Monthly Archives: January 2016

Magic Need to Get Older to Make the Playoffs 

The Magic are in need of a shake up, having lost their last 7 games and 1-9 in the last 10.

The Orlando Magic are 20-24 and in the midst of a 7 game losing streak, having only won 1 game in their last 10. Their once realistic playoff dreams are quickly turning into a nightmare. General manager Rob Hennigan and head coach Scott Skiles need to do something drastic before the February trade deadline in order to stop this downfall and save the season. My solution… trade for a veteran.

It’s difficult to say a NBA team that’s average age is 24.9—5th in the league—should give up some of it’s young talent to get older, but they NEED to. This team’s inexperience has shown by blowing big 4th quarter leads and losing several games by one possession. They’re also 1-6 in overtime games. The losses are of the variety that don’t happen with experienced teams.

While youth and athleticism is a premium in the Association, and growing pains are part of the deal, that doesn’t mean it needs to serve your purpose on the court, but rather in acquiring other better fits. Now is the time to use the pieces they have to turn this once playoff bound team from a couple of weeks ago, that is now lottery bound, back into a playoff contender.

You don’t need to make a splash that’s going to win national headlines, and cause breaking news alerts or break the internet. Making a move for a franchise player is not the move I’m calling for, more like a vet that is playing out the end of a contract on a team that he’s likely not to resign with, or a strong role player with five or more years of experience. Three names come to mind,  and two are former Magic players.

First, power forward Ryan Anderson of the New Orleans Pelicans. He’s averaging 17.4 points per game and grabbing 6.1 rebounds with a PER of 17.6. Anderson was a fan favorite during his time in central Florida and blossomed playing the stretch 4 next to Dwight Howard.

Anderson blossomed in his three season in Orlando. He could be the missing piece for this squad.

Since he left the Magic his game has gone to another level playing next to another talented big man in Anthony Davis. Lately, he’s been showing the ability to also score tough baskets on the block as evident by his career high 36 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists performance Thursday night against the Sacramento Kings with Davis out of the lineup.

He could do the same playing with Nik Vucevic in place of Channing Frye who’s only giving Orlando 5.5 points a game to go along with 3.2 rebounds. Anderson could also anchor the second unit when Coach Skiles mixes in the rotation players.

The second name that comes to mind is Courtney Lee of the Memphis Grizzlies. Lee was a rookie starter on the Magic team that made the 2009 NBA Finals in his only season in Orlando. Lee has gained valuable big game experience in his time in Memphis, Boston and Houston.

 While he averages only 10.2 points a game on 45.3% shooting from the floor and 35.2% from 3-point range, he has made several clutch shots playing off All-Stars Marc Gasol and Zachary Randolph. Lee’s value is greater on the defensive end where the Magic struggle late in games.

The last name is power forward Danilo Gallinari of the Denver Nuggets. The 27-year-old is averaging 19.4 points, 5.7 rebounds per game with a PER of 19.8. While he still has 3 years left on his deal, he like Anderson are versatile stretch 4’s that while compliment Vucevic, the main piece in Orlando.

 

Mixing an older guy with this young talent isn’t a fresh idea to Magic management. In the offseason they tried to remedy this problem when they extended a max offer to the Atlanta Hawks All-Star Paul Milsap—another versatile 4-man, sensing a theme?—during the summer. So I’m not telling them anything new, only now it’s a red alert, or this team will tie the longest playoff drought in franchise history (1989-1992).

Gallinari has the versatility to compliment the Magic’s key player, Nik Vucevic.

Currently the Magic are 12th in the conference and sit 3 games out of the 8th seed in the East playoffs. While 20 wins at this point in the season is an overachievement when you look at the past three seasons. But they’re so close to the playoffs that something has to be done. In my opinion, everyone on the current roster should be on the trading block except Nik Vucevic.

 

Steelers Post-mortem: What Went Wrong in ’15

Pittsburgh’s quest for Lombardi #7 came up short in 2015, but 2016 is promising. Photo Credit: Kavis Peak

Now that the Pittsburgh Steelers season is over, there are two themes that will stick with me all offseason about the 2015 edition. Injuries and inconsistent defensive play.

