PITTSBURGH STEELERS 31 BALTIMORE RAVENS 24
JANUARY 15, 2011
It was a remarkable first half. In a rivalry where scoring in the low 20’s is usually enough to seal a victory, the Ravens had the Steelers right where they wanted them: up 21-7 at half, thanks to a missed field goal and a series Steelers miscues converted into Ravens points.
But then again, putting teams right where they want them turns out to be the last place this Ravens team has wanted to find itself in this season, as season marked by blown leads.
This time Ravens fans did not have to sweat it out until the fourth quarter to witness the collapse. It was a miserable third quarter, and not much better fourth, that was their undoing. How strange to watch it all slip away so fast, considering how this Ravens defense had set a consecutive games record for holding teams without a touchdown in the third quarter, a record that had gone back to 1950.
So how did it go so wrong so quickly?
The Ravens offense self destructed. They managed just 28 total yards in the second half. Turnovers, by Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, and Matt Birk swung the scoring in the Steelers’ favor. And any hope of a comeback was squashed when key passes were dropped by Anquan Boldin and TJ Houshmandzadeh—in the end zone and on the final possession of the game for the Ravens, respectively.
So much hope for a trip to Dallas and the Super Bowl had been pinned on this offense, finally stocked with enough weapons to surpass the reputation of the vaunted Ravens defense in a way not seen in Baltimore since their circa 1996 teams. And when the 2010 offense failed to live up to those expectations at various times this season, the blame was promptly pinned on Cam Cameron, architect of the game plans.
Not this time. You can’t blame Cam. After hearing taunts of conservative play calling all year, Cameron opened up the offense, used the whole field, and put the ball in the hands of his weapons. And they dropped the ball—quite literally.
The players will have a long off season to wonder, what happened? The fans will have a long off season to wonder, who comes back to make another run? The front office will have a long off season to wonder, who should come back? The league will have a long off season to try and reach a new agreement with the players to even have football this fall.
In the meantime, one last look back on what went wrong in the finale of their 2010 campaign.
In the first half Joe Flacco was rolling along nicely, completing two-thirds of his throws and throwing a TD. Down seven early, and with the Steelers taking away wide-outs Boldin and Derrick Mason, Flacco didn’t panic. He patiently took what the Steelers gave him and cashed in on turnovers. He was 7/7 checking down to his backs and used the middle of the field to find tight end Todd Heap and slot back Houshmandzadeh. But in the second half he would complete just four more throws in 12 tries, fumble an exchange from center, and threw a deep interception after putting too much air under a ball intended for Todd Heap, allowing safety Ryan Clark to come over the top. While dropped balls didn’t help him, he also missed some open receivers.
Running Backs C+
One of the highlights of the first half was Ray Rice breaking Troy Polamalu tackles to pick up first downs and to score the Ravens first touchdown. Le’Ron McClain was a very effective lead blocker. But the game plan dictated just 18 carries on the day for the Ravens (the Steelers ran it 31 times). Willis McGahee, after running well on a screen pass, was not very effective finding holes – four yards on four carries — or pass blocking.
Wide Receivers: F
This group caught just four balls, three by Houshmandzadeh, of the 13 thrown their way, for 36 yards. Derrick Mason was flagged early for offensive PI on a bad call where Taylore Lawhead the Steelers seemed to hold him. He didn’t appear to be himself after that play and did not have a catch in the game. He also got flagged for pushing off on a comeback route. Anquan Boldin had one catch for negative yards and dropped a touchdown pass that would have sent the game into overtime. Houshmandzadeh had a couple of nice catches early but dropped a ball at the end of the game that would have given the Ravens a chance at a comeback.
Tight End: C+
On a rare pick designed by Cam Cameron, Heap had an easy four-yard TD catch to give the Ravens their first lead. He also rumbled for a first down on a wide-open screen. He did drop a tough chance with James Farrior on his back and was agitated on multiple occasions by what he believed to be pass interference that was never called.
Someone check Heinz Field, Tony Moll may still be in his stance. Lamar Woodley blew past Moll, inserted as an extra tackle, and sacked Flacco nearly before Moll moved. Michael Oher started well in the first half, but could not stop James Harrison in the second, allowing the linebacker to finish with three sacks. Marshall Yanda had a nice kick-out block on Rice’s TD.
