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Tag:LaMarr Woodley
Posted on: February 2, 2011 1:11 am
Edited on: February 6, 2011 2:53 am
 

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive roster breakdown

Posted by Will Brinson & Andy Benoit

Perhaps the most fascinating thing if you look (at a glance anyway) at Pittsburgh and Green Bay is that they've built their teams "properly." (AKA "the opposite of Dan Snyder.) They draft smart, and they sign smarter. At least that's what we're lead to believe, right?

Andy and I set out to check the roster breakdown for both teams. En route, we* managed to figure out not only where they're coming from, but what they'll do for their respective teams in the Super Bowl.

Name POS Acquired Scouting Report
Ziggy Hood
DE 
Drafted 32nd overall, 1st Round 2009 
First-round pick in ’09 has not shown drastic progress with playing time. Plays too tall to generate anchoring power; must get more physical in traffic.
Casey Hampton
NT
Drafted 19th overall, 1st Round 2001
The key to Pittsburgh’s vaunted run defense. A “325-pounder” who simply can’t be dislodged. Nimble lateral agility and surprising initial quickness give him playmaking prowess, too.
Brett Keisel
DE
Drafted 242nd overall, 7th round 2002
Long-deserved Pro Bowl honors were finally recognized this season. Far and away the most athletic 3-4 defensive end in football.
Aaron Smith
DL
Drafted 109th, 5th Round 1999
Venerated 12-year veteran hopes to play for the first time since tearing his triceps in October. If he can’t go, the forceful but somewhat sluggish Nick Eaton will continue to see action.
LaMarr Woodley
LOLB
Drafted 46th overall, 2nd Round 2007
His first and second steps are as effective as all but maybe six or seven pass-rushers in the NFL. Exerts tremendous strength whether he’s making a tackle or shedding a block.
James Farrior
LILB
8th overall, 1st Round 1997 NYJ; FA 2002
A 36-year-old whose downhill quickness suggests he’s 26. Instincts against the run are superb.
Lawrence Timmons
RILB
Drafted 15th overall, 1st Round 2007
Whoever's the 2nd most athletic ILB in football is barely a speck in this man’s rearview mirror. Instincts have improved precipitously. In short, he’s already a superstar (and maybe Pittsburgh’s best player on D).
James Harrison
ROLB
UDFA 2002 PIT; FA PIT 2004 Known for four or five illegal hits, but the thousands of legal ones he’s delivered have been just as punishing.
Larry Foote
5 LB
Drafted 128th overall, 4th Round PIT; FA, 2010
This defense does not skip a beat when he gives Farrior a breather. Is fantastic at blowing up the opponents’ lead-blocker.
Ike Taylor
CB
Drafted 125th overall, 4th Round 2003
Lanky cover artist who can operate in man or zone. If not for so many dropped interceptions over the years, he’d be regarded by many as a top 10 corner.
Troy Polamalu
SS
Drafted 16th overall, 1st round 2003
Llike the Steelers have a 12 on 11 advantage when he’s out there. The difference between him and other star defenders? 2 things: his calves (which give him NBA-caliber vertical leap and incredible closing explosiveness) and unwavering trust in his instincts.
Ryan Clark
FS UDFA, 2002, WAS; FA 2006
Hard-hitting, intelligent veteran leader who has decent range in coverage.
Bryant McFadden
CB
Drafted 62nd overall, 2nd Round 2005
If this defense has a weak spot, he’d be it. And that’s NOT to say he isn’t solid.
William Gay
NB
Drafted 170th overall, 5th round, 2007
OK when he can be a playmaker, but struggles when he has to be a play-stopper.
Ryan Mundy
SS Drafted 194th overall, 6th Round, 2008
Still learning. Didn’t make the costly mistakes this season that hounded him in ’09.

*Scouting smarts credited to Benoit. HTML and research credited to Brinson.
Posted on: February 1, 2011 11:05 pm
 

Steelers develop players through patience

Posted by Andy Benoit

The Steelers are arguably the best-operated franchise in football. It’s easy and smart to laud their drafting, but it’s what they do with those drafted players that sets the organization apart. The SteelerT. Polamalu (US Presswire)s, more than any other team, let their rookies develop out of a backup role. Maurkice Pouncey is the only first-round pick other than Ben Roethlisberger and Heath Miller to start in his first year.

Roethlisberger only started in 2004 because veteran Tommy Maddox got hurt. Miller started in 2005 because he was just too polished. (It helped that the Steelers frequently employed two tight end formations that year).Pouncey, who left Florida after his junior year, only started because his performance in minicamp and practice was out of this world. The plan had been for the 21-year-old to learn the game as a backup guard and ease into the starting lineup around 2012.

Take a look at the path Pittsburgh’s other high-drafted player took to get into the starting lineup:


RB Rashard Mendenhall, 1st round, 2008

One start in his injury-shortened ’08 season. Began ’09 on the bench behind Willie Parker  before earning the starting job in October.


WR Mike Wallace, 3rd round, 2009


The No. 3 receiver as a rookie, his promise instilled in management the confidence to dump Santonio Holmes in 2010.


DE Ziggy Hood, 1st round, 2009

Came off the bench all last year. Would have stayed in a reserve role this season if not for Aaron Smith’s triceps injury.