First, the injuries. It started in the first preseason game when kicker Shaun Suisham tore his ACL making a tackle in the Hall of Fame game in August. Then All-Pro Center Maurkice Pouncey went down with a broken Ankle in the third preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. Move to the regular season and the injury bug continued to bite. Perennial Pro-Bowl quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had to miss 4 games with a sprained MCL and bone bruise of his left knee when he was hit low during the St. Louis Rams victory. 4 games later, starting offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum tore his ACL in the victory over the Arizona Cardinals and missed the final 12 games including the postseason. Just as #7 was ready to comeback and steady the ship, down goes All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell, who tore up his knee against the Cincinnati Bengals in the first meeting between the two heated rivals, causing him to miss the remainder of the season.

Then as they secured a playoff spot on the final day of the regular season, DeAngelo Williams sprains his ankle and misses the postseason. Then, Antonio Brown had to miss the Denver Broncos playoff game with a concussion suffered in the Wild Card game.

In all, 17 players were put on the injured reserve list. I don’t know of any team that could suffer such losses to key players and finish with a winning season, let alone make the playoffs and be 10 minutes away from making the Conference Championship game. Don’t believe me? Look at the Dallas Cowboys.

All things considered, this team overachieved. If I had told you in August that the Steelers would suffer that many significant injuries, you would’ve probably told me “better luck next year.” Or you might have thought “hope the losses help us get a great draft pick.”

Speaking of draft picks, that brings me to the other issue I have with the 2015 team. It’s time for Coach Mike Tomlin and General Manager Kevin Colbert to draft a defensive back in the first round. Probably in the second round as well.

Tomlin needs to improve his secondary in order to win his 2nd Super Bowl title.


The secondary was very inconsistent for a majority of this season. This unit finished with the 3rd worse ranked pass defense in the NFL, giving up 271.9 passing yards per game for a 16 game total of 4,350 yards, and 231 first downs via the air. Four quarterbacks set career marks against them for yards in a game. The Cleveland Brown’s Johnny Manziel (372 yards), A.J. McCarron (280 yards) of the Cincinnati Bengals and Ryan Mallett (274 yards) of the Baltimore Ravens, and Seattle’s Russell Wilson set career high for touchdowns with 5.

I will be clamoring all offseason for the Steelers brass to use early round picks on the most talented defensive backs in the 2016 class. According to draft analyst, this crop of prospects is the deepest position in the draft. Pittsburgh has the 25th pick by virtue of their postseason finish, and should be able to get a very talented player this late in the round.

A few prospects that already come to mind; cornerback Kendall Fuller from Virgina Tech, who comes from a very good pedigree with two brothers currently excelling in the League at the position, and a third that enjoyed a 7-year career as well. Jalen Ramsey of Florida State is one of the bigger corners in this year’s class at 6’1″ and 204 pounds. Many scouts say he’s more of a safety at the next level than a corner, but it doesn’t matter for the Steelers because they could use him at either position, especially with the 33-year old Will Allen entering free agency. Some mock drafts have the Steelers going with Eli Apple out of Ohio State with their first round pick. Apple was a key contributor on the Ohio State Buckeye team that won the 2014 National Championship. The 6’1″ cornerback is touted as a physical, in-your-face talent that likes to play man coverage and make tackles in the run game. He already sounds like a Steeler.

LSU’s Tre’Davious White is projected to be selected anywhere from the first to third round. If you could get him in round two or three after drafting one of the aforementioned prospects in the first round, you could potentially make a weakness of the club into a strength in two picks. We all know the Bengal Tigers have done pretty well recently with the secondary talent they’ve sent into the NFL in recent years. Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, Morris Claiborne to name a few.

The last time Pittsburgh selected a defensive back in the first round…. 2003 with the 16th pick. It was Troy Polamalu. How did that turn out? Future Hall of Famer.

I’m not going to point out the negative without looking at the positives. Pittsburgh’s defense was 3rd in the League in getting interceptions with 17, as well as 3rd in sacks with 48. In their last 4 games, which include the playoffs, they only gave up 17.8 points per game. That’s progress.

