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Perspective Of An Average Steelers Fan: Chaotic End To A Chaotic Week

PRELUDE TO STEELERS VERSUS BALTIMORE RAVENS

I had to scrap my early draft about not eating Thanksgiving at home and sharing a football experience with a Chilean family who decided to host us this year. They wanted the experience of preparing a big turkey with all the trimmings. And of course, watching the football games on television. I took Juan to a game in Pittsburgh a few years ago and he loved the city and the Black and Gold experience. No Steelers football for Thanksgiving but we enjoyed a wonderful meal together.

The runup to this game was about when or whether the game would even occur due to an outbreak of Covid after a Ravens coach violated the league’s Covid protocols. The NFL moved the game to Sunday, bumped again to Tuesday, and finally set for Wednesday. NBC requested airing the game at 3:40 PM instead of prime time due to previous commitment to unveil the national Christmas tree. Steelers players expressed frustration at the delays. But Pittsburgh had Covid problems of their own with James Conner placed on the reserve list on November 28 and Maurkice Pouncey placed on the list the morning of the game when the NFL used a quick test that provides faster results but is prone to more false positive results.

CHAOTIC WEEK

The virus ravaged the Ravens because of their violations. The league permitted the Ravens to conduct two walk throughs after several players had tested positive. The league pushed the Tuesday game back when the NFL cancelled a planned Monday morning practice but were unsure if the outbreak contained itself. And then postponed again when a player on injured reserve tested positive. Many Pittsburgh fans believed that Ravens coach John Harbaugh was purposefully delaying the game to either get more players back or to delay the game until week 18. The Ravens did not get many key starters back and the game went on. Despite the loss of starting center Pouncey and James Conner, the Steelers roster was much stronger than the Ravens on paper who had to call up a sizable portion of their practice squad to dress.

The game played on, but we will see what sanctions the NFL will impose on the Ravens organization for their violation of the Covid protocols which caused game postponement three times.

STEELERS OFFENSE

FIRST HALF

Another slow offensive in the first half. Three missed red zone opportunities. Including an end zone and dropped balls leading to two field goals.

OFFENSE OPENS WITH A THREE AND OUT, THEN AN INTERCEPTION

The Steelers deferred the kickoff to second half after winning the coin toss. The defense forces the Ravens to punt after three plays so offense on the field early. Benny Snell starts it right by running five yards on first down. Ben throws deep to Chase Claypool, but Marcus Peters breaks it up. Chase needs to catch those disputed balls. On third down, Ben throws incompletion targeting Eric Ebron under pressure. Offense opens with a three and out. Punt.

The offense gets the ball right back after the Ravens fumble it way on first play. Snell runs two yards from the 22. Ben finds Snell wide open for a 13-yard reception to the seven-yard line. Snell again for one yard to the six. Ben switches weapon and goes to Ebron for one then four. Ebron can’t shift his momentum to propel into end zone. It’s fourth and one. Ben scrambles to his left and throws interception in end zone.  Just a bad pass and a missed red zone opportunity. The defense bailed out the miscue by a pick-six a few plays later to go up 6-0.

 

STEELERS SETTLE FOR SIX INSTEAD OF 14

The Ravens go-ahead 7-6 after Ray-Ray McCloud fumbled the punt return. The Steelers start at their 20. Ben starts with short pass to Ebron for five yards. Anthony McFarland gains three over right tackle for third and two. Ben completes three-yard pass to Hines Smith-Schuster for the first down. Ben throws to McFarland for 13 yards. Nice to get him some open space to utilize his speed. He shakes a tackler. Second quarter starts with McFarland running for three. Then a 27-yard pass to Ebron. Back to Ebron for six. Steelers in red zone at the 16. JuJu picks up 11 over the middle. Ravens falling left and right limping around but continue playing. It’s like a soccer match. But it works as Derek Wolfe who had been writhing on the ground two plays earlier beats Kevin Dotson who is at tackle eligible receiver to drop Snell for two-yard loss. Ben passes to Claypool who cannot retain the ball as Marlon Humphrey shakes him down. Then Ben passes to Diontae Johnson. The ball goes through his hand and bounces off his hip. Otherwise a walk-in touchdown. Boswell kicks field goal. Score now 9-7.

