Well, it’s the wee hours of the morning, technically the day after the Super Bowl. The Steeler Nation is left wondering what could have been. The game was there for the taking even in the wake of the Steelers giving it away. Be that as it may, there is not a single person to blame for the loss, that honor goes to multiple parties. You win as a team and you lose as a team. That’s the cliche` that will be tossed around and rightly so.
Offense: Obviously the turnovers are the killer in this one. Ben’s 2 interceptions could not have come at a worse time. All year long he’s been very careful with the ball, a 180 degree turnaround from 2009. You just got the sense today though that he was torqued up a little too much and wasn’t able to settle down until late in the 1st half. Early on he was overthrowing all of his targets and definitely was out of sync. He wasn’t helped though as normally reliable targets Miller and Wallace also dropped key key passes. You can’t pin his loss solely on Ben’s shoulders, the mistakes he made in the 1st half he made atoned for in the 2nd half with scoring drives that helped pull the Steelers back in it. Ben would be the first to admit that the turnovers were a decisive factor in the loss. We couldn’t have gotten here without Ben, every Steeler fan would agree but he shoulders some of the blame in this one.
The running game was an encouraging sign as the game progressed. The right side of the line was opening up the running game for Mendenhall, picking up right where they left off 2 weeks ago. Rashard was running hard and making some noise, and quite frankly was a big reason the Steelers were able to come back and make a game of this Super Bowl. The play action was there for Ben for most of the game because of the line and the running game. However that being said, the cardinal sin reared it’s ugly head when Clay Matthews put his helmet on the ball and popped it right out of Medenhall’s grip. A turning point to say the least, and many feel was the dagger that gave the Packers just enough of an edge to hold onto the victory. The Steelers would not have been in Super Bowl XLV if it wasn’t for Redman and Mendenhall so give them credit for being a big part of the offense all year. With that credit though goes the blame when you cough it up. No excuses can be made, defenders are taught to do just what Matthews did, and it’s up to the ball carrier to secure it in the face of a collision.
Defense: This unit does not get a pass in this game, not by a long stretch. So many times when the Steelers lose we tend to blame it on the offense because the defense is always so good and “keeps us in the game”. Sometimes that is true, perhaps many times, but they had their share of issues tonight to say the least.
For example, Ike Taylor takes the blame for the late 3rd down conversion that kept the Packers drive alive where they eventually scored a Field Goal. Other than that Ike was solid all day, as he has been all year, and clearly our best cornerback. McFadden battled through his troublesome hip injury but even before that he was a clear target to go after. Repeatedly in the first half especially Aaron Rodgers went after both he and William Gay. Jennings and Nelson, the Packer Wide Receivers were able to exploit the soft coverage of their defenders all night. Couple that with some bad positions and angles taken by the Steelers secondary and it was clear what the Packer offense was going to do. Troy Polamalu was back in coverage for a good portion of the night, and really wasn’t the force that we’ve come to expect from him in big games. The deficiencies in this area were evident all year long and today was no exception. It will most definitely be a point of emphasis in the off season.
The pass rush recorded 3 sacks on Rodgers, and was a force in the 2nd half especially. It’s not always the sacks that determine how well you are doing but the pressures, knock downs, and hurries too. Credit Coach Lebeau for making adjustments in the 2nd half that enabled the defense to force 4 consecutive punts in the 3rd quarter. The Packers offense is full of fire power and capable of eating up virtually any defense. They had a gameplan of what they wanted to exploit and it worked very well. Blitzburgh stumbled out of the gate early but found it’s groove as the game progressed. They successfully rattled Rodgers in the 2nd half but in the end just couldn’t close the deal. On the Packers final offensive drive (minus the kneel down), the Steelers Defense had forced a 3rd and long and seemingly was in position to get off the field. It was that type of day of the defense, so close but yet so far. Overall, the NFL’s number 1 defense made a lot of plays tonight but they also gave up a good number as well. The Packers had 1 drive of 70 yds. and several other long series that either resulted in points or took a good amount of time off the clock. Granted they were behind the 8ball on the Mendenhall fumble and on Roethlisberger’s interception; however in those circumstances you usually like their chances of making a stop in at least one of those scenarios.
Overall, this one will hurt for a long time. The Steelers had their chances and credit the Packers for taking advantage of what the Steelers gave them. You simply cannot shoot yourself in the foot in the Super Bowl and expect to win. For now, Stairway to 7 will have to wait, but the future is bright for the Steelers. It may not seem so right now, and trust me I’m there with ya, but some tweaking here and there and the return of healthy players from IR in 2011 will be things to look forward too.