Pregame Zone Blitz: Steelers at Dolphins

This isn't an effort to create an excuse or to whine. But Jason Whitlock said it best:

"If you were Cincinnati or New England and had an opportunity to eliminate two-time Super Bowl winner and fourth-quarter assassin Ben Roethlisberger by keeping the playoff hopes of New York's Mark Sanchez and Houston's Matt Schaub alive, wouldn't you lay down?"

Pro Bowl alternate LaMarr Woodley (more on him throughout PZB) spoke enough for all of Steelers Nation this week, flat-out accusing New England and Cincinnati - two rivals of the Steelers - of laying down in front of Houston and the Jets in efforts to make sure the Steelers don't make the playoffs.

(By the way, one of those criminal mercenaries the Bengals brought in recently is telling Woodley to can it. Eat me, Tank.)

The Bengals were the deserving winners of two games against Pittsburgh this year, but they were both tight contests. No one in the league would rather see Roethlisberger entering their territory in the fourth quarter instead of Sanchez, or Flacco, or Orton, or Shaub. No one. The fact is, after the Colts display of cowardice, we have no reason at all to believe anything the Patriots or Bengals would say in efforts to cover themselves when they lay down Sunday.

We'll say this: We have long memories. Pittsburgh plays the Bengals twice next year, obviously, and they'll see the Patriots as well.

If Pittsburgh defeats Miami, we'll have a whole off-season to nurture the chip that will grow on the shoulders of every Steelers player (lots more on that coming up).

Here's what our opponents are saying.

Opponent Quips

Look for Dolphins QB Chad Henne to take this game as seriously as any other.

Matt I of Phinsider points out Miami's recent slow starts compared to Pittsburgh's quick starts.

The Phinsider also looks at probably the best match-up in this game, Jake Long and Vernon Carey vs. James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.

Playoff-Related Quips

Let's be honest, with all due respect to the Miami Dolphins, we aren't clamoring for news from their franchise. We want to know how the drama of Week 17 will play out.

Former Browns receiver and lifetime bum Braylon Edwards guaranteed victory against the Bengals.

Apparently, Chad Ochocinco thinks it's a GOOD idea to taunt the best defensive player in the game.

It seems as if at the least the Patriots intend on playing the game fans are paying to watch like men. Brady will start, and if it's close, it seems he'll play the whole game.

Last Game

Welcome back, Jeff Reed. You're officially out of the doghouse.

Reed drilled two huge kicks in Pittsburgh's victory, giving a few more chest-thrusts to the Steelers' CPR-receiving playoff chances.

It was as if he said to himself, gosh, I need to make up for the two I missed against Chicago, cuz we'd be in the playoffs right now if we won that game. Enough about that, though, Skippy came up big Sunday. As did Woodley, who continued driving nightmares into Ravens' QB Joe Flacco's head. Two more sacks goes along with the 4.5 previous sacks of Flacco in Woodley's career.

The two he had on Baltimore's final drive cemented an otherwise sloppy game, but it was a game in which the Steelers defense bent but didn't break. It even generated a turnover, as Woodley broke through the grossly overmatched Oneil Cousins to hit Flacco as he released his first pass of the game. The wounded duck fell right into James Farrior's arms, giving the Steelers their first interception since a victory over Denver in Week 9.

No one will be overlooking the dangerous Miami Dolphins, who host the Steelers Sunday in a Week 17 Playoff game. But Woodley will face a much tougher tackle than Cousins; Vernon Carey is one of the best in the biz.

Opponent Spotlight: OLB Joey Porter

A smile likely comes across the faces of Steelers fans when thinking about J-Peezy, certainly one of the most memorable former Steelers on record.

Brash, bold, extremely confident, Porter's departure can't be looked at bitterly three years after it happened. That is due to the fact his replacement, James Harrison, has made three consecutive Pro Bowl teams, and has a Defensive Player of the Year trophy; something Porter never earned.

But Porter's leadership and his nastiness were the trademarks of some highly successful teams in the past decade. He was the guy opponents loved to hate.

It's hard for us to hate him. And if anyone we've ever seen plays better with a chip on his shoulder, it's Porter. He'll have a chip on his shoulder Sunday because, well, he's J-Peezy. There's never not a chip on his shoulder.

While Porter's mouth has always been willing, maybe the physical ability just isn't there anymore. But the intriguing part of Porter's showdown against his former team is that Porter may be again out of a job. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk suggests Porter may be playing his last game as a Dolphin Sunday.

