Pittsburgh Steelers: Who's to Blame for Getting Tebowed in the Playoffs?
There have been many Pittsburgh Steelers losses in the playoffs that have been painful to watch, and this one will be right near the top.
Never before was I more confident that the Steelers would win a playoff game (and I have been plenty confident over the years).
Pittsburgh had the top-rated defense in the league and were going against a putrid Denver Broncos passing attack led by Tim Tebow, who happened to complete under 50 percent of his passes this season and was awful over the final three games of the season.
I was confident that the Steelers' run defense, which was not up to its usual standards, would be able to shut down the Broncos' ground game.
While the offense was struggling, I believed that Ben Roethlisberger would be able make the necessary plays to score enough points to at least get out of Denver with a close win.
None of that mattered on Sunday. Tebow beat the Steelers with his legs, and yes, with his arm. Not only did he beat the Steelers, he beat them in fashion.
Tebow threw for 316 yards and two touchdowns, including an 80-yard strike to Demaryius Thomas in the NFL's first playoff overtime under its new set of rules.
But, Tebow was indeed held to under 50 percent passing.
As Thomas raced to the end zone, the Steelers' dreams of a repeat trip to the Super Bowl faded as did their injury-filled season.
A lot of blame can go around for today's loss, and I will take a look at some of the biggest culprits.
Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos
The one thing that wasn't going to happen did in fact happen. The Steelers got Tebowed.
They got Tebowed on the national stage in overtime.
Give credit to where credit is due. Tebow made big-time throws, and John Fox and the Denver coaching staff put Tebow in position to make plays.
They were not afraid to take shots downfield against the league's top-rated pass defense.
Pittsburgh played virtually everyone near the line of scrimmage, and Tebow made them play, averaging a ridiculous 31.6 yards per completion.
It wasn't just Tebow though. Even after Denver lost one of their top receivers when Eric Decker left the game with a leg injury, Demaryius Thomas came up huge with four receptions against the Steelers top cover man, Ike Taylor, for 204 yards and a touchdown.
Denver's defense held Pittsburgh in check, holding them to two early field goals and got pressure on Roethlisberger when the Steelers appeared to be driving to win the game.
Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil came up with two huge sacks that helped send the game to overtime.
Denver may not be a Super Bowl team, but they were the better team on Sunday.
Ike Taylor had a great season. People were arguing that he should have made the Pro Bowl, but as always, his low interception numbers kept him out. Well, none of that matters now.
Taylor was abused by Thomas and had a couple of penalties and a couple of more not called, that put the Steelers in a bad spot.
It was uncharacteristic for Taylor to get beat badly once, let alone multiple times, especially on the game-winning touchdown.
Sunday will certainly be a game that he will want to forget.
Steelers Pass Rush
Or should I say what pass rush?
Tebow does not make many mistakes as it is, but when he has all day to throw, he certainly will not make a bad decision.
Pittsburgh failed to get much pressure on Tebow throughout the day, and when they did, they could not bring him down.
LaMarr Woodley, playing with an injured hamstring, just missed Tebow twice. The second it looked as though three Steelers defenders missed him, including Cameron Heyward.
Playing it safe against Tebow seems like it should work, but it didn't, and the Steelers needed much more from its pass-rushers.
It's what it is when it comes to injuries. You can say you can't use them as an excuse, but reality is that they contributed greatly to the loss.
Besides having Woodley playing part-time with his hamstring, Roethlisberger slowed with his ankle and missing Maurkice Pouncey, Ryan Clark, Cortez Allen and others, the Steelers also lost three starters on Sunday.
Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel and Max Starks all left the game with injuries.
Steve McLendon came in for Hampton and was quite often abused by Denver's center. While he's a fine backup, McLendon is not an every-down player, and it was quite evident.
Keisel is the Steelers' best defensive lineman, and after he got injured, Pittsburgh was down to just three players.
Heyward stepped in for Keisel and performed pretty well. However, the depth would have helped, especially in the thin air.
Then the offensive line took yet another hit when Starks left the game. That put Jonathan Scott on the outside, and he was abused for a key sack late in the game.
Say what you want, but a healthy Steelers roster wins going away today.
It's too bad we did not get an opportunity to see this team running on all cylinders; it would have been impressive to watch.
I wouldn't call Sunday the best job by the Steelers' coaching staff. In fact, it may have been one of their worst efforts all around.
Despite dominating the first quarter, Pittsburgh's offense came away with only six points. Two field goals, surprise, right?
The field goal has become a staple of the Bruce Arians' offense. Pittsburgh has some of the best skill position players in the league and an elite quarterback, yet they continue to fail to score touchdowns.
In the second quarter, they were completely shut down and did not come alive until the second half when the pressure was on.
Meanwhile, the defense appeared to be rocking in the first quarter, and then, was beaten in the second. They did hold the Broncos to two field goals on short fields, but the Steelers were still outscored 20-to-0 in the second quarter—the Broncos worst quarter.
The Steelers did not adjust their coverage despite being abused on long passes all day, and they were beaten one final time in overtime.
Not all was bad, though.
Isaac Redman had an impressive day with 121 yards on 17 carries, including a couple of long runs. He likely would have had more if the Steelers did not have a 14-point halftime deficit.
Roethlisberger did not have his greatest game, but he did come up big at the end with a clutch touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery. Offensive line failures on the final drive prevented him from being able to help get the Steelers into field goal range.
Antonio Brown was solid with five receptions, including a couple of clutch catches late to help sustain drives while Emmanuel Sanders really stepped up to lead all receivers with six receptions.
On defense, Heyward played pretty well after coming in for Keisel and was credited with four tackles, three of them solo.
Ryan Mundy had a big forced fumble and was pretty active in place of Clark.
There's no doubt that changes will be made this offseason, but the Steelers are still in good position to be one of the AFC's best again next season.
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