We'll get to Baltimore soon enough. Believe me. But there's not much to be said really. Two rivals will face off for the ultimate prize - a trip to the Super Bowl. Time first to soak in the entertaining and dominant performance against the Chargers first.
Let's continue our breakdown of the Pittsburgh Steelers impressive offensive performance against the San Diego Chargers with a look at the second half. I have lots of other posts I'd like to get to, but a brief synopsis of what happened chronologically is a nice place to start, particularly for those Steelers fans around the country and world that weren't able to watch the game. You can find a celebration thread replete with photos from the game here and the 1st half review here.
The Steelers performance in the 2nd half was truly remarkable and did it ever come at just the right time. Let's take a look at what happened, starting with a complete look at the opening drive to start the half.
I'll say that it was the perfect outcome for the Steelers to start the 2nd half with possession of the ball. After just having gone 66 yards for a TD prior to intermission, Pittsburgh had a great opportunity to extend its 14-10 lead and take command of the game right out of the chute in the 2nd half. Here was our drive:
1-10-PIT23 (14:24) W.Parker up the middle to PIT 25 for 2 yards (T.Dobbins, S.Phillips).
2-8-PIT25 (14:15) W.Parker right end to PIT 38 for 13 yards (E.Weddle).
1-10-PIT38 (13:32) W.Parker up the middle to PIT 42 for 4 yards (S.Cooper, E.Weddle).
2-6-PIT42 (12:52) W.Parker left guard to PIT 41 for -1 yards (T.Dobbins; I.Olshansky).
3-7-PIT41 (12:13) (Shotgun) B.Roethlisberger pass short middle to S.Holmes to SD 49 for 10 yards (Q.Jammer).
1-10-SD49 (11:28) B.Roethlisberger pass incomplete deep right to S.Holmes. COVERAGE BY #42 HART
2-10-SD49 (11:20) W.Parker up the middle to 50 for -1 yards (M.Wilhelm).
3-11-50 (10:37) (Shotgun) B.Roethlisberger pass deep right to N.Washington to SD 32 for 18 yards (P.Oliver).
1-10-SD32 (9:55) W.Parker left tackle to SD 30 for 2 yards (I.Olshansky; J.Williams)
. 2-8-SD30 (9:17) B.Roethlisberger pass short middle to C.Davis to SD 30 for no gain (S.Cooper, J.Williams).
3-8-SD30 (8:33) (Shotgun) B.Roethlisberger pass short right to H.Miller to SD 12 for 18 yards (C.Gordon).
1-10-SD12 (7:47) W.Parker right tackle to SD 8 for 4 yards (C.Gordon).
2-6-SD8 (7:10) B.Roethlisberger pass short right to H.Miller for 8 yards, TOUCHDOWN. . SD 10 PIT 21,
Some thoughts on that drive:
1) Here's an interesting quote from reader Alba made somewhere in the middle of that scoring drive:
I love the play calling because I can’t predict it. Having watched the Steelers all season, I got used to what BA was going to do next. Good stuff today
2) Before that though, notice again Arians' patience with the running game. We had just marched down the field through the air mostly before halftime and I thought we might see us go for the big strike early and often to start. We did not, forcing SD instead to continue spending defensive capital stopping the run to start the 2nd half.
It was of course just a 4 point game at that point and though the running game had been effective, I thought it was so money for Arians to continue showing run to start the second half. We did and it opened up some fantastic things in the passing game later in the drive and in subsequent drives.
3) Just exquisite mixing and matching of runs and passes coupled with some fine execution by everybody on 3rd down situations. We finished the day 6/14 on 3rd down - a respectable number any way you slice it - but a number of those 3rd down failures were early in the game or late when the game was all but over.
4) Heath Miller! Roethlisberger looked his way on two of the more critical plays of the drive. The 3rd and 8 conversion to Miller was absolutely money, and to me the point of no return in the game. At the Chargers 30, an incomplete pass there leaves us in a bit of a pickle. Kick a FG and risk giving SD the ball back close to the 40 yard line in the event of a miss? Pooch punt again? Go for it? Regardless, not converting there would have changed the complexion of the game. Pittsburgh was in complete control but once again found themselves in need of a play in a tricky part of the field.
All year long we've failed to consistently make those big plays. The kinds of plays that lead to points. 18 yarder to Heath, the chains move, the clock keeps ticking and I wrote in the thread: this one's just about over, Pittsburgh's not losing today.
Bruce Arians made sure I didn't look dumb by dialing up one more awesome play call inside the Chargers 10 - a sweet boot leg off play action where Ben rolled to his right a few steps before deftly unloading the ball to Miller, who bruised his way into the end zone for an 8 yard TD score.
