Tag Archives: Le’Veon Bell

Fans Should be Pro-Player, Not Pro-Owners

Le’Veon Bell is the latest, but definitely not the last, professional athlete who’s contentious contract negotiations has caused fans to turn on him instead of the organization. Photo Courtesy: Steelers.com

Le’Veon Bell, Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack are just the latest NFL players to spend the offseason engaged in tense contract negotiations with their respective teams for a new deal that pays them what they feel they’re worth. Bell reportedly turned down a reported 5 year-70 million-dollar contract ($33 million guaranteed) from the Pittsburgh Steelers. The 26-year old All-Pro running back has said he wants to reset the market for the position, which has been devalued over the past decade. Meanwhile, L.A. Rams running back Todd Gurley may have beat him to the punch. The 24-year old signed an NFL record contract for a running back worth $60 million dollars ($45 guaranteed) over the course of four years.

Bell, however, will play his second consecutive season under the franchise tag. The tag will pay him $14.5 million for this season, which will likely be his last in Pittsburgh, according to his agent. Fans in Steelers Nation have already turned on him, calling him selfish and greedy, among spewing other ignorant and insensitive comments.

Regardless of Bell’s motivation, and desire for a contract that he feels is fair compensation of his value, I’m confused why so many fans are on the side of Billionaires, instead of Millionaire players, who have a shorter window than their employers to make their living.

Fans need to understand, the owners of their favorite teams, own multiple businesses, many of which their family, friends or themselves work for. These same negotiation tactics they use to low-ball your favorite player, are the same business principles in practice at their other companies to keep the average American’s salaries low.

For example, Stan Kroenke, the owner of the L.A. Rams — as well as the Denver Nuggets (NBA), Colorado Avalanche (NHL) the Colorado Rapids (MLS) and is also the largest shareholder of club Arsenal of the Premier League — is the husband of the daughter of Walmart co-founder James Walton. Another example would be Arthur Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons, who owns Home Depot.

So, think about someone who works at one of Kroenke’s Walmart stores or Blank’s Home Depot as a Store Manager. Let’s say this Store Manager earns $50,000 a year. To most in America that’s a great salary. However, the median annual salary for this position is $56, 175 per year. But, the salary ranges between $49,129 to $67,142 across the U.S. If the Wal-Mart or Home Depot store manager went and asked for a raise from $50k to $67k, they probably wouldn’t get it all. They’d be lucky to get a $5,000 raise. Still good, but not their true market value. That’s the key word: Market Value.

See, the rich don’t get rich by spending every dime. They get rich by having great cost management skills, and that involves finding employees that don’t cost much. By much, I mean close to the minimum. An employee’s only chance at getting what they want, may be to leverage going and working for one of Wal-Mart or Home Depot’s competitors, Target and Lowes. That’s just like Professional Athletes who have to consider playing for other teams around the league who will pay them exactly or close to what they’re asking for.

Don’t let the dollar amount that professional athletes earn compared to you; blind you from the fact that this is how the rich take advantage of labor. Fans, you are labor! Just like pro athletes. Regardless of how many more commas your favorite athlete has in his or her bank account than you, you have more in common with them than the owner of your favorite team.

The same practices they use to keep the players from getting what they deserve, are the same they use against you. And if you don’t play along, they will get rid of you and find someone else who is willing to take less than you would have. NEVER forget that! Fans who disagree should go read William Rhoden’s book “Forty Million Dollar Slaves”, I’m sure they’ll gain a different perspective.

 

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Dawn of More Steelers Championships

The 2016 Steelers story could very well be the first chapter in a book filled with future championships. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Steelers Nation is reeling the disheartening and embarrassing 36-17 AFC Championship loss to the Evil Empire, also known as the New England Patriots. For the third time, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick prevented them from advancing to the Super Bowl, this time on their home turf in Foxborough.

But the 2016 season wasn’t and shouldn’t be a total disappointment for Pittsburgh fans. This playoff run and the second half of the regular season showed all the pieces necessary are in place for a potential Steelers dynasty.

It obviously starts with the franchise QB. Ben Roethlisberger is already the best quarterback in Pittsburgh Steelers history over Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw. He’s already won two Super Bowls and played in a third. He has every important quarterback statistic in franchise history. This should no longer be a debate.