Roethlisberger missed 4 games, but led all QBs in passing yards per game. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

I go into the offseason believing that this young explosive offense, that averaged 26.4 points per game and set a franchise record with 6 consecutive games of scoring 30+, has the tools to compete for a Super Bowl title if everyone returns healthy.

Roethlisberger led all quarterbacks with 328.2 yards per game. Antonio Brown was once again voted to the All-Pro team, and became the first player in NFL history to record 125+ receptions in consecutive seasons. His 265 catches over that span is also the most in NFL history in any two-year period. Now he has more running-mates in Martavis Bryant who showed in the Divisional game against the Denver Broncos and all season he is more than able to compliment AB with his 9 reception 154 yard performance, and Markus Wheaton who pulled in 9 catches for 201 yards and a touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks’ “Legion Of Boom” proved why this is the most lethal crop of wide receivers in the League.

AB became the first WR to catch 125+ passes in consecutive seasons. Photo Credit:Steelers.com

As this season proved, the best ability is availability. And if the Steelers key players are available for a large portion of the 2016 season, that record seventh Lombardi Trophy won’t be that far from their grasps.

Magic’s Up & Down 1st Half of ’15-’16

Coach Skiles has this young team headed in the right direction, UP. Photo Credit: Orlando Magic.com

The Orlando Magic finished the first half of their season Wednesday night with a record of 20-21 after a 96-87 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers at Amway Center. While the All-Star break on February 12-14 is the NBA’s official mark to the end of the first half of the season, Orlando has already completed the first half of the 82 game schedule.

This season has already been filled with a handful of ups and down. Win 6 of 7, then lose 8 of 9. There has been a max win streak of 5 games, and two 4 game losing streaks. With a young team—Orlando is the 5th youngest in the league with an average age of 24.9—you have to expect several growing pains. But, there have been more positives than negatives. 

For perspective, the Magic didn’t win their 20th game last season until game 63 on March 6th, 2015. They finished the season with 25 wins. Check this out from the last 3 seasons:

  • 2014-15: 20th win came in game 63 on 3/6/15, and they were 14-27 after 41.
  • 2013-14: 20th win came in game 72 on 3/25/14, and they were 11-30 after 41.
  • 2012-13: 20th win came in game 79 on 4/10/13, and they were 14-27 after the first 41.

Matter of fact, they haven’t won 20 or more games this early since the lockout shortened season of 2011-2012 when they went 37-29 the last season Stan Van Gundy and Dwight Howard were in the Magic Kingdom. After that season, Coach Van Gundy was fired, Dwight was traded, and the rebuilding process began.

The Magic are on pace to win 40 games, a mark the franchise hasn’t reached or passed since the 2010-2011 group that won 52 games. Currently this team sits one game out of the 8th and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt. If they make the playoffs, they would avoid tying the longest playoff drought in franchise history from 1989 to 1993, which was their first 4 seasons in the NBA.

Their December record of 10-5 was good enough to earn 1st-year Magic Head Coach Scott Skiles the honor of Eastern Conference Coach of the Month. At the end of November on the 25th, they started a 5-game winning streak, their longest of the season thus far, that ended on December 5th.

Nik Vucevic is the budding All-Star at the forefront of the Orlando rebuild. Photo Credit: Orlando Magic.com

Fans of the NBA outside of central Florida may be wondering who is their star. The last time Orlando had success, they were anchored by a budding superstar in Howard, and he was a known commodity before the three Defensive Player of the Year awards, Dunk Contest Championship, playoffs and NBA Finals appearance. He had become a marketing magnet that even the casual NBA fan knew about.

Ironically or not, the face of this rise in the Magic Kingdom is another big man, the one in which Orlando got in exchange for Howard, Nik Vucevic.

“Vooch”, as he’s known by his teammates and Magic fans, scores 16.8 points a game while shooting 51.5% from the field and pulls down 8.5 rebounds a game. He is a double-double machine. This season he already has 17. Last season he finished the season with 45, which was good enough for 5th in the Association, and in 2013-2014, he had 36 in the 57 games he played. He was 3rd in the NBA during the 2012-2013 season with 46 out of 77 games in his first season in Orlando.