4) Understandably, I heard some murmurs about Carey Davis getting thrown to. Davis got taken down immediately upon catching the ball on all 3 of his receptions, but my response to that would be, no no. Davis did his job today. Even if he didn't really do anything statistically or make a play, he was a dependable check down option for Ben and that's what we needed Ben to do at times.
If that last drive of the 1st half was a championship caliber response from our offense, I'm not sure where to categorize this one. Here were the final numbers:
Plays: 13 Yards: 77 Possession: 7:56. 7 passes, 6 runs. 3/3 on 3rd down, all of at least 7 yards or more to go. Awesome.
TIME OF POSSESSION DOMINATION:
Following that impressive drive, our defense had a chance to put the clamps down after a only decent first half performance. They weren't carved up by the Chargers offense by any means, but Rivers in particular was more effective in the first half than I think many of us anticipated.
On the Chargers first play, Brett Kiesel showed off his uncanny athleticism for a DE and timed his jump perfectly to tip Rivers' first pass of the half. Larry Foote and James Harrison wrastled for the ball with Foote eventually coming down with the INT.
We didn't have a short field to go though. Darren Sproles had just taken the kick return back 63 yards, so even though it was SD's first play of the 2nd half, we took back over at our own 21 yard line. The offense picked up where it left off, running the ball and converting on 3rd down. I'll note the reverse play to Holmes on 3rd and 3 for 4 yards and a 1st down as another example of Arians' outstanding day keeping the Chargers off balance with his play calling.
Alas, a holding penalty from Miller stalled the drive but nevertheless, even though we had to punt after picking up just 1 first down, 4 minutes of game clock evaporated, taking it down to about the 3 minute mark of the 3rd quarter.
San Diego's offense must have been eager to get back on the field, but a break for Pittsburgh on the punt coverage kept Rivers on the sideline. The ball bounced off a Chargers helmet and William Gay was there for the recovery. We took back over at the Chargers 23 yard line and could sense blood in the water.
We were eventually turned away at the goal line on a 4th and goal from the 1 attempt. Couple of thoughts on that play:
A) I like the decision to go for it. We're up 21-10 there and even though it would have been nice to secure a 2 TD lead, there's no harm in not converting. The Chargers would be forced to go 99 yards if so. Furthermore, we just saw what Sproles had done in the kick return game. You tell me - which is better? For SD to have the ball at or near midfield down 14 or for SD to have the ball at the 1 yard line down by 11? The caveat of course being that we could make it a 3 score game with a TD.
Obvious choice and the correct choice.
B) The play call wasn't a bad one. Not the best on the day by Arians, but there was enough day light for Davis to at least take on the defenders in the cramped hole had he not bobbled the hand off just slightly. He did though not get it cleanly from Roethlibserger and I think that caused him to not drive forward with as much intensity and power as he might otherwise have on a clean attempt. Oh well.
The strategy paid off just fine when the defense clamped down and forced a quick punt. There were few defensive highlights in the first half, but in the 2nd half, we were treated to some big plays by the D. Kiesel's play first, then a pile drive of a sack by LaMarr Woodley that could have been called for a penalty. It wasn't though, SD had to punt and we had the ball back at midfield.
Up by 11, seemed obvious that we'd try to pound it some more right? Nope, now was the time to throw long on play action. Washington had a step, Ben threw another bomb that was pretty damn close to being perfect and we got a PI call that put us on the goal line. Russell took it in and we were up 28-10.
To conclude, I'll point out one final sequence of plays that put the nail in the coffin tonight. The Chargers had responded and gotten a quick TD to cut it to 28-17. Some might have still been nervous with still 9 minutes to go and rightfully so. At least in terms of there being enough time on the clock left for SD.
The problem though for the Chargers and the reason why I had started dancing around my house to music rather than listening to Phil Simms come the 4th quarter was that we weren't going to be stopped on offense. After two straight passes to start the drive - by the way, just another example of Arians great game, throwing there instead of getting passive - Willie Parker did his finest work of the game.
From our own 43 yard line following the two completions, we ran the ball 6 straight times; 5 with Parker, 1 with Moore. We went 57 yards on those 6 carries, including a 28 yard run and a 16 yard TD to Willie Colon's side that put the game out of reach once and for all.
What a game and what a 2nd for the Pittsburgh Steelers offense. Following the TD score, Big Ben took a seat for the remainder of the game and we all watched on happily as our offense finally delivered a complete game running, throwing and protecting the football.