Coming into the game the Steelers were missing their top two quarterbacks and had an offensive line that made you fear for the safety of anyone that was going to be throwing a pass. With Charlie Batch last week you saw some pretty poor play both physically and mentally and going into Baltimore with this team, the way things were lined up, things were not going to be pretty. For the first time since I started this blog many years ago I actually picked against the Steelers. Silly me. In what might have been Batch's last start ever all he did was beat the Ravens in Baltimore where they had won their last 15 games. Ho hum.
The Steelers still sit in the final playoff spot after the Chargers were unable to hold a lead (again) against the Bengals and it gets the Steelers a win on a week where they had some banged up players at important positions still out. One more week of rest and this Steelers team could be getting healthy at the exact right time and that could turn out to be very good for them in the long run.
Here are some thoughts on the game. Last week it was primarily bad, this week it is mostly good. It was a gutty performance where everyone stepped up and made plays and even though they lost the turnover battle and gave up 14 of the Ravens 20 points off those turnovers they were still able to get the huge division win. If you are a Steelers fan and weren't pumped after this one then you were probably dead. What a win.
-This starts and stops with Chaz Batch. Last week he was brutally bad and I took him to task in my recap but today he was really good. Now, he wasn't great but he was miles better in completing 25-of-36 passes for 276 yards and a touchdown and was extremely efficient in the second half when the Steelers needed to make some plays. Before the half Batch made what was his worst throw of the game when he had Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown WIDE open in the middle of the field and Wallace was in the end zone. Batch completely overthrow Wallace and instead of a touchdown they had to settle for a field goal and cut the deficit to 13-6. The Steelers got the ball after half and what might have been one of the biggest drives that nobody talks about the Steelers got the ball and Batch led the offense on a seven play, 78 yard drive that ended with a touchdown run by Jonathan Dwyer. The best part of the run is that Batch was out front and threw the block that allowed him to get into the end zone. That touchdown broke a streak of ten straight appearances in the red zone where the Ravens defense didn't allow a touchdown. Batch threw his only pick of the night right at the beginning of the third quarter but bounced back with back-to-back scoring drives that got the Steelers the final ten points of the game. In the week leading up to the game Batch talked about how this might have been his final start of his career and that he wanted to go out on a good note and he did that. Nothing might have been more telling of this than him and Ben after the game and here is the picture:
-While Batch played pretty great all day, especially in the second half, but the offensive line has to get some huge ups. With Kelvin Beachum in the lineup and starting center Maurkice Pouncey having to play left guard but Batch had all day to make reads and make him throw. He was sacked twice and hit six times but those numbers are pretty misleading. The offensive line put it in their shoulders to win this game and while they typically only get noticed if they play bad but they really stepped up today. The running game was pretty good for the most part despite only having 96 yards on the day but they were successful enough to keep the Baltimore defense honest and made play action successful.
-Heath Miller is just a monster. I know that everyone loves to talk about the pass catching tight ends that are more receivers than "tight ends" but man has he been one of the best in the game or what? Miller was just a beast in the game with five catches for 97 yards and an extremely athletic touchdown that tied the score at 20 with about seven minutes left. Todd Haley did a nice job of getting Miller in situations where he could be successful and a lot of the time that was successful. What might get overlooked is that a product of Miller being an outstanding blocker is that when he fakes like he is going to block the defense has to acknowledge that he is going to block. This gets him a free release and gives him a step head start on linebackers where he is going to win 100 times out of 100.
-Shaun Suisham is a guy I wasn't really interesting in brining back at the beginning of the season. He just never gave me much confidence last season but this year he might be the most underrated player on the team. So far this season he only has one field goal missed and when he lined up for the possible game winning 42 yard field goal attempt I don't really think there was even a thought in my mind of him missing it. Last year I don't think she showed the leg or the accuracy and I am not sure how he fixed it but he did and it is awesome to know that it is nearly automatic to get three points when he walks on the field. Really clutch for game winning kicks where he is perfect in three tries this year.
-Speaking of the game winning kick how unreal was that final drive by the Steelers? They got the ball on their own 15 yard line with 6:14 left and went 12 plays and 61 yards and used every single second of the clock. They took the ball down the field and only needed to convert one third down and they were able to benefit from a personal foul penalty that put them in field goal range. When the Steelers got the ball back I had a good feeling they were going to score but I had a feeling that the Ravens were going to get some time on the clock. To win the game and leave no time off the clock was the dream scenario and that is exactly how it played out. Outstanding job by all involved.
