2005 AFC Divisional Playoff: Steelers vs. Colts

I watched this game last night. Here are some thoughts and observations:

  • The Steelers defense dominated the Colts, especially in the first half. In much of the first half, the Colts didn’t run much, and when they did, they were ineffective. The Steelers got good pressure on Manning, and had a few sacks on him by the end of the game. But the combination of good coverage and some poor throws by Manning also played a role. It wasn’t until the end of the half that the Colts had a long drive. The run game (especially running to the left) helped the offense get going, but they still ended up with only 3 points for the entire half. (Marvin Harrison had only one catch for about 30 yards.)
  • The announcers said the Steelers ran the ball 59% of the time in the regular season, which surprised me. I knew they were more run-oriented, but that number seems really high. In any event, they came out passing the ball and Roethlisberger had some nice throws. In my view, the Colts were caught off guard. Having said that, Roethlisberger threw a pick while being tackled, and almost threw another pick later in the game.
  • In the second half, the Steelers went to the run game–a lot. Roethlisberger might have sustained an injury on a big hit, which may have been a reason for this. At the end of the 3rd, after the Steelers pinned the Colts on the Colts’ one yard line (nearly getting a safety), the Steelers ran the ball about for six plays and scored a TD. The Colts defense looked like a 4th quarter defense that was worn down and broken.
  • A huge play occurred in the 4th when the officials overturned a Manning INT to Polamalu. This occurred with about 5 minutes in the game with the score 21-10, Steelers. The Steelers would have had the ball in good field position. My sense was that the Steelers thought they won the game–as it really did look like an INT. When the game resumed, the Steelers defense looked shell-shocked, as the Colts fairly easily went down the field. (The Steelers D played a more conservative style, too–rushing only 3 or 4.)
  • The Steelers converted twice on 4th down in the 4th quarter to eat up the clock. These were big plays. The Steelers also got lucky because a false-start wasn’t called on one of these plays.
  • On the Colts final possession, the Steelers defense went back to being aggressive, and they sacked Manning to basically end the game.

One final note. In 2005, NFL offenses, utilizing spread offenses, hadn’t yet learned how to neutralizing blitzing, particularly from 3-4 defenses. In the last 10 years, I would say the 3-4 aggressive blitzing style has largely become obsolete, with some exceptions (e.g., Todd Bowles and I’ve seen Belichick and Flores use it effectively against some teams). To me, the Steelers defense has never adapted well to these changes. Their defenses from the 2010s have generally been mediocre or worse, although some of this has to do with their shift to a more aggressive passing offense. (During the last decade, even if the Steelers had a great regular season, my sense is that they had very little chance to win the Super Bowl–because they likely would have to face the Patriots. And the Patriots seemed to carve up their defense. In my view, Tomlin should have found a DC that could switch to the 4-3 or a 3-4 defense that could a more bend but don’t break style–defending the pass with coverage rather than relying on blitzing.)

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