Analyzing the Steelers Schedule: Weeks 9 - 17

Last week, we took a detailed look at the first half of the Steelers 2012 regular season schedule.  In case you missed it, here is the direct link to the article.  Tonight, we delve into the all-important second half of the schedule, including five big AFC North battles and a high-profile game against the Super Bowl champion New York Giants.  The Steelers will play at least two prime time games during this stretch (possibly more depending on flex scheduling), bringing their 2012 prime time total to five games.

These articles are part of the exclusive “Latrobe Lowdown 2012″ series, an in-depth analysis on all facets of training camp and the upcoming season – the best all-encompassing look at the 2012 Steelers anywhere in the Pittsburgh blogosphere.

Here we go with Weeks 9 -1 7 of the 2012 Steelers schedule.

Week 9 – November 4, 2012  STEELERS @ New York Giants,   MetLife Stadium   4:25 pm

The Giants and the Steelers have both experienced championship success with their 2004 1st round pick quarterbacks.  Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning have accounted for four of the past seven Lombardi trophies with their teams, and both are carving out Hall of Fame careers with rabid fan bases behind them.  The last game between the two teams resulted in a 21-14 Giants victory, a rare Heinz Field loss for the Steelers on their way to their sixth Super Bowl title in 2008.  Tom Coughlin and Mike Tomlin are considered two of the best coaches in all of football, and they have the hardware to prove their claims.  This will be another hard-hitting game between two of the NFL’s keystone franchises.

Stories to watch for:

-  The 2004 NFL Draft gave football fans three of the best quarterbacks of the past decade – Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, and Philip Rivers.  Houston QB Matt Schaub also came out of that draft, albeit two rounds later.  While Rivers and Schaub have yet to win a championship, Eli and Ben have combined for four Lombardi trophies.  Just like the 1983 Draft, the 1994 class of quarterbacks will end up giving us at least two Hall of Famers in Manning and Roethlisberger, with Rivers needing to cement his legacy as a winner before he can be included in the conversation.  Any head-to-head match-ups between these three QBs will end up being looked back on as games with meaning.  Although the Giants and Steelers are in different leagues, the games between them are always hard-fought and full of pride.  This should be a “slobberknocker” of a tilt between two teams jockeying for division titles in Week 9.

-  The Giants have re-tooled for 2012 similar to the Steelers, shedding veteran players who contributed to their Super Bowl teams and handing jobs to young stars.  Players like RB Brandon Jacobs, WR Mario Manningham, and TE Jake Ballard are no longer calling MetLife Stadium home.  This Giants team will be relying on players like rookie WR Reuben Randle, RB David Wilson, and TE Adrien Robinson to fill some big shoes.  While many of the names will be the same as the previous 2008 game, this is the first match-up for a bunch of new stars for each team.

-  New York will be in the midst of a brutal stretch of games from Week 4 – 9.  Three NFC East divisional games with Dallas, Philly, and Washington highlight this run, which also includes a tough game at San Francisco.  The mettle of this Giants team will be determined in this stretch, and the Steelers get them at the tail end of a rough stretch.  Injuries and emotional letdown could be factors for New York.

-  The Giants have traditionally boasted tough defenses during their recent run of success, but 2011 was not a season to remember.  The G-Men finished 25th overall in defensive ranking, allowing 25.0 points per game.  As long as New York stays healthy on their front seven, they should easily be better in 2012.  DE Justin Tuck, DE Jason Pierre-Paul, and LB Mathias Kiwanuka will provide a stiff challenge for the young Steelers offensive line.

-  Rookie return man Jayron Hosley is the next in a long line of former Virginia Tech special teams standouts to take the NFL by storm.  By Week 9, he should be firmly established as the primary punt and kick return man for New York – and the Steelers will be playing at least three – if not four – rookies on their cover teams.  Remember this match-up, it could be a rough one for the Steelers special teams.  Hosley is a dynamic runner and future star for New York.

Steelers Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley gets his first crack at the team that canned him from his head coaching job in 2011. You can be sure that Haley already has Week 10 circled on his calender.

