster's single season rushing record, which seems out of reach at this point. The most impressive record-breaking performance has been Antonio Brown who broke Hines Ward's record for receptions in 14 weeks. Brown needs 2 more receiving yards to break his own yardage record and 2 TDs to break the record held by Ward and Louis Lipps for receiving touchdowns. Unexpectedly, Big Play Will Gay had another pick-6 last week, his 3rd of the season which broke a Steelers record and put him one away from tying the NFL record.

3. Strength on Strength

The Steelers have one of the top 5 offenses in the league and the Chiefs are one of the top defenses. The Chiefs have the second best passing defense in the league, largely due to their potent pass rush. Tamba Hali and Justin Houston are terrors on the outside and the Chiefs have an absolute stud in Dontari Poe in the middle at nose tackle. Houston has posted 17 sacks so far this season and has been basically unblockable, which presents a tall order for either Marcus Gilbert or Mike Adams. The weakness in their defense is down the middle and if the Steelers are going to exploit them, they will have to attack their inside linebackers and safeties.

4. Stop the Run

The Chiefs offense is based around their running game. Jamaal Charles is the best cut-back runner in the game and has the breakaway speed to make teams pay. Backup Knile Davis has tortured teams as a change-of-pace back but still has a reputation as a fumbler. Davis and rookie D'Anthony Thomas can both absolutely fly and are dangerous in the return game as well as out of the backfield. This is not to take anything away from Charles, who averages over 5.2 yards per carry. The Steelers defense has not been good against the run this season, but they will need to slow down the Chiefs ground attack if they want to have a chance in this game. If the Chiefs can control the game on the ground and let Alex Smith be a situational passer, they will steal a victory from the Steelers. The Steelers need to take the Chiefs running attack out of the game and force Alex Smith to beat them through the air. Smith is not a great passer and has proven to be a tentative downfield passer, even when the situation called for it.

5. Scoreboard Watching

Not necessary this week. If the Steelers win, they are in the playoffs. If we lose, we are on the outside looking in. Simple as that. Losing would put us in a bad situation because the Chiefs have a home game against San Diego next week. We need to take care of our own business first and wrap up a playoff spot before we take a peek at the scoreboard and worry about other things. But just in case you're interested...


 
1:00pm

The Steelers and Ravens are tied in the AFC North and for the last 2 Wild Card spots. The Steelers hold the tiebreaker on Baltimore right now. A Steelers win and a Baltimore loss would mean that the Steelers would clinch at least the #5 seed. Houston is starting Case Keenum though, so this doesn't seem likely.


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Monday 8:30pm

If the Steelers win, they will have a chance to win the AFC North title in Week 17 against Cincinnati, regardless of what the Bengals do. However, the Steelers could be in position to knock the Bengals out entirely if the Steelers beat Kansas City and the Bengals lose to Denver. Something else to consider is that the Steelers-Bengals game is one of 3 games that could be flexed to Sunday night in Week 17. The other two are the Falcons-Panthers and Lions-Packers (which seems like the most likely game at this point).

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1:00pm

The Browns are not technically eliminated yet but a loss to the Panthers would knock them out for sure. Also, wins by Carolina and Atlanta would set up a Week 17 showdown for the NFC South title, which could effect the start time of the Steelers-Bengals game.

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4:25pm

This is a bit of a stretch but due to the Steelers head-to-head win over the Colts, if the Steelers were to win out and the Colts lose one of their last two (much more likely that they lose to Dallas than to 2-13 Tennessee), then the Steelers would actually get the #3 seed in the playoffs.

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1:00pm

A Saints victory would put them a win or Carolina loss away from the NFC South title. However, if Atlanta and Carolina both win it sets up a head-to-head for the division title in Week 17. A Carolina-Atlanta matchup would certainly get some consideration as the Sunday Night Football Game of the Week. Don't think that NBC would shy away from it just because of their records, they chose the Seattle-St Louis game a few years ago when Seattle was 6-9 and St Louis 7-8 and the two played for the NFC West title in Week 17.

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1:00pm

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1:00pm

 The most likely game for NBC to choose in Week 17 is the NFC North showdown between the Lions and Packers. Green Bay is a huge national draw with league MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers at the helm going up against Detroit's defense and WR Calvin Johnson. The Lions and Packers are both 10-4 and Detroit currently holds the head-to-head tiebreaker. If the Lions beat the Bears and Green Bay loses the Bay of Pigs, then Detroit would win the division and it would knock the Lions-Packers game out of consideration for Sunday Night Football. If Steelers fans don't want a Sunday Night game next week, they should cheer for both the Packers to win this week (which shouldn't be too hard as Tampa seems to be in all-out "Miserable for Mariota" mode).

