Tag Archives: AFC Playoffs

Le’Veon Bell’s Case for NFL MVP

Bell is 2nd in the NFL in total rushing yards and 3rd in total yards from scrimmage, despite missing 3 games to suspension. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

(Update – 12/28/16): Le’Veon Bell will not play Sunday in the Pittsburgh Steelers final game of the 2016 season vs. the Cleveland Browns. Neither will Ben Roethlisberger or Antonio Brown.)

I’ve been saying for weeks now that Le’Veon Bell is the best offensive player in the NFL. So it shouldn’t be a surprise to my readers that I think #26 should be the 2016 NFL MVP. On a team with arguably the best wide receiver in the League in Antonio Brown, who leads the NFL in receptions, a perennial pro-bowl quarterback with two Super Bowl victories in Ben Roethlisberger, Bell is the most lethal of the “Killer B’s”. He’s even already been named team MVP for 2016.

My case starts here:

The Pittsburgh Steelers are in the midst of a 6-game winning streak that helped them clinch the AFC North title and the 3rd seed in the AFC Playoffs. This after being 4-5 after the first 10 weeks of the season. In this run, Bell is averaging 139.2 rushing yards (5.2 yards per carry) and 42.7 receiving yards game (8.5 yards per catch), for an average of 181.9 yards from scrimmage. His 12-game average of 157 yards from scrimmage per game is the most in the NFL since Priest Holmes in 2002. He’s converted 62 first downs running and receiving in the streak, His total for the season is 94). Most importantly, he’s scored 7 touchdowns (6 rushing, 1 receiving).

Don’t forget about the 2016 NFL league high and Steelers franchise single-game rushing record of 236 yards he set against the Buffalo Bills in week fourteen. Also, he has more receptions than a handful of NFL teams’ number one receiver.

In the Steelers only loss in the second half of the season to the Dallas Cowboys, Bell rushed for 57 yards and a touchdown, caught 9 passes for 77 receiving yards and a touchdown, as well as converted 10 first downs.

Bell doesn’t just make the offense better, but the defense as well. The formula for the Steelers to win is simple, when he touches the ball 25+ times via the run and the pass, it helps win the time of possession battle, keeping that much maligned defense of theirs off the field. Since week 11 they’ve been a top 5 defense, mostly because they’re on the field less and not as vulnerable to be exploited.

In the win streak, Bell averages 32 touches a game. In the 4 losses he played in, he touched the ball an average 23 times. Much like Pittsburgh’s magic number on defense is 20—they’re undefeated when allowing 20 points or less, 1-5 when allowing 21+ points—25 touches for #26 is the magic number for their offense.

Bell averages 181.9 yards per game from scrimmage in the Steelers 6-game win streak. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Even after missing 3-games due to suspension, he’s second in the NFL in total rushing yards, and third in total yards from scrimmage. In his first game of 2016, Bell rushed for 144 yards on 18 carries and had 5 catches for 34 yards as the Steelers blew out the Kansas City Chiefs 43-14. Proving just how much extra “juice” he brings to an already lethal unit.

Since I mentioned his suspension, most would think that would disqualify him from winning this award. But, Tom Brady is gaining momentum for votes. He was suspended four games to start this season. Therefore it shouldn’t be a knock on Le’Veon either.

#26 has scored 7 touchdowns in Pittsburgh’s 6-game win streak. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

My final point is this, most valuable player should go to the player who if they weren’t on the field for any reason, the team wouldn’t be as successful as they are with him. It shouldn’t just be given to the best player on the team with the best record, as is the case most of the time. Or to the glory position of quarterback which has happened eight of the last ten seasons. LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006, and Adrian Peterson in 2012 were the only non-QBs to breakthrough.

Bell’s performance and incredible versatility is why Steelers Nation gets so upset and disappointed in him that he’s been suspended for off-the-field issues twice in his career. Who knows what this guy could do had he been available for a full 16-game schedule? Who knows where the Steelers would be if he hadn’t stepped up the second half of the season the way he has. That’s why he’s the most valuable.

He probably won’t win the award, he maybe won’t even finish in the top three. But, as I’ve showed you, he should. Who’s been hotter when it mattered the most?