Of the key significant players on the Steelers offense, he’s the oldest at 34 years old. Barring significant injury, which has been an issue through this career, Big Ben should be able to play at an elite, pro-bowl level for another four years or so. That is if Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Warren Moon to name a few are the new norm. Roethlisberger will be protected by a top rated offensive line and have arguably the most talented and explosive collection of skill players in the NFL at his disposal, as well as a young emerging defense.

Look first at the guys who will protect #7. Everyone raves about the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line, but the Steelers underrated line, which has two Pro Bowlers in David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey who have also been All-Pro’s, was the second ranked overall unit in the NFL. They only allowed 21 sacks, the second fewest in the league. They allowed the third fewest hits on the QB at 56. The starters average age is 28.2 with an average of 5.6 years of experience. They’ll hold down the trenches not only keep him clean, but also open up holes for Le’Veon Bell.

Speaking of Bell. As Roethlisberger ages, he will become the focal point of the offense and carry the load. Think of it how Kyrie Irving has now become the closer for the Cleveland Cavaliers, even though LeBron James is still their most important player. The Steelers were 9-0 this season when he rushed for 90+ yards.

Bell, the guy I call “the most lethal weapon in the NFL”, is only 24 years old. In the 12 games he played, “Juice” led the NFL in scrimmage yards per game at 157 (105.7 rushing; 51.3 receiving), and was the first back in history to average more than 100 rushing yards and 50 receiving yards per game. His yards per carry average of 4.9 ranked 2nd of those who qualified and his total 1,268 rushing yards was 5th best in the League. The guy many say is the best all-around back in the game is only going to get better.

At this point, we already know what to expect from Antonio Brown. Arguably the League’s best wide receiver, he once again finished in the top 5 in receptions (106; 2nd), receiving yards (1,284; 5th) and touchdown catches (12; tied for 2nd). The key was finding other guys to step up when opposing defenses doubled and bracketed AB. Eli Rogers and Jesse James became those guys and were third and fourth in receptions. James (39 catches, 338 yards & 3 TDs) played more than expected with all the injuries high-priced free agent tight end LeDarius Green suffered through all season long. The second-year tight end from Penn State showed he has the size and athleticism to fill the void in the middle of the field left by Heath Miller’s retirement.

Rogers (48 catches, 594 yards & 3 TDs) and Cobi Hamilton (17 catches, 234 yards & 2 TDs) appear to have passed up Sammie Coates and Markus Wheaton–who can’t stop dropping passes or stay off the injury list–on the depth chart in the wide receiver rotation and were a welcome surprise. The biggest addition will be, IF he can stay clean and IF he gets reinstated, getting a proven commodity in Martavis Bryant back to go with all this new firepower.

But the offense hasn’t been the concern in recent years, it was the defense. The kryptonite to the offenses Super Powers in recent seasons has been their aging defense, specifically in the secondary. Even with 38-year old James Harrison playing a significant role, and who knows what his future will hold, it’s still the 11th youngest unit in the NFL.

The secondary started two rookies in safety Sean Davis and cornerback Artie Burns. Second-year pro Ross Cockrell finished his first season as a full-time starter at corner. 23-year old outside linebacker Bud Dupree only played half of his sophomore season, and maybe it’s coincidence or not, the 9-game win streak began when he returned from a groin injury that kept him out the first 9 regular season games. 24-year old Ryan Shazier was first on the team in forced fumbles (3), interceptions (3) and second in tackles (87). Oh, and they’re getting back from injury, the guy who was the most consistent in the early part of the season in defensive end Cam Heyward. The guy who replaced him, rookie Javon Hargrave, got valuable experience in his absence registering 27 tackles, 2 sacks, and another one in the playoffs.

As the 2016 season carried on, Keith Butler’s group steadily improved in his second season calling the shots. They’re now almost as explosive as the Killer B’s in the way they get after the quarterback and create turnovers. Surely they’ll draft a linebacker in the first round, and hopefully draft another athletic, rangy defensive back to pair with what they have. But, it’s looking a lot better on that side of the ball than it did mid-season.

Some say the only difference between the teams that didn’t make the playoffs and the ones that did, is the extra weeks of practice time. Well then it was worth it. The young guns got thrown into the fire and gained valuable, much needed experience.

Remember when Big Ben was a young pup and Pittsburgh relied on a strong running game with Jerome Bettis and a stout defense with Troy Polamalu, Joey Porter, Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel and James Farrior to name a few, to win games? As he ages, they’ll revert back to that formula and increase his championship window. Only this time as the elite running back and defense ages, they’ll be entering their prime. Where as the roster Roethlisberger inherited was exiting their prime as he was entering his.

