Howdy Steeler Nation. Hope your weeks got off to a nice start. I wanted to address some interesting and pertinent questions asked by you all on Monday about the Pittsburgh Steelers struggles in the second half of Sunday's AFC Championship Game win over the New York Jets. More than one of you either asked or stated something along these lines: yes, the Steelers played an outstanding first half of football, and yes the performance of the offense was a sight to behold, but what happened in the second half? Why couldn't the Steelers muster the same type of offensive success against the Jets in half number two? And why did Bruce Arians get too conservative in the final 30 minutes rather than going for the jugular when he could?
Well, let's first get on the same page: I agree, the second half was somewhat disappointing. And the Steelers coaches and players will tell you the same thing. Multiple guys said as much in their post-game interviews Sunday night.
Okay, now that we agree that the Steelers could have done a better job closing out the game in the third quarter when they had the chance to, let's reexamine what happened on Sunday night after intermission.
Before we do that though, let's all get on the same page about one of the most basic human instincts -- when you're feeling comfortable, you can get complacent in a hurry; and conversely, when you know you're threatened or in danger, an incredible survival instinct kicks in. I'd agree that this survival instinct is even more powerful when, you know, your actual life is on the line, not just a ball game. That said, I I'm of the opinion that one of the more fascinating aspects of sports and competition is the ability for the losing team or individual to respond in a hurry when their backs are unequivocally against the wall.
Hopefully we're not in disagreement on that front, though perhaps you see it a bit different. Anyway, clearly the Jets were in full on desperation mode in the second half. What about the Steelers though? Did they totally take their foot off the gas? Let's take a look at their second half drive charts against the Jets.
|Start Time||Time of Possession||Drive Began||Plays||Yards Gained||Result|
|3:06||3:54||41||8||27||End of Game|
Okay, a quick over view of the chart. Obviously the end result left plenty to be desired, and anytime you gain just 73 yards in a half you're never too satisfied. Still, leaving aside the zero points and total yards gained, there's one key stat in that table that helps explain why the Steelers were able to stave off the Jets at Heinz Field and advance on to their eighth Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. That stat would be time of possession. We'll get back to that shortly.
After the Steelers had taken a 24-0 lead late in the second quarter, they all of a sudden found themselves up just two scores with roughly 12 1/2 minutes to play in the third quarter following a quick two and a half minute TD drive by the Jets Credit the Jets for hanging a quick seven on the Steelers and getting the early score they needed to believe they could pull off the comeback.
However, the Steelers responded with an important drive on the ensuing possession, their first offensive series of the half. You might be asking, 'how can he say that drive was huge??? It ended in a turnover and no points?'
Both true, but that's okay considering the Steelers milked 4:31 off the clock. When the Jets got the ball back following Brodney Pool's interception of Ben Roethlisberger, they had the ball inside their own 15 yard line with roughly 7:45 left in the third. It would have been nice to bury the Jets right then and there, but that first offensive series reinforced my belief that there was no way New York was coming back to win. Sure they came close, but 21 points is too much to overcome when your opponent is milking so much time off the clock even on their 'unsuccessful' drives. The Steelers defense proceeded to force a quick three-and-out and Steeler Nation suddenly breathed a sigh of relief. On the Steelers next offensive possession, they put New York even further behind the eight ball with their 9 play drive that again didn't result in punts, but once more drained precious clock.
Did the Steelers get too conservative on that drive? Not if you ask me. Here was the series.
|1st and 10 at PIT 28||B.Roethlisberger scrambles right tackle to PIT 32 for 4 yards (M.Devito).|
|2nd and 6 at PIT 32||R.Mendenhall left guard to PIT 36 for 4 yards (S.Pouha).|
|3rd and 2 at PIT 36||(Shotgun) B.Roethlisberger pass incomplete short right to A.Brown.|
|4th and 2 at PIT 36||(Punt formation) J.Kapinos punts 40 yards to NYJ 24, Center-G.Warren, downed by PIT-R.Mundy. PENALTY on NYJ-J.Westerman, Roughing the Kicker, 15 yards, enforced at PIT 36 - No Play.|
|1st and 10 at NYJ 49||R.Mendenhall up the middle to NYJ 46 for 3 yards (M.Devito).|
|2nd and 7 at NYJ 46||R.Mendenhall right guard to NYJ 45 for 1 yard (B.Pool, B.Scott).|
|3rd and 6 at NYJ 45||(Shotgun) B.Roethlisberger pass short middle to M.Moore to NYJ 36 for 9 yards (A.Cromartie).|
|1st and 10 at NYJ 36||B.Roethlisberger FUMBLES (Aborted) at NYJ 36, and recovers at NYJ 37. B.Roethlisberger to NYJ 37 for no gain (S.Pouha).|
|2nd and 11 at NYJ 37||(Shotgun) B.Roethlisberger pass deep left intended for E.Sanders INTERCEPTED by B.Pool at NYJ 5. B.Pool pushed ob at NYJ 14 for 9 yards (H.Ward).|
Sufficiently aggressive if you ask me. A nice mix of runs and throws.