ILB Lawrence Timmons, 1st round, 2007

Was drafted to play outside linebacker and learn the game behind James Harrison. However, slow progress on that front led to a position change, which proved to be a brilliant move. Timmons took over inside for Larry in 2009. By 2010, he was one of the three or four best 3-4 inside linebackers in the game.


OLB LaMarr Woodley, 2nd round, 2007

Spent his first season learning the ropes behind star veteran Joey Porter. Assumed a first-string role in 2008 and posted 11.5 sacks.


CB Bryant McFadden, 2nd round, 2005

Started just one game as a rookie. In fact, didn’t become a starter until 2008.


S Troy Polamalu, 1st round, 2003

Struggled out of the gate and didn’t start a single game in ’03. Cracked the first string in ’04 and has been “pretty good” ever since.

 

Posted on: January 24, 2011 2:07 pm
Edited on: January 24, 2011 6:08 pm
 

Early look at Super Bowl XLV Packers vs. Steelers

Posted by Charley Casserly

It’d be hard to ask for a better matchup in Super Bowl XLV than the Green Bay Packers vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers. These are the hottest teams in their respective conferences. Both have big-name quarterbacks, playmakers on offense and a host of Pro Bowl caliber contributors in their well-coached 3-4 defenses. It’s no wonder the oddsmakers and pundits are forecasting a close game. Here is an early overview of the matchup.

Three "X" FactorsB. Roethlisberger (US Presswire)

1. Super Bowl experience

The Steelers, only two years removed from winning Super Bowl XLIII, have an edge in experience that will come in to play both on and off the field. Having been in four Super Bowls myself, here is how I see the edge manifesting itself:

There are a lot of off the field distractions the players and staff have to deal with. These include ticket requests, media requests, family and friends travel, etc. The coaches have to manage these distractions while determining how much of the game plan to install at home and how much to install after arriving in Dallas. Some teams like to put in the game plan before they get to the Super Bowl site in order to have it done before the majority of distractions set in. Others want to wait so as not to have the players get bored or stale the week of the game.

The Steelers and their staff have dealt with this conundrum before. The Packers, for the most part, have not.


2. The two weeks to prepare and rest

I think this could favor or hurt Green Bay – we won't know until the game. On the one hand Green Bay is on a roll. They have faced elimination in their last five outings. They survived and, thus, have momentum. The two-week break could disrupt that momentum.
 
On the other hand, the break may be just the thing they need to get recharged. If they had to play next week, they maybe would run out of gas.

 
3. Green Bay’s familiarity with defensive scheme

The Packers may have an edge over many, if not all, of the opponents that the Steelers have played this year. That edge? They play the same 3-4 defense as Pittsburgh. Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers and Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau worked together in Pittsburgh when LeBeau was the defensive backs coach when Capers was the defensive coordinator (1992-94). This will help Green Bay more than other teams that have had to prepare for Pittsburgh this season, as Green Bay will have had a better look in practice from their scout team in imitating Pittsburgh's defense.

 
Two key statistical categories that could come into play

 
1. Sacks per pass play

In terms of sacks per pass play, the Steelers offense ranks 30th in preventing sacks, while the Packers defense ranks third. On the other side of the ball, Green Bay's offense is 20th in sacks per pass play while Pittsburgh’s defense is sixth. Just watching film, it would seem Green Bay has the edge here. The statistics agree.
 
Both teams will have the opportunity to sack the opposing QB. I believe it comes down to which QB can avoid the pressure and still make a play. Conversely, which team when they get that free defender can bring the opposing QB down? Ben Roethlisberger is not only mobile, he is big and strong. He can throw with defenders draping off of him. Aaron Rodgers, on the other hand, is quicker a foot than Roethlisberger and can avoid defenders. 

 
2. Rushing

The Steelers run defense is ranked number one in the NFL. The Packers rushing offense is ranked 24th. This is a clear advantage for the Steelers. How will the Packers be able to run the ball? I believe their best chance will be to spread the Steelers out to make them defend the pass first, then come back with the run second. In other words, set up the run with the pass.

 
Three matchups of note (Green Bay offense vs. Pittsburgh defense)

 
1. Green Bay Wide Receivers vs. Pittsburgh CB's

The Packers have a decided edge here. The two things the Steelers must do to negate this edge is a.) jam the receivers off the line to disrupt their timing on their routes in their rhythm passing game and b.) do a good job tackling when Green Bay’s wideouts catch the ball. Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones and Jordy Nelson are all fantastic at running after the catch.

 
2. Green Bay's OT’s vs. Pittsburgh’s OLB’s

This is an edge for Pittsburgh. Most defenses only have one good pass-rusher. Pittsburgh has two in James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. Green Bay has to either make sure they help their OT's in some way (likely with a RB chipping or a TE staying in to block). The Packers cannot let the Steeler OLB's go one on one against Chad Clifton, Bryan Bulaga, backup T.J. Lang or one of their backs.

 
3. Green Bay’s center Scott Wells vs. Pittsburgh’s NT Casey Hampton

This is an advantage for Pittsburgh in terms of size and strength. If the Packers can't find a way to control Hampton by helping Wells or devise a running scheme to take advantage of Hampton's tendency to over-pursue (such as having the RB cut back against the grain in the opposite direction of Hampton's initial movement), they will struggle to run the ball.