MORE DROPSIES

The Steelers next possession starts at the 26 after the defense force a three and out. After Snell runs seven yards on first down, Ben passes 11 straight times. The first five Ben targets Diontae who catches three for 16 yards before missing the last two. On third and 10, Ben hits Claypool deep for 22 yards. An eight-yard strike to McCloud takes the Steelers to the 21-yard line. Snell catches a short pass but gains 13 yards for first and goal at the eight. JuJu loses one yard. Ben goes to James Washington in left end zone, but he cannot come down with it as he spins. On third down Ben throws to Ebron short of the goal line, but he drops it. The dropsies are a raging pandemic among the Steelers receiving corps. Boswell again to make it 12-7.

That is the half time score as the defense just barely stops the Ravens to score at the end.

SECOND HALF

Steelers offense finally scores touchdown in fourth quarter. Difficulty keeping ball away from ravens until final drive.

OFFENSE SERVES AN EMPTY THIRD QUARTER

The offense starts on their 19 instead of the 30 after a holding call on the kickoff. Ben throws deep left for Chase Claypool who draws a defensive pass interference penalty against Marlon Humphrey. 36 yards gained on a play that does not count. Unfortunately, that was the best the Steelers offense could do on this opening drive. Snell runs three yards to the Raven 42. Diontae Johnson catches a pass for a measly five yards. Ben passes to JuJu and then Claypool on fourth down, but no catches and Steelers turnover ball on downs.

The Steelers deep in the hole at the four-yard line following a Sam Koch punt. Diontae catches an eleven yarder on second down. Ben works the short game with a pass to Ebron for four. Another to Claypool on third down only nets one yard. Steelers punt from their own 23-yard line.

The Steelers scoring drive began in the third quarter but not consummated until the fourth. The Steelers offense comes up empty in the third quarter. In fact, the offense has not scored yet in the game as the defense and special teams account for all 12 of the Steelers points

OFFENSE FINALLY SCORES BUT CAN’T PUT GAME OUT OF REACH

The Steelers third possession of the second half began with 3:13 left in the third quarter. On second down Ben targets JuJu with Humphrey knocking the ball out of his hand and off the field of play. A replay shows JuJu with the ball starting up field when the Humphrey punches the ball out. Coach Tomlin challenges the call. Officials overturn their original call in a rare Tomlin challenge upheld. On third and five Ben finds Diontae for six. Then its Claypool with two receptions for 18 yards. On second and two, McFarland gets three. The Ravens seemed gassed. The no huddle offense clicking. Ben goes deep for Diontae but aim just off. Ebron for seven to make it third and three is last play of third quarter.

Snell runs around right end for ten. Chukwuma Okorafor injured on the play. Matt Feiler shifts to right tackle and Kevin Dotson to guard. On next play JuJu uses straight arm to help tumble forward for eight yards. Snell up the middle for first and goal at the one. Ben then throws right to JuJu for the touchdown. Well-conceived play. Steelers go up 19-7 with 13:20 to play.

Offense gets ball back with 11:30 to play after defense forces another punt. Looks like Ravens crowding box to stop run so Steelers pass. Snell gains seven on a short pass. Diontae another seven for a first down. JuJu gains five. Then Claypool catches ball, hits ground, but pops up untouched for eight-yard gain. JuJu gains five more then Claypool for three to set up third and two. Ben slightly off target and Ebron cannot catch the ball. The Steelers punt but only used 4:09 of time on the drive.

OFFENSE KEEPS US NERVOUS UNTIL THE END

The offense gets the ball back with 5:13 left in game holding a 19-7 lead. A long drive with a field goal ices the game. Trace McSorley now in game and signs that Ravens may be conceding. No rushes on the last drive and Steelers test Ravens run defense. Snell runs for three yards on first down. But only two on second. On third and five, Diontae drops what should have been a first down. Instead the Steelers punt with 3:36 to play.

The Ravens get the ball with 3:30 on clock. 32 seconds later they score to make it 19-14. The pucker factor is off the charts. Tucker’s short kick returned to 13-yard line. Yoi! Ben passes to Diontae on first down who gains one yard. But Marlon Humphrey punches the ball out. Luckily it goes out of bounds otherwise it’s a game changer. A three yarder to Washington. Ravens call their first time out with 2:36 on the clock. Just 17 seconds have gone by since the Steelers started the drive. On third and six, Ben lobs the ball to James Washington with three defenders near him. He clamps his hands on the ball for 16 yards and a crucial first down. Ravens use second timeout. Snell then runs for 13 and Ravens expend their final timeout with 2:16 remaining. Snell runs over a defender to gain seven and take the game to the two-minute warning.

