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Friday, December 27, 2013

Who I like, Cleveland version part II - and the rest of the Steelers' playoff hopes

When the Steelers dropped to 2-6 after a fourth quarter meltdown in New England – remember, they were within a touchdown of the lead heading into the fourth quarter before losing 55-31 – many fans checked out on this season.

It’s understandable. They didn’t think the Steelers were going anywhere this year, and they still likely aren’t, despite having a glimmer of hope heading into this weekend. 

The scenario that would put the Steelers into the AFC playoffs is about as likely as Barack Obama inviting Ted Cruz over to discuss government policy over a beer.

But even if they don’t make the playoffs, the Steelers have a chance to get to .500 today with a win over the Cleveland Browns, and that is significant.

Not only would they avoid a losing season, getting to 8-8 would also mean the Steelers went 6-2 in the second half of this season.

For a team that is using a number of young players at key positions out of necessity, that is important.

While many will look at this season simply at its 8-8 face value, that doesn’t tell the real story.

Pittsburgh started the season 0-4 playing its first two games without 2012 MVP Heath Miller and its first three games without running back Le’Veon Bell.

It took Miller, who was coming off a major knee injury suffered at the end of last season, a while to round himself into football shape. And Bell, after missing almost all of the preseason and the first three games, was basically learning to play running back in the NFL on the fly.

And then there is the offensive line. Everyone knew there would be growing pains with a young, inexperienced line early in this season. That was only exasperated when Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, the line’s leader and most experienced player, was lost to a knee injury eight plays into the season.

But the line has gotten better as the season has worn on. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, sacked 35 times in the first nine games, has gone down just six times in the last six.

Kelvin Beachum has been a revelation at left tackle, and though he won't likely make the Pro Bowl, guard David DeCastro probably deserves that recognition.

Because of the improved line play and Roethlisberger completely buying into offensive coordinator Todd 

Haley’s quick passing game, the quarterback will start all 16 games in a season for just the second time in his career.

Were there some issues with an aging secondary? Sure. And the run defense hasn’t been its usual stout self, leading to some of those breakdowns in the secondary – it’s tougher to pressure the quarterback when he’s always in second-and-5.

But the Steelers have made progress this season. They are 7-point favorites to finish off their 6-2 second half today against the Browns.

They should cover that margin.

Take Pittsburgh, 27-16

Baltimore (plus 6)
at Cincinnati
At least Steelers fans can take solace that Baltimore won’t be going to the playoffs. Cincinnati, which has scored 40 or more in four consecutive games at Paul Brown Stadium, completes an 8-0 season at home.
Take Cincinnati, 31-17

Kansas City (plus 9)
at San Diego
Chiefs are locked in as the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoffs and will be resting many key starters. San Diego could be eliminated by the time this game kicks off, but will still play hard.
Take San Diego, 30-13

New York Jets (plus 6)
at Miami
Ryan Tannehill is expected to start at quarterback for Miami, despite getting banged up last week. But, more importantly, the Jets are 1-6 on the road this season.

Take Miami, 20-13


adamg said...

I know the NFL backloaded the division games to keep teams from resting starters at the end of the season. But if Tomlin interfering with a play that had no affect on the outcome of the game or will have little impact on playoff scenarios costs the Steelers a draft choice, then why will KC get a pass if their game vs SD could determine if the Steelers make or miss the playoffs? Shouldn't
they also lose a draft choice if they don't play to win?

DrFred said...

Dale . . . First thing I look for during the season is your column . . . Thank you for excellent work.
As a proofreader I noticed you used the word "exasperation" when I think you meant "exacerbation." Yes, I'm neurotic about writing. All the best . . . Fred Weiner

DrFred said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dale Lolley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Just curious, has Pouncey been around much since his injury?

Dale Lolley said...

KC earned the right to rest guys if it so chooses.

That is the proper use of exasperated. One of the meanings of the word is to increase the gravity or intensity of something.

As for Pouncey, he's been around a decent amount of time. Rehabbing is going well.

Anonymous said...

"Kelvin Beachum has been a revelation at left tackle"

Mr Revelation has given up as many sacks in 11 starts as Max Starks gave up over his last 28 starts.

Tom said...

Dale is there typically any animosity between players in a situation like Pouncey and Decastro? If I were Pouncey it certainly would have to run through my mind that if he resigns with the Steelers then he'd have to play next to Decastro for the foreseeable future. Or is it a case of water under the bridge?

Anonymous Brian said...

I'll take Steelers - 16 Browns - 13 in a tougher than expected game.

If the near-miracle 8-8 wildcard scenario doesn't happen, the most frustrating part is Ben actually being healthy at this time of the year, and barely getting touched these days.

I mean, even their last couple of Super Bowl runs - at least the last one - he's been significantly dinged up by now. This would have been the first playoff run without multiple close-ups of his oversized shoe on one broken-ish foot or without a Ngata-caused visor.

Dale Lolley said...

"Mr Revelation has given up as many sacks in 11 starts as Max Starks gave up over his last 28 starts"

Look. Max Starks isn't coming back. He's washed up.

Beachum has allowed six sacks this season, four of which came in his first four starts. He hasn't allowed a sack in the last five games. And no, the one that was credited to him against the Packers was not his. He was supposed to have help to the outside and Bell let Matthews go.

Dale Lolley said...

As for a 16-13 game, the Steelers have averaged - averaged - 29 points per game over the second half of this season.

Cleveland hasn't allowed less than 24 in a game since beating Baltimore Oct. 3. No way they hold the Steelers to 16 at home.

phil said...

ben will come up with something to be hurt if the steelers make the playoffs, don't worry.

Dale Lolley said...

His feelings?