Interior Line: D
Matt Birk didn’t look healthy. He allowed Casey Hampton and Brent Keisel to slip past his blocks for tackles. The Ravens will need to consider whether Steeler center Maurkice Pouncey’s brother, Mike, should be targeted in the 2011 draft. Ben Grubbs was bulldozed by Keisel for a sack on Flacco to set the tone for the melt-down third quarter. The interior line seemed to be in a fog in the second half as the Steelers front manhandled them.
The final straw in this game was Lardarius Webb allowing Antonio Brown – Antonio Freakin’ Brown who didn’t have a catch this season until week 11– run past him late in the game for a 58 yard reception to set up the game-losing catch. Webb was also flagged for jamming Wallace 15 yards downfield. Credit Webb, with help from Chris Carr, for holding down the dangerous Wallace with just three catches for 20 yards overall. Carr made some stand-out open field tackles. Josh Wilson had an excellent outing, tackling well and making two excellent plays on deep balls to Emmanuel Sanders.
Ed Reed played very aggressively at the line of scrimmage and had a big impact. That included a big hit on Rashard Mendenhall on the goal line to stop a scoring attempt that was converted on the next play. He nearly caused a fumble on another hit at the line of scrimmage; later he recovered a loose ball. Dawan Landry did a respectable job covering Heath Miller in the red zone and contributed with some tough open field tackles. He led the team with ten tackles. Haruki Nakamura got a sack blitzing from the outside.
It was not a vintage Ray Lewis game, particularly after he missed a chance to stuff Isaac Redman behind the line on a first down run, but he played well enough to bottle up the middle and take away some passing lanes. He ran free on one blitz to blow up the play and allow Landry to collect a sack. Jameel McClain was better than Lewis in coverage, and Dannell Ellerbe stood out for staying home on an end around. Perhaps his football instincts are improving. Jarret Johnson appeared to blow coverage when Heath Miller ran free in the end zone for a touchdown.
Defensive Line: A
Terrell Suggs was unstoppable and probably surpassed James Harrison as the most dominant player in the game. He did everything, including causing a fumble when he batted the ball from Roethlisberger’s hand. The ball sat on the ground forever before Cory Redding scooped it up and ran it into the end zone for a score. The Ravens did a good job of filling every gap and making it difficult for the Steelers to run the ball; Mendenhall averaged just 2.3 yards on twenty carries. Brandon McKinney batted down a Roethlisberger pass.
Special Teams: A
The opening kick return by Lardarius Webb nearly went the distance if not for a tackle by the kicker Shaun Suisham. Webb rolled over the tackler and kept running, reminiscent of the college national championship game when Auburn’s Michael Dyer never touched the ground and kept running with defenders standing around. The extra yardage was overturned however. Webb also scored on a punt return, but that too was called back on an atrocious holding call after a clean block by Marcus Smith to spring Webb into the end zone. Sam Koch averaged a booming 53.8 yards on four punts, with two inside the twenty. Billy Cundiff was not able to nail any touchbacks on kick offs. Prescott Burgess was impressive covering kicks.
The team came out flat in the second half. But the blame on this one goes to individual performers, not coaches.
Jeff Triplett’s crew was bad, very bad. The aforementioned holding call on Marcus Smith to reverse a Ravens TD was criminal. They flagged Josh Wilson for pass interference on a play where Mike Wallace hooked Wilson’s arm and pulled him to the ground. It set up the first Steelers score. While offensive PI is rarely called, the crew saw fit to call it on Derrick Mason. Chris Kemoeatu was not flagged for a very late hit on Ed Reed when he barreled into a pile of players well after the whistle. A flag would have marched the Steelers back when they were close to the goal line. There was also a fabricated defensive holding call on Terrence Cody to help assure the final Steelers’ final score.
Dan Dierdorf is terrible beyond words. As the CBS crew showed replays of controversial calls, Dierdorf’s narration, and defense of the officials, bore little resemblance to what viewers could see with their own eyes. The worst moment was his pointing out the hold by Cody that was no where to be seen while replays meanwhile focused on Jarret Johnson being tackled again and again in super slow motion as the ball carrier slipped outside him. The only explanation for Dierdorf getting it wrong must have been that the yellow towel he was waving throughout the game obscured his vision. Dierdord and Gumbel were not very good at spotting what was happening on the field, as it happened. The CBS crew never showed a replay of Mason’s pass interference call, instead becoming absorbed with an injury to Ike Taylor after he was hit out of bounds by his own teammate.
Another offseason for Ravens fans to lament the lack of respect they get nationally. Another Steelers loss to make them wonder if that respect has yet to be earned.