 
Three matchups of note (Green Bay defense vs. Pittsburgh offense)


1. Green Bay’s NT B.J. Raji vs. Pittsburgh’s C (Maurkice Pouncey or Doug Legursky)

Raji will have a decided edge over whoever Pittsburgh plays at OC (Pro Bowl rookie Maurkice Pouncey hopes to play on his bad ankle; third-year pro Doug Legursky is the backup). It is the same principle that Green Bay faces in running the ball against Casey Hampton: you need a plan to negate the edge that the opposing NT has over your C. B. Raji (US Presswire)

2. Green Bay’s nickel defense vs. Pittsburgh’s run offense

Green Bay will line up in their nickel defense on running downs and dare teams to run the ball. (Often times, they have just two defensive linemen in these packages.) If the Packers do this, the Steelers have to take advantage and run the ball effectively.

3. Green Bay’s OLB Clay Mathews vs. Pittsburgh OT's (LT Jonathan Scott, RT Flozell Adams)

Both OT's for Pittsburgh, Scott and Adams, are backup players. Mathews, like James Harrison, is one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL. Mathews has to win his matchups against the Steelers tackles. The Packers do a good job moving him around to get him into favorable matchups. Can the Steelers figure this out and find a way to block him? 
 

Beyond the statistics and matchups: two more things to watch  

1. Will Green Bay employ a strategy similar to New England's plan against the Steeler defense? The Patriots spread the Steeler defense out and had a lot of success passing the ball. I think that is the best plan to beat the Steeler defense – and I think the Packers have the ideal personnel to execute that plan.

 
2. Will the Steelers try to run the ball to the outside early in the game to make those big Packer defensive linemen run to the ball? The hope here is that doing so will make those D-linemen tire and wear down as the game goes along. Fatigued defensive linemen, of course, are less effective against both the run and pass later in the game.

 
Prediction
 
This is a very even game, but I give the edge to the Steelers because of the slight edge at QB and their greater big game experience. I think the difference in the game will be Roethlisberger making more plays against the pass-rush than Rodgers. 




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Posted on: January 20, 2011 11:22 am
Edited on: January 20, 2011 4:30 pm
 

Steelers vs. Jets: 7-Point Championship Preview

Posted by Josh Katzowitz



CBSSports.com's patented and award-winning 7-point preview gets you ready for each and every playoff game. As a bonus, enjoy our playoff podcast preview:



1. New York Jets (No. 6, AFC, 13-5) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 2, AFC, 13-4)

For the second-straight season, the Jets somehow have risen from a Wild Card team to a squad that will play in the AFC championship game with a chance to go to the Super Bowl. Last year, they fell to the Colts. This year, though, they’re riding a big hot streak, having knocked off Indianapolis and then the formerly-invincible Patriots, and they’re looking for their first Super Bowl appearance since 1969.

The Steelers, meanwhile, are coming off a nice come-from-behind victory against the Ravens last week. Like the Jets beating the Patriots, Pittsburgh exerted a ton of energy, rallying to beat their biggest rival for the second time this season. There’s been some talk about emotional letdowns, especially on the Jets side, but this one is for a Super Bowl berth. An emotional letdown, like Jets coach Rex Ryan would say, is impossible.

2. PLAYOFFS?! Watchability Ranking



Both AFC games last week were great matchups and featured great results. It’ll be hard for this one to top those. Maybe I’m the one who is emotionally let down, but 3.5 Mora Faces is the max rating.

3. Key Matchup to Watch: Jets secondary vs. Steelers WRs

Last week, the Jets shut down the Patriots WRs. New England couldn’t create separation, and at times, QB Tom Brady was stuck holding the ball for 5 … 6 … 7 … 8 seconds before having to scramble because his receivers simply could not get open.

The Steelers will have to do a better job than that. Assuming Jets CB Darrelle Revis – who has dominated Indianapolis’ Reggie Wayne and New England’s Deion Branch so far in the playoffs – matches up against WR Hines Ward, don’t expect Ward to have much of an impact. In the Steelers Week 15 matchup against New York, Ward was targeted only three times and caught two passes for 34 yards.

That means the speedy Mike Wallace will have to be the game-changer for Pittsburgh. He’s had a big season, catching 60 passes for 1,257 yards and 10 TDs in the regular season. We assume Jets CB Antonio Cromartie, also a rather speedy fellow, will attend to him. Thing is with Cromartie: sometimes he’s great, like last week, and sometimes he’s very beatable, like with Colts WR Pierre Garcon two weeks ago.

Hell, Cromartie might be the biggest factor of all. Especially if Ben Roethlisberger tries to avoid Revis and, instead, targets Cromartie. Hey, at least Cromartie didn’t call Roethlisberger an a------.

4. Potentially Relevant Video

If Revis makes Ward somewhat irrelevant in the passing game, the Steelers WR still can be a nuisance on the field. Ask Bart Scott about that this video, featuring Ward’s greatest hits.



5. The Jets will win if ...

They can get big-time production from both running backs, LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene. Tomlinson, after a swoon in the second half of the season, has run well the first two rounds of the playoffs, and Greene has rushed for 77 and 70 yards in the two games. If Greene can inch closer to the 100-yard mark and Tomlinson can average about 5 yards a carry, that would keep the ball out of the hands of Rashard Mendenhall and Roethlisberger for much of the game and bring the Jets a win.

