When the Pittsburgh Steelers and the San Diego Chargers met in Week 11, both teams were entering a critical stretch of their season. The Chargers were 4-5, and nobody would have thought that 8 wins would have been enough to win the AFC West. They were desperate. For Pittsburgh, the team was coming off two tough losses in the previous 3 weeks against the New York Giants and the Indianapolis Colts, with an impressive road win at Washington sandwiched in between. As enjoyable and desperately needed as the Redskins game was on Monday Night football, Big Ben had no part in the W. In fact, he struggled mightily in the first half before being injured as intermission approached. It was Byron Leftwich who provided the spark off the bench. .
Ben would hurry back the following week against the Colts and have his moments, but two 4th quarter INTs opened the door for a previously stymied Peyton Manning led Colts offense.
The loss vs the Colts put us at 6-3 and Steelers nation was beginning to wonder if 2008 was really going to shape up much differently than 2007. That is, it was hard at that moment to say with supreme confidence that we were going to be much better than a 10 win team capable of making a playoff run. Both losses were home games; both were games we had leads in late; and both losses left us wondering if this particular Steelers team would be able to muster up the requisite offensive efficiency to be legitimate contenders for a Super Bowl run. Sure the offensive line was weak and we knew that was not likely to change. But when we hosted the Chargers in Week 11, we also were wondering if our franchise QB was ever going to be healthy enough to help us overcome some of the offenses' other weaknesses.
Like he has so many times before, Ben bounced back. Let's take a look at how he fared when we squared off with the Chargers in Week 11.
|vs SDC / 11.16.08||Passing||Rushing|
To the pessimists, Ben's performance was 'no good'. We only scored 11 points after all. He had 0 TD passes, struggled a bit in the red zone, and took 4 sacks on the day, not all of which were the fault of the OL. To me and others though, the game was a wonderful step in the right direction for Ben. If we can get the same level of play from him Sunday that we got in Week 11, I think we'll be just fine. His decision making was sound for the most part, he was tremendously accurate (75+ % on 41 passes don't lie), and most importantly, he didn't turn the ball over.
Here's what I wrote after the game:
* He's baaaaaaaaaaaaack! Ben made about one or two mistakes all afternoon by my count. Both had to do with him holding the ball a bit too long on 3 step drops. In previous weeks, his errors were much more costly. Ben finished the day 31/41 for 308 yards, with no TDs and 0 INTs. His passes were unbelievably accurate and for most all of the second half, they were delivered at the right time. Perhaps his best sequence of the day was on our last possession. Facing 1st and 20 after (another!) holding call, Ben calmly found Hines for 8 yards. Then Spaeth for 6. Then, on 3rd and 6, with us not yet in FG range, Ben rolled left, then back right a step or two before delivering a perfectly placed dart to Hines Ward for the 1st down. Like I said, he's baaaaack. While we're at it, add to his league leading 24th come from behind victories in the 4th quarter since 2004. I hate guys who win lots of football games.
* More on this, but that last drive to win it?? 6:00 minutes plus. Gigantic 3rd down conversions. Nice mix and match of runs and passes. Solid time management, and exquisite decision making by Roethlisberger not to force things. And give some credit to the line too. They took over the game in the second half, particularly in the 4th quarter and on that drive.
1) Ben never was able to turn a proverbial corner this year and string together multiple solid games in a row. But it was that game where it appeared Roethlisberger had really learned from the mistakes that cost us Ws against the Giants and the Colts. The Steelers of course rattled off 5 games in a row before losing to Tennesee in Week 15, and during the streak, Ben I believe threw just one INT. There were a few fumbles littered in there, but for the most part, Roeth went about 1/3 of the year playing the kind of smart QB that we'll need to advance in the playoffs.
2) We ran the ball well that day, including during the game-winning drive. Willie Parker rushed for over 115 yards on 25 carries.
So how exactly did we muster just 11 points when Ben threw for 300+, FWP ran for over 100 yards, and held a 36+ minute to 23+ minute TOP advantage?
Penalties. That's how. The Steelers had 13 penalties on the afternoon for 115 yards compared to just 2 penalties for 5 yards against the Chargers. It wasn't just the volume of penalties either - it was the timing of them as well. A number of our infractions came in SD territory, stalling what were otherwise very productive drives. We can't have that on Sunday. We saw what happened to Indy when they failed to put away the Chargers, then got penalized late. San Diego may be banged up and very beatable, but they're also very resilient and very capable of taking advantage of miscues.
Oh, and of course it doesn't help when you get stoned at the goal line on 4th down.Or when you have to settle for 3 deep inside their red zone on two other possessions. That's 21 possible points that led to just 6 that day.
Field position; turnovers; penalties. This is a simple formula for success against San Diego when you consider all the variables surrounding the two teams (namely injuries and rested vs. worn down). If we were to win and advance to the AFC title game against either Baltimore or Tennesee, the Steelers will likely have to play a much more complete game than they might need on Sunday to emerge victorious.
Sounds simple, but as we all know, nothing's a given in this league, and certainly not with this football team. If Week 11 taught us anything, it's that we can move the ball on this Chargers team. So could Indy though last week and they weren't able to score enough points to win. To me, this is a fantastic match up and opportunity for the Steelers to do some nice things, collect a W, gain some momentum and advance on to the AFC Championship game.
Take advantage Pittsburgh! Go Steelers!