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Pittsburgh Uses 4th Quarter Explosion to Steel AFC North Title

Le’Veon Bell rushed for 122 yards a touchdown and caught a touchdown pass to help beat the Ravens 31-27. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

In a week when Pittsburgh Steelers legend and Pro Football Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw criticized Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin’s coaching ability and philosophy, even going as far to say “He’s a great cheerleader guy…”, Tomlin’s team came out and backed up their #1 cheerleader by winning their 5th AFC North division title in his 10 seasons as a head coach. Especially, the Killer B’s of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell.

When it looked like Roethlisberger was going to throw away the division and possibly the playoffs with 2 second half interceptions that set the Baltimore Ravens up for 10 points, offensive coordinator Todd Haley turned to the guy I call “the most lethal offensive weapon in the NFL”, Le’Veon Bell.

The Steelers offense started the game ringing the Bell successfully. #26 converted 4 of the Steelers 6 first downs on their first drive of the game and rushed for 45 yards, which were more than the total he had the entire game against Baltimore in week 9 (32 yards). That 9 play, 87 yard drive ended with a 20-yard TD pass from Roethlisberger to Xavier Grimble to put the ‘Burgh up 7-0. We all know what happened from that moment through the beginning of the final 15 minutes. Pittsburgh was soundly out played and Bradshaw’s assessment of Tomlin looked pretty spot on.

But just like they’ve finished the second half of this season, they did so in this game. In the 4th quarter Pittsburgh scored 21 points on drives of 75, 90, and 75 yards. The longest was 2 minutes and 49 seconds. On the 90-yard touchdown drive to put them ahead 24-20, Brown and Bell gained EVERY yard. With the game on the line, #7 went to #84 with 9 seconds remaining and he fought his way into the end zone to bring the AFC North title home with the 31-27 win.

For the game, Le’Veon rushed for 122 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown, he also had 3 catches for 15 yards and a touchdown. Brown had 10 catches for 96 yards and a touchdown, 9 in the second half. Roethlisberger finished with 3 touchdown passes on 24 of 33 and 279 yards to go along with those 2 interceptions.

Defensively it wasn’t pretty, but they got it done when it counted. The Ravens won the time of possession battle 34:37 to 25:23. They were 9 of 17 on 3rd down conversions. Joe Flacco passed for 262 yards on 30 of 44 passing, while the offensive line bullied the Steelers D down the field for 122 rushing yards. Baltimore was beating the Steelers every which way you’d want. But Keith Butler’s unit forced Baltimore to settle for 4 field goals in the red zone, and a botched snap on another field goal attempt basically sealed their playoff fate.

Ryan Shazier’s interception as time expired sealed the AFC North title for Pittsburgh. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Flacco was sacked 2 times for -18 yards, and Ryan Shazier’s pick as time expired clinched the division. This is the first game in 2016 the Steelers have allowed 21+ points and won. All 5 losses this season came when the opponent score 21 or more points.

Who would’ve thought at week 10 when the Steelers were 4-5 and on a four game losing streak, they’d be 2016 AFC North Champions?  But here they are. With a 6-game win streak, surging into the playoffs as the 3-seed, instead of sneaking in like last season and looking like the team NOBODY wants to play in January.

Next up, the 1-14 Cleveland Browns in Heinz Field on New Year’s Day.

EXTRA POINTS

  • Roethlisberger’s 3 touchdown passes moved him to 301 and past John Elway, he’s idol growing up, for 9th on the NFL’s All-time pass touchdowns list.
  • Antonio Brown joined Marvin Harrison as the only players in NFL history to have 4 straight season of 100+ receptions, and his 1 TD reception was the 50th of his career.
  • With his 6th 100+ rushing yard game of the season, Le’Veon Bell passed Barry Foster, Dick Hoak, and Frank Pollard for 5th place on the Steelers all-time rushing list.
  • The Steelers are the only team in 2016 to not allow an opening drive touchdown to an opponent.

If Not Tomlin, Than Who?

In the midst of a four-game losing streak, many in Steeler Nation want the 10-year coach to be fired. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

I never thought I would say this about a fan base with so much tradition and knowledge of the game of football, but Pittsburgh Steelers fans have got to be some of the most delusional and irrational in the NFL. Many are calling for Mike Tomlin’s tenure in the “Steel City” to come to an end after the 35-30 loss to the Dallas Cowboys that extended the Steelers losing streak to 4-games.