Porter always had a flair for the dramatic, and it wouldn't surprise anyone if he, knowing he may not be with the Dolphins next year, and going up against the team he feels slighted him after the 2006 season (incidentally, the last time the Steelers failed to make the playoffs), puts it all together to make a huge run to show up the last team to jilt him, and likely the next team to jilt him.

That's J-Peezy's way. That chip is always going to be on his shoulder.

We'll hate you on Sunday, Peezy, but for old time's sake...WHO RIDE? WE RIDE!

Steelers Spotlight:  QB Ben Roethlisberger

Use whatever cliché you want; backs are against the wall, it's do-or-die, there is no tomorrow, etc. I'm gonna go with Big Players Make Big Plays in Big Games. The Steelers don't have a player to whom this statement applies more than Roethlisberger.

He's got the contract, he's got the experience. He's going to have to play the game of his life.

We have no reason to think he won't, though. He's played very strong football the last two weeks, and if not for a shove to the back of Santonio Holmes against Baltimore last week, he would be carrying a strong no-interception streak into the Steelers' Week 17 Playoff game. Since missing Week 12 with a concussion, Roethlisberger has only thrown two interceptions; one against Oakland in a game he otherwise shined brightly (18-for-24, 278 yards and a touchdown), and the one against Baltimore where Domonique Foxworth pushed Holmes from behind, causing the ball to go through him straight to Foxworth.

With the passing game clicking on all cylinders, Roethlisberger is going to crank up Hulk Hogan's theme song, "I Am A Real American," put the team on his back and do everything he can to ensure this team moves into the post-season.

I See You

I see you, LaMarr Woodley. It's the obvious choice of the week, and perhaps that's not quite in the spirit of I See You, but you so completely dominated the overmatched Oniel Cousins, you single-handedly ensured the Steelers would live to fight for something tangible this week.

In Week 15, the offense started and finished the game with a bang; two touchdown passes from Roethlisberger to Wallace kept us alive. Against Baltimore, your early tipped pass led to a critical early turnover, and you sacked Joe Flacco twice in two plays to end the game. All sides are chipping in with splash plays, and against all logic, we may still have a shot at post-season football.

Cousins certainly helped you out. As Jim Wexell reported, after Cousins punked you late, you told your teammates on the sideline "Flacco's gonna have to pay for that."

That statement is now your legacy, LaMarr. You dealt with a cheap shot from a guy who was being beaten like Balboa against Creed by destroying their quarterback - and their chances of winning late - twice in two plays.

To top it off, you're an alternate to the Pro Bowl in just your third year.

You've made The Leap, LaMarr. You are officially at or near the top of your position league-wide and even if you're not starting in the Pro Bowl this year, you'll just have to make opposing quarterbacks pay next year.

Key Stats

  • Pittsburgh averages 60 yards per kickoff, worst in the NFL.
  • Santonio Holmes needs 155 yards to set the Steelers' single-season receiving yards record (1,398 by Yancey Thigpen in 1997).
  • Pittsburgh is 1-3 against teams that have been eliminated from the AFC playoffs.
  • Pittsburgh is 6-3 against playoff-bound and playoff-eligible teams in the NFL this season.

Quick-Hitters

  • Steelers Playoff Scenarios: Simply put, we have to win. If we win, we're rooting against Houston, Baltimore, Denver and the Jets. We're rooting for the Patriots (at Houston), the Raiders (vs. Baltimore), the Chiefs (at Denver) and the Bengals (at the Jets). If Houston and either the Jets or Baltimore lose, we're in. If Houston wins, then we need losses from the Jets, Broncos and Ravens.
  • Start Times of Key Games: Pittsburgh at Miami and New England at Houston are 1 p.m. ET games. Baltimore at Oakland and Kansas City at Denver are 4:15 p.m. ET games. Cincinnati at New York is the Sunday Night game (8:20 p.m. ET). We may have to watch all of them, so push your NYE party limits one more day.
  • Last Thought on Laying Down: The NFL made a request to the league's (offensive) competition committee this week to review the fact teams are fully capable of essentially not playing to win end-of-season games if they've already qualified for the playoffs. The league has to make that request, right? What are they going to do, put armed gunmen on the sidelines and force benched starters back in the game? Set up an Obama-like financial incentive for playoff-bound teams to win their last regular season game? This is nothing more than the league's way of letting someone else be the bad guy; in this case, it's the Committee For Increased Offensive Production. It's obvious they'll carefully review the matter on the 11th green of whatever resort golf course is the closest to the site of their winter meetings.
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