We've got 5 days before the Steelers play Jacksonville in the Wild Card Round of the 2007 Playoffs. I'll be offering my thoughts all week, in no particular order. Keep the diaries coming as well.
My first entry is the on the sad state of the Steelers defense the past month. To the numbers:
Week 14 vs. NE:
Key Stats: 34 points, 421 yards, 399 passing yards.
Week 15 vs. Jacksonville:
Key Stats: 29 points, 29 points, 421 yards, 224 rushing yards, 5.3 yards per rush.
Week 16 vs. St. Louis
Key Stats: 24 points, 3 TD passes, 6 yards per rush.
Week 17 vs. Baltimore
Key Stats: 27 points, 334 yards, 180 yards rushing, 56 % third down conversions allowed.
Ok, what to make of those numbers. Well, we finished the year giving up just 266.4 yards per game. That was good for best in the NFL. That means we gave up roughly 70% more yardage in both the NE and Jacknsoville games (assuming we were averaging about 250 yards per game prior to the games). Even in the St. Louis game, where we were decent, we gave up more than 20% more yardage. And not once did we hold an opponent under 24 points, despite finsihing the season as the 2nd best scoring defense at 16.8 points per game.
So what to conclude? Well, we miss Aaron Smith first of all. We haven't been the same against the run since he went out with a torn bicep in the NE game. Since then our run defense has been atrocious. We also just can't seem to get to the QB, even though we've been a bit better the past two weeks. We thrived against Indianpolis two years ago in the playoffs because we were able to constantly harass Peyton Manning. We're too shaky in the defensive backfield to survive without that constant pressure, and we just can't seem to bring it consistently. I don't know what it is exactly, but James Harrison hasn't been the same impact pass rusher for nearly two months now. Since lighting up Baltimore in Week 9, Silverback has just two sacks, and none since Week 12. LaMarr Woodley did record a sack yesterday, so perhaps he'll provide a much needed spark.
Honestly though, it won't matter if we can't stop the run against Jacknsoville. David Garrard won't be asked to throw it more than 20 times if they're able to rush for 5+ yards a pop as they did a few weeks ago. It's going to take a valiant effort from Keisel and Hampton, plus a total resurgence from guys like Farrior, Foote and Harrison if we're going to tighten the screws in the running game. Nick Eason and Travis Kirschke just aren't playing good enough football right now for us to succeed, and the only way we can hide them is by having the rest of the unit play at an unbelievably high level...all at once. Tall order, I know.
For now, the play of the defense lays at the forefront of my mind. And despite still finishing the year near or at the top of every defensive category, the D's recent play invokes nothing short of fear in me as we head into the AFC Tournament.