Monday, December 15, 2014

Bell's Broke Loose in Georgia: Steelers WIN

 27
 20

The Steelers got some great news about an hour before kickoff - Julio Jones was inactive for the Atlanta Falcons.
With Jones off the table, suddenly this turned from a game that had you crapping your pants to a game that the Steelers should win.

First Quarter

The Steelers won the toss and took the ball. The running game wasn't doing much but Ben was sharp through the air, picking up big chunks with each throw as the Falcons were stacking the box against Bell. The deep middle was wide open and Ben hit slants and deep-in routes to drive us into Falcons territory. The Steelers didn't even face 3rd down until they were inside the red zone but couldn't pick it up.

3-0

Steven Jackson got the Falcons off to a good start grinding out some yards but Matt Ryan missed a few passes and the defense forced a punt.

The Steelers caught a huge break when Le'Veon broke a check-down pass for 44 yards down the sideline thanks to a block from Bryant. Initially it looked like they were going to call a block in the back but the refs decided to pick up the flag and let the play stand. Ben went right after the Falcons, hitting Heath down the seam to a chorus of "HEEEEEEATH" from the Pittsburgh South contingent.
Represent.

A sack set things back and AB got swarmed in the middle of the field on 3rd down before he could get to the sticks.

6-0

This Steelers team isn't very secretive, they have started slow in almost every game this season. Like the last 2 weeks, you felt like the dam was going to break at some point and wished the Steelers had built more than a one-score lead.

Second Quarter

Enter William Gay.


On Twitter this week I asked who the Steelers 3rd best defensive player is right now. I don't think there's any debate, it is William Gay. And before you say Big Play Bill Gay doesn't bring it, watch this play again.


Gay undercut a Ryan pass for Harry Douglas and made a leaping interception, taking it down the left sideline. When it looked like he was bottled up by linemen, he put on the shimmy shakes and somehow broke free and suddenly had a caravan of blockers to get him all the way TO THE HOUSE.


13-0


For all the Steelers single-season records that were broken, this was one I didn't see coming. This was Gay's THIRD pick-6 of the year, a Steelers record.


The Falcons got called for an offensive pass interference penalty for a pick play that essentially ended their drive.

Unfortunately, the Steelers couldn't deliver the knockout punch and had to punt.

The Falcons came right back and drove it into Steelers territory. The refs gave the Falcons a gift with an absolutely terrible roughing the passer call on a Jason Worilds sack.


Worilds came untouched around the end and drilled Ryan right in the chest on a completely clean hit.



Worilds had his head up and hit Ryan in the chest with his facemask, not with the crown of his helmet. Ryan didn't even try to throw the ball and took the sack.




No clue.

The penalty gave the Falcons new life and 3 plays later they turned it into points when Ryan hit Devin Hester on a fade route.

13-7

Credit where credit is due, every time the Falcons scored in this game, the Steelers came right back and answered. Ben hit a few passes to get us into a 3rd and manageable at the 2-minute warning. Le'Veon converted on a short pass. After Ben hit Weaton to get to 3rd and short, Tomlin strangely used his first timeout then used a second after Bell moved the chains. Bizarre use of 2 timeouts with 1:19 on the clock. With only 1 timeout left, the Steelers had to jump into hurry-up mode with the ball just across midfield. Two short passes got us to the edge of field goal range and Ben spiked it to stop the clock with 38 seconds left. Needing yards, Ben took a shot down the sideline for AB who was initially called out of bounds but replay showed he snagged the ball and tapped his second foot better than the Great Russian Nutcracker.
Pretty fitting reference because that catch was like a swift kick to the nuts of the Falcons D.


The Prescription punched it in on the next play.


20-7


Matt Ryan was checkdown city even though the Falcons had 23 seconds and 3 timeouts.

Third Quarter

The Falcons got the ball first and got off to a quick start when Devin Hester broke a WR screen down the sideline for 50 yards. Mike Mitchell somehow made a tackle but injured himself in the process. The Falcons couldn't do anything else but the Hester catch was enough to get them into field goal range.

20-10

The next drive was total garbage as Antonio Brown got called for two penalties on the same play - a facemask when he tried to stiffarm a guy and a taunting penalty.


