Look, I understand that over the last 15 seasons that 5 Super Bowl winning teams qualified for the postseason via the Wild Card (1997 Denver Broncos, 2000 Baltimore Ravens, 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers, 2007 New York Giants, and the 2010 Green Bay Packers). And hey, I know full well that the Giants won the “whole enchilada” again last year after they posted a 9-7 record and got hot down the stretch. But for those of you fans trumpeting the Steelers as a 7-6 “poised to strike in the postseason” team in the same vein as these aforementioned champions, let me be as calm as possible and state:
“PLEASE STOP IT!”
Granted, it would one incredible story if Pittsburgh decided to “nut up” and began to reel off “W’s” into January and February. Unfortunately, unlike the teams I alluded to above, the 2012 Steelers will fail to accomplish anything during postseason play because of their shortcomings in two extremely important areas of the game: Creating a consistent pass rush, and recording ample amounts of Takeaways.
I. The Importance of a Consistent Pass Rush
If there is one thing that any Defense must be able to do when they face the best Quarterbacks in the Conference in postseason play, they must be able to collapse the pocket and take the signal-caller down with consistency. It is not rocket-science ladies and gentlemen, if opposing signal-callers of playoff caliber teams are allowed to stand like statues and step into throws and up into the pocket without the fear of getting their “bells’ rung,” a Defense has little to no chance of success. Don’t believe me? Check out how the ’97 Broncos, the ’00 Ravens, the ’05 Steelers, the ’07 & ’11 Giants, and the ’10 Packers did:
Although the ‘97 Broncos will always be known as the team John Elway won the first of his two rings on, many forget how underrated their Defense was, especially their Defensive Line. A 4-3 team built to pressure the Quarterback with their guys in the trenches, the Broncos had quite the beastly Linemen on their roster during the 1997 season. Defensive Ends Neil Smith and Alfred Williams both logged 8.5 Sacks apiece, while the stout Maa Tanuvasa also registered 8.5 Sacks too from his Defensive Tackle spot. With contributions from Keith Traylor (2.0), Rookie Trevor Pryce, and veteran Mike Lodish (1.0) as well, the Broncos brought the heat upon their opposition during 1997 and finished the regular season ranked 10th in the League in Sacks (43.0). The Sack parade however carried over into January too as Denver’s Defense put up 11.0 Sacks during their 4 postseason games on their way to a Super Bowl title.
While the Ravens’ Defense did not necessarily possess many “Sack Masters,” (35.0 Sacks ranked shockingly 22nd in the League that season), they still had a number of players who could get to the Quarterback. Defensive Ends Rob Burnett (10.5) and Michael McCrary (6.5) did a solid job of providing heat off of the edge with Linebacker Peter Boulware (7.0) that year. Although their Total Sacks ranking amongst N.F.L. teams that season appears a bit pedestrian, Baltimore’s Defense only amped up the pressure when the postseason started as they recorded 14.0 Sacks, and only allowed 16 total points as a unit during their 4 game playoff run.
I do not need to go into too much detail to describe how adept the 2005 Steelers were at getting to the Quarterback, but for the sake of remembering the “good times,” I will refresh everybody’s memories. Of course Pittsburgh’s Outside Linebackers’ were the Sack Masters’ that season as Joey Porter (10.5), Clark Haggans (9.0), and backup James Harrison (3.0) all terrorized the opposition that season. The Steelers also received significant contributions from their Defensive Ends as Kimo von Oelhoffen (3.5), Aaron Smith (2.0), and backup Brett Keisel (3.0) all did their best to collapse the pocket in passing situations to boot. Pittsburgh even received terrific efforts from their Defensive Backs as Troy Polamalu (3.0) and Deshea Townsend (3.0) showed how good they were when they were allowed to blitz. Pittsburgh’s Defense was relentless with their pocket collapse during the postseason as they Sacked Peyton Manning 5.0 times in Indianapolis and recorded 15.0 Sacks during their 4 game run.
Two years ago, Green Bay’s Defense led by Coordinator Dom Capers benefited greatly from their relentless pass rush over the course of the season. The Packers ranked 2nd in the League in total Sacks (47.0) as Clay Matthews (13.5) led the team and emerged as a complete force off of the edge. Green Bay also received significant contributions from their Defensive Line as both Cullen Jenkins (7.0) and B.J. Raji (6.5) stepped up big for the unit. Capers’ Defense put up 11.0 Sacks during their tear through the postseason, and I don’t think I need to bring up Super Bowl XLV, do I? Remember that Pick-6 Big Ben threw to Nick Collins? I do, because Ramon Foster was beaten on that play when the pocket collapsed at the Goal Line and Roethlisberger was forced to throw an errant pass.
’07 & ’11 Giants
The ‘07 and ‘11 Giants were absolutely stacked on the Defensive Line, and used their pocket-collapsing awesomeness to keep their playoff hopes alive all season long. In 2007, New York led the League in Sacks with 53.0 as their Defensive End rotation of Osi Umenyiora (13.0), Justin Tuck (10.0), and Michael Strahan (9.0) made life hell for opposing Offensive Tackles, and Defensive Tackle Fred Robbins chipped in with 5.5 Sacks of his own. The crowning moment of the season for New York’s pass rush of course came in Super Bowl XLII as they Sacked Tom Brady 5 times are were instrumental in New York’s 4 game run to glory.
Last season, New York was able to consistently deliver pressure all season from a strong rotation along their Defensive Line. Defensive End Jason Pierre-Paul led the team with 16.5 Sacks, while Umenyiora (9.0), Tuck (5.0), Dave Tollefson (5.0), Chris Canty (4.0), and Defensive Tackle Linval Joseph chipped in also. The Giants finished Tied for 3rd in the League with 48.0 total Sacks, and registered 11.0 Sacks during their 4 playoff games as they once again shut down Tom Brady and New England’s high-powered Offense on the game’s biggest stage.
Unlike the teams I listed above, the 2012 Steelers do not know the meaning of the word “pressure” or the phrase “pocket collapse.” I will admit that it is not necessarily the Defense’s fault, especially since James Harrison has been hobbled for most of the season, LaMarr Woodley is injured yet again and will probably contribute nothing down the stretch as he is likely out of shape, and backups Jason Worilds and Chris Carter have been either inconsistent (Worilds), or non-existent and injured (Carter). So far this year though, the Steelers rank 22nd in the League in Sacks (26.0), and their lack of a pass rush has caused their subpar Secondary filled with underperforming veterans, injured players, and inexperienced youngsters to be carved to pieces numerous times by the likes of Carson Palmer, an elderly Matt Hasselbeck, Philip Rivers, etc..