Let The War For The Ring Begin, Part Two

Seahawks.NET's Todd Webb contiues and concludes his pre-analysis of Super Bowl XL!

Steelers Offense vs. Seahawks Defense …

The Steelers won only 1 game this year when they rushed for under 100 yards – the AFC Championship against Denver (90 yards rushing.) They lost the other 5 games they ran for under 100 yards. And if you notice Week 5’s win over San Diego and Week 8’s win over Baltimore, the Steelers managed just over 100 yards while getting both teams by a combined total of 3 points. Add to that their 21-18 playoff win over the Colts, in which they rushed for just 112 yards, and a definite battle plan begins to emerge for the Hawks on Sunday. Outside of Chicago (who ranked 11 th in Rush Yards/allowed), the Steelers haven’t run the ball particularly well against the better run defenses in the league this year. If the Seahawks hope to be wearing the golden laurel at the end of this contest – then they must shut the Steeler running game down. However, at 255 pounds, stepping out in front of a moving Bus can definitely be hazardous to your health.

The NFL’s 2nd best Red Zone defense will definitely be tested, as Jerome Bettis will certainly get the call inside the 20-yard line. Lofa Tatupu’s skill at diagnosing plays quickly (105 tackles, 5 tackles for loss) and Seattle’s ability to keep lineman fresh by rotating them will be critical. Fisher (9.0 sacks, 5 tackles for loss), Hill (7.5 sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss), Bernard (8.5 sacks, 6 tackles for loss) and crew are going to have to fly on the wings of Mercury and strike with the strength of the Zeus in order to halt the Steelers march to victory. Seeing as how they allowed only 5 rushing TD’s all year (2 nd Best in the NFL), and allowed opposing backs to average 3.6 yards/carry (tied for 4 th Best in the NFL), Seattle has the look of a team that could do just that.

Shutting the Steeler offense down, however, is much easier said than done. QB Ben Roethlisberger has been slinging arrows all over the field this postseason, possessing a Titan-like QB rating of 124.8 (throwing for 7 TD’s and only 1 interception.) While Hines Ward was the clearly primary target during the regular season (leading the team with 69 receptions and 11 TD’s), as demonstrated above Roethlisberger has been equally distributing the pigskin very well throughout the playoffs. Like Seattle, Pittsburgh sets up its running game with its formidable passing attack (Roethlisberger had the 3 rd highest QB rating in the NFL this year at 98.6.) Seattle’s secondary will have to survive the early volleys of flaming darts that are sure to come their way. Cedric Wilson has emerged as a legitimate deep threat and TE Heath Miller can be extremely dangerous inside the Red Zone (6 TD’s during the regular season.) With the versatile Antwaan Randle-El and with Parker coming out of the backfield, the Seahawks will need more that the “stop Steve Smith” approach they employed against Carolina.

The Steelers simply have too great an arsenal. Trufant (14 passes defensed), Dyson (10 passes defensed), and company simply cannot come out flat if they wish to avoid a quick death in the arena. That said, Seattle’s secondary has been a formidable foe for opposing receivers this year. Though critics are quick to point out that Seattle ranked 25 th in the league in passing yards allowed, they also ranked 3 rd in the NFL in passes defensed (97), ranked 7 th in the NFL in fewest points allowed (271), and tied for 10 th in fewest passing TD’s allowed (18.) Couple that with the fact that the Seattle lead the NFL in sacks (50), and the Seahawks appear to be more than a match for General Roethlisberger and his troops. The Seahawks should take heed from history though, as the Romans held the same confidence they’d defeat Hannibal before getting massacred by him at the Battle of Cannae in 216 B.C. Years of head to head conflicts with him were ended only after the Romans lured him off the Italian peninsula by attacking North Africa and drawing Hannibal and his armies out and defeating them there. Similarly, if the Hawks are to win, they must divert the Steelers from executing their game plan of striking for points early and then methodically grinding the clock with Parker and Bettis. Fail to draw the Steelers away from their plan of attack … and the world will fall for the Hawks and their fans.