Back to the critical time of possession numbers achieved by the Steelers second half drives. Little did I realize that that the average NFL drive lasts less than 3:00. The Steelers had two drives to start the half that were substantially longer than that. And those drives came with them holding a comfortable lead. Good stuff. Interestingly enough, the Steelers second offensive series of the half took up even longer than the first -- almost six minutes worth of game clock in fact. Yet somehow the offense only advanced the ball a total of 13 yards by the time they were forced to punt it away. How'd that happen? Here's a reminder....
|1st and 10 at PIT 30||R.Mendenhall up the middle to PIT 30 for no gain (M.Devito, D.Harris).|
|2nd and 10 at PIT 30||R.Mendenhall left tackle to PIT 36 for 6 yards (B.Pool).|
|3rd and 4 at PIT 36||(Shotgun) B.Roethlisberger scrambles left guard to PIT 41 for 5 yards (S.Ellis, D.Harris).|
|1st and 10 at PIT 41||R.Mendenhall up the middle to PIT 40 for -1 yards (M.Devito).|
|2nd and 11 at PIT 40||R.Mendenhall right end to PIT 48 for 8 yards (E.Smith).|
|3rd and 3 at PIT 48||(Shotgun) B.Roethlisberger scrambles left end to NYJ 47 for 5 yards (B.Pool). PENALTY on NYJ-A.Cromartie, Defensive Holding, 5 yards, enforced at NYJ 47.|
|1st and 10 at NYJ 42||B.Roethlisberger sacked at NYJ 49 for -7 yards (C.Pace).|
|2nd and 17 at NYJ 49||(Shotgun) M.Moore right guard to PIT 48 for -3 yards (D.Harris).|
|3rd and 20 at PIT 48||(Shotgun) B.Roethlisberger sacked at PIT 43 for -5 yards (T.Pryce).|
|4th and 25 at PIT 43||(Punt formation) J.Kapinos punts 38 yards to NYJ 19, Center-G.Warren, fair catch by J.Cotchery.|
Why abandon the run if it's still working? Thankfully Roethlisberger was able to move the chains by converting consecutive third downs with his feet, but notice that both were four yards or fewer. Translation: the rushing plays on first and second downs were setting up manageable third down attempts, so why stray at that moment?
So after that punt, the third quarter was just about over. What I think most are forgetting is that the Jets' ensuing drive lasted over eight minutes before they were stuffed at the goal line by the Steelers defense. A fantastic drive by the Jets, but one that ultimately took up too much time considering it started at the NYJ 42.
A muffed center-quarterback exchange following the goal line stand gave the ball back to the Steelers at their own 1 yard line. Safety. Do you blame that mishap on poor offensive play calling and/or execution? Obviously the execution was off, but it didn't help that Doug Legursky was seeing his first snaps all year at center. Regardless, the ball goes back to the Jets. In my mind, the Steelers have still just had two offensive series in the half. And both played a role in helping secure the win.
Then on their final drive after the Jets narrowed the lead to five with their second touchdown of the half, the Steelers executed perfectly and iced the game with a perfect blend of rushing and passing plays. I don't need to remind you what happened on that sequence. I will though quickly I guess. A first down pass to Heath Miller on second down -- a situation where everyone though the Steelers would run. Then a third down conversion a few minutes later when they could have taken the conservative 'hope not to lose' approach. Nope. They played to win and did just that.
Look, it wasn't a great half of football on either side. But it was mostly a few shortcomings by the defense coupled with a great half by the Jets once they had entered full-on desperation and survival mode. The offense? Not really to blame one bit if you ask me.