A BREAK FROM THE OFFICIALS?

Snell gains two for third and one. Benny plunges up the middle and unclear if he made it. The referees are measuring with the sticks which shows the ball an inch or so short, but the marker says first down. I’m wondering if Ben will sneak the ball over on fourth down when the referees announce it is a first down. I’d be frosty if I wore purple, but I don’t so cheer on as Ben kneels for the final play in the victory formation. Whew, too close for comfort!

STEELERS DEFENSE

FIRST HALF

Defense strikes early but gives up score after special team miscue.

DEFENSE STRIKES EARLY

Steelers deferred the coin toss until second half. Pooched kick returned to 35-yard line. The defense stops Ravens early on opening drive. Marquise Brown gained five on first down. Gus Edwards stopped for just one to set up third and four. Steve Nelson tackled Justice Hill for one-yard loss. Ravens punt.

Following the Steelers offense punting their first possession away, Ravens start at 25. Robert Griffin muffs the hand off. Vince Williams is right there to recover the unforced fumble. But Ben throws interception a few plays later. Fortunately for Steelers, Tyus Bowser brought the ball out of end zone, so Ravens start at their own five instead of the 20. Two runs set up third and four. Griffin passes but Joe Haden knifes in and runs straight into end zone for a pick six. Boswell misses but defense bailed out offense and scores for them. 6-0.

TOUCHDOWN SURRENDERED AFTER PUNT RETURN MISCUE

Boswell pooch’s kickoff again and Ravens return it 18 yards to 33. Danny Smith needs to go back to drawing board. Griffin gains six yards but D.J. Fluker caught holding Alex Highsmith who may have had a chance to tackle Griffin deep in backfield. Instead its first and 20. Devin Duvernay gains five on short pass. Then Cam Heyward swims up the middle to sack Griffin to set up third and 23. Justice Hill gains six but Ravens must punt. Unfortunately, McCloud unwisely tries to return and is immediately hit and fumbles the ball. Ravens recover it at the 16.

Ben Bredson false starts. But then Griffin complete pass to Hill to make it second and nine. Griffin runs right behind a wall of blockers. Minkah Fitzpatrick tackles him but damage done. It is now first down at the four. Hill runs for three to the one. Then Gus Edwards barrels ball over. Ravens up 7-6 but use their first timeout prior to the score.

DEFENSE ESCAPES HALF

The Steelers answer the Ravens touchdown with a field goal to regain a 9-7 lead. This time Boswell kicks a touchback, so Ravens start at 25. Joe Haden ankle grab causes one-yard loss on first down. Marquise catches a Griffin pass, but Robert Spillane tackles him to limit yards after the catch. On third down, Watt penetrates deep and sacks Griffin with Heyward and Dupree right there if he slipped away. Ravens punt.

The Steelers kick another field goal. The two three-point drives ate up over 10:30 off the clock. The Ravens get the ball at their 25 with 4:27 to go in half down just 12-7. Dez Bryant slips on his route on second down causing an incompletion. On third and 11, Griffin takes off for 39 yards. The play flips the field from the Ravens 24 to the Steelers 37. On second and six, Steelers penalized for having too many players on the field. Try as I might, I can’t blame Roger Goodell and his officials for that. Now second one, Griffin runs right for the first down but there is a hitch his stride. Hamstring? We’ll find out if he returns after the two-minute warning.

SAVED BY THE BELL

Griffin throws incomplete toward Marquise Brown with Watt covering him! But his motion looks awkward and ball fell short. Ravens take second timeout with clock already stopped. Justice Hill runs for one. But then busts one 19 yards before Minkah brings him down. First and goal at the four with a timeout and 37 seconds on clock. Hill again for three and Ravens take final timeout. Gus Edwards up the middle for no gain. Players slow to unravel. Ball snapped with three seconds left. Griffin throws to an open Luke Wilson who cannot keep it. Great coverage by Minkah Fitzpatrick. Harbaugh hopping mad claiming officials should call delay of game. Oh well. Please remind me to buy John a striped shirt for Christmas.

