"You are educated when you have the ability to listen to almost anything
without losing your temper or self-confidence." - Robert Frost

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Steelers Weeks 12-17

Steelers 13     Chiefs 9
Pittsburgh     -11     @Kansas City     42     -700  +500
Win Probability 85.42%

Steelers 35     Bengals 7
@Pittsburgh     -7     Cincinnati     42.5     -310  +260
Win Probability 73.92%

Steelers 14     Browns 3
@Pittsburgh     -14     Cleveland     40     -1100  +750
Win Probability 89.95%

Steelers 3     49ers 20
@San Francisco     -3     Pittsburgh     37     -165  +145
Win Probability 39.28%

Steelers 27     Rams 0
@Pittsburgh     -10     St. Louis     33.5     -500  +400
Win Probability 81.67%

Steelers 13     Browns 9
Pittsburgh     -7     @Cleveland     33     -330  +270
Win Probability 74.86%

The injury situation I was so optimistic about during our bye week has not turned out to be positive.  Highlighted by Ben Roethlisberger’s severe ankle sprain and Rashard Mendenhall’s torn ACL the last week of the season, this team appears more worn down now than six weeks ago and so much so it could severely impact our playoff run.

That said, we did take care of business as I had hoped, albeit with some ugly offensive performances.  The team ended with a very respectable 12-4 record but lost the tie-breaker to a resilient Ravens team that deservedly won the division due to their regular season sweep.

The team now travels on the road for the wildcard round of the playoffs where they meet the Tim Tebow led 8-8 Denver Broncos, a game we are currently favored by 8½ points.

The final stretch of the 2011 season is highlighted by additional struggles on the offensive side of the ball but improved and clutch defensive play.  All six games above came in under the Las Vegas point totals.  The defense allowed an absurd 8.0 points per game while the offense struggled and only scored 17.5, including only 30 total points in Roethlisberger’s last three starts on his injured ankle (CLE, @SF, @CLE).

It was ugly December football and there is really no denying that.

The question becomes whether we can continue to win this way come playoff time and if not what part of the puzzle has to change?

The game versus Denver probably won’t answer much.  Despite being heavy favorites you have to expect another ugly, grueling, low-scoring game.  The offense under Roethlisberger has just not consistently executed enough to think we can score 20+ points without defensive help and holding Denver under 10 seems likely unless our offense helps them.

A zero turnover game clearly favors the Steelers to outlast the Broncos based on their deeper talent base and physicality.  But in any low scoring game turnovers, missed FG’s, or even one defensive lapse can mean the difference between winning and losing.

After Sunday, who knows?  I would suspect injuries finally catch up to us, but I also am not afraid of either New England or Baltimore, or think either is an impossible matchup.  I would not be shocked if we gut-out a victory vs. either.  The hard part doing that three straight times for a world championship (we will likely be underdogs every remaining game of the playoffs after this week).

I will delve into a lot more statistical analysis of the regular season in the coming months but as of now, I’ll say the season has been a success, despite losing the division to Baltimore.  Twelve win seasons are nothing to sneeze at in the NFL.  It was unfortunate half our losses came against our arch-rivals, but the roles were reversed a year ago and maybe this is just karma evening things out.  Hopefully that karma doesn’t extend into the playoffs and the Steelers can rock the boat as a wildcard.  Nothing would please me more than getting another shot at the Ravens this post-season and beating them.

While the record the Steelers accomplished was exactly as I predicted in August, how we accomplished it is not close.  I suspected a drop off with the defense and an MVP caliber season from Roethlisberger.  That didn’t happen.  The defense remained very good but did not generate the turnovers or sacks of previous seasons.  They ranked 3rd in points allowed/possession, 8th in Drive Success Rate, and 4th in defensive passer rating (actually a better rating than 2010).  Football Outsiders ranked the defense 7th overall.

The offense was below expectations due almost entirely to turnovers and red zone production.  The Steelers ranked 29th in turnovers per possession and failed to convert points on 16 of 53 trips into the red zone.  This led to a huge disparity in our Drive Success Rate (72.2%, 6th), which is the highest ever during Roethlisberger’s career, versus points scored per possession (1.86, 14th).

In many ways if the light bulb ever goes off with this offensive unit, if we can avoid turnovers and score TD’s in the red zone (at least stop turning it over!), then we might be able to catch fire in the playoffs and make a run at a championship.  I know it seems unlikely (that’s way too many if’s), but it’s not impossible.  This team just needs to execute a clean game, play smart and play within themselves.

I’m not giving up.

This has not been Roethlisberger’s best season but he has made some magical post-season runs before.  Let’s have some faith and see what happens.

Go Steelers!!!

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