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Old 11-22-2009, 08:18 PM   #1
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Default Snap Judgments: Steelers, Ravens stumble to set up must-win game

Snap Judgments: Steelers, Ravens stumble to set up must-win game

DENVER -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight from the Mile High City as we run down the curious doings of Week 11 in the NFL ...

We knew Pittsburgh at Baltimore was going to be a big game next week, but we never dreamed the amount of desperation that would be in the air. On both sides of the field, a season might just be on the line. Hyperbole? Not really.

What exactly has happened to the two teams that met in the AFC Championship game a scant 10 months ago? The Ravens, after that deceptive 3-0 start, lost for the fifth time in seven games on Sunday, and will enter Week 12 barely clinging to their wild-card hopes at 5-5. In falling to the visiting Colts 17-15, Baltimore has already matched its season loss total of last year, and the Ravens .500 record looks even weaker when you consider that it includes two wins against Cleveland and another against Kansas City.

And then there's the suddenly sluggish defending Super Bowl champion Steelers, who fell 27-24 in overtime at Kansas City (3-7) on Sunday, in one of the more eye-opening upsets in the NFL this season. In dropping its second game in a row after getting to 6-2 at midseason, the Steelers are staggering toward December and look to be giving in to a delayed case of post-Super Bowl syndrome.

Pittsburgh (6-4) remains solidly in wild-card contention, but in an AFC that could feature eight teams with at least six wins by the end of Week 11, it can't take anything for granted these days.

This much we know: A win at Baltimore is now probably mandatory if Mike Tomlin's club is to have any hope to chase down first-place Cincinnati, which has upcoming home games against Cleveland and Detroit. The Steelers fell to 4-3 in AFC games with the loss to the Chiefs, and Pittsburgh can't afford to drop its division mark to 1-3 next week and still entertain dreams of pulling off a Super Bowl repeat.

The Ravens and Steelers are just two more fresh reminders that last year was an eternity ago in the NFL.

A few things that absolutely blow my mind about the Steelers' struggles on kickoff coverage this year:

-- After making backup linebacker Arnold Harrison a sacrificial lamb last week, cutting him in response to Pittsburgh allowing a league-high three kickoff return touchdowns in the past four games, the Steelers promptly surrendered a 97-yard opening kickoff return touchdown to Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles on Sunday to make it four allowed in five games. Whose head is on the chopping block this week, Steelers' third-year special teams coordinator Bob Ligashesky?

-- The Steelers only once in their history had allowed as many as three kickoff return touchdowns in the same season, in 1986. The only team in the league besides Pittsburgh that has allowed multiple kickoff return touchdowns this season is Oakland, with two. Of the league's 32 teams, 23 of them entered Week 11 without having surrendered a score on a kickoff return.

-- Pittsburgh is getting killed by touchdown returns of every kind. They've now allowed a scoring return -- kickoffs, fumbles or interceptions -- in a team-record-tying eighth consecutive game. By comparison, the Steelers defense entered Week 11 having only allowed nine touchdowns in its first nine games this season.

-- Oh, and did we mention that in their Super Bowl season of 2008 the Steelers allowed no kickoff return touchdowns, and led the league in kickoff coverage, at 19.1 yards allowed?

Read more: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/200...#ixzz0XdnZQ8MC
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