Posted on: January 13, 2009 5:28 am

They Believe

It was in his eyes on Sunday, confidence.  You just saw it on his face each time the camera panned to him.  Mike Tomlin, going into the game against San Diego was a coach with the look of confidence.  Confidence in his team.

Tomlin had been criticized by about playing his starters in a meaningless game at the end of regular season against the Cleveland Browns.  After all, by doing so, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger ended up with a concussion after hitting the turf.  Yeah, the Cleveland game might have been meaningless for the books, but this past Sunday proved that it provided something much more valuable, confidence.

Sunday, against the Chargers, the Steelers played with confidence.  They reflected their coaches belief, their own belief and they came out with something to prove. 

- Mike Tomlin wanted to prove that his Steelers deserved to be there.

- Bruce Arians wanted to prove that his offense wasn’t as bad as every one wanted to think they were, and that they did have a running game.

- Special Teams wanted to prove that they could be good on all aspects of the return and coverage. 

- Ben Roethlisberger wanted to prove that he was healthy and could play well in a playoff game. 

- The oline wanted to prove they could protect their quarterback. 

And Sunday, they proved everything and more.  What part of the team didn’t come out big.  Roethlisberger had good throws that kept drives alive, read the field well and didn’t give up the ball.  The concerns about the concussions were all wiped away Sunday. 

The running game came together, perfectly.  Willie Parker, finally healthy ran wild on the Chargers offense, and when he was out, Mewelde Moore came in with positive yardage.  Chargers defense may have denied Gary Russell one touchdown, but they weren’t going to deny him a second one. 

Big plays on special teams, both in returns and coverage.  Holmes would run one back for 6, something that hadn’t happened all season for the Steelers.

Defense would come up with one interception and would sack Phillip Rivers four times. 

However, it would be the oline that proved themselves in a big way.  In their initial meeting with the Chargers defense, the Steelers offensive line gave up four sacks on Roethlisberger.  This game, they gave up only one sack and opened up some nice holes for the running game. 

Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians proved that he could actually stick with play calling that worked and that it was okay to put more faith in his quarterback.  

Head coach Mike Tomlin once again proved that he wasn’t afraid to take chances and play the game to win, versus playing not to lose.  Although the fake punt failed, it showed some creativity in finding ways to try to get something started on offense. 

With the win on Sunday, Steelers stayed alive to face the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship.  They’ll be going into that game with a dangerous combination.  Confidence and a completely healthy team.  Unlike the Ravens/Titans games were a number of Ravens players sustained injuries, the Steelers left the Chargers game relatively unscathed and no injuries.  

Forget that the Steelers record at home in the AFCC isn’t the best.  They proved this season that none of that matters.  They’ve shaken monkeys before.  They weren’t suppose to win against the Jacksonville Jaguars or the New England Patriots, because…well…their record against them wasn’t the best.  They were 0-2 against San Diego in the playoffs before Sundays games.  They’re beating those monkeys back.  Curses, jinxes are not factors in this upcoming game. 

They say that third times a charm.  Perhaps.  Then again, there’s a truism that bad news comes in threes.  Perhaps it’s not a good thing for the Ravens to meet the Steelers in Heinz Field this time.  Either way, these sayings offset each other, so they're not factors either. 

This past Saturday, the Ravens won the battle of the turnovers against the first seed Titans, to advance on to the AFCC.  However, the Titans aren’t divisional rivals.  In their two previous matchups, the Steelers and Ravens were equal in turnovers.  In the first game, Roethlisberger threw for one interception.  It was Joe Flacco that would throw for two interceptions in their last matchup. 

The question for the Steelers will be in the play calling.  Will Bruce Arians become overconfident in his play calling against a defense, though exhausted and beat up, pulls from their very soul to find a way to make the stops when necessary?  Will the Steelers offense become one dimensional, or will he use the running game to help wear the Ravens defense down?  This game will be a defensive battle, as Ravens/Steelers games always are.  Can the Ravens defense sustain the energy to last 60 minutes and will Joe Flacco maintain his cool against a defense he had already met up with twice before? 

This will be a game where a “never” will be answered.  A rookie quarterback never started in the AFC Championship and went on to the Superbowl.  Ben Roethlisberger never won the AFCC at home.  Despite the Ravens being the media darling for this game, I’ll take the Steelers at home.  After all, look at what happened to the other media darlings this season. 
Posted on: January 6, 2009 6:24 am

Questions for Sunday, Another Bizarre Meeting?

In January of 2006, Allegheny County decided to leave up it’s Christmas tree but instead of Christmas ornaments, donations of black and gold ornaments were taken and thus the birth of the “terrible tree”.  The Steelers went on a streak and ended up with the “one for the thumb”.  Like Myron Cope’s Terrible Towel, why mess with something that works.  Three years later, Allegheny County will once again bring back the “terrible tree”.  Yeah, I know laugh.  They laughed at the towel too, when it first came out, even Andy Russell was skeptical, but as the late Myron Cope had pointed out about the towel, there could be magic. 

