Here are seven notes and observations from the divisional round of the playoffs:
Looking ahead to Sunday's AFC Championship Game, one of the biggest keys for the Pittsburgh Steelers will be rattling New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez. The New England Patriots (zero sacks) didn't get any pressure on Sanchez, which allowed the second-year quarterback to feel comfortable, get in rhythm and throw for three touchdowns. The Steelers only got one sack in their Week 15 loss to New York and need to do a much better job of pressuring. This past weekend the Steelers' blitz was relentless and sacked Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco five times. Linebacker James Harrison led Pittsburgh with three sacks.
The Steelers didn't make any excuses after their loss to the Jets. But it is fair to point out that they were a banged-up team in the first meeting. Pittsburgh was missing two key members in starting tight end Heath Miller (concussion) and Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu (calf). Both injuries limited what the Steelers were able to do offensively and defensively. The Steelers will be much healthier in Sunday's rematch. Also keep an eye out for Pittsburgh defensive end Aaron Smith, who has a chance to return this week following triceps surgery last October.
The "Seven-step drop" wants to give kudos to Ravens Pro Bowl defensive end/linebacker Terrell Suggs for another monster playoff game against Pittsburgh. Suggs by far did the most talking last week but backed up every word by recording three sacks on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Suggs was unblockable at times and more than did his part for the Ravens in a losing effort.
Baltimore will hold the No. 26 overall pick in the first round of April's NFL draft. The Ravens have an excellent track record drafting late in the first round. Players such as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Todd Heap and Michael Oher were taken by Baltimore in the first round with picks No. 20 or higher. There are some areas Baltimore can improve its roster, and the AFC North blog will have more on that later today in the AFC North blog.
Although I'm not surprised, I do find it interesting new Cleveland Browns head coach Pat Shurmur wants to continue calling plays on offense. Shurmur called plays for two years in St. Louis, and offensive coaches tend to have the itch to control plays as head coaches more than defensive coaches. This is nothing new. Mike Shanahan and Andy Reid are some others offensive-minded coaches who call their own plays as head coach. But this could hurt Cleveland in terms of finding a quality and experienced offensive coordinator, because calling plays is the biggest perk. Whoever takes over will only draw up game plans for Cleveland.
Looking at their roster, I'm not sure the Browns can easily switch to a 4-3 defense next season. They spent the past five seasons building the team with 3-4 personnel. Cleveland will need to make a lot of offseason changes to its front seven to make this work. Everywhere Shurmur and Browns president Mike Holmgren have coached utilized a 4-3 defense. Therefore, it would be surprising if the pair's handpicked defensive coordinator doesn't run that scheme. With a new defense and a new West Coast offense being installed this offseason, Cleveland is in for a huge transition season in 2011.
If there will be changes on the Cincinnati Bengals' coaching staff this year, they are moving very slow to make their decisions. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and owner Mike Brown hinted at changes two weeks ago, and so far there's been nothing but silence coming out of Cincinnati's camp. Lewis and Brown have had their differences, and there's a strong chance they could have different views about the staff, as well. Stay tuned to see how this shakes out.