Comparing the Defenses

 

Yards/Game

Rush Yds/Game

Rush TD

Pass Yds/Game

Pts Allowed/Game

Pittsburgh

283.5(4th)

85.5(3rd)

10 (Tied 7th)

198.0(16th)

16.1(Tied 3rd)

Seattle

316.8(17th)

94.4(5th)

5 (2 nd)

222.4(25th)

16.9(7th)


 

Total Yards

Yards Rushing

Yards Passing

Pass TD

Pts Allowed

Pittsburgh

4536(4th)

1368(3rd)

3168(16th)

15(T2nd)

258(T3rd)

Seattle

5069(16th)

1510(5th)

3559(25th)

18(T10th)

271(7th)


 

Sacks

Interceptions

Forced Fumbles

Passes Defensed

Pittsburgh

47.0(3rd)

15

18

84(T12th)

Seattle

50.0(1st)

16

13

97(3rd)

GiveAway/TakeAways

Seattle 3rd best Give Away/Take Away ratio in NFC (+9)

Pittsburgh 7th best Give Away/Take Away ratio in AFC (+7)

Strength and Honor …

The Hoplite Phalanx of the Macedonians was one of the most feared instruments of war in the ancient world. With rows of men marching in perfect formation with long spears and massive shields, the phalanx was once considered to be unbeatable – that is, until the Romans found a way to master it. Until that time however, the phalanx, like the Steeler 3-4 defense, slaughtered many an opponent on the field of battle. Here is how opposing offenses have faired against Steeler Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau’s combat formations this year …

 

Turnovers

Yards Rushing

Passing

Result

Week 1 Titans

4

97

18/27, 219 yards, 1 TD

Steelers won 34-7

Week 2 Texans

1

113

16/26, 167 yards, 1 TD

Steelers won 27-7

Week 3 Patriots

3

79

31/41, 372 yards, 0 TD

Steelers lost 23-20

Week 5 Chargers

2

66

20/35, 219 yards, 1 TD

Steelers won 24-22.

Week 6 Jaguars

1

93

19/35, 177 yards, 1 TD

Steelers lost 23-17.

Week 7 Bengals

2

91

21/36, 227 yards, 0 TD

Steelers won 27-13.

Week 8 Ravens

3

72

25/44, 252 yards, 1 TD

Steelers won 20-19.

Week 9 Packers

3

65

20/35, 214 yards, 0 TD

Steelers won 20-10.

Week 10 Browns

2

61

17/34, 253 yards, 1 TD

Steelers won 34-21.

Week 11 Ravens

2

104

21/36, 163 yards, 1 TD

Steelers lost 16-13.

Week 12 Colts

1

127

15/25, 245 yards, 2 TD

Steelers lost 26-7.

Week 13 Bengals

0

102

22/38, 227 yards, 3 TD

Steelers lost 38-31.

Week 14 Bears

0

83

17/35, 207 yards, 0 TD

Steelers won 21-9.

Week 15 Vikings

3

54

16/30, 143 yards, 0 TD

Steelers won 18-3.

Week 16 Browns

1

55

20/39, 183 yards, 0 TD

Steelers won 41-0.

Week 17 Lions

2

105

17/33, 212 yards, 3 TD

Steelers won 35-21

1st Playoff vs. Bengals

2

84

25/41, 263 yards, 1 TD

Steelers won 31-17.

2nd Playoff vs. Colts

0

58

22/38, 290 yards, 1 TD

Steelers won 21-18.

AFC Champ. vs Broncos

4

97

18/30, 223 yards, 1 TD

Steelers won 34-17.

As noted above, the Steelers have faced and defeated some of the NFL’s best legions. They allowed only 5 teams to rush for 100 yards or more in 2005. Establishing the run against the Steelers is paramount, as they lost 3 out of 5 of those games this year. Here is the breakdown of the Seahawk offense this year…

Breakdown Of The Seahawk Offense…

(Regular Season Statistics)

Rushing Attempts 519 (52.2% of Offense Rushing)

Passing Attempts 474 (47.7% of Offense Passing)

Total Plays 993

Rushing Breakdown…

Total Carries 519

Shaun Alexander 71.2% of rushing offense

Maurice Morris 13.6% of rushing offense

Passing Breakdown…

Total Receptions 307

Darrell Jackson 12.3% of passing offense*

Bobby Engram 21.8% of passing offense*

Joe Jurevicius 17.9% of passing offense

Jerramy Stevens 14.6% of passing offense

DJ Hackett 9.1% of passing offense

Ryan Hannam 4.2% of passing offense

Mack Strong 7.1% of passing offense

Shaun Alexander 4.9% of passing offense

*(Both Jackson and Engram missed significant time this year due to injuries.)

