This week’s performance by Kyle Boller serves as a microcosm for his professional career thus far. His mechanics were poor and subsequently his accuracy disappears; he tips off the snap count; trips over his offensive linemen; he forced balls into coverage; makes an ill-advised pitch to Jamal Lewis; demonstrates little patience while failing to let plays develop; his two minute offense looks like a Chinese fire drill and his poise in the pocket resembles the Tasmanian Devil at the buffet line.
But every now and then, you see a glimpse of what could be. He will throw that perfect pass; he will come through in the clutch (6 for 12 on third down pass conversions); and he will check down through his progressions (as he did on a third and 9 from the Steelers’ 44 when he hit Chester Taylor for 14 yards and when he hit Todd Heap for 14 yards on a third and 8 from the Steelers’ 28 to keep the TD drive alive). But consistency is critical at this position and in his 28 career starts Boller has been anything but that. Yesterday Boller benefited from an offensively challenged Steelers team playing without Ben Roethlisberger. He’ll have to do better against the explosive Bengals. Let’s just hope he gets that chance and that he didn’t re-injure his toe. The Ravens must use the balance of the season to determine what moves are necessary at this position in the off season.
RUNNING BACK 1/2
Chester Taylor played with purpose – like a man on a mission – like a man playing for his next contract. Jamal Lewis did not. Whether catching the football or navigating limited space inside the tackles, Taylor provides a balance that Jamal Lewis cannot, whether that be because of the Ravens’ offensive tendencies when Lewis is on the field, defenses determined to stop him, a season long slump, poor health or a combination of all the above. CBS’ Solomon Wilcots suggested on the broadcast yesterday, “Whether catching or running the football, the Ravens’ offense comes alive when Chester Taylor is in the game.” Unfortunately for a man who has carried the Ravens’ offense for years (Jamal Lewis), Wilcots is balls on!
This group almost to a man seemed much more aware of the sticks and where they needed to be to convert third down opportunities. Mark Clayton is now beginning to deliver on his promise. If Boller throws the same pass to Clayton that he threw to Patrick Johnson late in the game, Clayton beats CB Ike Taylor for a long score. Derrick Mason was his usual steady productive self and Todd Heap made a couple of key catches to improve field position and to keep the TD drive alive. Randy Hymes’ acrobatic catch in the end zone and his big third down conversion in OT should send a clear message to the coaching staff that Hymes needs to continue to see more time on the field. Patrick Johnson couldn’t hang on to a tough catch that would have ended the game in regulation. Sort of reminiscent of Super Bowl XXXV.
OFFENSIVE LINE 1/2
The Ravens ran left, then they pulled left…sometimes trapped left which left them no room to run since the Steelers defensive line simply scraped down the line of scrimmage and forced Ravens’ RB to make the most of very small openings. Casey Hampton was the wind and Mike Flynn the weathervane and Hampton directed Flynn during running downs whenever and wherever he wanted. Pass protection at times was adequate but that was only when the Steelers rushed three or four. In zone blitzing schemes and when the Steelers were not in a base defense, the offensive line struggled to protect Boller.
Anthony Weaver may have played his best game as a Raven. He made tackles for losses, he had two sacks, several hurries and dominated at the line of scrimmage. Kelly Gregg turned in another solid effort providing a push at the line and contributing greatly to stymieing the Steelers normally efficient running attack. Jarret Johnson helped contain and provide a push off the edge. Suggs while not racking up the stats, played with passion and was consistently menacing to Tommy Maddox. He had one official interception and another called back for an offsides penalty I’ve yet to see. Peter Boulware applied pressure at times but one has to wonder why Boulware is even on the team, eating up snaps that could go to Rod Green.
Message to Ozzie Newsome: “Do not let Bart Scott go!” In his fourth consecutive game as a starter, Scott continues to consistently make key plays. On the Steelers’ first possession, Scott read and nearly intercepted a Maddox screen pass. On third and inches from the Ravens 35 with 3:35 to go in the third quarter, Scott stopped Willie Parker on a kick out pitch left for about a half yard loss. On the next play, the Steelers opted to go for it on fourth and 1 and Scott sacked Maddox for an 8 yard loss and a turnover on downs. A little over 4 minutes later at the 14:10 mark of the fourth quarter, Scott again sacked Maddox for a loss of six when the Steelers had a first and 10 from the Ravens 45 eventually forcing a Gardocki punt. After another change of possession the Steelers were first and 10 at their own 44 at the 11:17 mark of the fourth quarter. Maddox was sacked by Jarret Johnson and fumbled. Guess who recovered? None other than Bart Scott. So in the matter of 7:18 of game time, Scott had a third down stop, two sacks and a fumble recovery. Adalius Thomas was all over the field creating havoc and confusion for the Steelers and Tommy Polley contributed also with five tackles and a sack.
