It's been awhile since I devoted a post to mentioning some of the Pittsburgh Steelers players who had an important role in the team's win despite not necessarily stuffing the stat sheet or making it onto Sports Center with a highlight play. '
* Brett Keisel - it's impossible to overstate how good the eight-year veteran out of BYU has been for the Steelers this year. Keisel has been an invaluable member of the team for many years now -- first as a special teams ace, then a consistent cog along the defensive line, and perhaps most importantly as a vocal and emotional leader for the organization. But what's remarkable is how much Keisel has improved in the later stages of his career. Keisel's had his best season as a pro by far in 2010, and he was appropriately awarded a trip to his first Pro Bwol in recognition. Of course, hopefully he won't be making the trip due to having Super Bowl plans instead. But on Saturday night, Keisel, scary psychopath beard and all, had a great game collapsing the pocket and making Joe Flacco get rid of the ball in uncomfortable spots. He wasn't credited with a sack, but I can think of at least one instance where he was responsible for breaking down the pocket so that his teammates could clean up.
* Jeremy Kapinos - It's interesting, I had actually kind of forgotten that Daniel Sepulveda had been lost for the year with a knee injury and that journey man Jeremy Kapinos had been signed to handle the punting duties down the stretch. Maybe it's because the Steelers were so proficient on offense in their final two regular season games that I hadn't spent much time thinking about the importance of Kapinos playing well. Anyway, the former Penn State punter had a nice game on Saturday. He punted four times for an average of 48.5 yards, with a long of 55, and 1 downed inside the 20. If not for an unfortunate penalty, Kapinos' performance would have been even better, as he had an absolutely gorgeous punt land inside the 5 and be downed at about the 2 yard line. Kapinos did punt the ball a bit too low on his final kick of the night, the one that Lardarius Webb returned for a score that was ultimately nullified by a holding penalty. But outside of that one minor miscue, he was rock solid in the biggest game of his career.
* Anthony Madison - When Byrant McFadden went down with an injury early in the game, you had to have been a little bit concerned about how the Steelers' secondary would be able to slow down the multitude of playmakers on Baltimore's offense. At just 5'9", Madison is fairly undersized and not really equipped physically to shut anyone down. But he sure did compete and play intelligently against the Ravens. Flacco targeted Madison's man several times, but not with much success. Kudos to Madison for stepping up in a pinch on defense, and of course, for continuing to be the special teams stalwart that he has been for so many years.
* Larry Foote - The fact that Foote has quietly accepted his role as a special teams contributor that plays only infrequently on defense is a testament to his character, and another reason why Coach Mike Tomlin deserves enormous credit for fostering a culture of selflessness and sacrifice. Foote could easily be starting for a number of teams in this league, and when he re-signed with Pittsburgh, I doubt he figured he'd be relegated largely to ST duties. But you haven't heard a peep from Foote this year. Instead, he's grown into his new niche nicely. On Saturday, he had two tackles on kickoffs, the first coming on a very nice stuff of J. Parmele that allowed the Heinz Field faithful to continue the roar they had built up following the Steelers game-tying touchdown late in the third quarter.
* Casey Hampton -- Big Snack did what he always does: make it impossible to run in between the tackles against the Steelers defense. The Ravens had just 35 yards on 18 carries. Hampton of course was not the only one responsible for the Ravens' struggles on the ground. But beyond being the anchor of the rush defense, I thought Hampton had a nice game pressuring the quarterback from his nose tackle position. I look forward to watching the tape again to confirm, but I remember several important snaps when Hampton just willed his way into the Ravens' backfield and helped disrupt Flacco's timing. Hampton may not be an every down guy at this stage of his career, and sure, he might not give 110% effort in every last calendar month of the rigorous NFL schedule. But he's got the heart of a champion and when he's engaged and in the moment, he's still one of the true beasts in this game. One of my all-time favorite Steelers.