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By Zachary Pierpoint
Cold, Hard Football Facts Pittsburgh beat writer
The biggest statistical concern for Pittsburgh this playoff season is Scoreability. All season, Pittsburgh has had no issues gaining yards, but has had significant difficulty scoring points. Pittsburgh has needed 18.33 yards for each point scored, fully 1.94 YPPS more than any other playoff team. Of course, that second worst team in Scoreability is Pittsburgh's wild card opponent, the Denver Broncos.
Pittsburgh had particular trouble on the road (cue ominous traveling to Denver music), needing 22.62 YPPS in road games. Even in victory Pittsburgh was inefficient. In the 12 games Pittsburgh won they posted 16.03 YPPS, which would rank them no. 11 out of the 12 playoff teams.
Pittsburgh's other statistical weakness is in their Defensive Hogs. Pittsburgh ranks in the top 5 in five Quality Stats, in the top 10 in 10 Quality Stats, in the top 13 in 11 Quality Stats. Only in Scoreability (no. 28) and Defensive Hog Index(no. 19) was Pittsburgh ranked in the bottom half of the league. Denver is a team that may be able to exploit Pittsburgh's uncharacteristically weak Hogs. Between the no. 1 ranked rushing attack by volume and Tim Tebow, who spearheaded the Denver's 7-1 streak by producing very few negative pass plays, Denver has a chance to take advantage of Pittsburgh's weakness and pull off the upset.
Of course, Pittsburgh's weakness up front can at least partially be traced to the injuries Pittsburgh dealt with. Pittsburgh's star linebackers (Lamarr Woodley and James Harrison) have not both completed a game since September. Having the two back and healthy could very well spark a Defensive Hog resurgence.
On the other side of the ball, Ben Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh's receivers will attempt to abuse Denver's secondary, a unit ranked no. 21 in Defensive Real Passing Yards per Attempt, no. 27 in Defensive Real Quarterback Rating, and no. 28 in Defensive Passer Rating. Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown are licking their chops about those statistics.
Hines Ward has historically been very good in the postseason and may surprise with an effective game against Denver's iffy secondary. And with that as a jumping off point, let's look further at Hines Ward's postseason career.
There is a very real possibility that Hines Ward has played his last regular season game, meaning that the stats which will most frequently be quoted in discussing Ward's legacy are now locked in. As it stands today, Ward has 1000 receptions, 12083 receiving yards, and 85 receiving touchdowns. Those numbers rank Ward at no. 8, no. 18, and tied for no. 12 on the all time lists. However, receivers such as Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, Cris Carter, Marvin Harrison, Tim Brown, Isaac Bruce, Andre Reed, Derrick Mason, Torry Holt, etc. all have posted similar career numbers.
Wide receivers are having trouble breaking through the logjam and getting the nod for the Hall. Ward does have some advantages over the other receivers. For one thing, Ward is widely recognized as the premier blocking wide receiver of his era, if not of all-time.
Secondly, Ward's playoff numbers are truly impressive. In 17 career playoff games, Ward has recorded 88 receptions for 1181 yards with 10 touchdowns. Those numbers rank no. 2, no. 5, and tied for no. 3 all-time.
Jerry Rice's numbers blow everyone else's away, partly due to his having played in 29 playoff games. However, Ward is in striking distance of being the second most prolific playoff wide receiver. He would need 134 yards and 2 touchdowns to pull into ties for second in yards and touchdowns. It seems unlikely that Ward will reach those numbers, though, as he didn't reach those heights combined in his last 8 games.
However, Ward has always stepped up his games in the playoffs. And this is what truly separates him from so many other receivers. Ward has been better in the playoffs, against the best teams in the league, than he has been in the regular season.
Ward's average playoff game involves him catching 5.18 balls for 69.47 yards for 0.59 touchdowns. This means that Ward's average playoff game involves 0.57 more catches, 13.79 more yards, and 0.20 more touchdowns than his average regular season game. This is where the separation begins.
Among the 21 receivers with at least 800 career postseason yards just 5 have averaged more that 0.5 extra receptions, just 5 have average more than 10.0 extra receiving yards, and just 5 have averaged at least 0.2 extra touchdowns. Ward and Fred Biletnikoff are the only players on all three lists.
Pittsburgh in the Roethlisberger Era
Since drafting Ben Roethlisberger in 2004:
Pittsburgh has won a Super Bowl the year following each defeat in the playoffs. (Pittsburgh lost a playoff game last year.)
Pittsburgh has not lost a road playoff game. (Pittsburgh is on the road for at least the first two rounds of the playoffs this year.)
Pittsburgh has had a different record in the playoffs each season they have made the dance (0-1 in 2007, 1-1 in 2004, 2-1 in 2010, 3-0 in 2008, 4-0 in 2005). There is only one possible playoff record Pittsburgh has not yet had in the Roethlisberger era: 3-1. Pittsburgh could achieve this record by making and losing the Super Bowl.
Pittsburgh is 9-0 in playoff games in which they turned the ball over 2 or fewer times and 1-3 in playoff games in which they turned the ball over at least 3 times.
Pittsburgh is 10-0 when giving up fewer than 30 points and 0-3 when allowing 30+ points. Pittsburgh has only allowed 30+ points once this season, in week 1.
Pittsburgh has never failed to score at least 20 points in a playoff game (13 games).
This is a very underrated aspect of Pittsburgh's success under Roethlisberger. Joe Montana and Steve Young are the next most successful quarterbacks to start their careers as each led San Francisco to 20+ points in their first 8 playoff starts, a far cry from Roethlsiberger's 13.
Troy Aikman led Dallas to 20+ points in 12 consecutive playoff games (although they were held below 20 in his other 4 playoff starts). Brett Favre led Green Bay to 20+ points in 11 consecutive playoff games, although he led his team to 20+ in only 6 of his other 13 playoff games.
Over a career, Matt Hasselbeck's 11 20+ games in 12 starts represents the only other player to start 10 or more playoff games and lead his team to 20+ points in at least 80% of them. The one game where Hasselbeck's Seahawks did not reach 20 points was Super Bowl XL, against Pittsburgh.
Aaron Rodgers is the only active quarterback with an unblemished playoff record, having led Green Bay to 20+ points in each of his 5 starts.