6. The Steelers will win if ...

They can pound and pressure Mark Sanchez for much of the day. Yes, Sanchez threw three touchdown passes last week, but he still has struggled – for the past two weeks – with his accuracy. The Steelers have plenty of defenders (ahem, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley) who can harass Sanchez and make him have to release the ball too early. Which certainly won’t help his aim.

7. Prediction: Jets 20, Steelers 17
Posted on: January 17, 2011 1:02 am
Edited on: January 17, 2011 2:16 pm
 

10 championship round stories worth attention

Posted by Andy Benoit

1.) Jets Win; So how are we supposed to feel?

Normally, a sixth seeded 8.5-point underdog going on the road and upsetting the runaway Super Bowl favorite would classify as one of those feel-good Cinderella stories. But because the garrulous New York Jets have irritated so many this season, we find ourselves in a silent state of ambiguity. Did anyone actually stop and think befoNew York (US Presswire)rehand about the possibility of the Jets backing up their words? Or were we all too busy preparing our clever one-liners about comeuppance and karma?

Most troubling for Jets haters is that the Jets didn’t just beat the Pats, they beat them while staying true to form. A great example was how Shonn Greene opted for the blatant 15-yard celebration penalty after his de facto final-coffin-nail touchdown run. It was an immature and untimely gaffe that Greene’s coach was surely going to chew him out for. That is, if Greene’s coach hadn’t run (OK, lumbered) to the end zone to join the celebration.

To be fair, Greene’s coach had plenty to celebrate. Rex Ryan said all along that this matchup was about him and Bill Belichick. Well, Ryan won it. The Jets defense stifled New England’s high-powered offense by pressuring Tom Brady (Mike DeVito had his best game of the season; Shaun Ellis had two of New York’s five sacks; Jason Taylor put left tackle Matt Light on skates in the second half).

The Jets pressured Brady primarily by locking down his receivers. Deep in the fourth quarter, Ryan’s gameplan was still befuddling Brady and the Pats (you think New England was intentionally milking the clock on that fruitless 15-play drive?). Maddeningly enough, the Jet most responsible for the lockdown job on Brady’s targets was, aside from the brilliant Darrelle Revis, one Antonio Cromartie. The ex-Charger might be an utterly unlikeable reprobate, but the reality is, the Jets wouldn’t be returning to the AFC Championship without him.

Cromartie wasn’t the only “villain” responsible for the win Sunday. Wideouts Santonio Holmes (who served a four-game suspension early in the season) and Braylon Edwards (who was arrested for DUI in September) both had crucial touchdown catches. And neither was shy about enjoying the moment.

So the Jets walked their talk. No one could have predicted it. After all, they lost by 42 in Foxboro just a month earlier. Not to mention, theirs was the type of talk that even Moses would have had trouble walking. But because they did it, we get at least one more week of hearing them rattle off all the reasons they’re going to win the Super Bowl. And this time, we’ll have to listen quietly.

 

2.) Aaron Rodgers: the best quarterback left? A. Rodgers (US Presswire)

Hard to believe that “Aaron Rodgers has never won a playoff game” was actually a viable storyline earlier this month. Rodgers’ performance at Atlanta Saturday night (31 of 36, 366 yards, three touchdowns) was within arm’s reach of flawless. It was Rodger’s second straight three touchdown-zero interception playoff performance. And let’s not forget, the man registered 633 yards while throwing five touchdowns to just one interception in Green Bay’s final two must-win games on the regular season (coming off his second concussion of the year, no less).

Rodgers is the quarterback many experts would choose if starting a team right now. That’s saying something considering Ben Roethlisberger, two wins away from a third Super Bowl ring, is only 20 months older than Rodgers. Rodgers, like Roethlisberger, has an innate ability to extend a play and find his third or fourth read. Also like Roethlisberger (and Cutler, too), Rodgers is blessed with incredible natural tools (strong arm, mobility, etc.).

But it’s Rodgers’ shrewd presnap awareness that sets him apart. The three other remaining quarterbacks are all, at best, average when it comes to diagnosing a defense before the snap. Rodgers, as his wideouts will tell you, is fantastic. Maybe – MAYBE – that’s because he, unlike the other three remaining quarterbacks, was not shoved into the starting lineup as a first-round rookie.


3.) Sanchez’s Spotlight

An indirect (or perhaps direct) consequence of Rex Ryan’s loquaciousness is that it diminishes the media’s spotlight on quarterback Mark Sanchez. Who’s to say whether that’s Ryan’s intent. (The guess here is it’s not, given that Ryan at one point talked openly about benching his young signalcaller.) But given Sanchez’s youth and the disposition of the New York media, a diminished spotlight is probably a good thing.
M. Sanchez (US Presswire)
Think about the intensity of the spotlight if it weren’t diminished. The Jets traded up to draft the USC superstar  fifth overall. In two seasons Sanchez has led the Jets to two AFC title game appearances. He already holds the franchise record with four career playoff wins. This postseason, he has defeated Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

Granted, Sanchez did not outplay Manning. But with three touchdowns and no turnovers at New England, he did outplay Brady. (And besides, we’re talking about a media spotlight here; it doesn’t matter to the headline writers if he outplayed Manning).