Without Julio Jones, the Falcons offensive attack was clearly at a disadvantage. Ryan didn't even attempt a pass more than 25 yards downfield. However, they put it together on this drive and got all the way down to the goal line by dinking and dunking their way down the field. They tried a run at the 1 but sorry Steve Jackson, Cam Heyward is for real and blew the play up in the backfield.
Outkast is from Atlanta, had to work that reference in somewhere.

A pick play didn't work on 3rd down and Mike Smith settled for 3 again.


20-13

Bell got blown up in the backfield but AB made a big grab across the middle to tie Hines Ward's single-season record and get us into 3rd and short which Bell converted. Ben wasted no time and went play-action to Heath down the seam again to get us into Falcons territory.

Fourth Quarter

Out of the break, Ben went to the play-action well again and found Wheaton open down the left side to get us into the red zone. The run game was bottled up for most of the game, but when it counted they hit on the counter trey that had annihilated the Bengals last week and Bell zoomed around the left side and walked untouched into the end zone.


27-13


One drive just eliminated the Falcons entire 3rd quarter.

The Falcons had found a rhythm on their last drive and kept rolling with the short passes with Harry Douglas breaking a WR screen for 40 yards to get the Falcons into the red zone. Mike Michell made another surprising tackle in that it was a surprise that he actually made the tackle, albeit 40 yards downfield. Three plays later, Ryan hit Roddy White on a slant route in the end zone.

Tough to stop that.

27-20

The Steelers came out determined and AB took a WR screen for 12 yards, giving him the single-season receptions record.
Wheaton reeled in a crossing pattern that he legged out to the sticks but that was about it for the drive, sending the ball back to Atlanta with over 6 minutes to play.

The defense has been porous all season but they dug their heels in and defended the turf, holding Atlanta to a 3-and-out thanks to a solid tackle on 3rd down by Vince Williams. Mike Smith opts to punt rather than go for it on 4th and 2 with 5 minutes to go.



I'm as critical of Mike Tomlin as anyone, but credit where credit is due, the Steelers did everything they could to run out the clock and ensure the Falcons did not get the ball back. Usually in this situation the offense gets conservative but Tomlin put the ball in Ben's hands and let him win the game. We got some help from an illegal contact call on 3rd down that sent Falcons Twitter into a rage you would've thought Clete Blakeman was William Sherman.

Le'Veon Bell got a few carries to force Atlanta to use their timeouts and allowed Bell to break Barry Foster's single-season record for most yards from scrimmage. Atlanta used their last timeout with 2:42 left.

The Steelers stayed aggressive, throwing a short pass to Bell that set up a 3rd and 1 after the two-minute warning. That catch put Bell ahead of Ray Mathews for the most receiving yards in a season by a running back in Steelers history. Mathews set the record in 1955.


We had run the ball all day in short yardage situations and Ben beautifully went play-action and lobbed a pass to a wide open Heath Miller down at the 15 yard line to seal the deal.

Victory Formation


Ballgame.


Ben Roethlisberger is the 6th NFL quarterback to beat 31 different teams.



No time to rest now with the Chiefs coming to town. If we beat Kansas City we're in the playoffs.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Gameday: Atlanta Falcons

1:00pm
Devil Went Down to Georgia Dome
TV: CBS (map)
Radio: WDVE and other affiliates

What To Watch For

1. Julio Jones

Julio Jones absolutely went off last week against Green Bay. Anyone who watched the Monday Night game was surely filled with trepidation over how the Steelers could even hope to cover Julio. Then, Jones left the game with an injury and didn't return. He didn't practice all week and is listed as "questionable" for the game. I'm never one to wish injury on any player, but Julio Jones playing or not playing completely changes the outlook on the game. Simply put, the Steelers don't have anyone that can cover him. If Jones is held out because of his hip injury, the Steelers will catch a huge break in facing Harry Douglas rather than Julio. If he does play, it could very well be the Julio Jones vs Antonio Brown game. Jones is 2nd in the league in receptions and leads the league in receiving yards while Brown leads the league in receptions and is second in yards.

2. The Assault on the Record Books

This has been an incredible offensive season for the Steelers. Antonio Brown is having the best season of any Steelers receiver in history. He needs only 8 catches to break Hines Ward's single season receptions record of 112 and 125 yards to break his own single-season receiving yards record. Brown needs 2 TDs to break the receiving touchdowns record which is shared by Louis Lipps and Hines Ward and 6 TDs to break Willie Parker's record of 16 total TDs in a season. In the backfield, Le'Veon Bell probably won't break Barry Foster's single-season rushing record (he would need to average 153 yards per game over the last 3 to do it) but he will break Foster's record for yards from scrimmage. Bell needs just 110 yards of offense (either rushing or receiving) to break Foster's record. Bell needs 70 receiving yards to break Ray Mathews' record for receiving yards by a running back, set all the way back in 1955. Ben Roethlisberger needs 37 completions, 274 yards and 4 TDs to break his single-season records in each of those categories. All three could happen today.

