By David Todd
An incredibly physical, hard-fought and dramatic win by the Steelers. Was it perfect? Not by any means. But, the objective was to go into to a very good division rival\’s stadium and get a win on a Sunday night before a national television audience. Mission accomplished. Mike Tomlin wanted a signature win for his football team and he got it last night. You could tell from the emotion of his press conference that it meant a hell of a lot to him and, I\’m sure, everyone involved. The Steelers stand at 9-3 with a one game lead in the AFC North and will be tied for the second-best record overall in the AFC after tonight\’s Monday night matchup. A fantastic result for the Steelers.
The negative post-game reaction from some of the Pittsburgh media was absolutely astounding to me. Tim Benz and, to a lesser degree, Stan Savaran repeatedly criticized the Steelers on the post-game show “Cooler Talk,” suggesting they were incredibly lucky to win, the refs missed a bunch of calls against the Steelers and generally criticizing virtually every facet of the Steelers play. I generally don\’t give a damn what the media says, particularly since I am part of it at times. But this ridiculous misunderstanding of what actually took place last night, negative open to the show after a win and two-bit critique of the offensive line in particular, really pissed me off. It is as if they had no understanding of the history of these two teams and gave the Ravens no credit whatsoever for being a good football team. I\’m all for criticism directed appropriately, but these guys were so off the mark that I almost thought it was an act. Unfortunately it wasn\’t. The more Benz talks, the more I think he should worry more about what music he is going to play on his morning show and leave the football commentary to someone else.
The hit to Heath Miller was a devastating shot. I\’ve watched it twice and won\’t watch it again, it is that violent and, for lack of a better word, scary. Watching Miller\’s neck snap back so completely had me literally concerned for his life. It violated every rule the NFL has tried to put in place for player safety and it is incomprehensible to me that Miller was able to get up and walk of the field–or that they would let him, for that matter. The good news is that Miller left the game under his own power, was communicating with doctors and even remained on the sidelines. I\’m sure he will miss this week\’s game due to the concussion that resulted. More than that is speculation.
Ben Roethlisberger, already playing with a broken foot, had his nose broken on the Steelers\’ third offensive play. Another missed call by the refs. Ben\’s nose was on the side of his face, but he didn\’t miss a play and it shouldn\’t effect his ability to play going forward. Right tackle Flozell Adams left in the second half with a high ankle sprain. This has been a lingering issue and it wouldn\’t surprise me if he misses time as a result of this latest setback. Punter Dan Sepulveda tore the ACL in his right knee and will be lost for the season. Sepulveda has had a very good season and the Steelers are scrambling to bring in punters for tryouts today. Sepulveda will have to be replaced as the holder as well. A more complete injury update will be provided at Mike Tomlin\’s Tuesday press conference.
*They scored more than the other guys. Isaac Redman\’s touchdown on 3rd-&-9 from the nine with less than three minutes remaining was a great individual effort.
*The effective use of step-backs and quick-hitters to Mike Wallace near the line of scrimmage was a good adjustment to a defense that was playing soft coverage much of the time.
*The offensive line held up much better than perceived. They gave up only three sacks for 19 yards and one of those was clearly on Ben. They provided enough time in the passing game in the second half and helped the Steelers to a time of possession advantage of more than eight minutes.
*Roethlisberger had a superb second half and his warding off of Terrell Suggs on the play before the touchdown was as important as any play in the game and he did a great job of drawing the Ravens offsides on a 4th-&-1 in the 3rd quarter. Ben has now won six straight starts against Baltimore.
*The offensive line was terrible in obvious short-yardage running situations. They consistently lost the battle at the point of attack.
*Rashard Mendenhall missed some holes and was indecisive at times. Against a high-pressure, high-pursuit defense like the Ravens that is a recipe for failure.
*The receivers dropped some catchable balls. Most notably, Hines Ward dropped a pass on 3rd-&-10 at the Baltimore 38 late in the first half that would have secured a first down and most likely led to points before the half.
