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Old 01-12-2009, 06:07 PM   #1
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Default Steelers emphatically prove they are the team to beat

Steelers emphatically prove they are the team to beat
By Hub Arkush (hub@pfwmedia.com)
Jan. 12, 2009

The Chargers produced 15 yards on 12 rushing attempts with LaDainian Tomlinson in street clothes. Steelers RB “Fast” Willie Parker went off for 146 rushing yards on 27 carries with two touchdowns.

At the end of the day that’s everything you need to know to understand why the Steelers were the only home team to win a football game on divisional playoff weekend, and only the third home squad to win in eight NFL playoff games this year.

Certainly, the wealth of talent the Steelers possess at linebacker, headlined this week by LaMarr Woodley with Best Supporting Actor nods to James Harrison and Larry Foote, and the most underrated defensive line in the league with Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel, had a great deal to do with the Steelers’ 35-24 win.

The turning point was actually a 41-yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Hines Ward with 54 seconds left in the first half setting up Parker’s first touchdown, a three-yard dash around left end to give the Steelers a 14-10 lead in a first half that the Chargers actually dominated. But in the end it was just too much “Fast” Willie and no L.T.

Thanks to my assignment as the sideline reporter for Westwood One’s national radio broadcast of the game, I got to talk with Norv Turner as we walked off the field at the end of the half and then spoke with Mike Tomlin as the Steelers came out of the locker room to start the second half. Turner seemed more despondent than upset about the Steelers’ last-minute score, telling me for the most part his ballclub had played well but that the one thing they had to do in the second half was “find a way to run the football better.” He said the “Steelers are obviously a great team and they’ve done a nice job of keeping us from getting down the field but we’re playing ’em tough and we have to be able to run the ball.”

Tomlin echoed Turner’s sentiments, telling me, “They played us really tough in the first half and I’m concerned because they’re a great second-half team. I told our guys we have got to start winning the war at the line of scrimmage and we’ve got to keep the ball out of their hands. Certainly we want to run the ball but more than that we have to be more aggressive than them and control the tempo this half.”

While I haven’t been able to confirm it yet, I’m willing to bet the Steelers set a record in heeding their boss’ instructions, controlling the ball for the first 7:56 of the third quarter and extending their lead to 21-10, and an astounding 14:43 of the period. They allowed the Chargers exactly one play (a Philip Rivers pass that was tipped at the line by Keisel and intercepted by Foote) and 17 seconds time of possession. While the score might indicate otherwise, if this one wasn’t over with the Steelers up 21-10 at the end of the third quarter with the ball 3rd-and-1 at the Chargers’ 1-yard line, it certainly ended when the Steelers scored with 12:52 to go in the game to make it 28-10.

As miraculous as little Darren Sproles was last week, rushing for more than 100 yards vs. the Colts and totaling 328 yards of total offense, the Steelers proved he’s no Michael Turner and actually not an NFL starting running back. It’s not that Sproles wasn’t great – his 63-yard kickoff return and 62-yard TD catch for the Chargers’ final score were electric. But with the game in the balance, Sproles could only manage 15 yards rushing on 11 carries, forcing Rivers to try and continuously convert long third downs through the air. Against the Steelers’ frenetic pass rush that’s just no way to win.

This was typical Steelers football. Of Parker’s 27 carries, only four were for more than eight yards, 11 were between 4-8 yards and the other 12 carries gained three yards or less as he just banged away at the Chargers all game long.

Rivers, on the other hand, wasn’t nearly as impressive as his 308 yards, three TDs and one pick suggest when you realize that 103 of those yards and two of the scores came on the big throw to Sproles and a perfectly thrown 41-yard bomb to Vincent Jackson for the first score of the game. Rivers was sacked four times, twice by Woodley, once by Harrison and once by Keisel, but he was harried all day long and appeared to come up groggy after the second dumping he took from Woodley. By the time the final gun sounded this one was a good old-fashioned butt-whipping.

When I talked to Woodley after the game, he told me there’s really no competition between him and his fellow ’backers for sacks and big plays.

“We really just feed off each other and are as much about setting each other up for the big hits and sacks as much as we are about making them ourselves,” Woodley said.

Watching them all afternoon and into the evening on the field and on their bench that was the one other striking image I came away from this game with.

This Steelers team seems to genuinely care about each other, and their coaches. They absolutely revere both Tomlin and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, and they were pulling for each other from the opening whistle to the final gun.

Admire the upstart Cardinals, Eagles and Ravens all you want. And yes, the Steelers’ battle with Baltimore next week figures to be a bloodbath that could make the Ravens’ win over Tennessee look tame. But after watching Pittsburgh handle the Chargers, I have no doubts that of the four left standing, the Steelers are the team to beat.
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Old 01-12-2009, 06:12 PM   #2
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Default Re: Steelers emphatically prove they are the team to beat

This Steelers team seems to genuinely care about each other, and their coaches. They absolutely revere both Tomlin and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, and they were pulling for each other from the opening whistle to the final gun.
That about says it all.
"We're not going to turn our backs on him," Ward said. "We're going to treat him like our brother. We're going to accept him back and be very supportive of him and help him get through this. In this locker room, he's still our quarterback."
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Old 01-12-2009, 06:27 PM   #3
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Default Re: Steelers emphatically prove they are the team to beat

I think that score before halftime really changed the game. I don't know if we would have had the 3rd quarter we had if we didn't score. It gave the offense confidence.
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Old 01-12-2009, 06:35 PM   #4
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Default Re: Steelers emphatically prove they are the team to beat

Originally Posted by GoSlash27 View Post
I won't take anything away from Sproles. He's a threat when operating behind a line that makes lanes.
I don't agree that he's not a starter, but as talented as he is he's simply too small to pass block.

I wouldn't read too much into this game. We played for turnovers and ball control and the game simply got away from San Diego. The next game is going to be a different kind of ball game; messy and physically brutal.
We've got to let this one go and attack Baltimore strong.
It sure seemed to give them confidence to throw downfield with ease, opening up even more of the running game.
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