This is a quarterback who could easily be overhyped. Adding fuel to the Sanchez fire is the fact that he’s far and away the most prominent Latino player in today’s NFL. Given America’s changing demographics, you think marketing execs aren’t salivating at this?

In a lot of respects, Sanchez still has a long ways to go as an NFL passer. But so did Eli Manning after two seasons. The New York media could not resist the urge to pile on Manning. That’s partly because Manning never had the luxury of playing for an attention-grabbing head coach.

 

4.) The irony of Santonio Holmes

The Jets probably wouldn’t be in the AFC Championship if they hadn’tS. Holmes (US Presswire) brought in Santonio Holmes. His speed, quickness and precise route running have infused a big-play element into an otherwise run-of-the-mill passing game. Holmes’ tiptoe (or tip-right-knee) touchdown in the back left corner of the end zone at Foxboro gave the Jets a critical 10-point advantage late in the second half. Earlier in the year, Holmes helped the Jets keep winning while they went through somewhat of a rough patch by registering a 52-yard catch-and-run set up a game-winning overtime field goal against the Lions in Week 9 and a 37-yard overtime touchdown against the Browns in Week 10.

Where the irony comes in is the Steelers might not be in the AFC Championship if not for dumping Holmes. Sure, Holmes was just as important a big-play weapon for Pittsburgh as he’s been for New York. (We all remember Super Bowl 43.) But Holmes’ extensive off-field transgressions also flew in the face of everything the Rooney Family’s organization stands for. It’s the commitment to character that, in the big scheme of things, has laid the foundation for the Steelers’ six Super Bowl titles.

What’s more, if Holmes didn’t depart Pittsburgh, third-year pro Mike Wallace might not have become a 1,200-yard receiver and lethal big-play specialist. And youngsters Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown probably wouldn’t have gotten enough reps to assume critical roles come playoff time.

 

5.) Jerry Angelo’s and Lovie Smith’s Gambles Pay Off

Before this season, every decision-maker in Chicago was on the hot seat. No seats were hotter than those hosting general manager Jerry Angelo and head coach Lovie Smith. In 2009, Angelo gave up a pair of first-round draft choices and handful of attractive ancillary pieces (namely quarterback Kyle Orton) to acquire Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler. The cannon-armed but petulant 26-year-old (at the time) tossed a league-high 26 interceptions in his first season as a Bear. L. Smith (US Presswire)

In the ensuing offseason, outside observers understood that Angelo had no choice but to stick with Cutler. What they didn’t understand was why Angelo would not invest in an offensive line to help protect his quarterback. Instead of bringing in reinforcements for one of the least talented front fives in football, Angelo handed more than $40 million in guaranteed money to free agent defensive end Julius Peppers. Peppers was a great acquisition, but his price tag would doom the organization if he remained as inconsistent as he was in Carolina.

As it’s turned out, Peppers has been sensational in Chicago. His eight sacks don’t begin to tell the story of his dominance. Brian Urlacher (whose return after missing 15 games with a wrist injury also reinvigorated the Bears D) says his first-year teammate deserves Defensive Player of the Year honors.

Cutler has been less spectacular than Peppers though still good enough to lead the Bears to an NFC North division title (despite operating behind a questionable front five). Credit the arrival of offensive coordinator Mike Martz. And, credit Martz’s arrival to Lovie Smith. Knowing that a fourth straight missed postseason would result in his unemployment, the defensive-minded Smith called upon the most offensive-minded coach football has seen in the past 10 years. Smith and Martz were old friends from their days in St. Louis, but many doubted that there would be enough humility in the air for their seemingly clashing philosophies to gel.

But gel they have, thanks to Smith’s willingness to be hands-off. He has let Martz handle the offense. He’s let Mike Tice, another former head coach, handle the offensive line. Tice has made chicken soup out of chicken…well, you know.

The offensive line’s consistent improvements are comparable to the consistent improvements of Chicago’s more-talented defensive line. Israel Idonije and Matt Toeaina have been particularly impressive, thanks to the tutelage of Rod Marinelli, the defensive line specialist who accepted the defensive coordinating responsibilities thrust upon him by Smith.

In all, with his job on the line, Lovie Smith delegated major responsibilities to three former head coaches who are now assistants on his staff. How many of the other 31 Type A personalities running NFL teams would be willing to do THAT?


6.) The AFC’s Rich Defensive Casts

The Jets and Steelers both run 3-4 defenses littered with big-name stars. For the Jets, it begins and ends with Darrelle Revis, the best shutdown corner since Deion Sanders (if not the best all-around cornerback of the post 80’s era). Then there’s playmaker Antonio Cromartie. And inside linebackers Bart Scott (outspoken Pro Bowl caliber veteran) and David Harris (tackling machine whom colleagues voted team MVP). Plus, outside linebacker Jason Taylor is a future Hall of Famer. I. Taylor (US Presswire)

The Steelers, of course, have the most identifiable defensive player in football: Troy Polamalu. Outside linebacker James Harrison is a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and his counterpart LaMarr Woodley is not far behind. Plus, most fans recognize nose tackle Casey Hampton because a.) He’s the size of a small house and b.) He’s the fulcrum to a run defense that, in nine years under Dick LeBeau, has never ranked worse than No. 3.