Week 10 – November 12, 2012  Kansas City Chiefs @ STEELERS,    Heinz Field 8:30 pm (Monday Night Football)

For the first time in what seems like forever, the Kansas City Chiefs actually come to Pittsburgh for a prime time game against the Steelers.  This game takes on new meaning in 2012 as former Chiefs head honcho Todd Haley is now pulling the strings as the Steelers offensive puppet master.  Haley was fired from his job in Kansas City last season despite winning the AFC West in 2010.  His talented team was riddled by injuries last season, causing them to fall to a 5-8 record before firing Haley.  The team had lost Pro Bowl RB Jamaal Charles, starting QB Matt Cassel,SS Eric Berry, and many others to injuries early in the season.  Haley put his best coaching shoes on, managing to lead the team back to respectability after losing their first two games by totals of 41-7 and 48-3.  All told, it was a tremendous coaching performance by Haley and a scapegoat situation in terms of his firing.

Todd Haley is a passionate coach.  He feels he was wronged by what happened in Kansas City.  He now has control of an offensive with tons of weapons – which he will let loose in a hail of firepower against a young Chiefs defense in Week 10.  Call it “The Haley Bowl”.  Kansas City will not like what they see when they get off the bus at a mad house Heinz Field for Monday Night Football.

Stories to watch for:

-  I suppose we could talk about Haley vs. the Chiefs all night, but I think you get the point.  This is a big game for our new Offensive Coordinator.  he will have the troops ready for this one.

-  RB Jamaal Charles rushed for 1,467 yards in 2010, his second year in the league.  Two games into 2011, he suffered an ACL tear that ended his season.  Now healthy, Charles should be considered a prime comeback of the year candidate.  He is a shifty, quick back with a powerful frame.  This will be a big-time match-up for DE Ziggy Hood, who will be taking the all-important role that Aaron Smith excelled in against opposing run games.  Hood will need to step it up for this game.

-  The Chiefs boast many players with Pittsburgh ties, so this game will be another homecoming, similar to the Philadelphia game we discussed yesterday.  WR Steve Breastson, WR Jonathan Baldwin, and back-up QB Tyler Palko will all have plenty of fans in attendance at Heinz Field.  As they do for every one of their former football players who come back in an NFL jersey, the entire town of Aliquippa will break open their piggy banks to get tickets for this game – all to see favorite son Jon Baldwin make his triumphant return to the Steel City.

-  Regardless of records, the Chiefs always play the Steelers tough (forgetting the 45-7 drubbing the Steelers put on them in 2006).  In 2009, the Chiefs gave the Steelers one of their most crushing losses, a 27-24 final in Arrowhead Stadium.  Last season, despite the massive injury toll and the fact that 3rd string QB Tyler Palko was starting the game, the Chiefs hung tight all game before losing 13-9.  This rivalry is another one of those hard-hitting, smashmouth AFC tilts, and it will play out that way once more.

Week 11 renews the bitter rivalry between the Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens, once again in a prime time showdown on Sunday Night Football. RB Ray Rice rushed for 1364 yards and 12 TDs last season.

Week 11 – November 18, 2012  Baltimore Ravens @ STEELERS,    Heinz Field  8:20 pm (Sunday Night Football)

The NFL continues to treat their fans to prime time match-ups between the Steelers and Ravens, the most heated rivalry in football.  It seems that every season these teams play at least one National TV game, always resulting in another hard-hitting tilt.

The 2011 chapter of this rivalry didn’t go according to plans for the Steelers.  In Week 1, the team traveled to Baltimore for a game that every coach, player, and fan would like to erase from their memory banks.  The Ravens dominated the Steelers in every phase of that game, winning 35-7.  The two teams met for their second game at Heinz Field on November 6, a Sunday Night game that Baltimore won on a Joe Flacco touchdown pass to Torrey Smith with 0:14 left in the 4th quarter.  The two losses to the Ravens cost the Steelers a shot at another AFC North title, and forced a 12-4 Pittsburgh team to have to travel to 8-8 Denver in the Wild Card round, and we all know how that turned out.

After playing both games with the Ravens prior to Week 10 last season, the Steelers won’t see their rival until Week 11 in 2012.  Once again, fans can expect this series to determine the AFC North champion, and hopefully for the Steelers, a bit of revenge.  Baltimore QB Flacco had only two previous wins against the Steelers before last season, including two two playoff losses at Heinz Field.  His comeback drive in Week 9 was labeled a career defining moment for Flacco by Ravens fans, who had been disappointed with the way their franchise QB had played against the Steelers up until that point.  Even after winning both games last year, Flacco sits 4-6 all time in the series.

Stories to watch for:

- This game will be a major challenge for rookie OG David DeCastro, who many expect to be starting his first game against Baltimore.  The Ravens will direct much of their blitzing defense towards the rookie, hoping to prey on his inexperience on this stage.