I no longer think it’s a question of if he’ll win another Super Bowl, in my opinion that’s a given. The question is will he catch Bradshaw’s four Super Bowl victories and pass him? The hope and possibility of that should enough to get Steeler Nation through the winter.

The Steelers showed promise that another Lombardi is close. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Third Time Wasn’t the Charm

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Mike Tomlin drops to 2-1 in AFC Championships after losing to the Patriots 36-17 in the ’16 AFC title game.

Steeler Nation has seen this horror film before. It’s a now a trilogy. And each one ends the same. Disappointing and embarrassing.

Tom Brady and the New England Patriots thwarted another Pittsburgh Steelers trip to the Super Bowl 36-17.

The 4-time Super Bowl Champion QB carved the Black and Yellow defense for a postseason career high and franchise record 384 yards with 3 touchdowns. Chris Hogan ran free in the Steelers secondary to score 2 touchdowns while setting a Patriots franchise postseason record 180 receiving yards on 9 receptions. Julian Edelman also got loose for 118 yards on 8 catches, one going for a touchdown. The 298 combined receiving yards is the most by a duo in conference championship history.

The Pittsburgh defense that led the way to victory in many games during the 10-game winning streak going back to week 11 was no match for Brady’s offense. Coming into the game New England averaged 386.2 total yards per game. They went for 431 in the AFC title game. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler went back to a game plan that he implored at the beginning of the season; Bend, but don’t break. Those type of calls get you burnt. All season I’ve said that an elite quarterback would slice and dice that plan. Sunday night was that night.

Critics of Mike Tomlin, ahem… Terry Bradshaw, will use this game as an example of him not being an elite or a great coach because the lack of adjustments made.

From my vantage point the only adjustment they could’ve made would’ve been to play ball control offense, and that option went out the window in the first quarter when Le’Veon Bell injured his groin after only 6 carries for 20 yards. Had Bell been available, and been able to do even half of what he did in the Wild Card and Divisional rounds, that could’ve done the trick. The Steelers were 9-0 this season when he ran for 90+ yards. That’s because he eats clock, while also wearing down defenses, but mostly because it would’ve kept Brady on the sideline. He was also missed in the passing game, as New England was able to double team Antonio Brown who had a quiet 7 catches for 77 yards.

Still, Bell doesn’t play defense and that’s where this team was exposed once again like they were during their mid-season 4-game losing streak from weeks 6 thru 10.

Offensively, Ben Roethlisberger came to play going 31 of 47 for 314 yards with a touchdown and interception. But not many others with him. At one point in the first half, he completed a career high 13 consecutive completions. This was his moment to get payback on #12 and “The hoody” for the loss he suffered as a rookie 12 seasons ago, and he looked poised to take advantage of it. With Brown double teamed, Eli Rodgers (7 catches for 66 yards) and Jesse James (5 catches for 48 yards) made plays to keep drives moving. But key drops by Sammie Coates and Cobi Hamilton sucked the life out of promising drives.

The key turning point was Pittsburgh’s last drive of the first half. The 19-yard touchdown catch by James that would’ve brought the score to 12-17 was reversed when replay showed he was down at the one yard line, was followed by three unsuccessful plays that yielded negative 4 yards before Chris Boswell came in on 4th down to make a 23-yard field goal to bring the score to 9-17.

Had they got the touchdown and headed into halftime 13-17 after the extra point or 14-17 if they went for a 2-point conversion, with them getting the ball first to start the second half it would’ve been a different game. Instead they went three-and-out on their first second half possession, then proceeded to give up 19 unanswered points, and it was pretty much a coronation for New England as they broke a tie with the Steelers for most AFC title championship in NFL history with 9.

I honestly didn’t expect this. I thought this was the one. The one win to wipe away the pain from losing in 2004 and 2001 at Heinz Field. This one will be tough to digest. The last 9 weeks gave Steelers fans a sense of hope the Lombardi number seven was within reach. Tonight showed this team is probably a year or two away. I’ll have more on that later this week, because my final takeaway from this season is, 2016 may have been the dawn of a new Steelers dynasty.

When you’re an organization playing for World titles it’s hard to accept a 13-6 finish. But when you look at where this team was in mid-October, if you told me this would be the final result, I would’ve taken it after I laughed at you.

