Pittsburgh played with heart last night against the Baltimore Ravens, but heart alone does not win the fiercest rivalry in football. Skill helps. The Steelers simply did not exhibit enough playmaking ability to even the AFC North battle. Instead, Pittsburgh(6-4) drops two games behind Baltimore (8-2) after falling short in a 13-10 defeat.
Who would have guessed that the only offensive touchdown scored in the contest would be scored in the opening minutes of the game on Byron Leftwich’s feet? Pittsburgh’s first drive should have been a template for how to attach the Ravens defense. Throw deep and run outside the tackles. Baltimore’s secondary was (and is) susceptible. Their linebackers are solid at plugging holes and making plays on the interior, but chasing and tackling is not a forte. Terrell Suggs should run down Byron Leftwich in his sleep, but couldn’t catch Leftwich and gave up chasing him on the 31-yard scamper. To be fair, Suggs is still recovering from an offseason Achilles injury.
On Pittsburgh’s second drive, Willie Colon took an unnecessary holding penalty that would have been a 10-yard rush by Jonathan Dwyer. Instead, the Steelers ended up behind on down and distance and were eventually forced to throw on 3rd and 10 from the Pittsburgh 14. Mike Wallace hauled in a short slant pass on the run for the first down, but was stripped by Chris Johnson. Guess who recovered it? Of course, ball magnet Ed Reed. The Steeler defense stood tall and held the Ravens to a Justin Tucker 26-yard field goal.
Jacoby Jones’ 63-yard punt return for a touchdown with 3:16 remaining in the first quarter gave the Ravens a lead that they would never relinquish. Jones made one quick lateral step then bolted upfield and was basically untouched due to poor lane coverage by the Pittsburgh special teams. This was the only Ravens offensive touchdown and ultimately cost the Steelers the game.
Late in the third quarter, Pittsburgh wasted two time outs on their lone scoring drive of the second half – one to avoid a delay of game penalty, the other was on the critical third and 2 from the 4-yard line when Will Johnson appeared to line up incorrectly and Leftwich did not like what he saw from the Ravens defense. After the time out, Pittsburgh curiously called a corner pattern to Mike Wallace on the long side of the field. It was just a bit overthrown and Wallace’s second step was out of bounds. The Steelers turned to Shaun Suisham’s leg for a FG to inch closer, still trailing 13-10. After Dwyer’s 8-yard run had set up the 3rd and short situation, why not take one, or even two shots at pounding the Ravens between the tackles? I also hear that Heath Miller guy is a pretty good red zone threat.
You Win Some, You Lose Some
Pittsburgh’s Defensive Scheme – The Steeler defense held Baltimore to 200 offensive yards and only three points. The special teams TD and Mike Wallace’s fumble immediately yielded ten points. Joe Flacco continues to look pedestrian away from the “Big Crab Cake,” not silencing critics of his schizophrenic home / road performance splits. There is a big BUT regarding the defense…but, we’ll save that for the ‘Losers’ section.
Steeler CBs – Ike Taylor nearly silenced Torrey Smith, who only had one catch for seven yards. Taylor had a beautiful pass defense on a deep post pattern in the second quarter. He got both hands on the ball and actually nearly made a spectacular interception. Keenan Lewis was everywhere last night – 10 tackles, two pass breakups (now second in the NFL with 18 passes defended) and deserves a new contract in the offseason.
Jonathan Dwyer – The Georgia Tech RB always fights for tough yards and inches. His ability to bounce off guys at the line was evident throughout the night. I only wish that he would not ask for plays off after consecutive runs. Dwyer was the most effective back, but the running game could have achieved a better rhythm had Dwyer been in the game more consistently.
Snap Count Timing – The outside linebackers had Flacco’s snap count figured out, especially in shotgun situations when the Ravens went to a silent count. When right guard Marshall Yanda taps the center on the shoulder, even a casual fan can pick up on when Matt Birk will snap the ball. James Harrison got called for offsides incorrectly because his jump across the line was perfectly executed.
