EXTRA POINTS - Steelers vs Ravens Post Game Wrap
Mike Wallace is striped and stripped
*How To Kill Momentum - Where have we seen this before? The Steelers look like they are about to start rolling early in the game when yet another Willie Colon holding penalty on a run play deep in the Steelers own end wipes out a 1st down and precedes a game changing turnover. Bad penalties in your own end often lead to disaster. Jerricho Cotchery jumping offsides on a hard count certainly didn't help matters. The offense killed momentum by being awful on 3rd downs. They started 0-for-6 and finished 5 of 17 (29 percent) for the game. Compare that to Ben Roethlisberger's league leading 3rd down percentage (49 percent), and you see why they couldn't sustain a drive.
*Field Position Differential - The Steelers average starting field position was their own 19 yard line. The Ravens started on average at their own 31. That 12 yard difference in a low scoring game decided by a FG was huge. Kicker vs. kicker, the Ravens were far better. Tucker either kicked the ball out of the endzone, or kicked it so deep that Chris Rainey couldn't even return it back to his own 20 yard line. He had two returns that only made it back to the 12 and 14 yard lines. Suisham on the other hand barely kicked the ball to the goal line which gave Jacoby Jones a running start at a return out across the 30. Finally, he had to resort to squib kicking the ball which also gave the Ravens a start out at the 36. Lastly, Jacoby Jones took a punt back 64 yards for a TD while Emmanuel Sanders averaged 4 yards per punt return. Special Teams and the field position battle were the biggest factor in this game, and the Steelers got dominated in this facet of football.
*MASH Unit: The Steelers injuries continued to mount in this game. Isaac Redman got a concussion, Evander Hood left with a back injury. Will Allen was out a while with a shoulder. Byron Leftwich had ribs or a shoulder injury. Baron Batch left with a gimpy foot, and Cotchery got KO'd on a shot to the ribs at the end of the game. This team needs to get as many key pieces healthy as they can for the stretch run, which starts now!
HC Mike Tomlin - The head coach must prepare his team for battle in the week leading up to the game. That involves game planning, focusing, and motivating his men. Tomlin's performance in this area seemed up to the line this week as the defense smothered Flacco and the Ravens offense, and many players gave some of their best efforts of the year. The other key performance area for a head coach is in-game management. This is an area that Mike Tomlin continues to suck, especially late in either half. First, let's start with the play calling and decision to not go for it on 4th and goal from the 2. They were trailing by 6 points just before the start of the 4th QTR. The Ravens offense couldn't move the ball at all, and the Steelers weren't looking like they'd get this close to the endzone again. They were offensively inept the entire game after the opening drive. Instead of going for the lead or forcing Baltimore to play from the shadow of their own endzone on the road, Tomlin took the FG, squib kicked the ball back to Baltimore and gave them possession at the 36 yard line. With only one timeout remaining in his pocket, Tomlin put his team in a no-win situation had the defense given up a score to the Ravens. Instead of deciding he was in 4 down territory and trying to pound the ball in twice on the ground, Tomlin and Haley went with a low percentage pass to the corner of the endzone thrown by a rusty back-up QB to a 6'0 WR who was covered by a same-sized corner. It wasn't like they had a mismatch of a 6'4 WR facing a 5'10 CB there. Tomlin did have a successful challenge of the spot on a 3rd down Dwyer run, however he blew the management of timeouts in the final minutes. If he had just let the final 4 seconds run off the clock before the 2 minute warning, he would have practically FORCED Baltimore to run the ball on 3rd and 7 in order for them to bleed the Steelers of their final timeout. Instead, he burned the timeout to save 4 seconds which gave Baltimore the chance to go ahead and throw for the 1st down. Six years into his coaching career and Tomlin continues to make ill-advised clock management calls week after week. (Grade: D-)
OC Todd Haley: Haley and Leftwich somehow burned two timeouts late in the 3rd quarter on offense in the redzone in a one score game. Much like we have seen all season with Ben at QB, plays seem to be late coming in from the sidelines which force the QB to take a delay of game call or burn a timeout. As I discussed above under Tomlin, Haley's play calling on the criticial late 3rd QTR redzone drive was awful. The running game was dominating the Ravens D on that drive. They ripped off runs of 15, 11, 7, 4, 5, 3, & 8 yards. What did they do once they got into the redzone? They called two pass plays and kicked a FG from the 2 instead of running on 3rd and 4th down to pound in the go-ahead score. Haley did let Leftwich do what he does best and chucked one deep to open the game, which resulted in a long PI penalty. After seeing that success, Haley again shied away from going deep the rest of the night. (Grade: D-)
DC Dick Lebeau: Schemed to take Torrey Smith out of the game by playing high/low with Ike Taylor and Ryan Clark. The front 7 was prepared for, and executed very well against the Ravens zone runnning plays and stuffed Ray Rice for 40 yards on 20 carries. Lebeau dialed up enough pressure to keep Flacco uncomfortable and his defense got off the field on 3rd downs. (Grade: A+)
QB: Leftwich's short hopped passes, collapsed under pressure, and ineptly limped his way around the field all night. Aside from his stunning 31 yard TD run, Big Byron failed to make plays all night. He finished the night completing less than half of his passes against the 28th rated defense in the NFL which was missing 3 of their top corners. Leftwich threw a pick on a rare drive across the 50 yard line, was sacked 3 times, and was miserable on 3rd downs. (Grade: D-)
