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2012 NFL Playoffs: Quick-Hit Reactions from Steelers vs. Broncos

In easily the biggest Wildcard Weekend upset since the Seahawks knocked off the Saints all the way back in 2011, the Broncos shocked the NFL world on Sunday with a 29-23 upset of the Steelers in Denver. Here are some quick-hit thoughts from today’s game.

Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow celebrates after throwing an 80-yard touchdown pass to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers during overtime in the AFC Wild Card round at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 8, 2012 in Denver. The Broncos advance beating the Steelers 29-23 in overtime. UPI/Gary C. Caskey

- Let me tell you a tale of two teams on Wildcard Weekend. We’ll call one team “Team Ass-Kicked” and the other team, “Team Tebowhorse.” Team Ass-Kicked tiptoed into their game against a good, but beatable opponent on Sunday and was predictable, unimaginative, and uncreative. Even though it was the playoffs, Team Ass-Kicked didn’t raise the level of their play and predictably, they got their ass kicked. (Hence the name – see what I did there?) Team Tebowhorse, on the other hand, opened things up, kept their opponent off balance, kept attacking and in they end, they pulled off the biggest upset of the weekend. I did enough bashing of the Falcons in my recap of their game against the Giants, but let this Denver victory be a lesson for Mike Smith and his coaching staff. When you try to do predictable things, you get a predictable outcome. When you open things up and actually attack defenses, you’re more likely to keep them off-balance. Good things come to those that go after what they want.

- To expand on my first point, the Steelers didn’t expect the Broncos to throw the football today and why would they? With the playoffs on the line last week, Denver only mustered one measly field goal against an underrated, but slightly above average Kansas City defense. There were even rumors that Tim Tebow would be benched for Brady Quinn if he didn’t play well. But instead of playing into Pittsburgh’s hands and just hoping for the best, John Fox and his staff put together a game plan that actually attacked Pittsburgh’s weakness: its secondary. With the Steelers playing run defense and leaving their corners in one-on-one coverage, the Broncos threw the ball vertically and guess what? It worked. This wasn’t a genius game plan by Denver and it could have easily backfired. But it was the best game plan because it was one that kept pushing the Steelers’ defense. It’s not wise to poke a sleeping bear but if you find yourself face to face with one in an enclosed area, you might as well go on the offensive. Because you’re not going to win by letting him do all the attacking.

- Tebow only completed 10 passes but that’s not the stat that matters. The stat that matters is 15.0. That’s how long his average pass went for today, which is why the Broncos scored 29 points instead of 3 like everyone thought they would. Tebow will never be an elite quarterback in the conventional sense. He’s always going to lack the presence to stand in the pocket and beat teams like Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. But even his strongest detractors have to give him credit for taking shots down field and some of his passes were right on the money. Granted, he got a ton of help from his receivers but this wasn’t one of his typical wins where he played like crap for three quarters only to run his way towards a victory. His arm and his legs helped the Broncos win that game.

- Ike Taylor is going to see Demaryius Thomas in his nightmares for the next eight months. This was simply a day for Taylor to forget and one for Thomas to cherish because it was his coming out party. The Broncos drafted him in the first round in 2010 because they needed a deep threat to replace Brandon Marshall. And while it has taken him some time to develop, Thomas is finally starting to perform like that big-play wideout that Denver envisioned he’d be two Aprils ago. It’s crazy that two receivers this weekend broke out with 200 yards. (Thomas and Detroit’s Calvin Johnson.)

- Not to pile on Taylor but he really was at the root of Pittsburgh’s problems defensively. Granted, the Steelers were at a disadvantage because of injuries but Dick LeBeau did his job today. As a defensive coordinator you want to force Tebow to throw and that’s what LeBeau did. It’s just that defenders like Taylor repeatedly got beat, which was about the only thing they couldn’t do. Just a bad, bad day for the Steelers’ top corner.

- It all went for naught but that was another gutsy performance by Ben Roethlisberger. His ankle was clearly bothering him but he hung in there and delivered some big plays on the Steelers’ game-tying touchdown drive. (His receivers also made some spectacular catches.) But it makes you wonder whether or not Pittsburgh was destined to repeat as AFC champions this year. Big Ben’s injury wasn’t likely to get any better if he kept playing on it and the Steelers’ suffered one too many injuries. It just wasn’t the year for the “Terrible Towel.”

- I’m sorry, but John Elway still bugs the crap out of me. Denver fans can twist it however they want but Elway was never fully on the Tebow bandwagon. You know it, he knows, Jesus knows it. Then there he was, jumping around like a 7-year-old girl after Tebow won the game in overtime. I know, I know – what is he going to do, not celebrate his team’s huge victory? But there’s just something very wrong with a guy who gets what he wants after being a prick. You should have played in Indianapolis like a man, John!

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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How will Driver’s quad injury affect the Steelers’ coverage units?

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings (L) and wide receiver Donald Driver play with a video camera prior to Media Day for Super Bowl XLV in Arlington, Texas on February 1, 2011. The Pittsburgh Steelers will take on the Green Bay Packers on February 6, 2011. UPI/Roger L. Wollenberg

Donald Driver was added to the Packers’ injury report on Thursday due to a problem with his quad, but Mike McCarthy says he would be shocked if his starting receiver doesn’t play in the Super Bowl.

I’d also be shocked if Driver doesn’t play, as the injury doesn’t sound serious enough to hold him out. That said, how effective will he be? If he’s being held out of practice (even for precautionary measures), then it stands to reason that he’s not at full strength. Will his injury have an effect on the Packers’ passing game?

It’ll be interesting to see what coverages Dick LeBeau uses on Sunday. The Steelers run mostly a cover-2 like the Bears, although LeBeau knows that his corners will also have to man-up in certain situations, which may be a problem seeing as how Bryant McFadden is dealing with an abdominal injury.

With Driver hurt, will LeBeau use Ike Taylor on Greg Jennings and take his chances with McFadden on Driver? Or will he want Taylor to take away Driver and have McFadden cover Jennings with safety help over the top?

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pittsburgh go to their nickel or even dime package plenty of times throughout the night. But LeBeau wants to avoid the dime as much as possible because that means Lawrence Timmons, a good cover linebacker, comes off the field in favor of Anthony Madison. That’s an advantage for the Packers, just as it was when the Patriots crushed Pittsburgh 39-26 back in November when the Steelers used a lot of dime.

Assuming Driver’s injury isn’t a major concern, the Packers must get the Steelers out of their base defense as much as possible. Again, it’s a major advantage to them to face Pittsburgh’s nickel and dime units because it limits what LeBeau can do with his front seven.

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