A 2011 AFC playoff preview of the Pittsburgh Steelers. What are some key injuries that could plague the Steelers? What are their major strengths and weaknesses? Can the Steelers ride their defense and Ben Roethlisberger to their seventh Super Bowl?
2011 AFC Playoff Participant:Pittsburgh Steelers
Seed: 2nd (AFC North Champion)
Home Record: 5-3
Road Record: 7-1
Quality Victories (.500 or better at season’s end):
Vs. Atlanta Falcons (15-9)
At Tampa Bay Buccaneers (38-13)
Vs. Oakland Raiders (35-3)
At Baltimore Ravens (13-10)
The Steelers biggest losses have come at the offensive tackle position, where they lost Max Starks and Willie Colon. As of 1/3, they have six players considered day-to-day, including Maurkice Pouncey. Aaron Smith and Steve McLendon are defensive linemen who are trying to recover from nagging injuries before their divisional playoff match-up.
The Steelers turnover ratio of +17 is the second best mark in the NFL, only behind the New England Patriots +28. Roethlisberger has done a better job securing the ball, and the Steelers defense is always opportunistic, especially when Troy Polamalu is healthy.
The Steelers have maintained the majority of the nucleus of their past two Super Bowl champion teams from the past decade. Ben Roethlisberger, James Harrison, Troy Polamalu, and Hines Ward are just a few of the marquee players who bring their wits to the postseason trip.
Dick LeBeau has been the coordinator of one of the NFL’s greatest defenses for the past decade, and this season hasn’t been any different. The Steelers rushing defense surrenders a mere 63 yards per game, nearly 28 yards less than anybody else. Their passing defense is efficient, as they’re second opponent QB rating at 73.1. Overall, the Steelers defense leads the NFL in points allowed by surrendering 14.5 points per game.
Time of Possession
Against the Indianapolis Colts or New England Patriots, the Steelers can rely on their hard-nosed defense. Then again, they can minimize their opportunities with a good third down offense and solid rushing attack. The Steelers are one of six teams to average over 32 minutes of possession.
The Steelers are aggressive on both sides of the ball, and it does lead to some unnecessary penalties. The Steelers recorded 903 penalty yards, which was the ninth highest in the NFL.
The Steelers offensive line has surrendered 43 sacks, which is 25th in the NFL. The Steelers offensive line has experienced many injuries, which has resulted in bad pass protection from the tackle positions. They’ve been getting healthier as the season has progressed, and Roethlisberger should have more protection when the divisional playoffs start as they’ll have time to recover.
Fourth Down Offense
The Steelers are only 2/5 on fourth down. There inexperience and lack of success could prove damning in any situation that requires they convert on short yardage situations, especially during the fourth quarter.
The Steelers had been reliant on the trusty food of Jeff Reed before releasing him this season. Now, they’ll be relying on Shaun Suisham, a kicker who’s been wildly inconsistent throughout his career, especially on clutch kicks. He has been nearly perfect with the Steelers this year.
Two of the last three playoff appearances for the Steelers have resulted in Super Bowl championships, and they’ve been the biggest benefactor of the Patriots demise after their third Super Bowl. With the Patriots on the ascend, the Steelers could find themselves pitted against the Patriots in another AFC championship match-up. This time, will their experience prevail?
Steelers offense lacks explosiveness, but Ben Roethlisberger is an effective fourth quarter quarterback. They should be able to take any challenger into the fourth quarter within a possession. The Steelers will be a very difficult out in the playoffs, and don’t expect them to play as poorly as they did in the regular season in a potential rematch with the Patriots.
Biggest Playoff Threats:New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets
Most Favorable Match-Ups: Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts
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AFC Wildcard Predictions Against the Spread: Baltimore Ravens at Kansas City Chiefs
NFC Wildcard Predictions Against the Spread: Green Bay Packers at Philadelphia Eagles
2011 NFC Playoff Preview: Atlanta Falcons
2011 NFC Playoff Preview: Chicago Bears
2011 NFC Playoff Preview: Philadelphia Eagles
2011 NFC Playoff Preview: Seattle Seahawks
2011 NFC Playoff Preview: New Orleans Saints
2011 NFC Playoff Preview: Green Bay Packers
2011 AFC Playoff Preview: New England Patriots
More playoff previews and predictions against the spread available by checking out my profile.
Stats NFL.com, January 3, 2011
Injury Reports, Covers.com. January 3, 2011
Pittsburgh Steelers ESPN Clubhouse. January 3, 2011