LeBeau, a Hall of Fame player and innovator of the 3-4’s famed zone blitz, is a star himself – just like the coach behind the Jets’ complicated 3-4 scheme. All in all, the 2010 AFC Championship is ripe with big defensive names. But without the little defensive names, neither team would be here.

For the Jets, as we highlighted a few weeks ago, defensive end Mike Devito has been playing out of his mind. So has Shaun Ellis, who recorded two sacks and a slew of quarterback pressures against the Patriots. Backup nose tackle Sione Pouha, who took over when Kris Jenkins went down in Week 1, has also been pushing the pile with regularity. Pouha’s not the only backup thriving; safety Eric Smith has done a noble job filling in for injured defensive signalcaller Jim Leonhard. Smith brings valuable headhunting prowess to what is an otherwise finesse secondary (Revis aside), plus he’s a reliable filler against the run.

On Pittsburgh’s D, because Ike Taylor drops interceptions the way John Mayer drops women, many don’t recognize him as an elite corner. But that’s exactly what the lanky 6’2” veteran is. Taylor’s ability to shadow in man coverage and extend his long arms into passing lanes out of zone positions make him a bona fide stopper (which is exactly what a cornerback is supposed to be). What’s more, Taylor, like every Steeler defender, can tackle.

Before he made the Pro Bowl as an alternate, defensive end Brett Keisel would have earned an Ike Taylor-like “unsung hero” paragraph. Keisel is finally getting the recognition he deserves, so instead of piling on there, we’ll close by mentioning that Ryan Clark (aka “Pittsburgh’s other safety”) is one of the fiercest openfield hitters in the NFL.


7.) Rethinking Brady, Belichick and the Patriots

Stop and think about New England’s last three playoff appearances. There was the stunning divisional round loss at home to the rival Jets on Sunday. Last year, it was the blowout wild card loss at home to the Ravens. And in 2007 it waT. Brady (US Presswire)s the astonishing Super Bowl defeat and derailed perfect season at the hands of the Giants.

We think of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick almost as untouchable geniuses above all criticism. That’s understandable. They’re still the only head coach-quarterback duo to ever win three rings in a four-year span. And the reason two of their last three playoff defeats have been so shocking is because of the dominance that immediately preceded it: New England was a perfect 16-0 in ’07 and an NFL-best 14-2 in ’10.

That said, it was six years ago that Belichick and Brady last hoisted a Lombardi Trophy. And keep in mind, in 2006, the Patriots blew an 18-point second half lead to Indy in the AFC Championship.

Is this story meant to call into question the reputation of the NFL’s current greatest head coach and quarterback? Absolutely not. Over the past six years, Belichick and Brady have still accomplished more with less talent around them than anyone in football. But the beginning chapters of these men’s book were about the auras of two untouchable legends. In the middle chapters, that aura evaporated.


8.) Pro Bowl Snubs Shine

There were two NFC cornerbacks whom many felt got the shaft from Pro Bowl voters: Green Bay’s Tramon Williams and Chicago’s Charles Tillman. Largely because of their performance in the divisional round, both will be on the field for the NFC Championship Sunday.

Williams’ postseason brilliance began a week earlier than Tillman’s. The athlT. Williams (US Presswire)etic undrafted veteran who took over the No. 2 job when Al Harris blew out his knee last season clinched Green Bay’s wild card victory with an end zone interception in the closing minutes at Philly. Williams snagged a second end zone pick in similar fashion at Atlanta: by maintaining underneath technique against a bigger receiver (in this case, Michael Jenkins). After keeping points off the board with two interceptions, Williams put points on it with his third. With nine seconds left in the first half and the Falcons trying to get in field goal range, Williams jumped Matt Ryan’s ill-advised sideline pass to Roddy White and took it to the house for a momentum-swinging 14-point lead that Atlanta would not overcome.

As for Tillman, his excellence was key to Chicago's defensive dominance against Seattle. The Bears’ only true cover corner normally mans the left side of the D. But on Sunday, Tillman shadowed Mike Williams, holding Matt Hasselbeck's No. 1 target to four catches for 15 yards. Yes, Williams caught two touchdowns, but the second was thanks to sheer luck that resulted from Tillman’s textbook deflection.

It will be interesting to see what matchups Tramon Williams and Tillman draw this Sunday. Williams has the speed to run with Johnny Knox outside (figure the Packers will put an inside defender on Devin Hester, as Hester usually aligns in the slot). Tillman will have to rely on his physicality to keep the quicker Greg Jennings in check.


9.) Seahawks-Bears: Tough Watch

So the Seattle Seahawks weren’t a Cinderella team after all; watching them at Chicago was more like watching one of the evil stepsisters dance at the ball. Or like watching a sub-.500 team try to win a playoff game on the road. The game felt over before the midpoint of quarter two. As divisional round contests go, it was awful television. Shame. J. Cutler (US Presswire)

But whatever, doesn’t matter now. Besides, the story of Sunday’s unwatchable NFC divisional round game wasn’t the Seahawks, it was the Bears. Jay Cutler threw for 274 yards and two touchdowns in his first postseason game since high school. Aside from a small handful of first half glitches, Chicago’s once-putrid offensive line gave Cutler all the time in the world to throw. And when Cutler couldn’t find a receiver, he scrambled for positive yardage (he finished with 43 yards and two touchdowns on eight runs).