 

SECOND HALF

Defense gives up only 115 yards to Ravens in second half. But 70 came on one play and kept the Ravens in the game until the very end of the game.

DEFENSE GOUGED FOR 14 YARDS IN THIRD QUARTER

The Ravens possessed the ball twice in the third quarter. The Ravens first drive begins at the 37 after the Steelers turned over the ball on downs. Bud Dupree tackles Gus Edwards after a six-yard game but dinged and comes out. Edwards runs left again but Alex Highsmith, subbing for Dupree, and Vince Williams stop him for no gain. On third down Griffin who injured his leg at end of first half gains the first down on his own. On first down, Cam Heyward tackles Griffin as he releases the ball. Referees penalize him for roughing the passer. Short of freeze-framing in mid air I don’t see how this is a good call. He did not hit above the shoulder nor at the knees. Bad call but Ravens get 15 penalty yards.

Now at the Pittsburgh 37 and within Justin Tucker’s range, Griffin gains seven on the option play. Chris Wormley hurt now. D.J. Fluker draws his second holding call negating an eight-yard Edwards run. The ball backed up to the 40. Vince Williams tackles Marquise Brown at the 37. Justice Hill runs up the middle but Watt stuffs him for a two-yard loss. The Ravens opt to punt though it is on the outer part of Tucker range.

The Steelers forced a three and out on the next possession. Dupree is back in game and combines with Henry Mondeaux to drop Edwards for a two-yard loss. Then Watt sacks Griffin to push the ball back nine more yards. Justice Hill runs around right end for six. I guess the Ravens just trying to let Sam Koch flip the field with a punt. Two drives net the Ravens 14 offensive yards (not including penalties).

DEFENSE EXCELS BUT BUD DUPREE LOST LATE IN GAME

The offense scored early in the fourth quarter to go up 19-7. Robert Griffin played the first Ravens series of the fourth quarter. Mondeaux stops Justice Hill for no gain. Tyson Alualu closing in and hitting Griffin as he passes causing an errant throw on second down. Al illegal formation causes third and 15. Alualu jumps early so its third and ten. Terrell Edmunds tackles Devin Duvernay two yards short of a first down. Ravens punt.

Trace McSorley enters the game with 7:21 to play at the Raven 14-yard line. McSorley’s first pass is an incomplete worm burner.  Watt and Heyward stop McSorley on a keeper for one yard. On third and nine McSorley completes pass to Duvernay for seven. On fourth and two at their own 22, Ravens must go for it. McSorley gains six as Spillane dives for him and misses to prevent the first down. Dez Bryant drops pass on first down. On second down, Minkah almost intercepts the pass intended for Marquise Brown but drops it.

However, on the other side of the field, Bud Dupree fell to the ground during the play and pounds the earth. His knee buckled under him in a noncontact injury. Not sure if his earlier injury related. He limped on sideline, but we later learn the ACL of his right knee is torn and Bud Dupree lost for the season.

On third down, McSorley throws incomplete to Luke Wilson. This time Baltimore punts.

ONE EXPLOSIVE PLAY TOO MANY

The defense was humming but had just lost Bud. On first down at the 16, Highsmith jumped in the neutral zone giving the Ravens five free yards. Trace McSorley runs up the middle for nine. Where is everybody? McSorley goes back to pass at his own 30. He connects with Marquise Brown just short of midfield. Terrell Edmunds goes for the pick or break-up, but Brown secures the ball and runs over 50 yards after the catch for a touchdown. The Ravens close the gap to 19-14 with 2:58 to play. This time the offense helps the defense by keeping possession for the remaining time on the game clock.

A great defensive effort but just one explosive play can change the course of a game. The Steelers escaped with the win.

SPECIAL TEAMS

I break special teams play into three phases: Kickoffs, punts and, field goal attempts plus PAT attempts.

KICKOFFS

Chris Boswell kicked off five times. He pooch-kicked the first two. Devin Duvernay returned the first 26 yards to the 35-yard line. He returned the second 18 yards to the 33-yard line. Whatever the plan it was not working. Danny Smith had Boswell kick the next three deep for touchbacks. The Ravens average start was the 29-yard line.