Next up, the offseason.

EXTRA POINTS

  • Sunday was the 11-year anniversary of the Steelers 2005 AFC Championship victory over the Denver Broncos.
  • Ben Roethlisberger started his 20th career postseason game, passing Terry Bradshaw, Mel Blount and Franco Harris for the franchise record by an individual player. He also passed Bradshaw for most 300+ yard passing games in franchise postseason history.
  • On his third carry of the night, Le’Veon Bell passed Franco Harris (343) for most rushing yards in a postseason. He now has 357 yards in his first three playoff games.
  • This was the first playoff game since 2006 with no penalties in the first half.

Will the Third Time be the Charm for Pittsburgh?

Tomlin is 2-5 vs. Belichick in the regular season. The AFC title game will be their first playoff meeting.

Here we are again. For the third time, the Pittsburgh Steelers will play the New England Patriots for the right to go to the Super Bowl. This time, the New England Patriots have the number one seed and home field advantage. A scenario the Steelers were in the other two times they met with the AFC crown on the line.

Those other two times, New England has beaten Pittsburgh. Each loss ended a sensational season by the Steelers that appeared to be destined to bring home another Lombardi trophy. 2001, the second seeded Pats defeated the 13-3 and number one seeded Steelers 24-17 in Heinz Field. That was the game Tom Brady was knocked out and Drew Bledsoe had to be dusted off from the bullpen to rescue the Pats. New England would go on to win their first of four Super Bowls in the 2000’s.

2004, Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie season. The Steelers were 15-1 and the number one seed again. In the regular season, Pittsburgh defeated New England 34-20 and ended their record 21-game winning streak. Steelers Nation thought they finally had Brady and Bill Belichick’s number. But in the playoffs, the second seed Pats thumped them 41-27. Roethlisberger threw three interceptions, one returned for a touchdown by safety Rodney Harrison.

It feels like they have their number. Four of the last five times these two teams have played, Pittsburgh has lost. It’s payback time.

These aren’t the same Steelers the Patriots defeated in week seven 27-16. Ben Roethlisberger didn’t play that game due to injury. James Harrison wasn’t starting and wasn’t heavily used in the linebacker rotation. Bud Dupree was still on the injury list. Those rookies in the secondary, Sean Davis and Artie Burns were still inexperienced. And Brady had Rob Gronkowski in the lineup. Number 87 won’t be there Sunday.

What does that mean? As I sit here on Monday afternoon and write this, not much. But the Steelers defense that allowed 362 total yards, 127 rushing and two touchdowns to LeGarrette Blount, and 93 receiving yards and a touchdown to “Gronk” on that late October afternoon, is very much improved.

In this 9-game winning streak dating back to week 11, the defense allows 87.6 rushing yards per game and 230.6 passing yards per game. They’re also plus 7 in turnover margin. The D is the only thing anyone worries about when it comes to Pittsburgh, and in the divisional round against Kansas City, they showed they can be counted on to do their part and even win a game.

Offensively everyone knows Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley have the weapons to put up points with Brady and crew. After the divisional matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs where they only mustered 5 field goals, and went 0-4 in the red zone, Pittsburgh has several questions to answer. Can Big Ben minimize his turnovers? Will he get rid of the ball instead of trying to extend plays, risking taking sacks that put the offense behind the chains? Will they learn from the stalled drives against the Chiefs and give the ball to Le’Veon Bell and let him wear out the defense while eating time off the clock, keeping Brady on the sidelines?

The Steelers will likely need to score the 27 points per game they’ve been averaging in their win streak to pull off the upset. The defense will need to come up with that one turnover, or that key sack on third down to get the ball back for the Killer B’s.

This is it. Brady is nearing the end of his career. This will likely be Roethlisberger’s last, and best shot to get a major win over the four-time Super Bowl Champ and prove he belongs in the top of the elite QB conversation that so many times he’s mentioned in as an after thought.

This is also Mike Tomlin’s moment to get his critics, like Terry Bradshaw and a significant portion of Steeler fans, off his back. Legacies are at stake on both sides. I can’t see a more better way of alleviating the pain and frustrations this organization has caused Steelers Nation than celebrating an AFC Championship in their building, the same way they’ve ended so many promising seasons of ours. Third times gotta be the charm.

Kickoff is set for Sunday at 6:40 pm in Gillette Stadium.