“Vooch” is surrounded by versatile players who can either knock down threes in the case of Evan Fournier (13.6 ppg, 37.9% 3PT) and Channing Frye (40.7% 3PT) or slashing playmakers in Tobias Harris (13.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 2.2 apg), Elfrid Payton (11.2 ppg,5.2 apg), Victor Oladipo (13.5 ppg, 4.9rpg, 4.0 apg) and Aaron Gordon (7.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 48.6% FG). This group is loaded with long, athletic talent. They could be this season’s Milwaukee Bucks.

Payton sets the table for this young talented team. Photo Credit: Orlando Magic.com

Unlike many young teams, they have shown no signs of selfishness. The Magic are 9th in assists per game at 22.5, and have 5 guys averaging double figures with Vucevic being the leading scorer.

Expectantly, under the defensive minded Skiles, the defense is drastically improved. The Magic are 7th in the Association in opponents points per game at 98.7 and 11th in forcing turnovers at 15.1 a night. They’re also holding their opponents to 44.2% shooting from the field and 34.% from 3 point range which both are good for 12th in the NBA.

Unfortunately right now they’re in one of those down periods. Since the calendar turned to 2016, they are 1-8, and in the midst of their second 4 game losing streak of the season. This is the first time they’ve been under .500 since November 25th when they were 7-8. In the month of January, they’re only averaging 88.7 points per game, which is down from 100.1 ppg in December, 100.6 in November when their record was 19-11 in that 30 game span.

Like most inexperienced teams, they have a losing record on the road at 8-11, and of their 21 losses, 7 (Washington (4), Phoenix, Sacramento & Philadelphia) have come to teams with worse records than them.

If this team is going to make the playoffs, possibly before, or at the trade deadline on February 15th, they will need to add a veteran to help this young unit become more consistent and climb higher in the Eastern Conference seedings. Adding key veterans from 2006-2009 like Tony Battie, Adonal Foyle, Anthony Johnson and Ty Lue helped this team make the postseason six consecutive seasons. And fans in central Florida may remember, the 2008-09 Magic that made the NBA Finals, added established veterans like Rafer “Skip to my Lou” Alston mid-season, along with the aforementioned vets to mix with the young talent in Howard, Jameer Nelson, Courtney Lee and J.J. Redick to help aid their growth.

I’m not saying this team is ready to compete for an NBA title, but so far the rebuilding process that started three seasons ago is working. The playoffs are in clear sight, and General Manager Rob Hennigan should do whatever is necessary to see that the fans in central Florida get a chance to witness postseason basketball A.S.A.P. It’s time to reward their patience.

Steelers Gutsy in Playoff Defeat

 

Denver outlast Pittsburgh 23-16. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

All loses hurt, but probably even more in the postseason. Especially when you have a fourth quarter lead as the Pittsburgh Steelers did before losing 23-16 to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Divisional round.

But it’s difficult to be upset or place blame on anyone after this Steelers performance being short handed and banged up. If anything, there has to be a high level of pride from Steelers Nation with how their beloved heroes fought.

The Steelers are the first team in the Super Bowl era to play a playoff game without their leading rusher and receiver from the regular season. Essentially, Ben Roethlisberger and the offense were playing with house money because no one gave them a chance to advance to the AFC Championship game.

For the first 45 to 50 minutes of this game, the Pittsburgh D played out of its mind and had control. They held the Broncos to 3/16 on 3rd & 4th downs for the game. In the first half, Denver was able to only gain 164 yards (99 passing,65 rushing) resulting in 3 field goals. The Broncos receivers also helped by dropping 6 passes in the game.

But like most of the Steelers season, the defense was left on the field too long as the offense was not able to sustain any long drives to give them a rest. In that altitude, that is a recipe for a loss. Denver won the time of possession battle 31:33 to 28:27, even though it was 16:10 to 13:50 in favor of the Steelers in the first half. The result, the Broncos went on to score 14 second half points.

Roethlisberger threw for 339 yards in defeat. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Pittsburgh’s shorthanded offense surprisingly handled it’s own for a majority of the game against the number one ranked total defense. Ben Roethlisberger never showed any ill affects of his sprained throwing shoulder that kept him out of practice for most of the week. #7 was 24/37 for 339 yards, and is the only QB to throw for more than 300 yards on the vaunted Denver D. He also did it back in the Week 15 34-27 victory over the Broncos.

