Steelers Versus Ravens AFC Wild Card Game: An All-22 Primer

The final All-22 primer of the Pittsburgh Steelers 30-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens Saturday night.

– Before we get into it, the reason for the loss isn’t mystical. Any team that turns the ball over three times, absorbs five sacks, converts less than a third of their third downs, struggles in the red zone, and racks up over 100 yards in penalties is going to be in a difficult position to win

– Still, it’s a far cry from where some – including me – thought this team was done for throughout parts of the year. There were stretches when a playoff berth, much less winning the AFC North, seemed like a fantasy. The goal wasn’t to just get there but it sure was nice to be back after a two year drought, an eternity for the Steelers. It probably offers little comfort but some perspective to keep.

– There will be a big “chicken or the egg” analysis when it comes to the misfires, pressures, and sacks by Ben Roethlisberger. It seemed receivers were having difficulty getting open. But Roethlisberger may have missed some reads, too.

There will be a ton of plays to weed through to determine what the issues were. TV tape just doesn’t show it. Of course, I’m not expecting all the blame to lie with one group. It’s a mixture. But the individual key plays will be revealing.

Credit to the Ravens’ secondary for elevating their play but much like the New York Jets game, the Steelers’ passing attack underwhelmed against a group they were more talented than.

I tweeted shortly before the game of Roethlisberger losing trust in hitting his checkdown without the services of Le’Veon Bell. It was obvious there have been times during the year where Ben knew where he was at and could immediately fire it away, knowing there was total trust in Bell’s ability to make a play.

Not so with Josh Harris, Dri Archer, and Ben Tate. That probably lea to him holding onto the ball too long and not always willing to find his back. Some media reports harped on the fact he kept missing an open Archer early on.

– We’ll look at the different ways they tried to get Archer involved. He wasn’t just ap art of the three step game in his route tree, either. Ran at least one or two wheel routes.

Collectively, it seems certain he shouldn’t have bounced his lone carry, a loss of one and rude greeting from Terrell Suggs.

– Tate screwed up his pass protection assignment on Suggs’ interception, failing to block an inside rusher. He doubled up Kelvin Beachum’s man instead.

– Harris had a nice effort but running lanes were predictably scarce. Thought he did a good job getting downhill when he had his chances. Pass protection, I have no clue. We’ll check it out.

– Liked Martavis Bryant showing off his vertical and ability to high point the football. Markus Wheaton had a few nice plays, too. But again, receivers appeared having trouble getting open. Perhaps they didn’t look so good on the aerial view of the Coaches Tape when you can watch them every single snap. Not just their catches.

Antonio Brown’s long catch to the half yard line came off aligning him in the slot and out running the linebacker trying to drop. Obvious mismatch. Cornerback couldn’t close on the ball and kudos to AB for holding on in the air in the collision.

– I said it before the season began. Heath Miller’s days are numbered. Tight ends don’t age well and Miller will be 33 in the middle of next season. Suggs handled him in the run game, he dropped another pass, and coughed up a fumble late in the game. These mistakes aren’t “rare” anymore. They’re signs of a guy slipping. Nature of the game.

Tight end becomes a position to start talking about. This game will further that discussion.

– Beachum played as good of a game as you could hope for. It was far from pretty but it doesn’t need to be against a premier pass rusher. He consistently sealed the edge to let Roethlisberger step up into the pocket. Overall, Beachum showed himself to be the team’s long-term answer at left tackle.

– Boy, did the interior line have their hands full. If you looked at the replays, you’d swear Maurkice Pouncey was a below level starter. David DeCastro looked overmatched at times, too. I’m sure Ramon Foster had his lowlights as well.

Tough to do anything as an offense when you can’t get an interior push. Can’t run the ball and Roethlisberger can’t step up. When he can’t step up and he can’t flush, the landing of his drop stays the same. And he becomes an easy target for pass rushers.

Marcus Gilbert versus Elvis Dumervil didn’t appear to be a contest. Times where he got left on an island and didn’t respond well. The linebacker came in scot-free on his second sack. No idea what caused that. Mike Adams didn’t fare much better, either.

– As has been the general trend throughout the year, the Steelers tightened up the screws versus the run after half time. What changed? Seemed linebackers were getting penetration and flowing to their gaps a lot quicker.

But the first half was ugly, allowing 6.5 yards per tote to the Ravens’ backs. They ran their stretch plays effectively to both sides so it’s unfair to single out a specific player. But I bet Stephon Tuitt got worked over by Marshall Yanda. Zone blocks are a nightmare to defend and takes multiple elements working at once. Staying square down the lane, maintaining your run fill, and trying to make the tackle.

But no one in the first half was safe. Sound run defense is an eleven man job. Linebackers that aren’t flowing, backside lanes that aren’t taken care of (lead to the Ravens’ first TD), missed tackles, all the fundamental football required to stuff the run.

Ryan Shazier started playing faster and showed his speed and explosion. Forced fumble was huge at the time, giving the Steelers new life.

– Thought Vince Williams played well in limited snaps, too. Created penetration on their zone runs. Still a fan of drafting Shazier but I have always had faith in Williams. Think he could be a starter in this league.

– Steelers again get beaten up by a tight end. Owen Daniels caught four passes for 70 yards. Crockett Gilmore caught a touchdown pass. Four of their six touchdown passes have come against the Steelers this season.

– Still can’t stop Baltimore’s bootleg with crossing routes. I don’t know how to stop it either but man, it’s frustrating. Each chunk yardage, including Gilmore’s TD.

– Obviously, there were some critical third downs the Steelers’ defense couldn’t get off the field. We’ll evaluate those. But for what it’s worth, Baltimore was only 4-11 on third down.

Brice McCain played well over the stretch but clearly got caught looking in the backfield on Steve Smith’s 40 yard grab. Greedy and got burned by it.

– Other than that, I don’t have a good feel for the corners. A lot of the receptions allowed came in soft zones when it wasn’t clearly one player’s fault.

– Safeties are always tough to evaluate on TV tape. Out of the screen too much to judge accurately. Torn groin and all, I still think Mike Mitchell should have been able to run down a 32 year old Daniels on 3rd down in a critical moment. And the TD to Torrey Smith? Has to feel the receiver better (even looked back) and make a better jump when reading the QB’s eyes.

– Aside from Shamarko Thomas’ personal foul, the kick coverage unit kept Jacoby Jones in check. On five attempts tonight, his long return was 27 yards.  What a special group it was. Faced tough tests almost every week in the second half of the year and never broke.

– The kick return unit left a lot to be desired. Coverage got on Wheaton too quick. Ostensibly, there were some missed blocks.

Shaun Suisham went 3/3. Don’t take that guy for granted. Model of consistency in a turbulent year for so many others.

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