PRELUDE TO STEELERS VERSUS …
The NFL moved the Pittsburgh Steelers game time to 4:25PM. They also moved the Tennessee Titans – Houston Texans to the same time slot. Several scenarios could lead to the Steelers qualifying for a playoff berth. However, the simplest is if they beat the Baltimore Ravens and the Titans lose. Unfortunately, the Texans are resting key starters since they have locked up a third or fourth seed in the playoffs.
The Steelers will be without the services of James Conner and Maurkice Pouncey due to injury. Pittsburgh place Mason Rudolph on injured reserve. So, Devlin “Duck” Hodges will start backed up by Paxton Lynch. The Steelers designated Roosevelt Nix and Ryan Switzer to return from the injured reserve list. But both are not available until the Division round of the playoffs.
THE STEELERS FORECAST
Steelers Depot gives us specific things we should look for during the game. I always read these articles prior to kickoff:
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Matthew Marczi described what we should watch for in the game against the Ravens. Matt wanted us to watch the Duck. His play may determine the Steelers fortunes for a postseason berth. The running game and pass protection must improve to help him succeed. Alternatively, watch for how the defense manages the brazen Ravens running attack.
Tom Mead identified the key matchup to watch this week. Tom focused our attention on the predictable Steelers running attack versus the Raven defense. Will the Steelers tweak the running scheme enough to fool the Ravens defense at all?
KEYS TO VICTORY
Dave Bryan identified the 7 keys to a Steelers victory against the Ravens. First and foremost, stop the turnover streak. Second, Benny Snell runs at least 15 times to lead a successful running attack. Third, the defense must stop the Robert Griffin III (RG3) read option plays. Fourth, JuJu Smith-Schuster gains yards after the catch if given space. Fifth, stop Gus Edwards running with the ball. Sixth, the Steelers takeaway the ball a few times. Seventh, the Duck gets the ball out early to avoid Ravens blitz.
Alex Kozora forecast what would happen in his Steelers versus Ravens prediction. Alex foresaw a win if they account for RG3, James Washington has a 40+ yard reception and if Jordan Berry has a strong game. On the other hand, the Steelers lose if Ravens special teams control field position, Steelers run successfully less than 50%, and Matt Feiler continues to struggle. Alex predicts the Ravens winning 22-16 including a safety (from the Terrible Podcast).
You can compare these pregame guides to Alex’s analysis of the game’s winners and losers which came out within minutes of the final whistle. How does his analysis compare with your view of the game?
One of four drives gave Steelers fans brief hope.
THE OFFENSE SHOWS UP FOR A SERIES
Following a three and out on the initial possession the Steelers had an uncharacteristic 75-yard drive. The Black & Gold was down six to zero and needed to respond. Benny Snell ran twice to set up third and two. Duck Hodges connected with Diontae Johnson for a first down. The key play of the drive was a third and seven play from Pittsburgh’s 47-yard line. Vance McDonald looked open underneath, but the Duck threw long for Diontae Johnson. The defender appeared to pull up short allowing Johnson a 21-yard first down. Then, the Steelers imposed their will with four straight handoffs to Snell. His 19-yard run on third and one set up a first and goal from the four. Snell scored on the next play and the Steelers had their only lead of the game.
CRACKS SHOW UP IN BLOCKING SCHEMES
The next drive started out promising. The Steelers moved the ball from their own 19 to the 44-yard line. Vance McDonald made the first down with a 14-yard reception. But the Ravens defense asserted itself. Kerrith Whyte lost four yards. Then Brandon Carr sacked Hodges to set up a third and 21. Diontae Johnson gained 14 yards before former Steeler LJ Fort tackled him seven yards short of a first down and forcing a punt.
TRYING TO KEEP IT CLOSE, GIVE BALL AWAY INSTEAD
It was the next drive that deflated the offense. Jaylen Samuels took the ball from the 29 to the 45-yard line on a 26-yard reception. Less than a minute to go and an opportunity to get a field goal to take a 10-9 lead to end the half. Instead, some guy named Matt Judon strip-sacks the Duck. Jaylen Samuels has the ball briefly, but the ball slips from beneath him or is punched out and the Ravens recover it. Instead of Pittsburgh taking the lead or at least keeping it close, the Ravens convert the turnover into seven points. The half finishes with Baltimore on top 16-7. Ten of their points scored in the last 1:14 of the second quarter. The Steelers offense have turned the ball over in 23 straight games. The horror.
Two of seven possessions lasted more than four plays with just three points generated.
FIRST AND GOAL YIELDS THREE NOT SEVEN POINTS
The Steelers start the half with yet another three and out. But then the defense takes away the ball from the Steelers giving the offense great starting field position. Snell runs on three plays. He carries the ball from the 34-yard line to 13 and a Ravens penalty sets up first and goal from the eight-yard line. Snell runs twice more but the ball stubbornly remains on the eight-yard line. Mike Tomlin calls timeout to consider the third and eight play. Hodges pass to JuJu in the left corner falls to the ground and the Steelers settle for a field goal. Still Steelers fans hold onto some residual hope as the Ravens lead is now just six points.
