If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the Pittsburgh Steelers will be blushing when they face the Carolina Panthers. What? Know Thy Enemy on Thursday? Must be an NFL Network special event for those of us in the Steel City and the five other places which get that channel!
Anyway, Panthers owner Jerry Richardson has long admired Dan Rooney and his attempts at molding the Kitty Kats in the Black and Gold’s image go as far back as when they hired our defensive coordinator, Dom Capers, as the franchise’s first head coach. Current coach John Fox was a secondary coach for both the Steelers and Pitt so you see the pattern continuing to this day. In fact, if Richardson wasn’t such a cheapskate, I’m pretty sure Bill Cowher would have been more than happy to take over when Fox is shown the door after the season.
This has been a rough season for the first expansion franchise of the modern era to reach the Super Bowl. The Panthers let some key personnel go after last season, resulting in a 2-12 record and massive rebuilding project for their next coach. The low point of the Steelers miserable season last year was definitely the Thursday debacle against the Cleveland Browns. However, this year’s squad seems to have learned their lessons, taking no games for granted and winning the games they should win.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs. PANTHERS OFFENSE
Carolina’s primary offensive weapons are in the running game. Jonathan Stewart and second year man Mike Goodson make for a potent ground attack. When the Panthers, currently ranked dead last in total offense, manage any sort of threat, it’s usually due to their running backs. That’s the good news.
Good because the Steelers continue to put up some historic numbers in run defense. They’re average per game rose by two yards after last week. However, the #2 ranked team rose by five which means Blitzburgh’s average is a whopping 26 yards per game less than the next best unit. Absolutely astounding.
If the Panthers can’t run, and the outlook is hardly positive, the game will be put in the hands of rookie QB Jimmy Clausen. If the NFL is a quarterback driven league, the Panthers have a Volvo sitting in the garage. Clausen has 1300 yards to his credit but only 2 touchdown passes against 7 interceptions. It appears Jimmy won’t figure into Carolina’s future plans as the Andrew Luck Watch seems to be in full effect down in Charlotte.
The Steelers will be playing without Troy Polmalu for the second straight game. Troy has said he’s feeling much better and he very well may be on the field for the season finale against Cleveland. I don’t believe in taking any opponent lightly but I have to agree with the idea of resting him for another week. The defense didn’t play terribly against the Jets, they just didn’t get that one big play Troy always seems to provide.
If Ike Taylor can’t keep a lid on Steve Smith while guys like James Harrison or Lawrence Timmons make a couple plays against Clausen and that inept offense, they’re not as good as we think they are.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs. PANTHERS DEFENSE
Emotional leader Jon Beason has moved from MLB to OLB to replace Thomas Davis as Penn Stater Dan Conner went to the middle until he was lost for the season. The Panthers lost even more pass rush when they allowed Julius Peppers to escape to the Bears during the off-season. Although his replacement, fourth year pro Charles Johnson, has registered 9.5 sacks. Despite Johnson’s solid play, the team is still in the bottom third of the league in total sacks.
Last week, our much maligned offensive line kept Ben relatively clean in the face of the Jets hellacious blitz packages. There may be another change as Trai Essex is rumored to be taking over at LT for human pylon Jonathan Scott. Scott was the bozo whose blocking “technique” of falling flat on his face led to the crucial safety late in the game. He’s been various shades of awful since taking over for Max Starks so a switch to Essex would be more than justified.
The Panthers actually have a fairly decent defense, 12th overall in total yardage. If there is a strength, it’s their secondary. Perhaps their biggest playmaker is safety Charles Godfrey, who has five picks this year. Corners Richard Marshall and the awesomely named Captain Munnerlyn have three each for what is the eighth best pass defense in the league. Their weakness is in run defense, where they’ve replaced three of last year’s starting front four leading to a bottom ten standing and over 126 yards per game given up.
Heath Miller has been cleared of all concussion related symptoms so he should be good to go. I’m sure Ben Roethlisberger will be happy to have his safety blanket back. Emmanuel Sanders had a bit of a break out game last week so in addition to Hines and Mike Wallace, we should have all hands on deck. Despite my analysis above, we may need to throw more than the match-up would dictate because Rashard Mendenhall tweaked his shoulder against the Jets which probably explains why Mewelde Moore got that ill-fated draw in the end zone instead of Mendy.
Of course, I prefer my explanation: Bruce Arians is a dumbass.
The Steelers are pretty much where you want to be this time of year. Sure, it would be nice to have everything clinched but the Colts have done that how many times with nothing to show for it? We have our destiny in our hands. Win out and the second seed and first round bye are ours no matter what anybody else does. Not much more you could ask for than that.
Tags: 2009 Nfl Playoffs Baltimore Ravens Ben Roethlisberger Big Ben Black And Gold Black And Gold Blog Bruce Arians Carolina Panthers Charlie Batch Dennis Dixon Emmanuel Sanders Fast Willie Parker Fwp Hines Ward James Harrison Jimmy Clausen John Fox Lamarr Woodley Lawrence Timmons Mike Tomlin Nfl Playoffs Nice Pick Cowher Pitt Pitt Panthers Pittsburgh Pittsburgh Steelers Pittsburgh Steelers Blog Polamalu Injury Polmalu Hurt Rashard Mendenhall Ratbirds Ravens-Steelers Roethlisberger Roethlisberger Concussion Santonio Holmes Steeler Nation Steelers Steelers Blog Steelers Nation Stillers Super Bowl Champions Trai Essex Troy Polmalu