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Old 02-09-2006, 11:28 AM   #2
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Default Re: The Cold Hard Facts Redux

Part 2

2004 AFC title game ? In a 41-27 loss to New England, Pittsburgh?s leading rusher, Bettis was held to 64 yards on 17 carries. With his second-ranked rushing attack stifled, Roethlisberger had his worst game of his previously unbeaten rookie season. He completed 14 of 24 passes for 226 yards and 2 TDs, but tossed three INTs, including one that was returned nearly 100 yards by Rodney Harrison for a back-breaking TD at the end of the first half.

Put most simply, Pittsburgh can?t win because it can?t pass against good teams. After nine seasons of postseason futility ? with virtually every loss a repeat of the previous one ? you would think Cowher would change his philosophy. He has not.

Pittsburgh may have found its man in Roethlisberger, who has been virtually flawless in 2005 and remains unbeaten through his first 16 regular-season starts in the NFL. However, he?s tossed the ball just 32 times in Pittsburgh?s two victories this season.

There is a model for this type of team. In Super Bowl VII, Bob Griese completed 8 of 11 passes for 88 yards as he guided the undefeated Dolphins to a 14-7 win over Washington. The following year, in Super Bowl VIII, Griese completed 6 of 7 passes for 73 yards as the Dolphins ran the ball 54 times in a 24-7 win over Minnesota.

Of course, that was more than 30 years ago ? a virtual offensive Stone Age by modern NFL standards. A lot has changed in the NFL since then. For example, the NFL has liberalized its passing rules several times since 1973. (And, of course, Larry Csonka retired in 1978.) Someone should alert Cowher of these changes. The nine copycat losses certainly haven't registered with him yet.

2) Weak competition
As any student of the Cold, Hard Football Facts quality wins quotient has learned, teams that generate great periods of success ? whether it?s a regular season win streak or a multiyear period of dominance ? can typically find the reason for the streak in the quality of the competition. Teams that face weak schedules win frequently. Teams that face strong schedules lose frequently.

Pittsburgh has reeled off 10 playoff seasons (including nine division winners) during a period in which its division has routinely been among the very worst in football.

In the 10 seasons from 1992 to 2001, when Pittsburgh played in the old AFC Central, its division rivals combined for a mere 10 postseason appearances.

Only two teams competed against Pittsburgh from 1992 to 2001 in the old AFC Central and then again for all three years of the realigned AFC North (which was created in 2002): the Cleveland Browns/Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals. Cincinnati has not fielded a single winning team in the Cowher Era. These two franchises over this 13-year period have combined for just five winning seasons and four postseason appearances.

The new Cleveland franchise, meanwhile, rejoined the AFC Central in 1999 and moved to the AFC North with Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Cleveland/Baltimore in 2002. The new Cleveland franchise has fielded just one playoff team since 1999.

This means that Cincinnati, Cleveland and Cleveland/Baltimore have a combined 32 seasons worth of competing against Pittsburgh in the Cowher Era (13 each for Cincy and Cleveland/Baltimore, and six for Cleveland). Given these 32 opportunities, these three franchises ? Pittsburgh's chief rivals in the Cowher era ? have combine for just six winning seasons and five postseason appearances.

Pittsburgh was also a great beneficiary of realignment, which took away its two most successful rivals and plopped them down in the new AFC South. In the Cowher Era AFC Central (1992-2001), Jacksonville fielded four playoff teams while the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans boasted three postseason qualifiers. Over the same period, Cincy, Cleveland and Baltimore/Cleveland combined to send just three teams to the playoffs.

Basically, the Steelers have had the good fortune of being able to beat up on a second-rate division. Steelers fans may not like the assessment, but it?s one that?s certainly justified by Pittsburgh?s inability to beat high quality teams in the postseason.

A look again at Pittsburgh?s lone Super Bowl team in the Cowher Era provides proof yet again that the Cold, Hard Football Facts are indisputable. The 1995 Steelers boasted more than just a balanced offensive attack, the kind typically necessary for Super Bowl success. The 1995 Steelers also had one of the easiest roads to the championship game in Super Bowl history.

In the 1995 divisional round, Pittsburgh beat a 10-6 Buffalo squad. They followed that performance with their lone Cowher Era victory in an AFC title game. Of course, that AFC title game victory came at the expense of an upstart Indy team that went just 9-7 in 1995 (it was a hard-fought 20-16 contest that ended with Indy knocking on Pittsburgh's end zone). In the divisional round, the Colt had upset 13-3 Kansas City, knocking out the AFC's No. 1 seed and Pittsburgh's top contender for the conference title. The Chiefs, of course, remain the only team in recent years that can compete with Pittsburgh for postseason futility.

An assessment of Kansas City may follow in the future. For now, though, the reasons for Pittsburgh's regular-season success and postseason failures are obvious when we use our Gojo mojo to clean up the filth of opinion and replace it with crystal clean Cold, Hard Football Facts.

Pittsburgh fails to win in the postseason because 1) its weak regular-season competition gives the Steelers a false sense of superiority and 2) Cowher hijacks his teams hopes with his stubborn insistence at sticking with his well-proven formula for failure. It's a formula that once worked ? back in the NFL Stone Age.
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