3. You Thought Our Defense Was Bad...

The Steelers defense has been awful this season. They have given up leads, haven't been able to stop the run, haven't generated pressure on the quarterback and haven't been able to defend the deep ball. In short, this is not a typical Steelers defense. However, for as bad as it has been, Atlanta's defense is worse. Last week against Green Bay, Jordy Nelson ran around Atlanta's secondary like there were 4 Mike Mitchell's back there. The Falcons have the worst passing defense in the league and are allowing opponents 295 yards per game. They are also in the bottom half of the league in run defense and are last in total defense. To make matters worse, the Falcons can't get after the passer and have recorded only 15 sacks all season.

4. Getting Hot At The Right Time

Atlanta is only 5-8 but is tied for first in the NFC South. They do not need to win this game in order to win the division (amazingly). All the Falcons need to do is win their last 2 games against New Orleans and Carolina and they are guaranteed the division title. That said, the Falcons aren't going to simply lay down for the Steelers. The Falcons have won 3 of their last 5 games after their bye week. They are getting hot at the right time and if Julio Jones is in the lineup boast an explosive passing game that could give the Steelers secondary problems. On the other hand, the Steelers entered last weekend on the outside of the playoff picture and after demolishing Cincinnati, the rest of the games couldn't have gone better. The Steelers went to bed on Monday night on top of the Wild Card race and only a half game back in the division. The Steelers are trending in the right direction, having won 5 of 7 since their 3-3 start, but their two losses were to the Jets and Saints. The Steelers consistently play down to the level of their opponents so don't expect this one to be easy. As we saw last week, the playoff race can change dramatically in just one weekend so the Steelers need to keep winning to stay ahead of the curve.

5. Scoreboard Watching

The Steelers are a half game back of the Bengals for the lead in the AFC North and currently sit in the first Wild Card position thanks to tiebreakers over Baltimore and San Diego. However, their situation is precarious as there are two teams tied with them at 8-5 (Baltimore and San Diego) and 5 more teams sitting just a game back at 7-6 (Cleveland, Miami, Buffalo, Kansas City, Houston). Here are the games to keep an eye on tomorrow.

 
1:00pm

This game is getting national recognition now that Johnny Football is starting for the Browns. A Steelers win and a Browns loss would all but knock Cleveland out of the playoff hunt. However, a Steelers win and Bengals loss would put the Steelers on top of the division. The best thing that will happen here is that someone will lose.

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1:00pm

Yeah, just write this one off now. No way Jacksonville goes into Baltimore and wins. Baltimore will move to 9-5, book it.

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1:00pm

This will be the second straight week that Tom Brady and the Patriots can do the Steelers a big favor by knocking off another team in the wild card hunt. The Patriots are 10-3 and firmly in control of the AFC East. They also have the tiebreaker for the #1 seed over Denver, so they just need to keep winning to get homefield advantage. Rooting for Tom Brady sucks, but it's better than Miami getting to 8 wins.

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1:00pm

Before the Browns made Johnny Football their quarterback, the Packers-Bills game was going to get top national billing on FOX. This game might be closer than most expect as the Bills defense is very good and could give Aaron Rodgers some problems. The Packers could do the Steelers a big favor by knocking off the Bills in Buffalo.

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1:00pm

A few weeks ago, it looked like the Chiefs were on their way to challenging the Broncos for supremacy atop the AFC West. Then they went out to Oakland and lost to the 0-10 Raiders on national television. After dropping a game to Arizona last week because of their totally inept offense, the Chiefs are in a precarious situation with a trip to Pittsburgh looming next week. It would probably be too much to hope for for Oakland to beat Kansas City twice, right?

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1:00pm

The Steelers have head-to-head wins over both of these teams. The Steelers are a game ahead of Houston in the Wild Card race and a game behind Indianapolis overall, which could come into play if the Steelers are able to surpass the Bengals in the division. Like with the Cincinnati-Cleveland game, the best news here is that someone will lose.

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4:05pm

San Diego has an absolutely brutal schedule down the stretch. After facing New England last week they now get Denver at home this week. The Chargers are one of the 8-5 teams tied with the Steelers right now so we definitely need them to lose. Yes, it sucks having to cheer for Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in the same weekend, but the Steelers will need all the help they can get.