June 1, 2017
Both of these defenses have stiffened throughout the season, peaking in December and January. Since their respective winning streaks started, though, neither has been tested by a prolific offense with a special quarterback directing the show.
Led by a trio of superstars, the Steelers are a well-balanced outfit with no glaring weakness, capable of beating any team. The Patriots, on the other hand, have the luxury of leaning on the NFL’s No. 1 scoring defense to complement the greatest quarterback to ever stalk the gridiron.
As NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo noted Sunday, the Steelers became just the sixth team in league history to win a playoff game without scoring a touchdown. The last occurrence came a decade ago when the 2006 Colts knocked off the Ravens 15-6 in a divisional-round “thriller” before eventually winning Super Bowl XLI.
After getting down 20-10, the Steelers scored on back-to-back drives of 75 yards and 60 yards, respectively, to take the lead. After Pittsburgh’s defense had surrendered a long Ravens march to retake the lead, Roethlisberger was masterful. The Steelers’ signal-caller led a flawless 10-play, 75-yard drive that culminated with Antonio Brown reaching the ball over the goal line for the win with 0:09 remaining on the clock.
“It’s pretty special the way we won it,” Roethlisberger said. “Especially after feeling the way I felt at a certain point in that game and feeling like you let guys down and you blew it. So to come back and win it is pretty special.”
Bud Dupree’s return in Week 11 helped spark a fierce pass rush after Pittsburgh curtailed the rotation. The play of two rookies in the secondary, first-round pick Artie Burns and second-round pick Sean Davis, have solidified a back end that was often subject to breakdowns in coverage and cheap jerseys and picked apart by good quarterbacks.
Burns’ play escalated as the season wore on, finally earning a starting gig in Week 9. His insertion full-time on the outside allowed William Gay to shift to the nickel role. The reshuffling led to a more cohesive corner group that slotted each player in a spot best suited to his skill set. Davis took over the starting gig in Week 11 and solidified the back end that had ranked 28th in pass yards per game allowed from Week 1-10.
As the engine of the Steelers’ offense, Bell has expressed his desire to remain in Pittsburgh. The question for the team is how much to pay a player who has dealt with injuries and suspensions recently. Despite those lingering concerns, NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo said on Up To The Minute Live Monday that the Steelers will do everything they can to avoid Bell playing on the one-year tag.
Rapoport’s report earlier in the day that Pittsburgh is making “significant progress” toward a long-term deal Antonio Brown. By tagging Bell, the Steelers can focus on getting Brown’s deal done before the start of the new league year on March 9. After that’s done, team brass can turn back to Bell’s contract.
Harrison won’t take credit for the defensive turnaround but even one of the Dolphins’ offensive coaches told me Harrison is playing his best, most energetic football by far, and that makes those around him better. While the emphasis heading into Sunday’s wild-card matchup against Miami has been on the Steelers’ offensive triplets — the offensive Killer B’s of Ben, Bell and Brown — finally the other side of the ball is harkening back to the great Steelers defenses of yore. And the catalyst is the old man of steel, James Harrison, in his 14th season.
Speaking of 14, Harrison is the youngest of 14 children; he has six brothers and seven sisters. Yet his parents, James and Mildred, gave Harrison the moniker of Junior, saving the father’s name for their last child. The importance of that name is never lost on Harrison, who actually wanted to name both of his sons James (one is named Henry, Harrison’s middle name). He thinks of the significance of the name every time he pulls on his No. 92 jersey.
March 15, 2018
February 2, 2018