NO WHERE TO GO
The Steelers offenses goes three and out on the next possession. The Ravens extend their lead to nine points. JuJu advances the ball to the 44-yard line with an 11-yard catch. Snell reaches midfield to set up second and four. The Steelers need points on this early fourth quarter drive. Instead, a deep pass to Diontae Johnson is incomplete. On third and four, Duck tries to extend the play but with no one to throw to he intentionally grounds the ball. The Steelers punt again.
PLAYING WITH A GREASED PIG
The Steelers get the ball back with less than five minutes to play in a two-score game. Hodges throws three straight incompletions to James Washington, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Diontae Johnson in turn. The rain is coming down heavy and the ball looks slick. Receivers can’t catch the ball. Jordan Berry mishandles the snap and eventually loses the slippery ball for a Ravens special teams’ touchdown.
The Steelers get the ball back once more with 24 seconds left. Tomlin has conceded the game and Benny Snell runs once for nine yards for the final play of the 2019 season.
The Ravens punched the Steelers defense in the mouth. Baltimore score points on four of five first half possessions.
DEFENSE GETS RUNOVER BUT KEEPS IT TO THREES
Baltimore opened the game by running nine straight times. The Steelers had no answer until RG3 dropped back to pass for the first time. Mike Hilton and T.J. Watt combined to sack him. We cheered since giving up a field goal was preferable to a touchdown.
The Ravens gained big chunks of yards on two plays on the next drive. RG3’s 15-yard pass to Hayden Hurst took the ball near midfield. Then on third and five, Gus Edwards ran through the middle of the Steelers defense gaining 38 yards. Terrell Edmunds prevented a touchdown by tackling him at the four-yard line. Steve Nelson defended a pass in the end zone. So, the Ravens tacked on another three points.
ONE STOP, BUT RAVENS SWITCH TO PASSING TO SCORE TEN AT END OF HALF
The Steelers defense stopped the Ravens on their third possession. Th key play was Bud Dupree sacking RG3 before he could gain any yards setting up second and ten. Baltimore was unable to convert a third and five play so punted for the first time in the game.
Griffin gained 16 yards on the first play of their next possession. The Steelers keyed on RG3 hitting him whenever they went to their option plays, but he was elusive. On third and 12 Griffin connected with Hurst to continue the drive and allow Justin Tucker to regain the lead they had lost briefly.
Baltimore changed things up by passing on their final drive. Their defense had taken the ball away and Baltimore had the ball at the 23-yard line with 45 seconds left in the half. Griffin completed a pass on third and five. Justice Hill capped the drive with an eight-yard run to put the Ravens ahead 16-7 at halftime.
T.J. Watt connected with a punch and the defense only gave up three points in the second half. But with the offense and special team unit giving up nine points it did not matter.
WATT FORCES ANOTHER FUMBLE
The Ravens opening drive did not start well for the Steelers. Gus Edwards ran 14 yards before Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Terrell Edmunds finally brought him down. I guess that’s why we call them safeties. Watt punched the ball out of Gus Edwards hands and Joe Haden recovered it at the 34-yard line. The Steelers offense scores three points off the Steelers first turnover.
FORCE A PUNT; BUT THEN ALLOW A FIELD GOAL
On the next series, Edwards ran twice for 18 yards. Then Cam Heyward sacked RG3 putting Baltimore in a hole. Terrell Edmunds tackled Wille Snead short of the first down marker, so the Ravens punted the ball.
The Steelers put the Ravens into a third and nine near the end of the third quarter. Unfortunately, Heyward committed a neutral zone infraction which gave Baltimore a more manageable four yards to gain for a first down. RG3 gained eight to easily make the first down. Justice Hill then ran the ball 13 yards to bring them into Tucker’s range. Nick Boyle caught a ball for six more yards to give Tucker a 47-yard chip shot at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
RAVENS RISK IT ON FOURTH AND ONE TO CHEW UP CLOCK
The Ravens eventually punted on the next drive. However, the Steelers stopped the Ravens for what appeared to be a three and out with 9:19 to play. The Ravens faked the punt at their own 11-yard line and just managed the first down. Crucially, the Ravens would eat up an additional four minutes off the clock and the Steelers had to start back at their 19-yard line instead of closer to midfield.
INTERCEPTION IS TOO LITTLE TOO LATE
Some fans are salty that Baltimore attempted a fourth down pass with 30 seconds left in the game and ahead 28-10. I’m not. They won the game and wanted to end it in victory formation. In the end Joe Haden intercepted the ball. He and the Steelers were still playing, why should the Ravens lay down?
A very sloppy finish, if you include the first half turnover, the offense or special teams helped the Ravens score 16 points. The Steelers defense needed to force takeaways and score to give the Steelers a chance. Instead, the Ravens defense did it.
I break special teams play into six phases: Kickoffs, kickoff returns, punts, punt returns, field goals & blocking field goals (I’m not counting extra point plays).
Boswell kicked off three times. De’Anthony Thomas returned the opening kickoff 31 yards to the 33-yard line. Pittsburgh wisely opted to kick deep into the end zone for touchbacks on the next two kickoffs.
