The Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 season ended Saturday night in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs as they lost 30-17 to the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field. Inefficiency in the red zone, giving up big plays—both problems much of the season, penalties, turnovers and the loss of Le’Veon Bell all contributed to the Steelers first-ever playoff loss to the Ravens in the fourth meeting between the two teams since 2001. The Steelers finished the season 11-5, champions of the AFC North, but have now lost their last three playoff games including divisional games in their last two appearances. Their last win was the AFC Championship game against the Jets in 2010.
The Steelers got dominated on both lines of scrimmage in this one, particularly on the offensive line where they again were not able to establish a running game and gave up five sacks. The offense failed to score at least 20 points for the first time in Ben Roethlisberger’s 15 career playoff games and ended their NFL-record streak at 16. The defense, improved over the past month, gave up points on six of seven drives after an opening three-and-out and didn’t force a punt until the two-minute warning. The game could mark the end for defensive stalwarts Troy Polamalu, James Harrison, Ike Taylor and Brett Keisel (on IR). It’s likely the Steelers defense will look very different in 2015.
Ben Roethlisberger got dinged up late in this one suffering a neck injury that forced him to miss a few snaps as the team was trying to make a late comeback. When he returned he promptly threw an interception which ended the Steelers chances. Right tackle Marcus Gilbert suffered a knee injury in the second half and did not return.
Le’Veon Bell was inactive due to injury. Ike Taylor and Lance Moore were healthy inactives, Moore for the first time since Week 2.
*Antonio Brown. 9-for-117. On the Steelers opening drive Brown ran a slant on 3rd-and-10. Roethlisberger threw it behind him. Brown adjusted his body to make a difficult catch, spun around and beat the DB for 10 yards and a first down. I don’t know if there is another receiver in the league that has the body control, hands, quickness and speed to make that play. Just another on the list this season. Also a nice job on his 44-yard catch to go up and make a play.
*The development of Martavis Bryant over the second half of the season was clearly visible Saturday night. On a 22-yard catch in the first quarter Bryant fought aggressively to make a play. In the second quarter he made a very good hands catch of a high pass on a slant pattern. He fought hard to get position and catch the Steelers only TD. We didn’t see these things as recently as the Jets game. Bryant’s ceiling is incredibly high and he really came on as the season progressed. He looks like a steal in the fourth round.
I hardly need to alter what I wrote last week when commenting on “The Bad” from the offense Saturday night. Here are the quotes from last week with my comments from this week in bold.
*”While the individual stats continue to tantalize, it’s hard not to feel the Steelers offense has underperformed over the last six or seven games. They’ve only put up more than 20 points one time (excluding garbage points vs New Orleans). They are going to need to score more to have success in the playoffs.”
They didn’t. 193 yards and 20:55 of possession in the first half only led to three field goals and 9 points. The Steelers had the ball inside the Ravens 40 on six different drives but only scored 15 points on the night. Clearly not good enough.
*”The Steelers turned it over three times….To win in the playoffs they most-likely are going to have to play error-free football.”
They didn’t play error-free either. Turnovers didn’t cost the Steelers the game, but they certainly killed any hope of coming back as they all came in the last 8:15. The first one was a great interception by Terrell Suggs. On 3rd-and-4 from his own 26 Roethlisberger made a great spin move to elude the blitz and looked to dump the ball to Ben Tate. He threw high and Tate couldn’t make the play. Suggs did, on the deflection. If there is one specific play where it feels like Le’Veon Bell could have made a difference, that was it. The Ravens scored a touchdown on the next play to go up 30-15. Goodnight.
*”I’m sure Ben’s illness played a part, but he wasn’t sharp early and he didn’t throw the deep ball well. He was late and underthrew deep balls to Antonio Brown & Martavis Bryant, among others, that could have resulted in points.”
Ben was over his illness but he didn’t play well and was again late and underthrew passes that could have resulted in points. In the middle of the second quarter Ben had AB in the end zone, but the ball arrived late, Brown had to jump and a defender forced him out of bounds. Rather than a touchdodwn, the Steelers settled for 3. The non-interference call with Martavis Bryant in the third quarter on another deep ball occurred because Bryant had to slow up on the underthown pass and ended getting his feet tangled with the DB. He was behind the defense. A good throw likely would have been a touchdown. Even the 44-yard completion to AB that set up the Steelers only touchdown was thrown late and his interception when he returned from injury was as poor as decision as he’s made all year. Not a good game when needed most.
*”For the third week in a row the Steelers faced a defense geared to contain Le’Veon Bell and the Steelers running game and for the third week in a row the Steelers haven’t had an answer. Bell finished with 20 yards on eight carries and the offense only gained 29 yards in 18 carries. The Steelers longest run of the day was six yards. That’s consecutive weeks they haven’t had a ten-yard run.”
