Playoffs? You kiddin' me?
The question this week is going to surround the Steelers' playoff chances. And guess what? It's not far-fetched. The Steelers sit at 4-6, one game behind the previously vanquished Jets (5-5) for the AFC's remaining wild card spot. They're 2.5 games behind AFC North-leading Cincinnati with six games to play (the Bengals have five) including a Sunday Night re-match in Pittsburgh in Week 15. The rest of the way, the Steelers play a team in contention for a playoff spot - two against Cleveland (4-6), Baltimore, Miami, Cincinnati and Green Bay. The whole thing could end with one loss. So before the team gets too far ahead, it must remember they are in their own playoffs now, and they really can't afford a loss.
The Ben Gun
The Steelers ran more no-huddle than perhaps they ever have before. One thing to credit them with in that regard, when they have a plan, they stick to it. It looked completely dead toward the end of the first half; dropped passes killed their rhythm and quick possessions put Detroit's red hot offense back on the field. This, of course, was all Todd Haley's fault (ahem). Fortunately, Ben Roethlisberger - likely the play-caller in no-huddle - started calling plays in which receivers actually caught the ball. All the while, they weathered the storm, and survived the half, down 24-20. This team didn't run worth a damn all game, but playing largely out of 11 personnel (3WR, 1TE, 1RB), He sat back and picked apart Detroit's sagging coverage, and gutted the offense down the field. If they do not continue with this offense more in the future, there will be hell to pay.
Will to Win
Steelers veteran safety Will Allen was victimized a few times early in the game. The Lions are a highly efficient passing team, and tight end Brandon Pettigrew is one of the more underrated players you'll find. Their size helps them knife through press coverage and exploit smaller safeties like Allen. The best weapon against it is simply a competitive secondary and a good pass rush. Three things stand out on that play. 1. Allen does a great job getting down the field to the spot, and high-points the ball - Johnson had no chance. 2. The Steelers' defensive backs immediately jumped into return block mode, which does defensive-minded people a bit of good. It's understandable he appeared to get so excited in the open field, his legs turned to jelly and he didn't really get far. 3. Cameron Heyward once again applied the pressure on the play, and for the accolades Allen deserved on the play, Heyward made the play happen.
Speaking of Heyward, In filling in for Brett Keisel, he could have had the best game of his pro career. He was given credit for two passes defensed and no quarterback hits, but he clearly hit Stafford on the interception. Even more interesting, though, is how the Steelers brought rookie OLB Jarvis Jones inside quite a bit (something you may have heard me clamor for a time or two in the past). His sheer size in the middle of that defense is disorienting. Jones was also given credit for two passes defensed. This isn't to suggest the inside is where Jones should stay on a permanent basis, but clearly, Dick LeBeau and his coaches do not have much faith in rookie ILB Vince Williams (he barely played, likely to Detroit's high-level passing game). If Troy Polamalu is going to continue as an inside linebacker, it seems reasonable to expect the Steelers will look to add Jones in there as well.
It's exciting and a little concerning to look back at this team and realize: 1. The Steelers were down LaMarr Woodley and Brett Keisel, and 2. They had one of their strongest pass rush games in a while with Jason Worilds (a sack, four quarterback hits), Heyward and Ziggy Hood (one sack, two tackles-for-loss, one QB hit). It's unclear how Worilds and Hood will be used moving forward, but it's also really hard to ask them to sit back down upon the returns of Woodley and Keisel. Jones taking snaps inside would keep him on the field with Woodley and Worilds (which was the basis of my plead to give him some time inside), but Hood, playing for a contract, looked energized. Maybe that should be exploited moving forward as well.
More from Behind the Steel Curtain:
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