The Steelers won in part because of their expansive game plan featuring many such cleverly designed plays. The Broncos lost in part because their coaches can't design a whole offense for Plummer, who is severely limited in the pocket, and who tries too hard to avoid interceptions despite the reality that for passing teams, interceptions are part of life.
Steelers Dominant in Football Essentials
PITTSBURGH PROVED to be a better ballclub than Denver in the real Super Bowl game, which was played two weeks before the actual Super Bowl. The next one, Feb. 5, has for many months figured as a tough test for any NFC team, meaning the conference survivor. Seattle is simply the survivor in an off year for the NFC.
After the earlier elimination of the Patriots with Tom Brady as well as the Colts with Peyton Manning, Pittsburgh and Denver were the NFL's best teams still standing. And in the Denver-Pittsburgh showdown, the Steelers threw the ball with more authority than Denver, ran it with more success when they had to, and played better defense.
An essential reason for the Broncos' failure in playoff games lately in Denver and Indianapolis is that when they fall behind, they have to change the way they play. They lose the dominant part of their running game, their stretch-play offense, which Plummer balances with rollouts the other way. Instead, to come from behind, the Broncos need accurate pocket passing on play after play, and Plummer is no Tom Brady.
The Steelers, by contrast, now they have Roethlisberger, can stick with the same offense win, lose or draw. They need only increase the number of Rothlisberger's passes to move the ball. That makes a tremendous difference. Whereas Denver with Plummer needs two offenses, Pittsburgh need polish only one.
Roethlisberger, who at 6 feet 7 is bigger than most linebackers, has a knack for doing everything that any football team could expect of a quarterback. In Denver, he seemed almost equally adept as a pocket passer and as a scrambler, once scrambling left while throwing hard accurately to his right for a touchdown. And on one 80-yard drive to a Jerome Bettis touchdown Sunday, Roethlisberger remarkably completed four third-down passes. He also scored on a designed sweep that looked like a scramble, and he seldom missed an open target at any distance. His ball-handling, while not as showy as Manning's, was as effective.
The fact is that, last year, Roethlisberger was about this good as a rookie. It wasn't inexperience that held him back. It was conservative coaching. He was ordinarily only asked to pass on third down, and it's a rare passer who can work well consistently on such plays. In NFL games, third down normally belongs to the defense. Big Ben in his second professional season is sometimes the exception.
Carolina: Legend in South (Not North)
CAROLINA IS THE latest NFC team to play disappointing football in a spotlighted game, as it did in Seattle. The Panthers are a legendary defensive power in the NFL's southern divisions, but they didn't show much strength in the northwest.
And as a one-man team with one of the league's great receiver-runners, Smith, they made you wonder what the other southern teams have been trying to do defensively against an opponent that only has one bothersome pass-catcher.
It doesn't seem difficult to put two or three linebackers and defensive backs on any receiver, as Seattle did against Smith, if there's nothing much else for a defensive team to worry about. The trick is to assign different groups of defensive players to Smith at different times, which Seattle did, rendering him a non-factor.
In terms of the future, the most impressive thing about the Seahawks was their quarterback, Hasselbeck,who alternately played good West Coast Offense and the downfield passing game. He moved around like Joe Montana, but threw better downfield passes than Montana's. This year, in short, Holmgren has finally discovered Hasselbeck
What's happened in Seattle is that when Alexander was injured and forced out of a recent game, Hasselbeck showed that to complete passes and to compete, he doesn't need an All-Pro running back. Against NFC opponents, that is. His challenge is to do it against AFC champion Pittsburgh, and, that day, he'll welcome having Alexander.
Bob Oates is at email@example.com . . . For previous columns see latimes.com/oates