Out with a Whimper: Pittsburgh Wildcard Report
Posted on 1/9/2012 7:42:55 AM
by Zachary Pierpoint
Cold, Hard Football Facts Pittsburgh beat writer
Pittsburgh's season ended much as it began: in disappointment. After an opening quarter dominated by Pittsburgh (except on the scoreboard), Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos opened up a 14 point half time lead with an explosive second quarter.
Ben Roethlisberger started to put drives together in the second half, and it seemed for a while the Roethlisberger was going to do what he does, and erase the deficit, leading the 9th postseason comeback from a two touchdown half time deficit. The defense started to perk up and with 90 seconds left, Pittsburgh had the ball in a tie game.
But the dreams as not to be. Despite a couple quick completions, Pittsburgh could not find their way into field goal range. One play and one major defensive gaffe later, and Denver had themselves an overtime victory.
It was a remarkable failure by Pittsburgh's defense, and a devastating loss to end a very strange Steelers season.
1. Pittsburgh's defense bookended a very good season with two terrible outings.
Pittsburgh allowed more than 23 points just twice this season: week 1 against Baltimore and week 18 against Denver.
Pittsburgh ceded 360 yards of total offense just twice this season: week 1 against Baltimore and week 18 against Denver.
Pittsburgh gave u more than 7.14 DRPYA just twice this season: week 1 against Baltimore and week 18 against Denver.
Pittsburgh allowed 100+ Real Quarterback Rating just twice this season: week 1 against Baltimore and week 18 against Denver.
Pittsburgh's opponents threw for 102+ Passer Rating just twice this season: week 1 against Baltimore and week 18 against Denver.
2. Ryan Clark, apparently, held the Pittsburgh secondary together.
Without Clark, Pittsburgh (they of the league leading 4.87 DRPYPA for the season) allowed Tim Tebow to throw for 15.05 RPYPA on the game. It was easily the worst game by a Pittsburgh secondary in the playoffs (previous worst was 13.16 RPYPA by Dan Marino in 1984) and, while accurate sack numbers are hard to find for games pre-1982, it was the 9th highest YPA allowed by Pittsburgh to any quarterback with 10+ attempts since World War II. Each of the 8 games worse preceded the franchise's defining moment, the Immaculate Reception.
All year we've praised Pittsburgh for it's secondary, who despite a lack of interceptions, had formed a dynasty with their ability to limit opposing team's from gaining yards. Remove one cog from that secondary, and suddenly Tim Tebow is leading the Denver Broncos to the most efficient air attack in playoff history. Literally.
In 950 NFL playoff played since 1940, Tim Tebow and Denver's 15.05 RPYPA is the highest, breaking Terry Bradshaw and Pittsburgh's record of 14.71 RPYPA during Super Bowl XIV.
3. Rashard Mendenhall's injury was much less important than hyped.
Injuries certainly played a role in the end of Pittsburgh's season as Roethlisberger hobbled through the game, an already makeshift offensive line lost another starter, and the defensive line fell to shambles. However, Mendenhall's widely discussed injury was a nonissue. Isaac Redman ran for 121 yards on 17 carries (7.12 RY/A) as Mendenhall's replacement, as Pittsburgh compiled a season high 6.78 RY/A.
Mendenhall, and to a greater extent Mwelde Moore, may have been missed for their blocking, but many of Pittsburgh's issues in that department came on downs when 5 offensive linemen could not contain 3 rushers, in other words situations in which no running back was blocking.
4. Pittsburgh needs to look at their conditioning program for linemen.
In the trenches, Pittsburgh lost three starters during the game to two units of linemen that had already seen more than their fair of injuries over the course of the season. With Pouncey already out, Max Starks's injury left Pittsburgh with a truly awful offensive line. In the closing minutes as Pittsburgh tried to first tie the game, and then win it, Denver regularly created pressure (and even sacks) while rushing three men against 5 or 6 blockers. The offensive line did not create the defensive gaffes that lost the game, but the offensive line may have kept Pittsburgh from being able to win the game by not keeping Roethlisberger upright.
On the defensive side, many questions have already propped up as to why Pittsburgh didn't start dropping more men in coverage in an attempt to fix the obvious issues in scheme or play. However, with none of the opening day starters on the defensive line surviving the first quarter, Pittsburgh's coaches may have more confidence in their secondary despite evidence to the contrary. If Kiesel and Hampton make it through the game, maybe that would have allowed Pittsburgh to change schemes at halftime or earlier.
For the first time in his career, Lamarr Woodley had 0 sacks in a playoff game.
For the first time in his career, Hines Ward had 0 receptions in a playoff game.
For the first time in the Roethlisberger era, Pittsburgh lost playoff games in consecutive seasons.
For the first time in the Roethlsiberger era, Pittsburgh lost a road playoff game.
For the first time in the Roethlisberger era, Pittsburgh lost a playoff game in which they turned the ball over fewer than 3 times.
For the first time in the Roethlisberger era, Pittsburgh lost a playoff game in which they surrendered fewer than 30 points.
For the first time this season, Pittsburgh failed to gain more net yards passing than their opponent.
For the first time this season, the team that completed a high percentage of passes did not win a game including Pittsburgh.
For the first time this season, a quarterback rushed for a touchdown in a Pittsburgh game.
For the 14th time under Roethlisberger (and the 16th consecutive time), Pittsburgh scored 20+ points in a playoff game.
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