The Pittsburgh Steelers are back in the playoffs.
It certainly was not easy considering the laundry list of injuries and misfortune that was bestowed upon the Black and Gold all season, but thanks to the combination of a sloppy 28-12 victory over the Cleveland Browns and a little help from the Buffalo Bills, the Steelers now will head to Cincinnati to play the Bengals in the AFC Wild Card Saturday night.
*Give Antonio Brown credit, he’s been dominant week in, week out no matter what opposing defenses try to do to stop him. Once again Brown was a force, as he caught 13 passes for 187 yards and a touchdown against a hapless Browns secondary that simply had no answer for the legitimate league MVP candidate.
Yes, he’s a legitimate candidate. With his 136 catch, 1,834-yard season, Brown became the first wide receiver to have back to back seasons with 125 catches or more and his 265 catches broke Marvin Harrison’s record for most catches over a two-year span. It’s hard to imagine what the numbers could have been if Ben Roethlisberger did not miss a quarter of the season with various injuries.
*The Steelers defense once again was far from the Steel Curtain yesterday, but despite of the flaws, the unit found ways to make the necessary stops when needed. It started with a red-zone defense that did not allow a touchdown to the Browns in five trips and also had two additional stops on drives that were goal to go.
James Harrison has made a career out of making life miserable for the Browns and yesterday was no exception. Harrison picked off Browns quarterback Austin Davis after a careless Roethlisberger pass was intercepted to put the Browns in position to take the lead trailing 14-9 in the third quarter. It was the first interception for Harrsion as a Steeeler since 2010 and the case could be made that it might have been the play of the game.
The unit also forced two more turnovers on the day and sacked Davis seven times. Two of those sacks were registered by Stephon Tuitt was able to take advantage of rookie Cameron Irving much of the day. It has not been a great year for Lawrence Timmons but the veteran linebacker had arguably his best game this season registering 10 tackles, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble.
*Sorry to go off of script but how about Rex Ryan and his Buffalo Bills?
With nothing to play for other than a chance to stick it to Ryan’s former employer and keep the New York Jets out of the playoffs, the Bills defense picked off Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick three times, twice in the fourth quarter and held on to win 22-17.
You have to give Ryan credit; for all of his flaws he was able to get his team to play hard and fight for four quarters. That was just enough to give the Steelers a chance to try and make a deep run in the playoffs and get well-deserved recognition in this week’s installment of three up, three down.
*The tackling for the Steelers defense has been downright atrocious much of the season and yesterday was no exception. No where is this more apparent than in the Steelers secondary, where Antwon Blake continues to not only struggle in coverage, but seemingly accounts for a few missed tackles every game. William Gay had a couple of bad misses that kept Browns possessions going but at least made up for it with a nifty interception late. Mike Mitchell needs to spend less time trying to go for the knockout and simply make the simple plays–too many extra yards after the catch on missed tackles.
*It’s been a crazy season for Roethlisberger. Injuries to key players on offense and his own injury struggles have made this a challenging year for the 2015 Pro-Bowl selection. There’s plenty of positives to point to, and ultimately the Steelers are in the playoffs in no small part thanks to Big Ben, but the interceptions are piling up at an alarming rate.
Roethlisberger threw two more picks yesterday and both came on terrible throws. He can thank Heath Miller for saving him from potentially throwing at least two more, as the ever-reliable Miller out-fought Browns defenders on all three of his catches that included the Steelers first touchdown of the game.
Roethlisberger has now thrown 16 interceptions in only 12 games played, an alarming stat made worse considering four of those picks have come against next week’s playoff opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals. Too many poor decisions by Roethlisberger and if the Steelers have any shot of going deep into the playoffs, the careless interceptions have to stop.
*When you win and get into the playoffs, it’s hard to find a lot of negatives, but the first quarter ankle injury to DeAngelo Williams might have devastating consequences as the Steelers prepare for the Bengals. Williams was seen in a walking boot after the game and much like last season, it’s likely the Steelers will have to prepare for life without their top back in the opening round of the playoffs.
Also like last season, if Williams can’t go, there’s not much depth behind him. Recently activated from the practice squad, Fitzgerald Toussaint did little to ease worries by rushing for 24 yards on 12 carries against a Browns rush defense that was ranked dead last in the NFL. The only other tailback on the roster is Jordan Todman and he was not good enough to hold off Toussaint to get a helmet on game day in recent weeks.
It’s unlikely the Steelers will look for a replacement on the outside like they did with Ben Tate last year, so that means if Williams is out, the Steelers will once again be forced to try and win without a key contributor–seems reasonable considering it’s been the theme since training camp began.
Photo credit: BehindtheSteelCurtain