Justin Tucker kicked off three times. Ray-Ray McCloud retuned the first kickoff 20 yards to his own 20. McCloud returned the second kick opening the second half 26 yards to the 29-yard line, but Ola Adeniyi caught holding and officials marched the ball back to the 19. Tucker’s third kick went 58 yards. McCloud returned it six to the 13-yard line. Pittsburgh average starting point after kickoff was the 17-yard line.  Advantage Ravens.

PUNTING

Jordan Berry punted four times averaging 44.3 yards a punt. His first travelled 42 yards and Adeniyi tackled the returner for no gain at the 25-yard line. A Ravens Holding penalty pushed the ball back to the 25. His second punt was a 56-yard boomer flipping the field. Derek Watt tackled the returner after a six-yard gain. Another Ravens penalty placed the ball at the 20-yard line. Berry’s third punt from near midfield went 30 yards and fair caught at the 14-yard line. His final punt travelled 49 yards and fair caught at the 16-yard line. Berry netted 42.0 yards a punt. Three of four of Berry punts forced the Ravens to start at or behind their own 20-yard line. Decent game by Berry.

Sam Koch punted seven times averaging 45.9 yards per punt. Ray-Ray McCloud fair caught the first at the 18-yard line. His second rocketed 58 yards. Ray-Ray attempted to return the punt, but the Ravens gunner arrived a split second after the ball forcing a fumble. The Ravens recovered the ball at the 16-yard line leading to their first score. McCloud appeared more tentative on his returns after the turnover. He returned one more for six yards to the 39-yard line. But fair caught or let the others hit the ground with one downed at four-yard line. Koch netted 45.0 yards a punt with three of seven putting Steelers at or behind the 20.  However, the turnover and neutralizing McCloud who averaged 17.3 and 3.0 yards per kick and punt return respectively gives …   Advantage Ravens.

FIELD GOALS AND POINTS AFTER TDS

Chris Boswell missed yet another extra point attempt. He hit the other and was two for two on field goals which were decisive in the game’s outcome. Justin Tucker made both extra points and never attempted a field goal.  Advantage Steelers.

DAVE BRYAN’S VICTORY PUNCH LIST REVIEW

Dave Bryan provided five keys for a Steelers victory. Here is how the Steelers performed them:

  1. Benny Snell shines as runner with Watt lead blocking 15-20 times. Snell ran the ball 16 times for a pedestrian 60 yards. Watt played just four offensive snaps. Snell did convert two critical first downs on last drive but overall ok but did not dominate. Mission failure.
  2. Stop Ravens run game forcing Griffin to go to air. Baltimore ran 28 times for 129 yards. Griffin threw just 12 passes. Mission failure.
  3. Prevent Marquise Brown from an explosive play. Brown caught a Trace McSorley pass and ran for a 70-yard touchdown bringing the Ravens within five in the fourth quarter. Mission failure.
  4. Watch Ravens trick special team play and take advantage of inexperienced players for big returns. The Ravens did not employ trick plays. But they forced Ray-Ray McCloud to fumble on a punt return early in game leading to their first points. Mission failure.
  5. Bottle up Griffin on third downs. The Ravens converted three of 13 third downs. Griffin pick-six on third down and sacked on another. His 39-yard run on third down but overall… Mission accomplished.

One out of five spells a loss if not for playing such a patchwork Ravens team.

KOZORA’S WINNERS and LOSERS

Alex’s winners and losers list  came out within minutes of the final whistle. How does your view of the game compare to his analysis?

YOUR HOT TAKES DURING THE GAME

FIRST HALF READER COMMENTS

Steelers Depot readers commented 1040 times on the game’s first half Live Update and Discussion Thread. Ross McCorkle kept us informed with live updates as we chirped our comments.

Alex Kozora led us off with “Thanks for being patient with us. Here We Go!” Alex is uber-nice but apologizing on behalf of the NFL? Chris92021 replied, “Not your fault you got this game moved to Wednesday!! (unless you are John Harbaugh and the Baltimore Whiny Birds….)”

Chris92021 had a lot of favored comments. Following Ben’s interception, he observed, “I am ok with going for the 4th and goal. But not having Snell in the backfield on the 1?? Fichtner just gave the play away. Thank goodness they brought it out of the end zone.”