*It appeared Antonio Brown ran the wrong pattern on Ben\’s long interception. It looked like Roethlisberger was leading Mike Wallace into the open side of the field and didn\’t expect Brown to be running a go pattern on that side.
*Redman fumbled late in the first half, but the Steelers recovered.
*Every play counts and the Ravens hit two long pass plays for 128 yards. But, Baltimore was held to 141 yards on their other 55 plays, an average of 2.6 yards/play, and most importantly, only scored ten points.
*Troy Polamalu, for the second week in a row, made a fantastic and decisive defense play late. His sack and strip of Joe Flacco was vintage Troy and led to the winning touchdown. (Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron\’s decision to pass there has been widely criticized in the media and I have to agree. That late in the game you have to protect the lead and on 2nd-&-5 there really was no reason to throw the ball.)
*The defense brought pressure often and was able to register four sacks and a number of hurries and they completely shut down Baltimore in the second half, holding the Ravens to 130 yards.
*Kept Ray Rice in check. Rice ran nine times for 32 yards and caught two passes for 18 yards–numbers the Steelers certainly would have signed up for before the game.
*Shut down the run game, holding the Ravens to 43 net yards on 20 plays. The long run was a 14-yard Flacco scramble when Lamar Woodley was blatantly held.
*Bryant McFadden was beaten repeatedly on the outside. His choice of who to cover on a 67-yard deep ball to Donte Stallworth (his second catch of the season) was inexplicable. He also committed a pass interference penalty, one of two, in the last two minutes that was totally unnecessary.
*Still gave up some long third down conversions and allowed Flacco to average over 15 yards per completion.
*Sushi, Shaun Suisham, continues to impress. He drilled a 45-yard field goal to get the Steelers on the board and punted admirably, filling in for an injured Sepulveda. His kickoffs were average, with his longest being called back due to offsides.
*An offside penalty on Antonio Brown on the kickoff that Suisham banged into the endzone for a touchback ended up costing the Steelers 14 yards in field position early in the fourth quarter. Inexcusable.
*A running out of bounds penalty on Keenan Lewis cost the Steelers 24 yards in field position and kept the Ravens from starting a drive inside their own five-yard line with less than five minutes left. Also inexcusable.
*Dick LeBeau realized that the defense needed to bring pressure and was able to design schemes and blitzes that were effective at limiting Flacco\’s time throughout the game.
*Tomlin dressed both rookies receivers and they provided a spark in the passing game with their speed and ability to get separation.
*Tomlin decided to go for a 4th-&-2 on the Ravens 44 with two minutes left in the first half and then dialed up a very nice six-yard pass play to David Johnson, who was used effectively throughout the game.
*The Steelers offense didn\’t use play-action in obvious short-yardage running situations and was continually shut down.
*The offense was totally ineffective inside the redzone (zero chances first half) with only two plays out of six producing positive yardage.
Big Officiating Calls:
*The officiating crew obviously missed two big personal fouls on the Ravens, the hit to Roethlisberger that broke his nose and the massive shot on Heath Miller. This certainly doesn\’t help the perception among some that the league has an anti-Steelers bias. What was most interesting was the NFL offices were admitting the refs blew the call on Miller during the game, on national television. The outrage in the broadcast and across various social media was palpable, but I don\’t think the league should have responded in that fashion, essentially throwing the refs under the bus during the game. It really makes the NFL look as if it has lost control of this whole issue.
*The non-call when Lamar Woodley was blatantly held was egregious. Flacco scrambled for a big gain deep in Steelers territory early in the third quarter and the play looked to be a game-changer, but the Steelers were able to hold the Ravens to a field goal.
The 2-10 Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field, 1:00 on Sunday. The Bengals are coming off an incredibly tough 34-30 home loss to the New Orleans Saints, but there is little doubt they will be able to get up for the Steelers.