No Bell in this one. The Steelers had to rely on Josh Harris, Ben Tate and Dri Archer. The offense managed 68 yards on 19 carries, but the longest run of the game was a Roethlisberger scramble for 16 yards with six minutes to go. The running backs finished with 16 carries for 46 yards with the longest being 8 yards.
Okay enough with that exercise, but you get the idea.
*As mentioned the offensive line got dominated. Blame falls across the board. Kelvin Beachum’s holding call on a touchdown pass to Dri Archer was just the most visible of many troubles the line had with the Ravens front seven.
*It was not Heath Miller’s best night. He finished with six catches for 76 yards, but he had a key drop on 3rd down on the opening drive that kept the Steelers out of field goal range and he fumbled the ball away on the Steelers last offensive play.
*I understand the possible lack of trust in Dri Archer, but he ran wide-open out of the backfield and Ben rarely even looked his way. Some of that was due to pressure, but someone had to see that and take advantage.
*Ben Tate, making his first-ever Steelers appearance, fumbled on the fifth play. It was recovered by Antonio Brown. Tate and Le’Veon Bell, 662 career touches, now have the same number of fumbles as a Steeler.
*After getting gouged on the ground on the Ravens second drive (5 carries, 37 yards) the Steelers run defense held Baltimore to 8 yards rushing the rest of the game. Steve McLendon continued his solid play and was the foundation for the transformation of the Steelers run defense as the season went on. On the second play of each half he was able to drive the center back into Joe Flacco forcing him to fall and lose 5 yards and 4 yards on the two plays.
*William Gay made a big play toward the end of the first half tipping a pass at the goal line that, had it gotten over his head, would have been an easy TD. The Ravens settled for 3.
*The Steelers defense got the first turnover of the game setting up the Steelers only touchdown to cut the lead to 20-15.
*The Ravens ran 55 plays including 4 kneel downs. 12 of their 51 plays went for 10 yards or more and 8 went for at least 15 yards. The Ravens also drew a 32-yard pass interference penalty and the Steelers committed three 15-yard personal fouls.
*The Ravens were only 4 of 11 on third down (also 1-1 on fourth) but they converted a 3rd downs of 10, 14, 13 yards and gained 14 yards on a 3rd-and-20 that set up a field goal. The Steelers didn’t get stops when they could have gotten off the field without giving up points.
*The Ravens converted 2-3 red zone opportunities and scored a touchdown on their first play after a turnover on the 21-yard line.
*The Steelers secondary was poor. Gay’s tipped pass might be the only play they made all night.
*Shaun Suisham finished another fantastic season by going 3-3 on field goals of 45, 22 and 47 yards. Since the start of the 2012 season Sushi has converted 32 straight field goals from 40-49 yards. He finished the season 32-35 with two of the misses coming from 50+.
*Shamarko Thomas made a great tackle on one kickoff and blocked a punt for a safety. He was good on special teams when healthy and is likely to be the starting strong safety next year.
*Brad Wing. Two out of three ain’t bad. Wing’s first punt was 30 yards and downed at the 7. His last punt was maybe his best of the season, a 48-yarder that forced Jacoby Jones to fair catch it at his own 17. Wing was inconsistent this season, but will be the front-runner for the job next year.
*The Steelers did an excellent job controlling Jacoby Jones and the Ravens return game.
*The Steelers return game, particularly kick returns, was very disappointing this season. That continued Saturday night as they returned four kicks for only 78 yards and never set the offense up with great field position.
*I liked the ideas behind the offensive game plan. I thought Todd Haley did a good job of mixing his personnel groupings trying to utilize the talents of all three running backs. I loved the play design on the short third down pass to Markus Wheaton on the Steelers first third down. It was the same play that we saw back in the first Cincinnati game. That one went for a first down and this one went for 11 and a first as well. Also, the Steelers did a great job getting the matchup they wanted after their fumble recovery. They lined up Antonio Brown in the slot and got him matched up on linebacker Daryl Smith. No chance Smith could guard him and the play gained 44 yards.
*The Steelers again won the toss and took the ball for the fourth week in a row. Good idea. Mike Tomlin has apparently had a philosophical change of heart.
*I endorsed the idea of starting Troy Polamalu and I don’t think the Polamalu/Allen decision had any meaningful impact on the game, but Polamalu was a non-factor.
*I gave Mike Tomlin and the staff a lot of credit for the lack of penalties called on the Steelers down the stretch run. Only ten in the last four games. The Steelers were flagged eight times for 114 yards, 100 more than the Ravens.
Big Officiating Calls
*The officiating was a point of complaint among many Steelers fans as the home team was flagged for 8 penalties for 114 yards while the Ravens were only called for 2 for 14 yards. However, most of the calls seemed reasonable.
There is no next until the Steelers open the 2015 season.
Reminder: You can hear me on the pregame show on WDVE & 970 ESPN before every Steelers game and on weekdays on 970 ESPN from 3-6 pm. You can follow me on twitter @DavidMTodd.