I was approached and agreed to do an on-line interview with the blog – Baltimore Sports and Life, of course about the Steelers and the upcoming divisional playoff game Saturday. Here’s the interview, with a look at not only the game, but about some of the positions on the Steelers and the clubs future.
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Before the season started Pittsburgh lost Willie Colon. During the year, the Steelers lost Max Starks. How has Jonathan Scott progressed at LT? How has the 13 year veteran Flozell Adams held up at RT?”
Matt Loede: Scott has been average, to the point where he has given up plays at times and then comes back and makes a nice block to either open up a hole or save Ben Roethlisberger from a sack. Adams has probably not been worth the money, his age is showing, and he also has been hindered with too many holds through out the year on plays where he’s been beaten. Both will have to be above average Saturday vs the Ravens.
Baltimore Sports and Life: “The interior of the Steelers line features 2010 1st Round pick Maurkice Pouncey who was voted to the Pro Bowl. Tell me about the Guards (LG) Kemoeatu, and Foster?”
Matt Loede: The club was carried by the run game before Roethlisberger got back from his suspension, and some of that credit has to go to both Kemoeatu and Foster, who were able to open some inside holes for lead running back Rashard Mendenhall. There’s been moments of inconsistency this season all over the line, and while at times it falls on Roethlisberger holding on the ball too long, there’s times on the inside when both Kemoeatu and Foster can be beat. It’s easy to understand Foster having issues in just his 2nd season, but seeing Kemoeatu having tough days is hard to watch considering it’s his 6th season and he’s making near $6 mil.
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Mendenhall set career highs in carries (324), yards (1,273), and TD’s (13). Coming off the buy, and with just 68 carries in his previous 4 games he should have fresh legs. In 5 career games against Baltimore he has had 94 carries for 285 yards (an average of 19 carries, 57 yards per game, 3 yards per carry). Any chance he gets extended carries Saturday, or do you anticipate only enough to keep the Ravens honest?”
Matt Loede: Can’t see it. The Steelers have a tendency, more so when things get tight, to simply use the run as a backdrop to the pass, and unless the weather plays a huge factor Saturday, that will be the case again. Mendy will be valuable in picking up blitzers, as well as being an outlet for Roethlisberger when things get hairy and he can’t find anyone downfield. But, with all that said, Mendenhall cannot be completely ignored by the Ravens, as he’s got the ability to break off a good sized run at any point.
Baltimore Sports and Life: “In the Ravens playoff victory over Kansas City, Baltimore received a signature performance from veteran TE Todd Heap. The Steelers have their own talented veteran TE in Heath Miller. I know Miller dealt with a concussion earlier in the year, but finished strong the last two weeks with 9 catches for 128 yards against Carolina, and Cleveland. Does he get a chance to be a weapon in this game, or will the Steelers need him to stay at the line and block?”
Matt Loede: Miller has been an unsung hero in this offense the past few seasons, and this season he’s again a weapon that Roethlisberger will not be afraid to look for. He’s averaging just three catches a game (42 in 14 games), but his 3 grabs in the 2008 AFC Title game made a big impact vs the Ravens considering he put up 20.7 yards per catch. I would suspect the Steelers to use Miller in both areas on Saturday, but at the end of the day, more so near the goal line, Miller will be more of a target than a blocker.
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Mike Wallace had 1,257 reception yards with 10 TD’s. Averaging 21 yards per reception on his 60 grabs, Wallace is clearly a home-run threat. He had 7 games with over 100 yards, including the last 3 games of the season. Has he become a more complete receiver (blocking, underneath routes) during the year?”
Matt Loede: He really showed how good he could be in the final 5-6 games of the season when he took a couple short passes and broke them into long TD runs like he did vs the Raiders and Panthers. The Ravens have done a nice job in the four games they have played against him, but Wallace is a game-breaker, and like Santonio Holmes did two seasons ago against Baltimore, I would suspect to see Roethlisberger try to get Wallace going early with the hopes of seeing the chances or two of a big play to get the offense going.
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Ward’s receptions dropped from 95 last-year to 59 this season, leading some to wonder if Father Time is catching-up with the 34 year-old receiver. It bears noting though that he played 4 games without Roethlisberger, and had an 8 catch 115 yard game in December. Ward still the go-to receiver when Pittsburgh needs a tough 1st down?”
Matt Loede: Ward may not be the #1 target anymore, but there’s still no one better when the going gets tough, and that fact won’t change this Saturday. Ward is still the most reliable receiver on the roster, and while he’s not the game-breaker like Wallace, he still can catch 10-15 yard passes, break 1-2 tackles, and find the end zone as good as any pass catcher in the game. Look for Ward to have a big impact Saturday.
Baltimore Sports and Life: “The Steelers finished 2nd in Total Defense, and had the best Rushing Defense by a wide margin. (Pittsburgh allowed just 62.8 yards per game on the ground, Chicago was 2nd in the NFL at 93.9 ypg) Pittsburgh also led the league with 48 sacks, and most importantly allowed just 14.5 points per game. The Steelers always have a quality defense, but does it feel like this group was a bit under-appreciated for how good they were over 16 games?”
Matt Loede: 100 percent. Everyone still seems to feel that this defense wasn’t as good as the Super Bowl winning 2008 defense, but to me, they are better. LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison on the outside are as good as any tandem in the league, while Lawrence Timmons on the inside has really come into his own. Another guy that has started to assert himself in the absence of Aaron Smith is former first-round pick Ziggy Hood. The Ravens won’t run, so it will be on the shoulders of Flacco to win the game.