-  Besides DeCastro, many new faces will be making their first significant appearances in a Steelers vs. Ravens game.  For Baltimore – rookie OLB Courtney Upshaw, fellow OLB Paul Kruger, and OG Bobbie Williams make their first starts against Pittsburgh.  For the Steelers, DeCastro and fellow rookie OT Mike Adams, and CB Keenan Lewis will make their first starts against the Ravens.  This rivalry has a way of creating new stars, so all eyes will be on these young players experiencing the full brunt of Steelers vs. Ravens for the first time as starters.

Rookie QB Brandon Weeden is the planned starter for Cleveland in 2012, replacing Colt McCoy as the next Browns starting QB.

Week 12 – November 25, 2012  STEELERS @ Cleveland Browns    Cleveland Browns Stadium 1:00 pm

The Cleveland Browns enter the 2012 with new hope, turning to rookie QB Brandon Weeden and rookie RB Trent Richardson as the cornerstones to another re-start for the hapless Browns.  Both 1st round picks will be counted on to lead the charge of a Cleveland team that is under new ownership, as former Steelers minority owner Jimmy Haslem III takes over, vowing to bring “winning back to Cleveland”.

The Browns have continued to fail against their former top rivals, only winning four games out of 25 against Pittsburgh since their return to the NFL in 1999.  Weeden, who many feel was the product of a pass-happy offense at Oklahoma State, will attempt to convert to a pro style set.  Richardson is the first running back drafted in the 1st round by Cleveland since 2002, when William Green was chosen 16th overall.  Both are expected to start from Week 1.  Head coach Pat Shurmur is only in his second season, but with new ownership looking to make their mark, he may need to double last season’s four win total in order to remain the top man.

Stories to watch for:

- The dynamic Richardson sustained a knee injury in training camp that required “routine arthroscopic” surgery by Dr. James Andrews.  While the team is sticking to the story that the 1st round pick will be back in time for the regular season opener, Browns fans are rightfully worried about their latest franchise player making the trip to Birmingham prior to his first NFL carry.  This story will play out all season long, despite what team officials want to say publicly.

-  New ownership will mean another top-to-bottom assessment of the Browns organization, including team President Mike Holmgren, who has failed to bring results to Cleveland since taking over in 2010.  Holmgren has made bad choices at quarterback, setting the franchise back a few years with his Colt McCoy love affair.  He has also been unable to lure top free agents to Cleveland, while at the same time netting very few starters from the draft.  That combination has given the 2012 Browns one of the youngest and least experienced rosters in the NFL.  What happens on the field this season will determine Holmgren’s future in Cleveland.

Baltimore QB Joe Flacco will be expected to rise to the next level in 2012, and once again it will be the Steelers standing in his way.

Week 13 – December 2, 2012  STEELERS @ Baltimore Ravens    M&T Bank Stadium, 4:25 pm

The Steelers see their rival for the second time in three weeks, wrapped around Thanksgiving.  That in itself is ironic, since these teams love to beat the stuffing out of each other (cue laugh track).  With these games occurring so close to each other, there isn’t much to analyze here.  This will be – as always – the biggest road game of the regular season for the Steelers, who will be looking to fare better at M&T Bank Stadium than they did in last seasons opening loss.

Stories to watch for:

- The Ravens home-field advantage has become much more profound as the years have passed.  Baltimore fans took their time in adopting the Ravens after they arrived, but a Super Bowl title in 2000, followed by many years of success have built a solid fan base.  The noise level at M&T Bank Stadium is comparable to Heinz Field, which always seems to get louder as the mercury falls.  The Steelers offense will need to be on their toes, and this game will present a solid challenge for the new offensive line.

-  The Ravens will be coming off a game in San Diego, where last season they suffered their worst loss 34-14 to the Chargers.  This year, the Ravens sandwich the Chargers game around match-ups with the Steelers, three consecutive weeks of rough and tumble football for Baltimore.  This could work in the Steelers favor, as the Ravens could be quite drained from their coast to coast travel.

Chargers RB Ryan Mathews is coming off a 1,091 yard rushing campaign and is projected to take a huge leap into elite RB territory in 2012.