The overwhelming venom spewed towards the 10-year head coach is nothing new. He always gets it no matter what type of season the team has or is having. He gets hell when they don’t win a Super Bowl, hell, even a playoff game. They can’t stand his cliché press conferences. Which by the way are no less informative than Bill Belichick’s. How’s that worked out for him and the New England Patriots?

If Steelers fans got their way—they won’t if you know anything about the Rooney family—and he was fired, Tomlin would have a job the next day. One presumable landing spot would be in the AFC North with the heated rival Cincinnati Bengals replacing the underachieving Marvin Lewis. Tomlin would haunt the Steelers like Belichick’s firing still haunts the Cleveland Browns organization. But, I bring up the Bengals head coach to make this point, that’s what a team that needs a coaching change looks like. 12-seasons no playoff wins, and us Steeler fans, I say us because I am a die hard fan of the Black and Yellow, need to look no farther than their collapse against Pittsburgh in the AFC Wild Card game this past January to know what dysfunction looks like. The Steelers are not dysfunctional, they’re struggling.

Bengals aside, an unemployed Tomlin would be pursued by 27 NFL owners immediately upon receiving a pink slip. The only teams that wouldn’t need to call would be the New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys. And I only say Dallas because we all know Jason Garrett is just Jerry Jones’ puppet, he’s really the coach. Who is out there good enough to take over for Tomlin? I’ll wait. [sounds of crickets]

Tomlin detractors constantly bring up that in addition to the on-field struggles, off the field issues created by Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant would never have happened under his predecessor Bill Cower. Um, as a life long Steeler fan, who is 36 years old, I am old enough to remember and say “yes they did!” One example, remember running back Bam Morris? And there were others.

The “Tomlin haters” constantly say he inherited a Ferrari from Coach Cower. How easy they forget Cower didn’t exactly inherit an empty cupboard from the Hall of Fame legend, Coach Chuck Knoll. Do these names ring a bell; Greg Lloyd, Rod Woodson, Dermontti Dawson, Barry Foster, Carlton Haselrig, David Little? All those guys were on the roster when Coach Knoll retired  after the 1991 season and Cowher took over. Except for Little, they were all Pro-Bowlers in 1992, Little was the previous season. The roster also boasted a young Carnell Lake, Ernie Mills and Merrill Hodge. The cupboard wasn’t bare. That’s how that ’92 team was able to win a division title.

Since Tomlin’s haters love to say Cower was a better coach than him, let’s look at it. Tomlin now has a fair body of work to put up next to Cower. So let’s compare the two.

In Cowher’s first 9 seasons (1992-2000), Pittsburgh went 86-58 with 5 AFC Central titles and one second place finish. The team went 5-6 in the playoffs, lost 2 AFC Championship games at old Three Rivers Stadium, and lost Super Bowl XXX to the Dallas Cowboys. The Steelers missed the playoffs 3 consecutive seasons (1998-2000) which included two losing seasons (7-9 in 1998; 6-10 in 1999).

In Tomlin’s first 9 seasons, the Steelers went 92-52, won 4 AFC North titles (came in 2nd 3 other times that led to the playoffs). He’s currently 6-5 in the playoffs, won one Super Bowl XLIII, and lost another one Super Bowl XLV. He’s only missed the playoffs 3-times and never had a losing season. Still think Cowher had the better run through his first 9 seasons?

I agree changes need to be made in the organization, but head coach isn’t one of them. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler doesn’t appear to have been ready to take over for the Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau. If his unit doesn’t drastically improve over the next seven games, regardless if the team makes the playoffs or not, he’ll likely be sent packing. If so, this defense could use some Rex Ryan attention as the D-coordinator after the Buffalo Bills cut bait with him when they miss the playoffs. Tomlin has the personality and relationship with Rex, to manage having the boisterous coach on his staff.

The other change, is a shift in draft philosophy from General Manager Kevin Colbert. I’ve been clamouring for Colbert to use first and second round draft picks on defensive backs since Super Bowl XLIII, when Kurt Warner and Larry Firzgerald carved up that aging secondary. Before drafting rookie Artie Burns with the 25th pick in the 2016 draft, Pittsburgh hadn’t drafted a defensive back in the first round since Troy Polumalu in 2003. All we heard on draft day year after year was “linebacker or defense end from _____ university.” Now is the time to start a run of drafting defensive backs year after year, round after round until they get it right. Don’t allow this explosive offense to be wasted because the defense can’t stop a faucet.

