Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Hype or Hope? Steelers The Most Feared

Is it hype, hope or what?   A long article by Andy Benoit details reasons for the headlines' assertions: Nobody Wants to Face the Steelers: An explosive downfield passing game and a creative defense make Pittsburgh the most dangerous team in the AFC bracket.

Another article by Hunter Felt in the Guardian details why the Steelers are "a force to fear" in the AFC playoffs.

Benoit's reasons are the lethal passing attack as deployed by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who he calls "the league's most gifted QB."  In addition to a quick and big scoring offense, enabled by a sturdy offensive line, Benoit cites an improving defense in the later part of the season.  He also sees intelligence in defensive designs that make up for weaknesses as cornerback.  He concludes: "The Steelers, on both sides of the ball, give an opponent a lot to prepare for. That alone is dangerous. Factor in that the Steelers in many places, including everywhere on offense, are more talented than those opponents and what you have is the scariest team entering the AFC postseason."

Hunter Felt admits the defensive breakdowns and Big Ben's interceptions, but if they can be controlled he sees the Steelers as strong against less than stellar AFC opponents.  A lot of quarterback uncertainty on the other teams is the big factor, he believes (including Tom Brady's ankle).  The Steelers may not be the best team in the conference he concludes. "They could, however, very well be the team that none of the others want to face when the games matter the most."

So is the remarkable coincidence of two such articles due to sportwriters talking to players etc. or to each other?  There's undoubted merit in the case they make, but it doesn't seem Pittsburgh sportwriters are so buoyant.

Anyway, the passing game may depend on a versatile running game, and so far that's been DeAngelo Williams.  Late Monday the unofficial word/rumors are that his ankle is sprained, the MRI was negative, so he's "day to day" (hopeful) but the Post-Gazette writers are suggesting that his chances of playing Saturday against the Bengals are slim (hopes dashed.)

With injuries for a playoff game, teams get cagey.  But if Williams isn't near 100% he might not be effective anyway.  His yardage gains slowed towards the end of the season, but he's been important as an outlet and short pass receiver.  So it's a good thing that the next guy up, Fitzgerald Touissaint, caught a two-point conversion in Sunday's game, though his 24 yards on 12 carries wasn't great.

The Bengals announced that they aren't preparing to bring back their injured starter at QB for the Steelers game Saturday, so McCarran will start again.  He did pretty well against the Steelers before, but one stat from the Bengals victory over Baltimore Sunday stands out: they went the entire game without converting a third down.

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