Monday, January 23, 2006

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME REVIEW!

On Friday, I said: Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos:
"The Steelers outplayed Peyton and pals in EVER phase of the game last week, they even outplayed a bunch of bumbling officials.
QB Ben Roethlisberger has gone from being a very "solid" Signal Caller to being an "excellent" Signal Caller. The D has completely flustered opponents... and not just last week. The front can bring pressure straight up or via stunts, and they are SO stout that running against them is as easy as playing Pool with a rope. ...Last week, Edge' was a mere ornament, the running game reduced to rubble.
Safety Troy Polamalu is a weapon. Dude can line up as a Linebacker, Corner', or Safety... and possesses a Wideout's speed. He hits like a Mack truck, and WILL snag at least 1 of Denver QB Jake Plummer's passes. Polamalu (has) the speed to beat the Bronco line as well.
The "weak link" in the Steeler armor is the pass defense. The corners CAN be beaten. However, much as they did last week I think that Pitt' will bring it from EVERY direction... They won't allow Plummer time to survey the field. Frankly, I don't think Pitt' will allow Plummer time to inhale more than twice. If the Steelers successfully take away RBs Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell... WRs Rod Smith and Ashley Lelie, and TE Jeb Putzier will have quite a job on their collective hands.
Honestly, the biggest factor could again be the thin air of Mile High. If Pitt's gassed early, the Broncs' will have a VERY significant advantage. However, I think the Steelers are up to the task, I think they'll pressure Plummer into mistakes once they rob him of a run game, and the Steelers will win... It looks like it could be one of those 20-16, 21-17 type of affairs. That being said the Steelers, with RBs "Bus" Bettis and "Fast Willie," WRs Hines Ward, Antwaan Randle El, Cedric "The Entertaining" Wilson, and soft-handed TE Heath Miller (I told you that guy was special!) have the firepower to engage in a high scoring tilt...
...Denver boasts a nice corps of sure-tackling and speedy 'backers and a brilliant talent in CB Champ Bailey; the Steelers have a human-missile in Safety Troy Polamalu, a monster 'backer in Joey Porter, a human tackling machine in Clark Haggans, (and a fearsome defense)."

Simply put, the Steelers absolutely DOMINATED the Denver Broncos, out-hustling and out-playing them on virtually every snap of the game. Pitt' just became the first 6-Seed in league history to make it to the Super Bowl. Given the teams they beat and on the Road no less, that was no small accomplishment.
Coach Cowher's boys systematically dismantled a rock-solid Denver team. As mentioned in my preview, QB Big Ben Roethlisberger matured before our very eyes this season... and took a giant leap forward during the Playoffs. Last season, as a rookie Signal Caller, Big Ben saw some modest Pre-Season action. During those early contests the young gun slinger, taken with the 11th overall pick, demonstrated remarkable poise, escapability, the ability to throw on the run, and was as cool as the other side of the pillow. Who knew that Roethlisberger would shortly be jammin' hands under his Center as the #1, forced into action when former starter Tommy Maddox was felled by an injury. In case you've been under a rock some place... Maddox was "Wally Pipped!"
After replacing QB-incumbent Tommy Maddox and reeling off 15 straight wins, Roethlisberger's record-setting run came to an abrupt end as the New England Patriots whipped the Steelers in the AFC Championship game. Big Ben and the boys' remarkable '05 ride made one thing crystal clear; the Steelers had their Quarterback of the future.
Leap ahead one year; Pittsburgh hobbles Carson Palmer on the 2nd play of the game (Kimo van Oelhoffen tore the QB's ACL and MCL, dislocated his Patella) and D-feats, D-minishes, and D-molishes the upstart Cincinatti Bengals by a score of 31-17 in the Wildcard round.
Next, without having to worry about the Patriot who were eliminated by the Denver Broncos, the Steelers stunned Football's cognoscenti... and everyone else for that matter when they pulled off the "Mother of all Upsets;" they sent "Dream-team" turned "Nightmare" Colts home by beating them 21-18 in the "Divisional Round" of the Playoffs!
Now, with only the Denver Broncos left to shatter veteran RB Jerome Bettis' SuperBowl dreams, the entire Steeler contingent became the most dangerous kind of team- the kind that plays for each other. Pittsburgh executed in every phase of the game; Offense; Roethlisberger (21/29 for 275 yards, 3 TDs, no INTs) stacked 6's like dishes, throwing for a pair and rushing for another. WRs Hines Ward hauled in a fistful for 59 and a touch' while Cedrick Wilson continues to grow into his role as he snared 5 for 92 and a touch'. And then... then... there was RB Jerome "The Bus" Bettis. "The Bus," a virtual antique at this point, will be put up on blocks at the end of this season... and will be seen at Canton, in "Bust" form, in 5 years. Bettis rumbled for 39 yards and "whump' wham, thump, bam," burst through the line for a G-Line score... his favorite kind. The truth is, once that much meat gets moving... it's nearly impossible to slow it down! Bettis is a force of nature and will-power, and his team is playing for him... and each other. They WILL be hard to beat for that reason.
As expected, the Pitt' D came up HUGE! And, as expected, they stymied the Denver run game and forced QB Jake Plummer (18/30 223 passing yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs, 2 lost fumbles and a trio of Sacks) into mistake after mistake. While I predicted a pick for Steeler Safety Troy Polamalu, LB Larry Foote and CB Ike Taylor each picked off an errant Plummer pass. All Polamalu did was record 5 solo stops. Nevertheless, the "hairy-human-heat-seeking-missile" flew all over the field, made a remarkable diving tackle, was a sideline-to-sideline playmaking machine, and again proved to be as disruptive as a bull in a china shop.
The Steelers played as a single entity... and should they continue to play such flawless ball, Seattle will have a nearly impossible task upon its hands; beat a team that eschews individual honors.

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