Unlike the Steelers though, Seattle’s game plan appears to have shifted somewhat in their 2 playoff wins…

Postseason breakdown of plays …

Rushing Attempts 84 (60.9% of offense)

Passing Attempts 54 (39.1% of offense)

Total Plays 138

Rushing Breakdown …

Total Carries 84

Shaun Alexander 45.2% of rushing offense*

Maurice Morris 29.7% of rushing offense*

*(Shaun Alexander played in only 6 plays against Washington due to injury.)

Passing Breakdown …

Total Receptions 36

Darrell Jackson 41.7% of passing offense

Bobby Engram 13.9% of passing offense

Joe Jurevicius 5.5% of passing offense

Jerramy Stevens 22.2% of passing offense

DJ Hackett 0% of passing offense

Mack Strong 2.8% of passing offense

Shaun Alexander 2.8% of passing offense

Maurice Morris 2.8% of passing offense

Ryan Hannam 5.5% of passing offense

Like the Steelers, about 60% of the Seahawks’ attack this postseason has come via ground assault. While this offense isn’t the reincarnation of Ground Chuck, the success of Alexander the Great’s march to glory nonetheless holds the key to the conquest of Detroit. Here is the history of Alexander’s capture of the MVP and the foes he’s bested …

2005 Seahawks Rushing Offense

(Regular Season Statistics)

 

Yards Rushing

Opp Rushing Defense

Opp Pts/Game Allowed

Result

Week 1 Jacksonville

97

106.8 (14th)

16.8 (6th)

Seahawks Lost 26-14

Week 2 Atlanta

163

128.9 (26th)

21.3 (18th)

Seahawks Won 21-18

Week 3 Arizona

163

102.0 (10th)

24.2 (26th)

Seahawks Won 37-12

Week 4 Washington

119

105.4 (13th)

18.3 (9th)

Seahawks Lost 20-17

Week 5 St. Louis

134

136.1 (28th)

26.8 (31st)

Seahawks Won 37-31

Week 6 Houston

320

118.4 (22nd)

26.9 (32nd)

Seahawks Won 42-10

Week 7 Dallas

72

108.2 (15th)

19.3 (12th)

Seahawks Won 13-10

Week 9 Arizona

208

102.0 (10th)

24.2 (26th)

Seahawks Won 33-19

Week 10 St. Louis

174

136.1 (28th)

26.8 (31st)

Seahawks Won 31-16

Week 11 San Francisco

145

114.5 (18th)

26.8 (30th)

Seahawks Won 27-25

Week 12 NY Giants

127

103.5 (12th)

19.6 (14th)

Seahawks Won 24-21

Week 13 Philadelphia

96

117.7 (21st)

24.3 (27th)

Seahawks Won 42-0

Week 14 San Francisco

185

114.5 (18th)

26.8 (31st)

Seahawks Won 41-3

Week 15 Tennessee

183

118.4 (22nd)

26.3 (29th)

Seahawks Won 28-24

Week 16 Indianapolis

173

110.1 (16th)

15.4 (2nd)

Seahawks Won 28-13

Week 17 Green Bay

98

125.6 (23rd)

21.5 (19th)

Seahawks Lost 23-17

Playoff vs. Washington

119

105.4 (13th)

18.3 (9th)

Seahawks Won 20-10

Playoff vs. Carolina

190

91.6 (4th)

16.2 (5th)

Seahawks Won 34-14

Steelers Defense vs. Seahawks Offense …

Many experts are giving the Hawks a collective thumbs down, saying that many of the defenses they’ve faced are among the NFL’s matadors. Having Darrell Jackson and Bobby Engram against Dallas would undoubtedly have helped silence those critics who point to that game, as proof positive that the Hawks will struggle mightily against Pittsburgh’s all world 3-4 defense. Like the Macedonian phalanx, LeBeau’s defense has left plenty of carnage in its wake. For the Seahawks to triumph on the field of battle Sunday, Alexander will have to be the one who’s doing the butchering. That won’t be easy against these invaders from the AFC. The Steelers ranked fourth overall in fewest yards allowed (283.5), third in the NFL in fewest rushing yards per game (85.5), and third overall in fewest points allowed (16.1.) They also led the NFL in fewest rushing yards per carry allowed (3.4 yards/rush) and tied for 7 th with fewest rushing TD’s allowed (10.)