As much talk as there was coming into the game about who could replace wide receiver Antonio Brown in his absence with a concussion, it didn’t appear they missed him. Martavis Bryant caught 9 passes for a 154 yards to go along with 2 carries for 40 yards. The Steelers had 133 yards in the 1st quarter alone which was the most allowed by the Broncos in a 1st quarter all season. Pittsburgh had more total yards in the first 3 quarters (312) than Denver allowed per game in the regular season (283.1).

But just like in Cincinnati against the Bengals last week, and most of the regular season, the offense had to settle too many times for field goals. They were 1-3 in the red zone on the afternoon.

Most fans and analyst will point the finger at running back Fitzgerald Toussaint for fumbling at the Denver 35 yard line with 10 minutes remaining in the game, as the Steelers driving for a potential knockout shot. Yes, that was the turning point. But special teams was atrocious all game. Jordan Berry shanked two punts for 27 yard that gave the Broncos great field position, as well as his first punt of 52 yards that Omar Bolden returned 42 yards to set up the first of three Denver field goals.

Markus Wheaton was a nightmare as a punt returner with two muffed punts that thankfully were recovered by the Steelers. If there is anywhere the Steelers clearly missed Brown, it was as a punt returner. Wheaton’s longest return of the day was 12 yards.

Even with the injuries and inconsistent play, Pittsburgh was in control of this game for 50 minutes. It’s a shame they loss, but this game was a microcosm of the season: injuries, defense unable to hold on, and settling for field goals. That’s the story of the 2015 Steelers.

OTHER NOTES:

Ben Roethlisberger passed Terry Bradshaw for most passing yards in Steelers postseason history with his 132 in the first half. He now has 4,052 for his career. Roethlisberger is now 4-2 in road playoff games. Both losses were at Denver, the other was the 2011 Wild Card game versus Tim Tebow that ended on the first play of overtime.

Steelers-Broncos: Divisional Preview

 

The Pittsburgh Steelers will face off against the Denver Broncos in the AFC Divisional round. And with two hobbled starting quarterbacks. Ben Roethlisberger with the injured right throwing shoulder, and Peyton Manning with plantar fasciitis that limited him to only 10 games this season.

Pittsburgh won the first meeting of the 2015 season in Heinz Field, 34-27 in week 15 after coming back from a 27-13 halftime deficit. Roethlisberger was threw for 380 yards on 40/55 with 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. But, the Mile High City has been sort of a house of horrors for him and the Steelers in recent memory.

The last time the Steelers were in Denver was back in 2012. Peyton Manning passed for 253 yards and 2 touchdowns on 19/26, leading the Broncos to a 31-19 win in his first game with his new team, after missing all of the previous season. That meeting, came eight months after the Steelers lost to the Broncos 29-23 on the first play of overtime on an 80 yard pass and catch from Tim Tebow to Demaryius Thomas. That was the day in which the Pittsburgh D gave up a career high 316 passing yards and 2 touchdowns to Tebow. See, giving up career high games to quarterbacks has been the norm for the Black & Yellow for a handful of seasons now. Not just the four they allowed this season to Russell Wilson, Johnny Manziel, Aaron McCarron and Ryan Mallet.

Ben Roethlisberger is 3-4 vs. Broncos as a starter in his career. That includes the 2005 AFC Championship victory in Denver. Head coach Mike Tomlin is 2-3 vs Denver in his tenure.

But it’s not all bad for Tomlin, Roethlisberger and company. #7 is 4-0 in divisional games, and moved to 5-0 as the 6th seed with last Saturday’s victory. They’re also the only team to score 30+ points this season on the Broncos fourth ranked scoring D and first ranked in total yards in the NFL.

There are some nuggets that should have Peyton Manning and Bronco fans concerned. Manning, who hasn’t started a game since November 15th against the Kansas City Chiefs when he was benched after throwing 4 interceptions, has been held under 300 yards passing in 4 of 5 meetings all-time against Pittsburgh. Nine times he’s lost the first playoff game, six of them at home. That includes the 2005 Divisional loss to Roethlisberger and the Steelers when Peyton was with the Indianapolis Colts. Manning is 3-2 all-time vs. Steelers, that includes playoffs.