Week 14 – December 9, 2012  San Diego Chargers @ STEELERS    Heinz Field, 1:00 pm

The Steelers have had a fair amount of success against San Diego in games at Heinz Field, winning all four games against the Chargers at home since the stadium opened in 2001.  This Chargers team no longer boasts the same talent they once had, but they are still a formidable late season opponent for the Steelers.  QB Philip Rivers hasn’t reached the elite status of fellow 2004 draft picks Ben Roethlisberger or Eli Manning, and now he must try to do so with new weapons around him.  RB Ryan Mathews will be expected to take over as the full-time three-down back now that all of his experienced back-ups are gone, and at wide receiver it will be free agent pickups Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal attempting to replace Vincent Jackson.  TE Antonio Gates is still a premier receiving threat, and the addition of RB Ronnie Brown opens up the possibility for Wildcat snaps.

Stories to watch for:

-  The WR tandem of Malcolm Floyd and Robert Meachem create a disadvantage for any team playing with smaller defensive backs.  Both Floyd and Meachem are big, rangy receivers who can go after the ball down the field.  Since teams must still account for Gates over the middle, both receivers will see a lot of one-on-one play.  The Steelers will be rotating Keenan Lewis, Cortez Allen, and Curtis Brown opposite Ike Taylor, and this game will be a major challenge for those players.

-  Chargers head coach Norv Turner is running out of chances to get this team to the elusive Super Bowl title that many had predicted for this roster.  As a late season in-conference game, Turner may need to win this one to keep his job.

Cowboys QB Tony Romo will lead his Cowboys into a home game against the Steelers in Week 15, renewing a storied rivalry.

Week 15 – December 16, 2012  STEELERS @ Dallas Cowboys   Cowboys Stadium, 4:25 pm

The last time these two teams faced off in a late season game, the Steelers defeated Dallas 20-13 in a heart-pounding comeback win at Heinz Field.  This time, it will be the Steelers heading to Jerry’s Palace to face off with their 1970′s Super Bowl rival.  The Cowboys have revamped their roster to become much more athletic, with RB DeMarco Murray becoming the focal point of an offense that will rely more heavily on the run game.  QB Tony Romo needs to reaffirm his status as a franchise quarterback in 2012, and he will need the help of WR Miles Austin and Dez Bryant to do so.  Both are top-notch wideouts and give the Cowboys their best tandem in over a decade.  Defensively, this team has gotten younger, especially in the backfield.

Stories to watch for:

DB Morris Claiborne will be counted on to become the top defensive back for Dallas from day one of his rookie season.  The former LSU star was considered one of the best overall players in the past draft, and he has looked great in camp thus far.  He could end up being the next great Cowboys defensive player, and should fit in well behind OLB DeMarcus Ware.

Whenever Steelers fans think back to recent games in Dallas, the one that comes to mind is the October 2004 game at old Texas Stadium, a coming out party of sorts for then rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger.  A 24-20 Steelers victory was the result, with Ben hitting 21 of 25 passes for an incredible 84.2 passing %.  Big Ben had started a few games already, but this game against the Cowboys was the first time he really flashed the greatness that was to come.  It will always be fun to see how Roethlisberger plays against one of the Steelers all-time most hated rivals.

Bengals WR A.J. Green was fantastic as a rookie, and with one more solid season can move into the discussion as the top WR in the AFC North.

Week 16 – December 23, 2012  Cincinnati Bengals @ STEELERS   Heinz Field 1:00pm

Week 17 – December 30, 2012  Cleveland Browns @ STEELERS     Heinz Field 1:00pm

Week 16 and 17 are being grouped together here as both represent the second 2012 match-up with division rivals, scheduled back-to-back to end the season in stroke of genius by the NFL schedule makers.  The Bengals could be closing in on another playoff appearance by Week 16, and that game could end up going a long way to deciding the AFC North finish.  The Week 17 clash with Cleveland could be the final game for team President Mike Holmgren, and should represent a new beginning for the Browns.  Whether head coach Pat Shumur survives will be decided by the final record of the 2012 Browns, and Week 17 could be a huge game for his career and the careers of many of his veteran players.

Back-to-back 1:00pm games to end the season is a rare treat for Steelers fans who have endured many prime time game sin late December, when the temperature at Heinz Field is usually in the teens.  These games should be very heated, and the fans will be eating up winter football in the daytime.  Not much else to say – rivalry games being played to end the season, and possibly decided playoff seedings.  Doesn’t get much better than this if you are a football fan.

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Tags: 2012 Schedule 2012 Training Camp Ben Roethlisberger Hines Ward James Harrison Jeff Snedden Lamarr Woodley Mike Tomlin Nice Pick Cowher Pittsburgh Steelers Rashard Mendenhall Steeler Nation

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