I don't see the Steelers in Detroit this year but, I also didn't see them beating the Colts. Do you think the deeper the Steelers go into the post-season the deeper the emotions will be next year? If the Steelers win it , will all of Bengaldom go critical mass? Last question, wouldn't you like to ref the next Bengal-Steeler game? Greg, Lewisburg, Ohio
GREG: No question. Every tick of the clock in the post season is like the proverbial pot on the stove. The whistle from Mike Vanderjagt's miss matches the one humming on the Bengals-Steelers backburner. It's going to go up another notch because that Monday night game we all know is going to happen is going to pit the defending AFC North champions against the defending AFC champions.
Denver lives on its 160 yards rushing per game. It's why quarterback Jake Plummer is second in the NFL in interception percentage. The problem for the Broncos is their passing game is too pedestrian to beat a Steelers defense that won't let them have their way on the ground.
The way to beat Pittsburgh is to run the ball. Either teams don't do it enough against them (like the Bengals, for whatever reason and sometimes it's because they simply don't have the ball or the lead) or they can't run it, which is why they are No. 2 against the rush. Note that Colts running back Edgerrin James had exact same game the Bengals' Rudi Johnson had the week before with 56 yards on 13 carries.
Denver's own defense is No. 3 against the rush, which makes for a nice match up. But usually everyone is monitoring Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's number of throws in order to gauge a Pittsburgh victory. This week, it should be Plummer on the pitch count. If he throws more than 25, the Steelers win by 10.
No one runs wild on the Steelers and you can't count on Denver coming close to its average on the ground. The Steelers gave up a season-high 127 rushing yards to the Colts, a team that has twice as many weapons as the Broncos.
So, you have to figure that Plummer must win it for them, and that doesn't bode well. He only got picked seven times this season, but he's still the guy who came into this year with more career interceptions than touchdown passes.
Maybe the most important thing is he only threw 18 touchdown passes during the regular season. There just isn't a lot of firepower there. Rod Smith is a heck of a receiver with 85 catches and six touchdowns, but Ashley Lelie, the other wideout, has only one touchdown. Their pass-catching tight end, Jeb Putzier, has no touchdowns.
Plus, look at Plummer on third down. If you're going to catch the Steelers, it can be on third down when they gamble and bring pressure. They were 20th in the league when it came to holding teams on third down this year.
But Plummer threw three of his interceptions and completed just 50 percent of his passes in finishing in the lower half of the NFL in third-down passing. And none of his receivers finished in the NFL's top 20 in third-down receptions.
Plummer has had a fine year and is Denver's MVP. But if the Steelers confuse him half as much as they did Peyton Manning last Sunday, they are in the Super Bowl.
Of course, the entire premise is based on Pittsburgh stopping the run. But that's been a very safe assumption the past two years. Last season they were No. 1 against the run.
No doubt a Super appearance by the Steelers would have Bengaldom Toweling off in a rage. But it certainly makes the Super Bowl a lot more interesting than if it's some AFC West game in mid-October from the mid-90s, which is what a Denver-Seattle matchup would feel like.
You'd have to feel it wouldn't be too bad reffing the next Bengals-Steeler tilt. If you just show up with a whistle, you wouldn't get half the heat that the guys who worked the Colts-Steelers have received the past 48 hours.