On the other side of the ball, the results were what you’d expect from the NFC’s No. 1 run defense going up against the NFC’s No. 16 run offense. With the Seahawks feeling compelled to throw on 49 of 61 offensive snaps, the Bears were able to sit back in that Lovie Smith Cover 2 and let their speed take over. Mike Williams, who appeared to tweak his upper leg early in the game, was manhandled by Charles Tillman. That hurt because the loss of tight end John Carlson (head injury) prevented Seattle from fully attacking Chicago’s questionable safeties.

If you want to get picky, the only concern Bears fans can take away from Sunday is that their defense took its foot off the gas late in the fourth quarter.


10. Quick Hits

*Most people believe that the Ravens lost at Pittsburgh because of turnovers. That’s valid, though let’s not forget, late in the fourth quarter Anquan Boldin dropped a huge touchdown in the end zone and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who had been carping for more balls all season, dropped a very catchable fourth-and-19.

*Terrell Suggs should change his name to Terrell Rooney because he owns the Steelers. Suggs had three sacks Saturday, giving him 15.5 in 18 career games against Pittsburgh.

*A storyline from Baltimore that didn’t get talked about (because of the nonstop intensity of the contest itself) is whether this was Ed Reed’s final game. The future Hall of Fame safety is 32 and contemplated retirement this past offseason.

*The Atlanta Falcons need to add one more playmaker to the center of their defense. Middle linebacker Curtis Lofton is solid but does not have star tools. Neither of the safeties is a game breaker.

*Was anyone else surprised that Pete Carroll elected to punt with his team down 28-10 and just over six minutes to play?

*When Danny Woodhead fumbled in the fourth quarter (recovered by the Patriots) it brought to mind the episode of Hard Knocks where Rex Ryan flipped out in the preseason finale after so many of the Jets backups fumbled. In that episode, Ryan put Woodhead back in the game specifically because he knew he wouldn’t cough up the ball.

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Posted on: January 13, 2011 10:47 am
Edited on: January 13, 2011 12:32 pm
 

Steelers vs. Ravens: 7-Point Divisional Preview

Posted by Josh Katzowitz



CBSSports.com's patented and award-winning 7-point preview gets you ready for each and every playoff game. As an added bonus, check out our playoff podcast preview:



1. Baltimore Ravens (No. 5, AFC, 13-4) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 2, AFC, 12-4)

This is perhaps the best rivalry in the NFL today. No, strike the “perhaps.” It is the No. 1 rivalry for toughness, defensive struggles, bloody and broken noses and grit. We’re lucky enough to see these two AFC North squads play twice a year, but it’s always an extra treat to watch them face off in the playoffs.

These two had the same regular-season record, and when they met in Week 4 and Week 13, both contests were decided by three points – one win for the Ravens and one for the Steelers. LB Terrell Suggs said earlier this week that the winner of this game will triumph in the Super Bowl. He might very well be right.

2. PLAYOFFS?! Watchability Ranking



I hate going five out of five, but in the Divisional Playoffs, to get this matchup, there’s really no other choice.

3. Key Matchup to Watch: Ravens offensive line vs. Steelers linebackers

For the second straight week, Baltimore’s tackles will have to figure out how to slow down the opponent’s 3-4 defense linebacking corps. Last week, the Chiefs sacked Ravens QB Joe Flacco four times and put pressure on him throughout the game, and Kansas City linebacker Tamba Hali made life very difficult for the Ravens offensive line.

Baltimore LT Michael Oher had a particularly tough time protecting his quarterback, and if he continues to struggle, Steelers LBs James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons will be happy to take shots at Flacco.

But it’s not just about pass protection. The offensive line also has to open holes for RB Ray Rice and Willis McGahee, and if they can’t get into the second level of the Pittsburgh defense, the Ravens are going to have big problems. The Steelers allow only 62.8 rushing yards per game – by far, the best number in the league – and the two times these two teams played this year, Rice combined for 17 carries and 52 yards.

If the offensive line can’t help him improve on those numbers, it’s going to be very tough for Baltimore’s offense to find enough balance to beat the Steelers.

4. Potentially Relevant Video

Those Troy Polamalu Head & Shoulders commercials are pretty hit or miss. Some are fairly funny; some are disastrous. But what I like best about them is that Polamalu is actually a pretty effective comedy actor. “You asked with your eyes, Trent. You asked with your eyes."



5. The Ravens will win if ...

QB Joe Flacco continues to hit TE Todd Heap every chance he gets. Flacco targeted Heap 13 times last week in Kansas City, and Heap caught 10 of those passes for 108 yards. If he finds the end zone a couple times vs. the Steelers, Baltimore could pull off its second-straight road playoff win.

6. The Steelers will win if ...

QB Ben Roethlisberger can pick apart the Ravens secondary. Which he should do. Aside from Reed, who’s still world class, and Chris Carr, Baltimore’s defensive backs corps is awfully mediocre.