Justin Tucker kicked off seven times. The first two were touchbacks. His third went to the eight-yard line and Kerrith Whyte returned it 21 yards to the 29-yard line. Just before the half ended, he pooched the ball 44 yards with Benny Snell scooping the ball up and returned it to the 29. Tucker kicked two more touchbacks, but Whyte fielded his last after the ball went over his head gaining just three yards. Hodges intentional grounding the ball would cause a safety just two plays later. Advantage Ravens.
Jordan Berry punted five times averaging 48.8 yards a punt. The Ravens returned two losing four yards on one and gaining six return yards on the other. Justin Layne tackled a returner for the loss plus he downed Berry’s last punt at the two-yard line. Unfortunately, Berry’s second punt raveled 53 yards for a touchback. Just one of his punts forced Baltimore to start behind the 20-yard line. Worse, Berry was back for a sixth punt when he mishandled the wet ball and fumbled which the Ravens recovered in the end zone for seven points.
Berry also had a 50-yard kick following he safety. Willie Snead returned the ball 19 yards but an illegal block above the waist moved the ball back to the 39-yard line from midfield.
Sam Koch punted three times averaging 46.7 yards a punt. Diontae Johnson returned two punts for 24 yards. Baltimore downed his third punt at the 19-yard line. All three of his punts had the Steelers starting behind the 20-yard line despite Johnson’s returns. Notably, Koch was back to punt with the ball at the 11-yard line, but the Ravens faked the put and converted the first down. Advantage Ravens.
Chris Boswell made his only field goal attempt. Tucker kicked four. Advantage Ravens.
DAVE BRYAN’S VICTORY PUNCH LIST REVIEW
- Stop the turnover streak. The two turnovers led to 14 Baltimore points.
- Benny Snell runs at least 15 times. Snell carried the ball 18 times for 91 yards.
- The defense must stop the RG3 read option plays. Griffin had eight carries for 50 yards. The Steelers did hit him often, but the Ravens gained 223 rushing yards many from the option.
- JuJu Smith-Schuster gains yards after the catch. Two catches for six yards losing five on one play.
- Stop Gus Edwards running with the ball. Edwards ran 130 yards with the ball. On one third down he gained 38 yards up the middle.
- Steelers takeaway the ball a few times. Watt forced a fumble. The last defensive play was Haden’s meaningless interception.
- Duck gets the ball out early to avoid Ravens blitz. The Ravens sacked Hodges just twice. But he intentionally grounded the ball twice including a safety. He rarely had time to scan the field before passing.
Just stop at the first item on Dave’s punch list. That is 14 points right there. Snell’s performance was the only item the Steelers successfully completed.
YOUR HOT TAKES DURING THE GAME
FIRST HALF READER COMMENTS
Steelers Depot readers commented 911 times on the game’s first half Live Update and Discussion Thread. Not much to say in this game. The score was close, but Baltimore had the upper hand at the start and end of the half. Most of the comments did not receive many likes/replies.
Early in the game, Kevin Schwartz suggested that “Maybe we should have a separate thread for people who want to talk solely about firing coaches rather than watching the game.”
Lambert58 had his eye on other games, “God bless Miami for doing the dirty work. Cleveland Browns – confirmed: Total garbage, no matter who is coaching or playing.”
SECOND HALF READER COMMENTS
A strong showing of 1242 comments in the 2nd half live discussion. The score was close to start the half but steadily slipped away until the final meltdown in the fourth quarter.
Matt Marczi finally gave up on the blog after Griffin converted a third and eight with a leap. “Look…I’m not gonna lie. I wasn’t even paying attention to what happened after this. It just didn’t matter.” Matt faithfully recorded the grim results including the balls going over kick returner’s head, punters mishandling snaps and passers intentionally grounding the ball from the end zone. What a sloppy mess.
On the Steelers only score of the second half, Bryan noted “Tomlin doesn’t challenge that: ‘Fire Tomlin, that was obviously a TD’ Tomlin challenges that: ‘His hand was clearly out first, terrible challenge, Fire Tomlin’”
The defensive scheme frustrated Rusted Curtain “So sickening get run all over while in Nickel garbage. All they do is run especially tonight and the Steelers play majority Nickel.”
Rick McClelland noticed that “Fouts forgot to give a shout out to Shaun Sarrett for turning a once good OL into the pile of crap it is today.”
Darth Yinzer tried to be optimistic. “Well, the bright side is, we won’t have to watch the patriots pound this team in the playoffs. Again.”
Reader783 summed up his thoughts on Baltimore’s fourth down pass with 30 seconds to play: “Harbaugh is giving us a fat middle finger right now.”
The Steelers ended the season the way they started it. Pathetically. Baltimore punched the defense in the mouth.
Not much else to say about this game. I may sum up the season in a week or two after letting this last loss brew for a while.
Football season is over for the 2019 season. It’s time to take five.
YOUR MUSIC SELECTION
I always like to offer a music selection. The 2019 football season is over. So, it’s time to Take Five by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. As a bonus, for such a stinky season here is Green Onions by Booker T. and the M.G.’s.