Sunday, December 14, 2008

Steelers Clinch the AFC North

How about those spiffy AFC North Division Champion hats the Steelers were sporting after this evening's W over the Ravens? Just kidding, anything other than a Super Bowl championship hat is unacceptable in my book in the NFL. But the NFL and the Steelers wanted to make sure they got their marketing dollars, so we were subjected to these:Whatever. The Steelers held off the Birdies in yet another nailbiting game that probably had yinzers the world over partaking heavily in some Iron Cities while worrying if that Primanti's sandwich combined with this game was going to finally cause a literal heart-stopping moment.

-This is one of the weirdest yet most successful teams that I can ever remember seeing in my many years of watching Steeler football. That offense will drive you bonkers for 57 minutes a game, but when it gets late in the 4th quarter is there anyone in the NFL right now you'd rather have leading your team down the field than our own Ben Roethlisberger? In my opinion, no. The guy is just a force of nature in the waning minutes, in what was, I think I saw, the 16th game-winning or tying 4th quarter drive of his career, a very large number for a guy with less than 5 years under his belt. It was also his 50th career W, leading to further cementing of his reputation as a winner, even if the gaudy stats aren't always there.

-And that defense... Good golly. Just flat out dominant, even when their studs are being mostly neutralized. James Harrison was held...err... I mean "blocked" all day long on double teams and Troy Polamalu was all over the field as usual, but the Ravens weren't willing to test him downfield much with the inexperienced Joe Flacco. So instead of those two leading the charge, guys like Lawrence Timmons (more on him in a bit), William Gay, Ike Taylor and Aaron Smith all had excellent days to help shut down the Ravens.

-On to Timmons. It's crazy to me that he isn't playing just about every snap these days. He is a freak of nature out there, and when he comes off the edge or up the middle on those surprised blitzes, he's next to impossible for an immobile lineman to fend off due to his incredible speed. I mean Larry Foote has had a nice run in his time in the 'Burgh, but he's lost a couple steps, and was never anything more than a nice complement for James Farrior. Timmons is a weapon all by himself, and gives Dick LeBeau yet another position on the field from which he can blitz in his zany zone schemes. And all this goes without even mentioning the help he can provide in passing situations with his defensive back type speed and the nasty way he delivers some of his hits.

-Even though I took a few shots at Willie Parker earlier today and his numbers against the Ravens today were only OK on the stat sheet, I thought he fared quite well in reality. That Ravens squad is very difficult to move the ball on, especially at home, and there's no shame in a 47 yards on 14 carries performance against them. While Big Ben continues to rightfully own the 4th quarter, I really wouldn't mind seeing a bit of a heavier dose of Parker in quarters 1-3, as his play today showed me the effectiveness is still there even against a great D like the Ravens.

-Hines Ward showed up today, as we knew he absolutely would against the Birds. And surprisingly, his biggest impact wasn't felt in the form of devastating block on some unsuspecting Raven. Whenever the Steelers needed a crucial conversion, Ward was their man. When they needed a big drive in the 4th quarter, Ward was one of the key cogs, and he put together his 3rd 100 yard performance of the season, all in the last 6 games. Ward now sits 136 yards away from his 5th 1,000 yard season, and first since all the way back in 2004. There's only two games left, so it will probably be close, but I hope he gets there, it would be cool to see him hit the mark yet again.

-Nate Washington and Santonio Holmes, meanwhile, continue to drive me bonkers. To his credit, Nate actually didn't have any terrible drops like usual, but he had difficulty reeling in some downfield passes in coverage. And Santonio... I mean the talent on that guy is ridiculous, but he nearly destroyed the Steelers day all by his lonesome. A costly fumble deep in the Steelers' own territory and a muffed punt that the Steelers lucked into were just a few more examples of his inconsistencies. But, he did snag the game-winning TD on a nice effort to get open when Ben was in trouble, so I've got to give him credit for that, anyway.
Back tomorrow with some links on the coverage of the Stilllllers.

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