I still believe in Mike Tomlin, and I think most knowledgable, reasonable Steelers fans do as well. Everyone can’t be Bill Belichick and win a watered down division every year. But who’d want to, we don’t need a “Deflategate” or “Spygate” cloud over the Three Rivers.

Anyway, with everything I laid out, if you still don’t like Tomlin, it’s not a football issue. I’m left to wonder what it is, but I think I already know the answer.

While I’m ranting about stuff Steelers fans should stop saying, stop chanting “HEEEEEEAAAAAAATH” every time Jesse James catches as pass. It makes you sound ignorant and foolish as to who’s on your team. For goodness sakes, James played at many of yours beloved Penn State! All tall, athletic white guys don’t look alike.

Steelers vs. Broncos: A Tale of Two Halves 

 

Steelers win final home game of ’15 to keep playoff hopes alive

 

It’s a good thing they play 60 minutes in the NFL, because in the first 30, the Pittsburgh Steelers and their playoff hopes were flaundering.

I said in my post previewing this matchup, if you want to know who’s winning the game without looking at the score, look at third down conversions. The Steelers D allowed the Denver Broncos to convert a perfect 8 for 8 in the first half, while giving up 295 total yards, and most importantly, 27 points for the 27-13 halftime deficit.

It all flipped after the break. The defense held Brock Osweiler and the Denver O to 1 for 9 on 3rd downs, 0 for 2 on 4th downs, for 90 total yards in the half, and more importantly 0 points. It was a key interception by linebacker Ryan Shazier with 4:28 remaining in the 4th quarter set up the game winning 23 yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown. Just like it was a key fumble in the first half that set up the Steelers first TD.

On the day, the two Broncos turnovers led to 14 Steeler points. It’s this kind of defensive performance that has many “experts” selecting Pittsburgh to be their sleeper pick to make it to Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara. But, it’s mostly because they know just how potent this offense can be if the defense gives them anything.

Roethlisberger completed 40 of his 55 passes for 380 yards, with 3 touchdowns, but 2 interceptions. The 380 yards is the most Denver has given up to an opposing QB all season. Antonio Brown upstaged his former  “Steel City” running mate, Emmanuel Sanders, for 16 receptions 189 yards and 2 touchdowns. While Martavis Bryant added 10 catches for 87 yards, and Markus Wheaton with 6 catches for 62 yards and a touchdown.

The Steelers have now faced 6 of the top 10 ranked defenses in the NFL this season. The 6th ranked New England Patriots, 4th ranked Arizona Cardinals, 8th ranked Kansas City Cheifs, 10th ranked Cincinnati Bengals twice, 2nd ranked Seattle Seahawks, and now the top team in the Broncos.

In the first half, it appeared Denver had them figured them out. Just like with the previous 5, Roethlisberger, Brown, Bryant, Wheaton and OC Todd Haley figured them out. #7 and his crew managed 192 total yards, 14 first downs, and 21 points for the 34-27 victory. It was the 6 consecutive time the Steelers have scored 30+ points in a game, extending their franchise record.

In case you’re wondering or forgot, here’s how they fared against those 6 defensive units.

  • New England Patriots (L): 21 points, 464 total yards, 330 passing and 0 turnovers.
  • Arizona Cardinals (W) : 25 points, 310 total yards, 169 passing  and 0 turnovers without Roethlisberger.
  • Kansas City Chiefs (L) : 13 points, 339 total yards, 192 passing and 3 turnovers without Roethlisberger.
  • Cincinnati Bengals (L): 10 points, 356 total yards, 240 passing and 3 interceptions.
  • Seattle Seahawks (L): 30 points, 538 total, 480 passing and 4 interceptions. 
  • Cincinnati Bengals (W): 33 points, 354 total yards, 270 passing and 1 interception.
  • Denver Broncos (W): 34 points, 377 total yards, 354 passing yards and 2 interceptions.  
  •  7 game averages of 23.7 points per game, 391.1 ypg and 290.7 passing ypg.

You can see why opponents fear these guys getting into the postseason. By virtue of having a better record against conference opponents, the Steelers currently are in the 6th seed over the New York Jets. All Pittsburgh has to do is win out in order to keep that spot or even move up to 5th if the Kansas City Chiefs slip up. Up next for the Steelers, at the (4-10) Baltimore Ravens next Sunday. Kickoff is at 1 PM.