EXTRA POINTS

  • The last team to win a playoff game without scoring a touchdown was the 2006 Indianapolis Colts, also in the divisional round, against the Baltimore Ravens. The next week, they played and beat the New England Patriots in the AFC title game, then went on to win Super Bowl XLI.
  • New England is making their 6th consecutive AFC Championship game.
  • The Steelers are making their 16th AFC Championship game appearance. That’s the most since the 1970 NFL-AFL Merger.

 

 

Steelers Revenge Tour is on to New England

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Chris Boswell set an NFL record six made FGs in Pittsburgh’s 18-16 win at Kansas City. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

When it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers, all anybody wants to talk about is the Killer B’s of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. Go ahead and add another B, kicker Chris Boswell. Without his NFL postseason record 6 made field goals, Pittsburgh’s season is over.

He was the difference as the Steelers pulled out the win 18-16 without scoring a touchdown. The first team to do that since the 2006 Indianapolis Colts, who went on to win Super Bowl XLI. By the way, that team also played the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game.

But back to the Steelers and Sunday night. Pittsburgh dominated Kansas City, especially the much maligned defensive unit. Who would’ve thought back in October, that the Steelers defensive would win them a gutsy playoff game?

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Ryan Shazier and Mike Mitchell led a dominate Steelers defensive performance. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

The 11th youngest unit in the NFL, held the Chiefs to 227 total yards (166, passing, 61 rushing). In the first half they allowed 7 first downs, and a total 106 yards (20 rushing, 86 passing). 55 of those yards came on the six play 3:29 minute drive that led to the first opening drive touchdown the Steelers have given up all season, regular or postseason. They were the only team in the NFL to not allow one.

The only time Keith Butler’s unit looked overmatched was on Kansas City’s first offensive possession. And that came after kicking short to avoid Tyreek Hill’s explosive return ability, and allowed Kansas City to return it to their own 45-yard line.

From that moment on, they were on fire, forcing two turnovers (interception, fumble), allowing only 4.6 yards per play and holding the Chiefs to 2-9 on 3rd down. Kansas City looked frustrated and discombobulated all night. Travis Kelce, who many are calling the second best tight end in the game, had 5 catches for 77 yards. Zero touchdowns. Tyreek Hill who has had a breakout rookie season only had 3 rushes for 18 yards and 4 catches for 27 yards. Zero touchdowns. They both scored in the 29-point blowout loss in week four.

The magic number for Pittsburgh is 20. They’re now 10-0 when not allowing teams to surpass that mark.

The offensive stats look similar to the 43-14 week four blowout in Heinz Field, except for the only numbers that count. The ones on the scoreboard. Bell followed up his record setting first playoff game by passing himself in the record books and set a new franchise postseason rushing record with 170 yards on 30 carries. Brown caught 6 passes for 108 yards, and Roethlisberger was 20 for 31 and 224 yards, but a huge pick in the red zone that could’ve changed the way the Chiefs had to play their final possession, had the Steelers turned that possession into any points. On the night they were 0-4 in the red zone.

My main issue in this game was the lack of running the ball in the red zone. Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley appeared to fall in love with the passing game too much. For example, after Roethlisberger hit Brown on a 52-yard pass play on their second possession, Bell didn’t touch the ball once inside the Kansas City 25-yard line. They had several opportunities like that in the half to possibly rip Kansas City’s heart out and save Steelers Nations hearts from the late game tension.

The defense is finally playing close to par with the offense. Defense and running games travel, regardless of the weather. If they can put it all together at the same time in the next sixty minutes, they’ll been on their way to Houston and one step closer to holding Lombardi number seven.

The revenge tour now moves on to Foxborough, Massachusetts to face the New England Patriots. The Roethlisberger-less Steelers loss to the Brady Bunch 27-16 back on October 23rd in Heinz Field. The Pats have also beaten the Steelers the last two times they’ve met up in the AFC Championship Game. Both of those games were in Pittsburgh. Time for payback. Kickoff is set for 6:40 next Sunday.

EXTRA POINTS 

  • With his only sack of the night, James Harrison tied Lamarr Woodley for the most sacks (11) in Steelers postseason history. It was also his 4th consecutive playoff game with a sack.
  • Le’Veon Bell is the first Steelers play to rush for 100 yards or more in the first half of a playoff game. He also now has the record for most rushing yards in his first two postseason games.
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Le’Veon Bell’s 337 rushing yards is the most in NFL postseason history for a player’s first two game. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

  • Antonio Brown earned his 4th consecutive 100+ yard receiving game in the playoffs tying him with Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald for the most in NFL history.

