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mesaSteeler
01-13-2011, 07:04 AM
Collier: New menu for a feast
Thursday, January 13, 2011
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11013/1117582-66.stm

We learned this week that when it comes to adjectives, Ben Roethlisberger prefers instinctual to instinctive, twice in one sentence invoking the former to describe the defensive reactions of the Baltimore Ravens.

"There are two great defenses involved," said No. 7 said of the AFC playoff game Saturday, "so, to me, it's about what offense is going to make a mistake or not make it."

And that shrewd assessment likely is more descriptive than either instinctual or instinctive, as it illuminates the veteran quarterback's broader understanding that these Steelers-Ravens free-for-alls generally turn on a single mistake.

The costliest on record was the pass Joe Flacco threw to Troy Polamalu the night of Jan. 18, 2009, the one the inimitable safety returned to a bird-breaking touchdown in the AFC championship game.

It's a shame, in one sense, that as well as the games in this ultra-violent series have been played, all seem to turn on somebody screwing something up.

"That's just the way we look at it," said defensive end Nick Eason. "We're always harping around here on little things. One little thing, one little mistake can come back and bite you."

One little thing too often has proven to be exactly enough to tilt the Steelers-Baltimore dynamic fatefully, so much so that you can't help but wonder if bigger things might soon come into play.

Things as big as Todd Heap, for example, the 6-foot-5 tight end who missed all but the first series of plays in the previous meeting between these teams, then turned up catching 10 passes for 108 yards in Baltimore's playoff opener at Kansas City last week. Heap is just the sixth tight end in the past 44 years to catch 10 balls for more than 100 yards in a playoff game.

"When he's healthy, he's a threat," Steelers corner Ike Taylor said Wednesday "You've always gotta be aware of where he's at because [Joe] Flacco is a good quarterback. If he sees a hole, he's gonna throw it in there."

Flacco is himself a bigger thing than ever. He's not Roethlisberger, but he is closer to that plateau than he has been. Ray Rice, the only human to gain 100 yards rushing against the Steelers in their past 50 games, also looks more dangerous than ever.

"They've been a better team than they've been in the past," said Eason. "They added [Anquan] Boldin and [T.J.] Houshmanzadeh this year. They've really established a lot of things."

And we haven't talked instinctualness yet. The entire defense is riding the emotional momentum of Terrell Suggs, who in consistently posing questions for which offenses have no answers. Suggs spent nearly as much time in the Steelers' backfield Dec. 5 in Baltimore as Rashard Mendenhall.

For all the we-know-them-and-they-know-us rhetoric filling both locker rooms in the ramp-up, Mike Tomlin warned only in passing the other day that the Ravens are perfectly capable of, as he put it, "flipping the script."

So, yeah, I'm starting to gather that these Ravens are a difficult assignment for a team that has not beaten an accomplished opponent in six weeks, even when it happened to be the Ravens, who just happened to be the team making the one offensive mistake that night, the one that proved fateful.

That's the polite way to describe it. The impolite way is probably that it was the stupidest play of the season in which Flacco turned his back to a blitz-showing Troy Polamalu with a four-point lead in the fourth quarter.

I don't look for that degree of brain cramp from John Harbaugh's team any time soon.

In a far more abstract sense, flipping the script might mean it is time we wondered about the durability of some themes we've just grown accustomed to around here, because playoff folklore isn't permanent. It is up for peer review every January.

The Steelers are 8-0 in the playoffs against division opponents and 8-0 in the playoffs against teams they were meeting for the third time in the same season. In those eight third-meeting games, stretching back to January 1979, the Steelers won by an average of two touchdowns.

Those elements are part of a larger historical script that will get flipped one of these days. One cold day probably. Maybe with the Heinz Field lights blazing over the mud and the snow. I'm not really at all sure that day isn't just about here

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11013/1117582-66.stm#ixzz1AurgUqrj