Monday, November 7, 2011

Steelers Game 9 Recap - Ravens 23, Steelers 20

This wasn’t exactly what I wanted to write about the day after the Steelers/Ravens game, but thus my hand is forced after the Steelers gave up a go ahead touchdown with eight seconds left and fell to the Ravens 23-20. Between the Ravens unreal third down efficiency and a lack of a pass rush on most plays the Steelers are now 6-3 instead of 7-2 and now sit third in the AFC North. Oy Vey.

I mean you could go around blaming any number of things for the Steelers loss but to be perfectly honest there is way more than one or two reasons why the Steelers lost this game. They only managed six first half points and gave up massive amounts of first downs and something just seemed to be off. The second half was better as the defense tightened down but the offense turned the ball over once and wasn’t able to kill the clock at the end of the game. Let’s not even get into the officiating which both teams can have a huge gripe with. It all came down to Joe Flacco and the two minute drill. Last season he beat the Steelers at Heinz Field and this year he did the exact same thing. Sucks.

Let’s give a look at a few brief points. I am not going to go into much depth but there just isn’t enough time for all of that.

-First off you need to give the Ravens credit and especially Joe Flacco. When Flacco got the ball with a couple minutes left and had to go 92 yards I really didn’t think he had a chance. Not only did he make the big time throw to Torrey Smith to win the game but he converted third and fouth down plays. Not only did Flacco convert 14-of-21 third down attempts last night but the Ravens defense was pretty good all night. I thought their corners did a pretty nice job of preventing the big plays and even though Ben Roethlisberger threw for over 300 yards they made him earn the yards. Let’s not kid ourselves the Ravens were the better team last night. Maybe not by much, but they were better.

-The big series that everyone is going to isolate from this game is that last drive from the Ravens. It took them 12 plays to go 92 yards in 2:09 to win the game. The Steelers had played such good defense in the second half (only allowing 90 yards before that drive in the half) that it really sucked to see it end like that. Twice they almost ended the game with an interception (Troy and Foote) and once they had a fourth down that the Ravens were able to convert. Receivers were open and it was just bad times. I actually didn’t feel bad about the drive at all. My train of thought was that until the Ravens got to the 15 yard line there wasn’t much to worry about but boy was I wrong.

-Overall I think it is pretty easy to say that this was Ike Taylors worst game of the season. He was mostly matched up against Anquan Boldin and Boldin was much more physical than Taylor was which is a rarity for a receiver to be able to do that against him. What seemed to be the go to move for Boldin was a quick inside slant. That is how the Ravens converted the fourth down play and it was a problem all night. Taylor was also beat by Smith a few plays before he caught the winning touchdown pass but he dropped the one where Taylor just got flat beat. Weird. I mean it wasn’t a terrible night by Taylor but the way he has played all year really set him up as a Pro Bowl player and he just wasn’t up to his normal level last night.

-Also in terms of the secondary I think people really need to lay off Will Gay. Gay was beat for the game winning touchdown by Smith and people are taking it to extreme levels on him. Sure Gay got beat but he got no help from Ryan Clark who should have had the help over the top. Overall Gay had a tough game where he was sometimes being matched up against Boldin and that just wasn’t going to work. This season Gay has been pretty good. I find it pretty interesting that nobody has said anything about him until this week when they want him cut. People need to get real. Gay was good enough to shut down the Patriots but had a bad game against the Ravens. He will be fine.

-Let’s talk about some good things that happened. Namely how good was the offensive line? Last week we knew the offensive line played well but we also knew that the Patriots defense wasn’t that good. The Ravens defense is really good and the line gave up only one sack and Ben only was hit four times. Terrell Suggs was invisible on the pass rush and Max Starks was on the top of his game. The running game was also pretty good as they gained 70 yards on only 20 attempts and scored a rushing touchdown. Remember when we didn’t think Ben would get through the season alive? Now he is barely getting touched and is being given sometimes eight seconds to find receivers. It is really amazing what can be done when half of the line isn’t out of the game with an injury. If they continue playing like this the offense is only going to get better, especially against the soft teams the Steelers are going to play. Let’s face it, you aren’t going to go against many better defenses.

-So, um, James Harrison huh? Dude was absolutely off the chain last night and there wasn’t anyone that was going to stop him as he racked up three sacks and forced a fumble all while wearing a visor that look really bad ass. The Steelers only had six quarterback hits in the game and James Harrison had all six of them. He also had eight tackles in which all of them were solo. Can you imagine what this would have been like if LaMarr Woodley was healthy too? Jesus.

-A lot of people are questioning how the coaching staff handled the end of the game. Here are my thoughts. I absolutely agree with the idea of throwing for the first downs. The passing game was working and it was a third and medium. They pick up that first down with the pass and it is ballgame. I maybe don’t agree with the decision to throw it to MeMo on the out and up when Roethlisberger thought he was only going out, but that is something totally different. I also was a fan of punting on fourth down. Shaun Suisham hasn’t been all that great this year outside of 40 yards and this would have been a 47 yarder. If he misses that you are giving the Ravens the ball right inside the 40 yard line with a timeout and more than two minutes to go. Rather the Steelers punted and pinned the Ravens at the eight yard line. It was the right call. I could maybe see the Steelers going for it there but if they were going to do that then they should have ran the ball on third down. The problem I had with the end of the game as a whole was that they sat back when the Ravens had the ball and didn’t bring pressure. Harrison had been a beast the whole second half and to not have him getting after Flacco is a bad call. Flacco was proving he wasn’t great under pressure and the Steelers didn’t capitalize on that.

-I thought Ben Roethlisberger played a pretty decent game. He had one HUGE mistake which was the pick on the receiver screen (yea, I know) but other than that I thought he threw the ball well. The Ravens were covering the receivers pretty well but he was fitting the ball in there but he was great in the second half of the game. The throw he made to Mike Wallace on the touchdown pass was an absolute laser and it was due to him buying more time and getting out of the pocket and making it happen. What is most encouraging is that Ben is still taking what the defense gives him. We all know that Ben likes to get the ball down the field but he has been utilizing the middle of the field, especially Heath Miller, and it has benefited him. While the throws might not be as far down field he is letting his receivers make plays after the catch and convert to first downs. 8.9 yards per attempt last night is nothing to scoff at.

-Antonio Brown is breaking out like I didn’t think he could. He played some really good football and he broke 100 yards again with five catches for 109 yards. He converted a 3rd and 17 with a huge catch and he just seems to make the big plays all the time. He wasn’t as dynamic on the kick and punt returns last night but it is only a matter of time before he breaks one.

-Jerricho Cotchery had a very nice night. A lot of people compare him to Hines Ward and he made some really tough catches and even a few tipped balls that he brought in. At the beginning of the year I thought it was a good signing and he hasn’t had much chance to contribute but with injures to Battle and Ward the Steelers only had three receivers for much of the game and Cotchery stepped up.

-Listen, I know the loss sucks but there is a ton of football yet. Will the Steelers win the AFC North? It doesn’t look good but there are seven football games left. The Steelers have the Bengals twice, the Browns twice, the Rams, Chiefs and 49ers. Not exactly murders row. I can see the Steelers winning 11 football games and that will get them into the playoffs. That is all that matters.

That is all. Bring on the Bengals.

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