Chris McAlister played well limiting Hines Ward to six catches for 81 yards. In fairness to McAlister, 32 of those yards were on a blown assignment (yet another communication breakdown, this time between Samari Rolle and Chad Williams.) Even a decent pass from Maddox on this play is a touchdown. Fortunately for the Ravens, the pass was well under thrown. Another 11 receiving yards for Ward took place on a flanker screen to the physical Steelers’ receiver. Ward rolled over Rolle. Rolle simply cannot match Ward’s physicality, hence Rolle’s concussion. Another breakdown in the secondary occurred when McAlister and Deion Sanders chose to cover the same player allowing Cedric Wilson to break free in the secondary during overtime for a 25 yard gain. A better quarterback would have shredded the Ravens secondary yesterday. If they aren’t better, Carson Palmer might resemble a Thanksgiving Day carving blade this coming Sunday. Deion Sanders cannot stay with shifty slot receivers like Randle El. Rolle is a liability in run support as well.
In a nutshell, the difference in this game was the Ravens special teams. Eight of the Ravens’ 15 possessions started at their own 35 or better. Three drives started inside Pittsburgh territory. Five of the Steelers’ drives started at their own 20 or deeper. Dave Zastudil was solid, Aaron Elling provided loft if not exceptional depth on kick offs, coverage teams on punts and kick offs were stellar. Return teams were very solid and featured some great hits from players like Rod Green and Darnell Dinkins. And of course Matt Stover is simply “Money!”
Rex Ryan put together a very solid game plan choosing to attack Tommy Maddox from many different angles. Offensively the Ravens need to do a better job of avoiding third and long situations and they must figure out a way to slow opponents who are hell bent on blitzing. The Ravens need to use delays, draws and screens more often to burn aggressive defenses. Otherwise, Kyle Boller will almost always be flushed out of the pocket during obvious passing downs. For some reason the Ravens abandoned the intermediate middle of the field that was so successful against the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Troy Polamula, one of the emerging stars in the league, committed often to the run and the remaining members of the Steelers’ secondary are no match for Mason or Heap. Take advantage of it!
Clock management remains a problem. After the Terrell Suggs fourth quarter interception, the Ravens had plenty of time to prepare a hurry up offense during the official’s review of the interception. When play resumed with 1:07 left in regulation, Boller hit Taylor with a 5 yard pass and the Ravens called timeout with 53 seconds left. You can’t have at least two plays ready?
Great challenge by Brian Billick on the fumble at the goal line. Without that challenge and eventual reversal, the Ravens likely lose the football game.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
* During the Steelers’ PAT after the Parker TD, Chris McAlister was offsides. Did anyone think about Mike Alstott at that moment? Remember just last week when Tampa Bay chose to run the football for a two point conversion and win. With Bill Cowher’s willingness to gamble at times, I thought that the Steelers just might go for the win at that point.
* On that Parker TD, anyone notice Kendall Simmons blocking Bart Scott in the back as Scott closed in on Parker?
* Looks to me like Kyle Boller needs to change his cadence a bit (maybe shorten his shoelaces too!). The predictability of his cadence places his offensive linemen at a disadvantage. Just ask Mike Flynn about that play on the goal line while having to deal with the quick first step of Casey Hampton.
* If you think yesterday’s game was a bit of an offensive snoozer, just wait until December 4 when the Ravens host the Texans. No Doz as part of customer appreciation?
* Anyone see the offsides on the Ravens that negated a Terrell Suggs interception and return to the Steelers’ 1? Me either. Hey, if you are counting, that’s 2 interceptions for Suggs and none for Ed Reed, Samari Rolle, Will Demps, Deion Sanders, Chad Williams and Dale Carter.
* On third and 16 from their own 49 at the 13:39 mark of the fourth quarter, Maddox scrambled for a gain of 8 and was hit hard out of bounds by Tommy Polley. Why? The best chance the Ravens had to win was with a healthy Maddox.
* Booing Jamal Lewis, are you kidding me? Must have been the fans that couldn’t sell their tickets on ebay. You people, and you know who you are…need to get a clue.
* Finally, is it just me or do you find the irony in the “Pittsburgh Sucks!” chant amusing? Last time I looked, the Steelers were four games ahead of the Ravens in the standings. Some might be wise to keep things in perspective.