-The defense continues to be lights out. They knew they had to make plays on the defensive side of the ball with Batch at quarterback and while they gave up some early points they shut it down in the second half and made Joe Flacco's night hell. While they gave up more yards than they are used to (288) they made Flacco once again look pedestrian by allowing him to only complete 16-of-34 passes for 188 yards and sacked him three times which included a strip sack from James Harrison. I talked about Harrison last week that he is finally starting to look like he is rounding into shape and that strip sack is exactly what the team needed. Right before that play Batch threw a pick when the Steelers were driving and Harrison got them the ball right back. For a defense that hasn't provided a lot of takeaways they got a big one when they needed it the most. How good was the Steelers defense in the clutch tonight? In the fourth quarter the Ravens had only two drives and rank seven plays for 12 yards. In the second half as a whole they ran only ran 22 plays for 77 yards and while they gave up a touchdown they also forced a turnover and three punts. They earned their money in crunch time. It was awesome.
-The Steelers were really put up against it in the secondary when they lost Ike Taylor on the second play of the game. Taylor didn't return to the game and was wearing a walking boot on the sidelines and it is being reported (not confirmed) that he has a fibula injury. The young secondary needed to step up and make some plays and for the most part they did that. Cortez Allen was picked on most of the night immediately after and he started with a few strong plays but was flagged for a PI and then was scored on when Anquan Boldin beat him but he settled in after that. Taylor is a rock in that secondary and in his entire career he has only missed three games so it will be strange to not see him on the field (presumably) next week but I feel a lot better now about the secondary than I did early in the season.
-While Taylor was a casualty there were two guys that came back and played some decent football. Both Troy Polamalu and Antonio Brown came back after missing some significant time and maybe the best thing about them is that neither of them were hurt in the game. Polamalu didn't play every snap but made a pair of tackles but didn't really look that sharp. Pass coverage isn't his specialty and he got beat on a big third down and seemed somewhat out of possession during the night but he has played very little this season so that is somewhat expected. He did make some impact plays and it will be interesting to see him going forward to see him get back in his comfort zone. Brown was pretty involved in the offense as he was targeted a team-high ten times and made five catches for 58 yards. He also returned punts and didn't have much success there but it was good to see him back returning punts because you have to think if he wasn't close to 100% that they would chance him being back there returning punts.
-The coaching staff has been getting a lot of heat the past couple of weeks but Mike Tomlin and his staff completely out coached the Ravens and it really wasn't even close. Some would say that they didn't approve with Haley's play calls early in the game but he was on point for a vast majority of the game and really put Batch, and the offense, in a good position to win the game. None might have been better than what he did with Chris Rainey. Rainey was used merely as a decoy all day and the biggest play was when he flared him out of the backfield and had Batch give him a quick look. When Batch did that the linebackers all flowed towards him and it left Miller WIDE open in the middle of the field. Dick LeBeau also needs some credit. It wasn't any huge splash plays but Flacco looked very uneasy all game and had happy feet. He never got comfortable and it was a byproduct of the pressure and scheme that LeBeau employed
-While most things were good, as they are in wins over Baltimore, I should touch on some negatives. The Steelers lost the turnover battle tonight and that is something you can't do, especially when you are as banged up as the Steelers are. Batch threw a pick and Brown threw an interception on an interesting reverse pass play call while Emmanuel Sanders fumbled a football when there was nobody around him. The Sanders one was a big one as he caught the ball in the middle of the field and was going to run in for a touchdown but as he was switching the ball from one hand to another he dropped it. The Ravens took over and scored a touchdown. A 14 point swing on that turnover. Sanders also had a pretty big drop but finished the game with fives catches for 60 yards. He is usually a pretty sure handed receiver so I am not really concerned but he wasn't at his best today.
-I am not really sure what is up with the Ravens but they don't look like that good of a team. Flacco continues to look mediocre and the defense was consistently leaving receivers uncovered. This is no slight to Chaz Batch but when your number one quarterback loses to the opponents number three quarterback, at home, then you have some big time problems. Not only lose, but get outplayed. Receivers were dropping balls and Ray Rice was largely invisible. Actually Rice didn't have a single touch in the fourth quarter and outside of the 34 yard run he was very pedestrian. But on the real, how do you not give Rice a single touch in the fourth quarter? He is far and away your best player and he doesn't touch the football. No idea.
Well, this was a pretty big win for the Steelers. While it is a pretty big long shot they keep themselves alive for the division as they are only two games back with four to play. The Steelers get the Chargers, Cowboys, Bengals and Browns while the Ravens have the Redskins, Broncos, Giants and Bengals. The Steelers have the advantage in strength of teams they have to play and while I don't think they have much of a chance to win the division all it would take is a Washington win over Baltimore next week and a Steelers win to make things really interesting. If Ben can come back next week and be healthy things could get really interesting as the team heads into the final few weeks and hopefully the playoffs.