Steelers 2013: Bad Start, Better Finish

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Steelers finished 2013 like Steelers. Photo Courtesy: Steelers.com

The Steelers 2013 season was definitely a roller coaster. There was a four game losing streak, two three game winning streaks, key injuries to Pro Bowl performers and several good and bad records broken. Pittsburgh ended the 2013 without a trip to the playoffs–if the Refs were paying attention in that KC-SD game, they would be–but finished in a fashion the faithful in Steeler Nation are used to.

In their last 4 games they went 3-1, a far cry from the 0-4 start to the season. The offense moved the ball gaining an average 337.5 total yards per game–251.1 via the pass for 12th in the NFL–and finished with an average of 23.7 Points a game. Nearly a two touchdown improvement on the 10.6 they begin the season with.

Rookie running back Le’Veon Bell proved he could carry the load as the teams featured runner. After missing the first three games of the season, he gained 1,259 yards from scrimmage–860 of them on the ground–breaking the rookie record once held by Hall Of Famer Franco Harris.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looked more and more like the guy who has two Super Bowl rings and pretty much all of the franchises passing records. For the season, Big Ben passed for 4,261 yards, 28 touchdowns on a 64.2 percent completion rate. More importantly he played and started in all 16 games. The last time he did that was during the 2008 season when Pittsburgh went on to win Super Bowl XLIII.

The defense even stepped up down the stretch to finish with the 11th ranked overall defense, 8th in the pass. Not bad for an aging defense, but still not enough to contend for Super Bowls. They allowed an average of 23.1 points per game and 337.2 yards per game on the season. In three of their last four games, they gave up 34, 31 and 20 points.

Back to my point about they should be in the playoffs. Kansas City Chief kicker Ryan Succup missed a 41 yard field goal with 6 seconds left in the 4th quarter that could have beaten the San Diego Chargers and propelled the Steelers into the 6th seed.

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Chargers should’ve been flagged for illegal formation. Photo Courtesy: USA Today

On the play, the Chargers lined up 7 guys on the right side of the center, which is an illegal formation. Kansas City should’ve been given another chance to kick and possibly win the game. Then in Overtime, the Kansas City Defense stopped Eric Weddle on a fake punt and returned it for a touchdown, which should’ve given the Chiefs the victory. But, the Refs said Weddle’s forward progress was stopped, thus the play was dead.

In the end, had Pittsburgh taken care of their business during the regular season, they wouldn’t have been in position to fall victim to the Refs mistakes in the Chief-Charger game. Message now received. The way the Steelers ended the season, I expect them to come back strong in 2014. Management has some big decision to make, I’ll have more on that later this week.

One Spot, Four Teams. Steelers Have Great Shot

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Everything is falling into place for the Steelers to clinch the final AFC playoff spot.

I never thought I would have said that after the first four games when they went 0-4. Heck, I didn’t even think I’d be saying that after the loss to the Miami Dolphins 3 weeks ago. But of all the teams vying for that final spot, you would rather be Pittsburgh this weekend.

The Steelers have caught the breaks the last couple of weeks. They played the Green Bay Packers without Aaron Rodgers and play at home this Sunday against the lowly Cleveland Browns (4-11).

The three other teams in contention for the sixth seed have tougher roads. The San Diego Chargers (8-7) play against a Kansas City Chief (11-4) team locked into their position as the fifth seed, but wanting to go into the playoffs on a better note after losing 23-7 last Sunday to the Indianapolis Colts. The Dolphins (8-7) will play against a renewed and inspired New York Jet team fighting for their beloved coach’s job and the Baltimore Ravens (8-7) are reeling after an embarrassing 41-7 loss to the New England Patriots, and playing at a Cincinnati Bengal (11-4) team that is 7-0 on the season at Paul Brown Stadium and still playing for a first round bye.

So you see, there’s a strong possibility the Black and Gold will avoid missing the playoffs for a second consecutive year, and the third missed post season in the Mike Tomlin area.

Another caveat for the Steelers, they are 11-2 in week 17 games since 2000. Tied for the best record in the NFL in that time span with the Green Bay Packers. All that’s left now is to play the games and scoreboard watch. One the second season begins, throw the records out, anything can happen. Everyone is 0-0.