Baltimore Sports and Life: “2009 1st round pick Ziggy Hood has started 10 games in place of the injured Aaron Smith. All 3 of his sacks have come in the the last 4 games. Is the LDE coming on as a real force?”
Matt Loede: As stated in the last answer, Hood clearly has taken some big steps forward in 2010. He is showing the reasons why he was a first-round pick, and in seasons past when the team has lost Smith, the defense usually has gone downhill quickly. This season it’s been as good, if not even better with Hood being a force on the line to complement the linebackers.
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Casey Hampton controls the opposition running game from his Nose Tackle position. Can the Ravens go 1×1 with Hampton, or is he a mis-match with Birk?”
Matt Loede: Hampton has had pretty good success with Birk, so if the Ravens are going to try to pound Rice and McGahee even if it’s to keep the Steelers defense honest, they are going to have to do more than trust Birk to go 1-on-1 with Hampton, who continues to be a force despite being on the wrong side of 30.
Baltimore Sports and Life: “When I think about the Steelers, the first thing that comes to mind are the Linebackers. At the Outside LB positions, Woodley and Harrison both registered double-digit sacks for the 3rd consecutive season. (Though the Ravens were able to prevent Woodley or Harrison from gaining a sack in the previous games this year) In the interior Farrior had 109 tackles with 6 sacks, and Timmons had 135 tackles.
Your thoughts on this group as a whole?”
Matt Loede: Best in the NFL. The major issue for an opposing offense is that you can’t focus on one guy, as the moment you think one is stopped, the other comes up and makes a play. The guy that really has stepped his game up is Timmons, who is a huge force stopping the run, but can still do a good job in pass coverage or rushing the QB. Woodley and Harrison are as disruptive as any duo in the league, and while the Ravens have done a good job on them in games 1 and 2, they will have to do the same if not more the third time around.
Baltimore Sports and Life: “2010 2nd round pick Jason Worilds is a backup at OLB. Is he getting on the field more in pass-rushing situations? Where do the Steelers feel he needs to improve?”
Matt Loede: He’s learning from the best, so for him it’s a matter of staying humble and listening to the players around him. He was known in college as a pass rush specialist, but at 254 pounds he lacks some of the bulk right now to stop runners on a consistent basis. The team is high on him though, and his special teams play has also earned him playing time on the leagues best defense as well. He can surprise and make a play when you least expect it.
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Boldin had a quiet 2nd half, aside from his 5 catch, 118 yards, 1 TD game vs. Pittsburgh in Baltimore. Who draws the assignment against Boldin, McFadden or Taylor?”
Matt Loede: I would say it’s McFadden, as more than likely Taylor will end up on Mason. Boldin has the size advantage over Bryant, which means it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Steelers roll some coverage over to help McFadden, and make sure that if Boldin does make a catch, he feels it every time and doesn’t break it for a bigger gain.
Baltimore Sports and Life: “When you look at the respective Head Coaches (Harbaugh, Tomlin), Offensive Coordinator (Cameron, Arians), Defensive Coordinator (Mattison, LeBeau), do you look at that as even or do you give Pittsburgh the advantage?”
Matt Loede: The one guy that will get the credit if the Steelers D holds the Ravens in check is LeBeau, and rightfully so. It will be his job to confuse Flacco, show him even more different looks than he’s seen this season, last season, and in the 3-games back in 2008, and make sure the WR’s and TE’s don’t have time to roam around and get open. Tomlin has done a nice job in his first four seasons of keeping this team grounded, making sure they are ready to play each week, and not allowing emotions to get too high or too low. I expect that Saturday as well, as most of the trash talking it seems has come from the Ravens locker room this week already.
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Pittsburgh earned the 1st round bye and got to rest-up. The Ravens have to travel to the Steel City on a short-week. Despite that, it is hard for me to imagine anything but another physical match-up worthy of rivals that goes down to the end. Amazingly, Baltimore and the Steelers are playing for an 8th time in 3 seasons. My thought is that there is not a lot to analyze, you know what you are going to get. Your thoughts and prediction on the game?”
Matt Loede: What you stated is very accurate, as it seems that these games come down to simply who makes a big play or two late, and who plays just a little more physical than the other. With that, there’s no way you can convince me that the week off didn’t help the Steelers a great deal. This is a veteran team that needed the break, not only to get some guys healthy, but also to work on things for the Ravens the moment they realized that was who they would be playing. The Steelers are very good in the divisional round, and have won 11 of their last 14 wild card and divisional playoff games. On a divisional front, they have won 7 of their last 9, and are 6 and 1 in their last 7 divisional games after a bye since 1992. They will be prepared, healthy, and I think will have more spring in their step and may have a surprise or two for Baltimore Saturday in front of a crazy crowd that will help as well. Steelers win 24-13.
Baltimore Sports and Life: “Whenever the season ends for the Pittsburgh Steelers, what will be the biggest questions facing the organization in the off-season?”
Matt Loede: Tough to say with all the issues involving the CBA. If things there get settled, the team still needs some help on the O-line, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them draft some help for the secondary as well. They also need to get something settled with LaMarr Woodley, who is set for free agency and they probably will franchise tag if that is still around after the CBA thing gets settled. This team is still set to be good for the next couple years to come.