Also, the coaching edge in this matchup has to go to Mike Tomlin. He’s not only a Super Bowl Champion and 2-time AFC Champ, he’s 6-4 in the postseason. While his counterpart on the other sideline, Gary Kubiak is just 2-2 in his postseason career.

At the time of this post, wide receiver Antonio Brown, who had 16 receptions for 189 yards and 2 touchdowns in the week 15 matchup, still hasn’t passed the concussion protocol which would keep him out of Sunday’s game. Running back DeAngelo Williams hasn’t practice since injuring his right ankle against the Cleveland Browns in the regular season ending victory, and could also miss this game. Roethlisberger has yet to test his ability to throw with that injured shoulder in practice. Injuries has been the theme to this Steeler team all season going back to training camp. If their season is to continue, they’ll have to overcome this hurdle once again.

The Steelers are 7 point underdogs, and the over-under is 39.5.  Kickoff is scheduled for 4:40 pm on Sunday.

Steelers-Bengals Put the Wild in Wild Card Weekend

 I don’t even know how to write this, or where to began. Before the fourth quarter began I was ready to spend my time talking about how the Pittsburgh Steelers defense put up a dominating performance by holding the Cincinnati Bengals to 0 points. I was also ready to praise the Steelers running back tandem of Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman for rushing for a combined 123 yards in the absence of DeAngelo Williams.

But then the fourth quarter happened, and these two teams who have butted heads in the most ugly of meetings in recent memory, put the wild in wild card.

The last two minutes alone involved an interception by Steelers backup quarterback Landry Jones that appeared to seal the Bengals first playoff win in 24 seasons, followed by a Cincinnati fumble by running back Jeremy Hill as they tried to salt the game away. Then it got real wild and ugly on the ensuing Pittsburgh drive when the Bengals were called for two 15-yard personal foul penalties, one in which concussed Antonio Brown and set up the game winning 35-yard field goal by Chris Boswell.

There were 18 combined accepted penalties for 221 combined yards in the game. The Steelers 142 penalty yards were 3 away from tying the record set by the 1981 San Francisco 49ers versus the New York Giants in the Divisional round. In a way, didn’t we get what we expected from these two heated division rivals who racked up over $140 thousand dollars in fines just about a month ago?

I’ll let other folks discuss the out of control nature in which the Bengals snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. I’ll focus on the actual play on the field.

At the start of the day, if I had told you the Steelers would rush for 167 yards without Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams, against the 7th ranked rush defense (92.3 ypg) in the regular season, you would’ve laughed and told me to get out of your face because I didn’t know anything about football.

Pittsburgh rushed for 167 yards on Saturday night. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

The Steelers started the game looking to establish the run game. The combo of Toussaint and Todman gained 50 yards rushing in the first quarter, 73 in the first half for an average of 4.3 yards per carry. Pittsburgh ran the ball 29 times at a 5.8 yard per carry clip. It led to the 15-0 lead. To Steeler fans, it looked like old school Steeler football. Dare I say, Cowher Power football.

For three quarters the Steelers D even resembled the efforts of Cowher’s old teams, and completely dominated the Bengals. Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler’s unit only allowed the Bengals to gain 2 first downs in the first half, while holding them to 1/7 on 3rd downs for 56 total yards (2.3 ypp) in the first 30 minutes.

The much maligned pass defense only allowed 188 yards through the air, created 4 turnovers and sacked A.J. McCarron 3 times. But, they were once again exposed in the second half. 142 of those passing yards came in the last 30 minutes, and they gave up 17 first downs, 11 via the pass. Cincinnati took advantage of the secondary to take a 16-15 lead on 25-yard TD pass from McCarron to A.J.Green. It once again looked like the defense had given another playoff game away.

But of course, #7 did what he has done several times for the Steelers, and shrugged off the pain and went 5/7 for 40 yards on the 9 play 74 yard final drive, with the aide of the out-of-control Bengals penalties that set up the Steelers game winning field goal.

Shazier made 13 tackles (9 Solo) anf forced 2 fumbles vs. Cincinnati. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

The player of the game without a doubt goes to Ryan Shazier. The 2nd-year linebacker out of Ohio State forced two fumbles that led to 6 points. He also collected 13 tackles (9 solo), batted 2 passes and 1 hit on the quarterback.