 

Steelers Avenge Ugly Early Season Loss

Steelers Nation knows they’ve got the best offensive weapon in the NFL. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Remember when the Miami Dolphins beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 30-15 in week six? The Steelers avenged that ugly loss that started their mid-season 4-game losing streak, with a 30-12 domination in the Wild Card round.

It was the first postseason game the “Killer B’s” of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell played together. And they didn’t disappoint. From the first drive, you could see the explosion coming.

Bell, in his first postseason action of his 4-year career, ran for 11 yards for a first down on the first play. The 2nd play Roethlisberger threw a strike to Brown for a 7-yard gain. Two plays later, Big Ben hit AB on a screen-pass for what looked like it was going to be a 5-yard gain, but Brown showing the patience that we see week after week from Bell, set up a block from tight end Jesse James to spring for a 50-yard touchdown. His first postseason touchdown of his career. 5 plays, 85 yards in 2:45 minutes. Pittsburgh 7-0. 

The second drive, after the defense forced Miami to punt, went 6 plays, 90 yards and another six points for AB in 3:10 minutes.  Just that quick, 14-0 Pittsburgh, before Miami knew what happened. Brown had 3 receptions for 119 yards in the first quarter. He finished the game with 5 catches for a buck-twenty four.

From there offensive coordinator Todd Haley made a concerted effort to run down the throat of the 30th ranked rush defense. On the third Pittsburgh offensive drive, Bell carried the ball all 10 plays, for 78 yards and a touchdown to bleed 5:27 off the clock. 20-3, Pittsburgh. Bell once again showed why he’s the best back, and possibly best offensive weapon in the League.

I said in my preview of this matchup that Bell would touch the ball 25+ times. That’s the formula this team has followed during this 8-game win streak going back to week 11. Sunday versus the Dolphins he rushed 29 times for a Steelers postseason record 167 yards, and caught 2 passes for 7 yards. Down in South Florida, he rushed only 10 times for 53 yards down, and caught 6 passes for 55 yards. Anybody with any football knowledge knew that he wasn’t going to have only 16 touches again. 

While his two interceptions will be scrutinized over the next seven days, Roethlisberger set the table nicely for Bell to eat the way he did. #7 connected on a postseason career high 11 consecutive completions in the first half to keep the Miami defense off balance. In the first half he was 11 of 12 for 188 yards and those 2 touchdowns to Brown. He finished the game with 197 yards on 13 of 18 and a 105.3 rating.

While everyone will gush over the offense, it’s the defensive performance that gives Steelers Nation more confidence that a trip to Houston in February isn’t a pipe dream.

Keith Butler’s unit avenged their worse defensive performance of the season, when they allowed Ajayi to rush for 204 yards and 2 touchdowns, 8.2 yards per carry. Go back and watch the highlights of that embarrassing loss, and on those long runs by Ajayi you won’t see jersey numbers 92, 50, 48, 28 and 25 anywhere in the plays. That’s because they weren’t in the game at the time. They all were there in the Wild Card game, and he only carried the ball 16 times for 33 yards, for a 2.1 yard per carry average.

A more focused defensive unit showed up from the jump. The first drive they only allowed 16 total yards (-1 rushing) in 4 plays. The D that’s been brutally scrutinized all season long brought their A game.

James Harrison’s (10 tackles and 1.5 sacks vs. Miami) strip sack of Matt Moore, recovered by Stephon Tuitt, in the final seconds of the first half in the red zone killed any momentum the Dolphins were building to close the deficit from 20-13 or 20-9 before the break.

A strong positive drive to start the second half by Miami ended when another strip sack fumble, this time by Mike Mitchell, thwarted another ‘Phins scoring opportunity.

On the day they forced 3 turnovers (1 interception, 2 fumbles) by Matt Moore. He was sacked 5 times for negative 36 yards and hit a total of 9 times. Miami was 6-14 on third down and 2-4 on 4th down.

Pittsburgh is clicking on all cylinders, and backing up Bell’s comments that no one wants to see them in these playoffs. This is the most complete performance this Steelers team has had on both sides of the ball all season. Teams already feared the offense, but now the defense is playing complimentary football and that makes them even more dangerous.