7. Prediction: Steelers 16, Ravens 10



Posted on: December 13, 2010 4:34 pm
 

Hot Routes 12.13.10 box score tidbits Week 14

Hot Routes

Posted by Andy Benoit

Ryan Torain ripped off 172 yards against a Bucs front seven that had major problems getting off blocks early on.

Thanks to a 64-yard reception, Bucs rookie wideout Arrelious Benn had his first 100-yard game as a pro (122, to be exact). In fact, Benn’s previous high was 53 yards.

The Browns ran nine plays on their opening field goal drive against the Bills but just 37 plays the rest of the game.

The Packers were 2/12 on third down and 0/1 in the red zone at Detroit.

Though no player had more than 51 yards rushing for Detroit, the Lions still racked up 190 yards on the ground.

Hines Ward had his best outing since Week 7, catching eight passes for 115 yards against Cincinnati.

In addition to an interception returned for a touchdown, LaMarr Woodley had two sacks and two tackles for a loss.

Michael Turner rushed for over 100 yards for the third time in four weeks. The Falcons running back is getting stronger as the season wears on.

Kroy Biermann and John Abraham both had two sacks against the Panthers.

The Raiders and Jaguars combined for 387 yards rushing. Three players – Darren McFadden, Maurice Jones-Drew and Rashad Jennings – went over the century mark.

Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis had four catches for an important 57 yards. He also scored his career-high ninth touchdown.

The Rams were just 1/4 in the red zone against the Saints. (Unless you count Sam Bradford’s pick-six to Malcom Jenkins as a score.)

Pretty simple what happened in San Francisco: Niners zero turnovers, Seahawks five.

Brian Westbrook had 87 yards on six receptions.

The Patriots recorded 27 first downs at Chicago.

Perhaps the only Bears defender who played well was Brian Urlacher. He had 11 tackles (three for a loss), a sack and three pass breakups.

Chad Henne’s 5/18 performance was the lowest completion percentage that a winning Dolphins quarterback has had since 1980.

Dolphins punter Brandon Fields had 10 punts for 564 yards.

More special teams notes: Cardinals kicker Jay Feely was 5/6 on field goals.

Part of the reason the Cardinals-Broncos game took forever to end: Kyle Orton 19/41; John Skelton 15/37.

The Chargers had 25 first downs, which was 20 more than the Chiefs had.

Brodie Croyle probably isn’t the answer: Kansas City finished the game with 19 total yards passing.

Antoine Cason took over as the punt returner for San Diego. He averaged 15.2 yards per return with a long of 42.

The Eagles held Miles Austin and Roy Williams to a combined four catches for 45 yards.


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Posted on: September 17, 2010 7:29 pm
 

Chris Johnson vs. the Steelers front seven

C. Johnson hasn't had great success in the past against Pittsburgh (Getty). Posted by Josh Katzowitz

I wondered if Andy, in his weekly key matchup feature, would look at how the Steelers front seven would try to shut down Titans RB Chris Johnson.

Andy went with Michael Vick vs. the Lions defense (read it; it’s a fascinating look), so that leaves me to make sense of the Tennessee-Pittsburgh game.

Johnson, as you know, has 12-straight games where he’s rushed for at least 100 yards. That’s two off Barry Sanders’ all-time record. But remember, the Steelers are traditionally pretty good at stopping the run – in the past 35 games, an opponent has reached the century mark in rushing only once (Baltimore’s Ray Rice).

So, what will happen Sunday? Well, if the past is any indication, it could be a long day for Johnson. Last year, in the season opener, he gained 57 yards on 15 carries, and the season before, he was held to 69 yards.

But the past two seasons, Johnson – no matter what Adrian Peterson thinks – has been the best RB in the league. Yet the Steelers have their gameplan.

"It's a big priority,” OLB LaMarr Woodley told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. "You stop the run, you force a team to go to its passing game, which allows us to bring a little heat and get to the quarterback.

"We hit him as a team (the past two seasons). We constantly got to him. When running backs are taking hits after hits from big guys, they slow down a little bit."

True, but not every team can boast the tackling skills of Woodley, James Farrior and James Harrison. This week, though, Johnson might catch a break because starting NT Casey Hampton is out for the game.

Most important for the Steelers is for the defense to maintain gap control.

"He's not real heavy but he's so fast and strong," NT Chris Hoke told the paper. "He jump-cuts on a dime, he's very quick at making his reads. You have to make sure you're gap-sound on every play because he gets a little crack and he's gone.

"It's easy for a guy like that, to get everybody a little over-excited – you want to make sure he doesn't make a big play so maybe you get out of your gap a little bit and you run to the ball and he cuts back when you're running to the ball. You have to make sure you stay square to the line of scrimmage so there is no cutback lane."

And what does Johnson – and his teammates – have to do in order to get that 100-yard game? The Titans offensive line has to work harder than the Steelers.

"One thing they do a lot of times is just outwork guys," Titans guard Leroy Harris told the Tennessean. "Every guy is working to the whistle, no matter what. Their technique is sound. They hold responsibility. They do their job. They outwork guys and they keep running to the ball.

"You can’t let the other guy outwork you. You don’t let the other guy make the play. We’ll do that. We also make sure we see the different looks they have and the blitzes they have. We get bodies on guys."

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com