At the end of the half what drew Harbaugh’s ire, Chris92021 said, “Vince Williams made the play of the game with the slow getting up.”

But yours truly had the “best” comment as the half closed: “The Steelers better wake up in the second half.”

Steelers Depot respondents exceed the 1000 comment standard in the first half. Steelers led 12-7 but despite a weekday afternoon game, Steelers fans were managing to monitor the game.

SECOND HALF READER COMMENTS

Comments up to 1189 in the 2nd half live discussion meeting the standard.

Prior to the 70-yard Marquise Brown touchdown, DirtDawg1964 noted “The Ravens have 118 yards of offence, with 40 coming on a RGIII run, and yet there are people here complaining about how crappy this defense is? Get a grip.” Strength of Victory reminded him, “I’m a Steeler fan. I have grip like Limas Sweed.”

After the 70 yard Brown TD, Dave D lamented “I sure picked a bad week to stop sniffing glue…” Kingribel replied, “It could be worse we could’ve lost and watched the xmas tree lighting lol”

Nunya is tired of predictable patterns. “Stop going shotguns on 4th and 1. Just freakin STOP IT!!!” But PwndHearts has an explanation: “Ben has never seen a down or distance where he doesn’t think “Shotgun” is the best call.”

The Immaculate Deception said “Watt can’t get a holding call to save his life. They straight up tackled him over the back on that 2nd down play. Sheesh.”

El Sweet Lea expressed many folks’ feelings with “And now we float off the field in a river of Harbaugh tears.”

What should have been a comfortable game to watch turned into a true test of nerves for fans.

CONCLUSION

The Steelers missed Maurkice Pouncey and James Conner on offense. However, J.C. Hassenauer snapped the ball well. Better than Pouncey. But I’m not sure how his blocking would have fared against stronger opponents. Most of the Ravens defensive line were backups. The Steelers ran Benny Snell sparingly most of the game. One third of his runs were on the last two possessions of the game. The receivers have a serious case of the dropsies. The offense scoring one touchdown against a mangled Ravens defense is in a word unacceptable.

The defense missed Stephon Tuitt. However, Chris Wormley, Henry Mondeaux and Isaiah Buggs filled in. Tyson Alualu increased his snap count so the line not too porous. Cam Heyward really pressured Griffin. Watt wrecked both the quarterback and running back for losses. Joe Haden’s pick six lights out. Vince Williams very alert pouncing on a fumble then slowly getting up at the end of the first half as the clock rolled on. The two big splash plays hurt. An aging Robert Griffin running 39 yards. But the Marquise 70 yarder almost dampened their success. The dark could in this win is the loss of Bud Dupree. He motored in the game until his knee gave out. Hope he can return with vengeance in 2021.

Special teams outsmarted themselves with the short kickoffs to start game. Ray-Ray McCloud fumbling the return when he should have signaled fair catch the worst special team play. I am not sure why Boswell is missing so many extra points. Special teams missed Danny Smith while he was quarantined. Whatever, they need to snap out of it. Jordan Berry’s punting and Boswell beginning a new field goal streak were bright spots.

INJURIES OR DRAMA?

I was not impressed with a few Ravens flopping on the field then returning shortly later. This hype about muscle strains due to lack of team practices is bogus in my opinion. These type of soft tissue injuries best prevented through dynamic and static stretching which individuals can do outside of a team practice facility. I suspect this may be some Ravens training tape here.

I’m not making light of serious injuries. Bud Dupree suffered a devastating knee injury in the game. Robert Griffin did not feign a leg injury. Other players from both teams absorbed hard hits. But some of the Raven’s defenders rolling around on the field then getting up to play seemed over the top to me. Perhaps, the Ravens next injury report will prove me wrong.

ONWARD

The Steelers play Washington on Monday. Washington has been resting and preparing for this game since Thanksgiving. They are better than their record indicates. Their defense ranked second against the pass. Pittsburgh has relied on the pass. Ben threw 51 times against Baltimore. Someone will have to yield. Here we go.

YOUR MUSIC SELECTION

I always like to offer a music selection. The Baltimore Ravens better not ask me what I think of them. I might not give them the answer they want me to. Here is Oh Well by Fleetwood Mac recorded in 1969.

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