RB: Rashard Mendenhall returned to the lineup and looked every bit as ordinary as Redman and Dwyer have most of this season. He showed a little burst, but never broke a big run upfield. His most notable play of the night was not going out of bounds in the 2 minute drill which wasted valuable time off the clock, but hey, he did gain an extra 2 yards there. Isaac Redman left concussed after doing little. Jon Dwyer was the bright spot of this group as he ran hard, broke tackles, and made catches out of the backfield on his way to 81 total yards. Baron Batch chipped in with a key 3rd down pick-up before leaving with a foot injury. Will Johnson had a few balls clang off his hands in the passing game, and his run blocking was so-so. (Grade: C)
WR/TE: Mike Wallace drew a PI call to open the game, but then fumbled a 1st down catch and run to give the Ravens 3 free points in a game the Steelers lost by 3 points. Jerricho Cotchery had an AWFUL game as he jumped off sides on a hard count, was calling for blocking in the back, and dropped a catch that would have put them close to FG range at end of game. A guy who has a roster spot because he is supposed to be a savvy veteran can't make all of these rookie-like mistakes. Emmanuel Sanders was Leftwich's favorite target and he reeled in a few big catches on his way to a game leading 82 yard night. (Grade: D)
O-Line: Willie Colon got caught holding which wiped out the first positive run of the night. <-( I just copied that sentence from last week's article because it applied again in this game.) He blew an assignment and allowed a sack late in the 4th qtr, and generally failed to pick up twists and stunts all night. Enough of this bullshit excuse about how he is transitioning to guard. He has worked for over 4 months at this position and has been in the league for 7 years now. More bullshit rookie mistakes by a veteran leader on this team. Pouncey had another mediocre night as he struggled again with the size of Ma'ake Kemoeatu. Pouncey also short hopped a shotgun snap to Leftwich. Max Starks shut down the blindside and had some nice run blocking, while Mike Adams got abused a handful of times in the passing game by Krueger. Adams calmed down once the game progressed, but he is giving up enough pressures to lose his job once Gilbert is healthy. Ramon Foster remains steady and competent. (Grade: C-)
DL: Brett Keisel whooped the Ravens LG to get a big hit on Flacco on the opening drive of the game. He was called for jumping offsides on the crucial 3rd and 7 at the end of the game, yet another example of a veteran leader making a mental error. Casey Hampton spent the night getting chopped and bitching about it, but he was effective at clogging the interior of the defense. Cameron Heyward replaced Hood and pressured Flacco into an errant throws and held up really well against the run. (Grade: B)
LB: James Harrison was flagged for jumping offsides. This is the part where I complain about a veteran making a dumb mental error again. I think I was more pissed to see Harrison celebrate like a school girl who just won Justin Beiber tickets after his "sack" of Flacco on the final Ravens drive. Flacco was either going to throw to an open receiver, or just fall and take the sack in that situation to help drain the clock. Flacco pretty much just fell into Harrison and went down to protect the ball. I suppose the old saying about acting like you've been there before applies here, except Harrison hasn't "been there" all year. That said, Harrison was dominant in the run game. Lamarr Woodley was burned for 30 yards by Rice on a busted play pass. He made a great play on 3rd-and-a-foot on the first drive of the 3rd quarter where he pushed the TE into backfield and made stuff for a loss. Woodley added a a key sack on 3rd down in the 4th qtr and seems to finally be coming on as a pass rusher. Lawrence Timmons blew an easy 3rd down tackle on Boldin before half which extended the Ravens drive. That aside, he did well in coverage and against the run. Larry Foote fell down covering Rice out of the backfield and
allowed a 3rd down conversion. (Grade: B)
DB: Ike Taylor made a beautiful play on the ball in deep man coverage against Torrey Smith and nearly made a miraculous fingertip INT. Ike shut down Smith most of the night and allowed only one short 7 yard completion his way. Ryan Mundy had perfect positioning on a poorly telegraphed Flacco throw in the redzone, but managed only a 1" vertical leap and missed the easy pick by about an inch. Keenan Lewis did an excellent job tackling on short screens and covering Boldin. He has been a huge upgrade over William Gay, is getting better every week, and is 2nd in the NFL in passes defended. Lewis might be playing his way into becoming the Steelers top priority in free agency. Ryan Clark remains the enforcer and his big hit on Ravens TE Pitta put him out of the game with a concussion. Will Allen again was very competent and steady filling in for Polamalu. (Grade: A)
STs: Mundy got seal blocked out of the way on Jacoby Jones TD return. It seems like he's always front and center on a big blown ST's play. Suisham's shitty kicks fueled the Ravens 12-yard field position advantage. Sanders and Rainey were below the line in the return game, and Butler's punts seem to lack a little distance at times. (Grade: F)
Game Balls: Steelers defense. A+ performance holding the Ravens to 3 points on offense. One measly drive for a FG is all the Ravens offense could muster in this game as the Steelers shut down Ray Rice, harrassed Flacco, and bottled up Torrey Smith. Congrats to Dick Lebeau and his entire defense for this dominant performance.
Goat Balls: Willie Colon couldn't pick up a stunt and continued to make penalties. Mike Wallace had a careless fumble, and failed to take advantage of a back-up corner covering him. $11 million man my ass. Ryan Mundy was shoved out of the play on the Jones punt return TD, and dropped an easy pick. All 3 should hang their heads in shame.
Strangely. I actually feel better about the Steelers shot at making a run in the playoffs after this weekend. The Steelers defense is rounding into top form, the Ravens showed they are frauds, and the Houston Texans defense has come back down to earth. Nobody in the AFC is much better than this Steelers team with a reasonably healthy Ben Roethlisberger. It remains to be seen if they will hold onto a playoff spot or not, and if they will be able to play well on the road at any point this season, but the door is wide open if they are willing and able to kick it in.