So while Allegheny County made plans for use of their Christmas tree and the Steelers waited to find out who they would be facing in their AFC divisional playoff game, the Steelers players were busy honing their skills, refining them shall we say.  This may not be good news for Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers that James Harrison is honing his skills.  Last meeting in Pittsburgh, Harrison ended up with one sack, one interception and forced fumble.  That sack led to a safety. 

Once the Steelers found out who they would meet, they began practice in earnest, the same day that Steelers linebacker James Harrison had become the Associated Press’s Defensive Player of the Year.  That was on Monday.  Monday was also the first day the Ben Roethlisberger practiced after receiving his concussion during the final game of the season against the Cleveland Browns.

Could this Sundays match up between the Steelers and Chargers at Heinz Field be the same type of game as their first meeting on November 16th?  Maybe, maybe not.  They’re calling for snow that weekend, it promises to be cold and Chargers will be facing a fired up fan base, and a team that not only has had a chance to heal up and rest, but one that ended it’s last game with a win. 

Okay, so the Chargers are on a roll also and fired up with their win over the Colts.  However, that win came with a running game by Chargers running back Darren Sproles, Could Sproles run like he did this coming Sunday against the Steelers defense, one that has yet to allow a single 100 yd rusher?  It’s possible, but the Steelers defense had a chance to review the Chargers/Colts game film by Monday. 

Last match up against the Chargers, the Steelers dominated every aspect of the game except one, scoring.  Roethlisberger completed 31 for 41 passes to seven different receivers with no interceptions, despite being sacked four times.  Willie Parker ran for 115 yards.  The problem was, not only the inability to get it into the end zone, but 13 penalties for 115 yards, one which nullified a Santonio Holmes touchdown.  With the exception of that one play, the Chargers red zone defense contained any attempt by the Steelers offense to get the ball in for seven.

Neither quarterback registered a touchdown that day.  In fact, the only touchdown came from a 3 yard run by Tomlinson after a defensive pass interference call on Troy Polamalu which set the Chargers up in scoring position.  Their only other score was on Nate Kaeding field goal in the fourth quarter.  Steelers offensively would only score 9 points, but it was the final drive down the field by Ben Roethlisberger that would set up a Jeff Reed field goal to put the Steelers up by one point. 

Now going into the Steelers first playoff game, we’re wondering if we’ll see a repeat of the November game.  Of course there are questions.

Will Ben Roethlisberger, have the same type of game against the Chargers defense or will his injury coming into the game have an effect?

Will Willie Parker be able to run for 115 yards again, against the Chargers defense?

Will Bruce Arians play conservative or will he actually use Gary Russell on 3d and short and try to punch it over the goal line (something they failed to do the last match up)?

Will the Steelers defense contain both Antonio Gates and Darren Sproles?

How many sacks will James Harrison (and LaMarr Woodley) have this game?

Will the oline not only protect Ben enough but also keep from making the mental mistakes that have cost them touchdowns?

If the referees call offensive holding on the Steelers, will they also call offensive holding on the Chargers? The November matchup had 13 penalties against the Steelers while the Chargers only had 2 for five yards, none of which were offensive holding. 

Will the stock in Maalox rise this week as we hold our breath while Mike Tomlin goes on 4th and short?

Guess we’ll have to wait till Sunday to have these questions answered.
Posted on: September 3, 2008 6:50 pm

2008-09 NFL Predictions - AFC West

So I'm making my way across the AFC.  Right now I have the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts the champions of their respective divisions.  Pretty safe and no brain picks, right?  Okay I'll agree.  For the most part, I think we look at the previous year and try to determine the current year. 

So while I have chili thawing for dinner I figured I'll pick a few more no brainers for the AFC West.  (Bet you thought I'd be chomping at the bits to put the AFC North in there).  No real changes to the AFC West except a switch in positions for the Chiefs and the Raiders.

AFC West:

#4) Kansas City Chiefs - With an aging running back in Larry Johnson and with me not being sold on either Brodie Croyle or Damon Huard under center, I'm seeing the Chiefs struggling for an identy this year (much like the renaming of Arrowhead).  Though the Chiefs did pick up some good talent in the draft, I'm seeing at least a year for them to gel and settle down enough to make the Chiefs a contender in this division again.

#3) Oakland Raiders - After all these years in the cellar, I see the Raiders advancing up one slot and finishing the division at #3.  JaMarcus Russell will have settle down a bit, picking up Darren McFadden to open up the running game, the offense has improved. 

#2) Denver Broncos - This team will be finishing better the .500, Jay Cutler has shown he can handle the pressure. Their schedule include Miami and Atlanta and Shanahan has been known to set up defensive plays that will exploit young offenses.  One thing they don't have to worry about, Devon Hester and not being afraid to kick to him this year.

#1) San Diego Chargers - Barring no injuries, this team should make it to the AFC Championship.  Phillip Rivers found his rhythym last year and looks to carry it through this year.  With Nick Hardwick back as center, should help with opening the running game.  Look for Jacob Hester to make an impact on the rush.

AFC West Division Champions - San Diego Chargers
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com