A few notes from the AFC Championship game....by Steel Cello
QB � Protecting the ball was at the forefront of Ben�s mind and he even mentioned it in his press conference after the game when ask what he has learned since Super Bowl XL�immediately answering: �don�t turn the ball over�. Ben missed a couple of throws, but the scrambling ability as back for sure compared to mid-season and Ben made some tough throws up the middle. The accurate longball seems to be back as well� with one to Nate last week and one to Sweed this week� hopefully they will catch the ball if we need a home run in 2 weeks. This might be the year where we can say the Ben is �entering his prime�. As for the Super Bowl, it will be interesting to see if Ben can shake the nerves this time around as he admitted that in Super Bowl XL, he could not get comfortable all game long and of course it showed. All in all, you have to be excited about how Ben has played that past 2 weeks.
RB � I was hoping for a better game from FWP as Chris Johnson did gash the Ravens for a half last week but in the end I�m not surprised too much that the Ravens got pumped us this game to at least stop the run. Plus, the playcalling was quite predictable in the middle of the game so the Ravens probably knew when the run was coming most of the time. Also, I think maybe we see why FWP is not called upon to catch more passes as Simms even mentioned that Tomlin is quoted as saying that �Willie does not have the best hands�. Of course, we all expect a better running performance vs. the Cards.
WR/TE � I think we saw the value that Hines brings to this team for 2-3 quarters, with the Stillers having to adjust their offense to include Heath Miller more to have at least one player with sure hands out there running routes. Miller came up big when we needed him running some long routes with Ward out. Holmes has been solid, but Miller and Ward are still the best clutch receivers we have. Nate and Limas had a few gritty plays and some good blocks, and of course Sweed could have changed the whole game with that missed TD� admittedly it�s a big spot for a rookie, and I�m glad he has that �miss� under his belt in case we need him in the SB.
OL � Not as good a game as last week for sure, even factoring in the better opponent. For example when you totally whiff on your blocking assignment because you�re late off the snap, you can�t say it because your facing the Ravens. Ben had much less time to throw the ball this time around and of course, the running lanes were few and far between. But then again, they have never done much better vs. the Ravens so not very surprising.
DL � I�m sure the whole defense was happy that McClain was not full strength and consequently not on the field as he has been the most effective vs. the Stillers D line this year. McGahee and Rice had a few longish runs, but mostly they were bottled up quite nicely and no huge, game-changing gains. It seemed the DL�s were getting some decent push off the line and applying some pressure on Flacco for most of the game.
LB � Another awesome effort with Woodley, who has just been a madman the past 2 weeks. Seems that bye week was huge for Woodley as he has 4 sacks in 2 games and is getting pressure on the QB consistently. Harrison also played well of course. Between the 2 of them, the Stillers can blitz so much less and focus on pass coverage. Foote and Farrier had their moments, but Timmons just has to be a starter next year. He�s too fast and can also rush the passer very well.
DB � Aside from Ike failing to turn his head in the end zone in the 2nd half, this 4some did a great job containing Mason, Heap and company for most of the game. DeShea showed his experience with a clutch INT early in the game, and McFadden and Gay seemed to be very solid in coverage most of the time. Clark was making some good hits even before the big one on McGahee�. And of course Troy� who we see now at full strength once again (calf injury?... maybe he got a shot =) � running, diving, catching, returning��. Troy might be Cowher/Colberts best draft pick ever, trading up to grab him in the 1st round�.just amazing� that big INT by Troy was a bullet from Flacco�. Troy already had one go through his fingertips earlier in the game, but not this time. Just awesome.
Spec Teams � Reed is back to his �clutchness� after a few strange misses the past month.. with 2 huge field goals from long range (for Heinz field anyway). The KO and punt coverage was OK excect for the one big return where they had nobody covering a huge gap up the middle. Also, too many pooch KO�s for my taste� why pooch it when the long kickoffs were being defended well? We all wonder if Berger is going to cost us a championship and he just might� I�ve never seen a punter snag his foot in the turf when trying to punt� holy crap.. please just average 38 yards with some decent hang time next game.. please? Maybe Sepulvedia can kick with his other leg?
OC � I�m with all you other fans who were just dying watching the Stillers run the ball and run up the middle, on first and 2nd down like 9 drives in a row. Our lead was not big enough to play total �Cowher-ball� like that, and when we did try some short passes on 1st down earlier in the game they worked pretty well. Ben was playing smart and should have been given many more chances to pass on early downs than he was. Also, where was the 2nd half �no-huddle� that had worked just about every time we even tried it this year? Finally� shotgun empty set on 3rd and 1?!?! Please tell me there was some �clerical error� on this one. I was looking forward to a Gary Russell plunge as I see FWP running off the field� and then I see the shotgun formation� this was a HUGE tactical error in a crucial part of the game where a few more first downs could have put the Ravens in a much tougher position to win. C�mon guys, learn from these mistake and learn quickly please.
DC � LeBeau took the blueprint from the Pats in 04 when they played a rookie Big Ben and played it to perfection. The Pats dropped everyone in coverage and dared Ben to throw and the rookie made his mistakes to the tune of 3 picks. That�s exactly how we played Flacco and it worked very well. The defense played solid pass coverage and Flacco made his mistakes. Some blitzes were called, but most of them were not the dreaded delayed blitz and were quite effective. One of LeBeau�s better games in my opinion.
HC � If you heard Tomlin speak after the game, I think you get a feeling for why he �nailed� his interview for this job and why he was chosen over Whiz and Grimm. He just has a different way of seeing and thinking about things that I think translates to very effective coaching and leadership and keeping his team in a solid frame of mind to win games. He�s a no-nonsense guy who is finding his style in his 2nd year. Still, that 3rd and 1 from the gun should have NEVER happened, and IMO, he should have been able to get another punter 1-2 months ago. But all in all, the team was pumped and poised and played well under pressure.
SUPER BOWL BOUND! 2 in the past 4 years�..now they have to prepare for a type of team they are not used to playing this late in the season� the high-flying �Greatest Show on Turf, Mach II�. Warner is hot as ever, Fitz is better than Holt was in his prime, and Boldin will have 2 weeks to totally heal� Edge is running better, and Hightower is showing some mettle as well�. Yikes! The Stillers are going to have to score some points in this one and find a way to keep Fitz under 150 yards and 3 Tds. As for the whole Whiz/Grimm thing� please� press fodder garbage� this is the Super Bowl� I�m sure they could care less at this point about being snubbed for the job. Besides, how could Whiz/Grimm blame the Rooneys for their HC choice when Tomlin also just made it to the Super Bowl?!
Anyway, I�m going to enjoy this week and try to avoid all the Super Bowl press garbage until at least early next week.
Congrats AFC champs!