The Steelers will attempt to avenge offensive coordinator Todd Haley against the team that gave him his first head coaching job, the Kansas City Chiefs, while trying to avoid allowing them to return the favor from the 43-14 week four beat down at Heinz Field.

Kickoff is Sunday at 1:05 pm in Arrowhead Stadium.

EXTRA POINTS

  • With the win, Pittsburgh won their 35th postseason game, an NFL record.
  • James Harrison became the second oldest player to record a sack in the playoffs.
  • Roethlisberger threw a touchdown pass for the 44th consecutive game, the second longest active streak.
  • Bell 167 yards is a Steelers postseason single game rushing record.

Wild Card Preview: Steelers Seek Revenge Against Dolphins

The Steelers were dominated by the Dolphins in October, 30-15. Their recent 7-game surge points to them returning the favor. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

One playoff win since 2011. A 30-15 loss in week six. 222 rushing yards. Those are some of the things the Pittsburgh Steelers will hear this week as they prepare for their rematch with the Miami Dolphins in their Wild Card round meeting.

They’ll also be told Miami has their number. The Steelers have lost the last two games to Dolphins, which includes a 34-28 loss the last time the ‘Phins visited the Steel City in December of 2013.

The AFC’s sixth seed in this year’s playoffs is the underdog coming into the matchup at Heinz Field. But, they’ll have plenty of confidence.  As they showed back on October 16th, they pose several problems for the Black and Yellow.

Even when the Steelers have struggled to stop the pass in recent years, they were still formidable in stuffing the run. Not that Sunday. The Steelers D gave up a total of 222 rushing yards, 204 to Jay Ajayi alone. That was the headline. But, they also made Ryan Tannehill look like an All-Pro. The 5-year Pro had a career day, throwing for 252 yards while completing 24 of his 32 pass attempts for a QBR of 97.4. More shocking, is that Miami didn’t punt once the entire game.

I’m sure Mike Tomlin and defensive coordinator Keith Butler have the highlights, or rather lowlights, from that embarrassing loss on a constant loop in the meeting rooms at the practice facility.

The worse part of the loss to me was watching how dismal the team played on offense with all three of the Killer B’s on the field. Ben Roethlisberger was sacked twice and threw two interceptions, one of which he was injured on trying to make a tackle to prevent it from being returned for a touchdown. He was 19 of 34 for 189 yards with one touchdown on the day for a QBR of 57.1.

Le’Veon Bell rushed for 53 yards on only 10 carries. The leading rusher for the Steelers was Darius Heyward-Bey with 60 yards, and that came on one play, a reverse that went for a touchdown. Antonio Brown was targeted 8 times and caught only 4 passes for 39 yards.

However, this will be the first time since Roethlisberger, Brown and Bell have been on the Steelers roster that all three will play in a playoff game together. Bell was injured and missed the last four playoff games (three Wild Cards and one Divisional game).

Do we really think the Dolphins can contain this Steelers offense like that again? Do we think they can put up another 30 points? and in possibly twenty degree weather? The recent trend says no.

This Steelers team has done a complete 180 from the one Miami beat to start their midseason four-game losing streak. Since week eleven, the start of this winning streak, Pittsburgh’s defense has sacked opposing QBs 25 times, while only allowing 96.6 yards per game and 197 passing yards per game, with a +5 turnover margin.

Offensively, they’ve only given up 7 sacks in the streak, 4 of those came Sunday against the Browns without Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey . On the season, the offensive line has only given up a total of 21 sacks, just missing the franchise record low of 20. The last seven games they’re gaining 375.9 total yards per game, 241 via the pass 134.9 on the ground. Miami is allowing 406.1 yards per game in their last seven-games, 250.7 passing and 155.4 rushing. What does that mean?

Bell will definitely carry the ball more than ten times, and with the expected forecast, it’s more likely to be around 25 times, plus at least 5 receptions which has been the norm during the win streak. The young core of receivers in Eli Rogers, Cobi Hamilton, Demarcus Ayers and tight end Jesse James have gained the confidence in themselves, and Roethlisberger, to make an impact if Miami decides to load up on Brown as they did in the first meeting. Oh, and tight LaDarius Green, who missed the October game, will likely be back from a concussion to give the offense another weapon.

I won’t be surprised if this game resembles the earlier season one, but in Pittsburgh’s favor this time. Kickoff is set for 1:05 Sunday.