Here are six quick-hit observations on the Steelers’ 35-17 playoff victory over the Chargers on Sunday.
1. Welcome back to the party Willie Parker.
In Parker’s final six games of the regular season, he rushed for over 90 yards just once (Week 17 vs. Cleveland). He rushed for 146 yards on Sunday and it completely opened up the Pittsburgh offense. Thanks to Parker’s dominance, Ben Roethlisberger didn’t face much pressure and he was able to produce a couple of big plays in the passing game. It’s no secret that when the Steelers can run the ball, their offense can be as dominant as they were tonight. But when the defense doesn’t have to honor the run or commit extra defenders, that’s when Big Ben gets in trouble and turnovers occur. Parker was easily Pittsburgh’s MVP on Sunday.
2. Mike Tomlin is learning.
Mike Tomlin has come a long way in one year. In the Steelers’ postseason loss last season to the Jaguars, Tomlin made several poor decisions that aided in his team’s demise. Down 7-0 early in the first quarter, the Steelers faced a 4th and 8 from the Chargers’ 34-yard line. Tomlin sent his offense back onto the field in an apparent attempt to go for it, but the Steelers then shifted into punt formation and Ben Roethlisberger pooch-punted the ball, which was downed at the 9-yard line. Sometimes Tomlin forces the action by being overly aggressive. In that situation, there was no reason for Pittsburgh to go for it. The likelihood that they pick up the first down was slim, it would have given San Diego the momentum had they been stopped and it would have taken the home crowd out of it early. Instead, Tomlin wisely punted it and allowed his defense to force a punt, which Santonio Holmes turned into a 67-yard touchdown. Granted, Tomlin’s decisions to run a fake punt in the first half and go for it on 4th and goal in the second half backfired, but hey, you can’t fault the man for being aggressive. At least he’s learning when to take calculated risks.
3. Complete this sentence: Philip Rivers is…
A) A great young quarterback or B) A quarterback who operates by smoke and mirrors. Check out Rivers’ final numbers: 21-35, 308 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT. Besides the one pick, those are phenomenal numbers. But you watch him play and you wonder why his stats are so good. Can anyone honestly say that they were greatly impressed with his play tonight? He hung onto the ball too long, he threw into double coverage and threw an interception in the red zone (albeit the ball was batted at the line of scrimmage), which is a cardinal sin for quarterbacks. No disrespect to Rivers, but how did he finish with such great numbers this season? It’s quite the mystery.
4. The Chargers need to do everything in their power to re-sign Darren Sproles.
Even though he only finished with 15 rushing yards on 11 carries, Sproles once again showed his speed and play making ability on returns and in the passing game. It’s clear he’s not an every down back, but the guy is explosive. The Chargers let Michael Turner get away last offseason and it would be wise if they didn’t let Sproles escape without making a huge push to retain his services.
5. Ravens-Steelers is a fantastic AFC Championship matchup.
How good is the AFC Championship matchup? Baltimore and Pittsburgh hate each other and gave fans two great games during the regular season. It’s tough to beat a team three times in one season, which is the challenge the Steelers now face after topping the Ravens twice this year. It’s too early to start breaking down the matchup, but the game will likely come down to which team can run the ball effectively because both offenses rely on creating balance. What a great defensive matchup.
6. Useless, but interesting stat of the weekend…
…the Chargers held onto the ball for just 17 seconds in the third quarter, compared to the Steelers’ 14:43. That’s absolutely crazy.