The Steelers had Lynn Swann and John Stallworth lead the pre-game Terrible Towel waving – pretty cool during the 80th Steelers anniversary celebration. Now let’s retire those uniforms.
Injured Players – This rivalry is based on two hard-hitting, skilled teams, but missing Ben Roethlisberger, Ray Lewis, Troy Polamalu, Antonio Brown, Lardarius Webb, the retirement of Hines Ward, among other walking wounded led me to feel that some luster was missing from this contest. There is still certainly a palpable hostility, but some of these guys need to be back in the lineup for Steelers / Ravens to have the right “feel.”
Turnovers? – This is the big BUT from the above ‘Winners’ discussion on the defense. Pittsburgh did a fantastic job of containing the Ravens. BUT, against the Ravens without Ben, the defense needed to set up the offense with a short field. There were two close calls for interceptions, but close is the margin by which the Steelers lost.
Field Position – Pittsburgh never had a big kickoff or punt return, nor did the punting game ever pin the Ravens deep. This, coupled with the offense’s inability to sustain drives, led to dreadful field position, particularly in the first half.
Third Down Conversions – 5 for 17 overall (29%), and 1 for 8 in the first half. Unacceptable, considering Pittsburgh led the league coming into the game at a 49% clip.
Mike Adams – The rookie right tackle could not even slow down Baltimore DE Paul Kruger, which resulted in some brutal hits on the QB (one sack, two pressures).
Mike Wallace – With Antonio Brown still recovering from a high ankle sprain, Wallace needed to step up and make himself the focal point of the offense. Instead, he was limited to 26 yards receiving and fumbled away a 3rd down conversion in the first quarter, gifting the Ravens with points. This guy wants something resembling Larry Fitzgerald money…hmm.
Playcalling – This is the first time I recall calling out Todd Haley this season, but Pittsburgh needed to throw deep more often. Then, there was the aforementioned play call on 3rd and 2 from the 4? Yikes.
Blitz Pickup – For the most part, the Ravens did not use significant pressure to fluster the Steelers QB until it was third and long. In the obvious passing situations, the Ravens’ blitz was usually one-sided, well-disguised, and allowed guys like Haloti Ngata, Paul Kruger, and James Ihedigbo to have free shots on Leftwich. It was evident that Lord Byron’s internal clock is broken, or at least rusty. He rarely felt the pressure coming when he got blindsided. It’s no wonder that his ribs / midsection appeared to be injured.
Byron Leftwich’s pick – On one of the few drives that broached Baltimore territory, he telegraphed a throw into layered coverage where Corey Graham intercepted at the 18-yard line intended for Emmanuel Sanders, followed by a nifty 20-yard return. This propelled Baltimore to drive just far enough to score what turned out to be the decisive field goal.
Bulletin Board Material
Mike Preston of the Baltimore Sun writes – “And there’s a good chance Roethlisberger won’t play again in two weeks, and the Ravens will beat them again at M&T Bank Stadium.” Hmm…no comment. He further drones, “I understand they are trying to get the crowd worked up (by having an alumni celebration), but it’s getting old. Bring them back when the Cleveland Browns come to town.” Here’s the thing, Mr. Preston – THE RAVENS WERE THE BROWNS!! The Ravens came to Baltimore in the cloak of darkness thanks to Mr. Art Modell. Just ask any Clevelander. The Browns aren’t truly the Browns, in anyone’s eyes. Why not honor the franchise that used to be the Browns along with Pittsburgh’s current archrival by trotting out special players from our past? That shows how much Pittsburgh respects the Ravens rivalry.
Speaking of the Browns, they can no longer be taken lightly, especially given Pittsburgh’s lack of offensive firepower. Next week’s battle will be a tight (and crucial) one. I don’t suspect that the players will look ahead to the Baltimore rematch given the current state of the team.
About the Author
Written by Rob Stroup
I grew up in western Pennsylvania, so I have followed the Pittsburgh sports teams (Steelers, Penguins, Pirates) since the womb. It has become a tradition to make the yearly trek to a Steelers and Penguins game each year despite the distance. I hope to make writing a profession because I thoroughly enjoy attempting to paint a picture with words.