Overall I’d give the defense a C+. I say that because while they played awesome for 45 minutes. They also had an epic collapse that would’ve had Steeler Nation questioning Coach Mike Tomlin and the Black & Yellow had the Bengals and Marvin Lewis hadn’t turned back into… well the Bengals.

However, the Steelers are on to the Divisional Round and will play at the number 1 seeded Denver Broncos next Sunday. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:40 p.m.

Steelers celebrate first playoff win since 2010 AFC Championship Game. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

OTHER NUGGETS: Steelers are now 8-3 when scoring first in the postseason since 2004. Ben Roethlisberger is now second in NFL history with 4 postseason game-winning drives in the 4th quarter or overtime. Tom Brady and Eli Manning share first place, each have 5. The Bengals are now 0-14 in their playoff history when trailing at any point.

’15 Steelers Road to Super Bowl Eerily Similar to ’05 Champs

 

Hines and “Bus” are gone, but this ’15 team resembles their ’05 team.

I’ve been a Pittsburgh Steelers fan my entire life. I was born the year they won their then NFL record fourth Lombardi Trophy in January 1980 following the 1979 season.

But in my young life, I never saw the Steelers win a Super Title. Sure they came close. Super Bowl XXX was supposed to be the franchise’s record tying fifth Lombardi, but then Neil O’donnell happened. True members of Steelers Nation know how hard it is for me to mention that name.

Nevertheless, there were other close calls. A 1995 AFC Championship loss to the San Diego Chargers. Another to Denver after the 1997 season, another to the New England Patriots after the 2001 season, and another after the 2004 season. I was starting to believe it was never going to happen. Then the 2005 Steelers showed up and defied the odds by being the first 6th seed to win it all when they went on the road and won three straight playoff games in route to the Super Bowl XL title. I have found memories of that title run, and often rewatch those games on DVD. That’s my all-time favorite Steeler team because of how they did it. This 2015 team is eerily similar and if they are to bring home a record seventh Super Bowl victory, they’ll have to do it the same way it was done 10 years ago.

Just like 2005, the journey to the Super Bowl 50 title begins as the 6th seed in Cincinnati against the AFC North Champion Bengals. Just like 2005, a win against the Bengals means a date with the #1 seed, led by Peyton Manning, and just like 2005, a trip to the Big Game will include a stop in the Mile High City. Looking far ahead, a Super Bowl win may have to be over the NFC favorites, the Seattle Seahawks.

Here are some other similarities from the regular season. Both the ’15 and ’05 squads lost close games to the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field. The 2005 Carson Palmer led Bengals won 38-31, while the Andy Dalton led Bengals won 16-10 this season. In both the ’15 and ’05 seasons, the Steelers won at Paul Brown Stadium by double digits (33-20 in ’15 & 27-13 in ’05). Both Steelers teams lost by 3 points at the Baltimore Ravens; 16-13 in overtime in ’05 and 20-17 this season.

Ben Roethlisberger missed significant time in both seasons for a knee injury. After he returned, both teams got hot, and at the right time. The 2005 Steelers went 5-3 to finish the season including a 4 game winning streak. This season, Pittsburgh finished the season 6-2 that included a 3 game winning streak, and 4-1 in their last 5.

The similarities don’t just stop with the Steelers. The Broncos were the 2005 AFC West Champions, just like they were in 2015. The Patriots won the AFC East in 2005, and in 2015. Oh, and the New England Patriots went on to win Super Bowl XXIX the season before the Pittsburgh won Super Bowl XL. The Patriots won the Super Bowl last season.

In an ironic twist, the #5 seed Carolina Panthers played against the #1 seeded Seahawks in the 2006 NFC tile game, and it’s likely Carolina and Seattle will meet again—if the “Legion of Boom” can beat the Viking this weekend—only this time the #6 seed Seahawks would travel to Charlotte to play against the #1 seed Panthers in the divisional round.

Coincidences to me aren’t accidents. And if this team makes it to Levi Stadium in Santa Clara to play for the Championship, that won’t be a surprise or accident either.