You didn't think today's blog would be about anything other than last night's Steelers-Jets game did you?
Limping away from another nail-biter, the Steelers somehow managed to hold off a very determined second-half onslaught by the Jets, to take the AFC Championship. I am less than impressed. I stayed home to watch last night's slugfest that featured an unstoppable Steelers offense for the first two quarters and then NFL's version of "the gang that couldn't shoot straight" for the bulk of the second half. I wanted to be able to suffer in silence if things went badly for Pittsburgh. At the end of the first half I was second guessing that decision; halfway through the third quarter, I knew, like Grasshopper, I had chosen wisely. It was a dispiriting offensive performance.
For all intents and purposes, the Steelers defense was pretty tough. A team that had humbled both the Colts and Patriots to get to the Steelers was bound to move the ball and score some points. The Steelers held them to 3 the first half and 14 the second. Any time a team holds an opponent to 17 points (I'm not counting the 2 pts the Steelers offense gave them.) or less, they should win. I won't question the strategy pursued by the Steelers defense that basically gave Jets quarterback Sanchez a free pass the second half. Dick LeBeau certainly knows more than I do. However, I've never been a fan of the "prevent defense." I like to see a defense get after a QB and no team does it better than the Steelers...when they want to. We saw damn little of that the second half. The D's one-yard goal line stand was brilliant and, arguably, its brightest moment during the game. I'd give the Steelers defense a B+ for last night's effort.
No, it was the Steelers offense that, once again, only managed to deliver their "A" game for two out of four quarters. A reoccurring problem with the offense has been its inability to get the ball over the goal line. The three games before the Ravens playoff game offered some hope that the offense had finally exorcised its demons and could deliver touchdowns. It came out in the opening drive of the Ravens playoff game, playing as if to punctuate that point by scoring a quick 7. Abruptly collapsing, they left it up to the defense to try to keep the game close the remainder of the first half. The offense came out the second half firing on all cylinders, scoring 24 points and winning the game. Yet more reason for optimism.
Scoring two TDs and a field goal the first half (The defense scored the other first-half TD.), the Steelers offense pretty much had its way with the Jets. It was an awesome performance. The second half was an offensive calamity. Historically outscoring opponents in the third quarter, that quarter is my litmus test for how the offense is going to perform the second half. Last night the Jets outscored the Steelers 7 to zip. Big Ben was sacked twice and intercepted twice. Mendenhall, who dug out nearly 100 yards rushing the first half was held to less then 30 yards the second half. Giving credit where credit is due, the offense did manage to put points on the board in the second half when a bobbled Steelers snap on the one-yard line turned into a safety and 2 points for the Jets. Yea, team!
Part of the Steelers lackluster second-half offense was probably due to the loss of its Pro-Bowl center in the first quarter. Pouncey is credited for much of the offensive line's success this season. I'm sure his absence contributed to the lack of second-half production. Likely he will miss the Super Bowl as well. Not good news even for a glass-half-full fan. Somehow during the next two weeks, the offense has to figure out a way to score without him. Even if the defense can hold the Packers to 17 offensive points, that's 21 points the Steelers will need to score to win.
My grade for the Steelers offense last night: A- for the first half and D- for the second half, for an average game score of C-. Not exactly a championship performance.
I agree with Mike Tomlin that style points aren't important; the win is everything. But I shudder to think about last night's second-half offense facing off against the Packer defense. The offense has two weeks to get "it" together. I hope they put them to good use.