In fact, Edgerrin James was the only back that the Steelers allowed to rush for 100 yards this year, a feat he only accomplished in Week 12. Walter Jones, Steve Hutchinson, and company need to bring their battering rams, as the NFL’s Best offensive line will need them against defenders who will fly to the ball from every angle. Simply put, the team that dominates the trenches will win this war. The Seahawks won only 2 out of the 5 games in which they rushed for under 100 yards this year. In the end though, it will be up to Alexander to hack his way through a gauntlet of would be slayers like James Farrior (121 tackles), Larry Foote (101 tackles), and Troy Polamalu (92 tackles) and not get frustrated too quickly like Indianapolis did with early setbacks.

Like the Steelers though, shutting the Hawks offense down is no easy task. In his 5th year as general of the Hawks forces, Hasselbeck has shown he has finally begun to master the West Coast Offense (Hasselbeck finished with the 4 th best QB rating in the NFL at 98.2.) Since the Giants game in Week 12, Matt Hasselbeck has diced up opposing secondaries with a quarterback rating of 116.52, completing 69.5% of his passes over that time and throwing for 15 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. Hasselbeck however, will need to keep his peepers wide open Sunday as the father of the zone blitz (LeBeau) will be sending assassins his way from all angles. Linebackers Joey Porter (10.5 sacks) and Clark Haggans (9.0 sacks) lead a group of fearsome fighters that finished 3 rd in the NFL in sacks (47.) Look for Mack Strong to play a big role Sunday in pass protection as well as the running game.

Safeties Troy Polamalu (92 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss) and Chris Hope (97 tackles) lead a Pittsburgh secondary that will look to punish receivers that attempt to occupy their zones. Like the Macedonian phalanx, the Steeler secondary has succeeded at mowing down some of the best receivers in the NFL, allowing only15 passing touchdowns all season (tied for 2nd best in the NFL.) Though the Steeler 3-4 defense appears unbeatable, there is a lesson to be learned from the phalanx. Once believed to be invincible, the phalanx was eventually defeated by armies (including the Romans) who realized its weaknesses and constructed plans of attack based upon out maneuvering and exploiting holes in the formation. Bill Walsh, the father of the West Coast Offense, developed this complex offensive scheme based upon those same principles in order to specifically combat the 3-4 Defense.

In fact, the reason many NFL teams began abandoning the 3-4 Defense was because of the West Coast Offense. Holmgren learned his craft under his former tutor Walsh very well, as the Seahawks Offense has made many a defensive coordinator shatter their clipboard (#1 Scoring Offense in the NFL at 28.3 pts/game.) WR Darrell Jackson has accounted for 41.7% of the passing offense of the Hawks this postseason (15 catches, 2 TD.) However, with CB Ike Taylor (tied for 4 th Best in the NFL with 20 passes defensed) likely defending him, Hasselbeck will likely have to direct his aim to other targets. Because of their size, look for Jerramy Stevens (45 catches, 5 TD) and Joe Jurevicius (55 catches, 10 TD) to potentially find chinks in the Steeler armor. Individual troop movements aside however, the ability to rend this Steel Curtain ultimately falls squarely upon the shoulders of the Hawks field commander. In order to carry the day and claim the ring, Matt Hasselbeck will have to be the one carrying his team to victory.

Parting Shots …

Will it be the Seahawks who get plucked or will they be feathering their nest with shiny Steel? Despite the impressiveness of their opponent, the greatest enemy the Seahawks will face this weekend doesn’t wear a Steeler uniform. In their quest for the ring Sunday, the Seahawks must combat an enemy far more deadly – themselves. Shrieking hordes of maniacal terrible towel wielding banshees combined with the voices of their inner demons might threaten to topple their confidence. To that, the citizens of Seahawk nation respond by reminding our team that despite whatever legal barricade Texas A&M erects, that legions of blue clad 12 th men will be marching into battle with them. Two evenly matched forces mean that this contest is going to be a slugfest. The team that establishes the run (both teams rank in the top 5 in rushing) and doesn’t turn the ball over (as noted above, neither does very much) will claim the Ring and football immortality.

Prediction : Pick ‘Em by a Field Goal


Todd Webb writes for Seahawks.NET whenever he can be torn away from his beloved Seattle Mariners. Feel free to send any comments, questions or Howard Lincoln Economics treatises to apologetic_thinker@yahoo.com.


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