PITTSBURGH STEELERS 13, BALTIMORE RAVENS 10
DECEMBER 5, 2010
You hear coaches say it all the time. Teams need to play sixty minutes of good football to win games. They say it, because it’s not a cliché.
When the Ravens played a sloppy second half against the Pittsburgh Steelers, a 13-10 loss was the painful lesson delivered.
The Steelers outlasted the elements, and the early beating delivered to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to patiently work their way back on top in the fourth quarter.
Along the way the Ravens helped by committing some key penalties, dropping passes, and missing tackles to give the field position advantage, and ultimately the scoring edge to the Steelers.
In the first half, the Ravens were able to harass Roethlisberger with just a four man rush while shutting down the pass. The gimpy quarterback was held to a passer rating of 39—getting sacked twice and throwing an interception—while his running backs were held to 39 yards of rushing offense.
The Steelers also dropped a few third down conversions in the first half, while Joe Flacco was able to sidestep trouble and connect on some big plays to propel his rating to 131 for the half.
That script flipped in the second half, as Roethlisberger began to move around in the pocket and tally 161 of his 253 passing yards on the day. But ultimately, the Ravens loss was keyed by an offense that went dormant in the second half and by a Troy Polamalu blitz to Flacco’s blind side, knocking the ball from his throwing arm, and allowed the Steelers to recover at the Ravens ten yard line.
For the first time this season, the Ravens defense buckled and allowed a touchdown off a turnover by missing a third-down tackle on third-sting running back Isaac Redman, who caught a pass at the five and bulled his way into the end zone for the winning points.
As Redman slipped in for the score, the Ravens’ easy path to the playoffs slipped with it. It was a hard lesson learned, indeed.
Joe Flacco did not always move well in the pocket, but when he did, it usually yielded good results. That included connecting with Anquan Boldin twice on the first half, patiently nailing a 61 yard completion, followed by a touchdown toss to the post after extending a play, find Boldin sifting his way through congestion and into the open for the score.
Flacco also did well scrambling inside the red zone. Ultimately, however, he failed to secure the ball on Polamalu’s blind-side hit, leading to Pittsburgh’s only touchdown. And Flacco was unable to throw accurately in the Ravens final possession, ending any hope of an overtime comeback.
Running Backs C+
Credit Ray Rice for some excellent blitz pick ups. With fullback Le’Ron McClain out of the game, and the Ravens operating out of a single-back sent, the game plan changed a bit. Rather than having Rice chip rushers and slip out of the backfield, he was asked to hang back and pick up blitzers. Most of the team’s passing success was keyed off of Rice blocks, including a stone-cold stuff of a Troy Polamalu blitz in the Ravens’ own end zone to give Flacco time to find Boldin deep.
The running game with Rice and Willis McGahee was practically non-existent. How much of that was the stout Steelers defense, and how much was attributable to the loss of McClain is unclear, but the duo managed just 39 yards on the ground in 16 attempts.
Wide Receivers: B
Anquan Boldin carried the offense, racking up clutch catches on the Ravens’ touchdown drive, and on their final possession to get the ball to midfield and give his team a chance to comeback. Aside from a 67 yard catch by Donte’ Stallworth on a blown coverage, Boldin accounted for most of the Ravens offense on the night. After being targeted 13 times a week ago, Derrick Mason was thrown to just three times on the night, and returned to being vocally unhappy with the team after the game.
Tight Ends: C-
Todd Heap left the game with a hamstring injury suffered on the first play of the game. With McClain out, it appeared to have a big impact on the Ravens’ game plan. Ed Dickson showed that he can run routes and beat linebackers to get open, he wasn’t nearly as reliable a receiver as Heap has shown. And Dickson was a big liability as a blocker, particularly when isolated on the edge. Dennis Pitta also played, and was a better blocker, but did not contribute with a catch.
The Steelers eventually settled on a consistent pattern: put six defenders on the line of scrimmage and rush just five. The Ravens tackles didn’t consistently handle the scheme. Marshall Yanda was beaten by Lamar Woodley on a key series, and Michael Oher was flagged with a couple of false start penalties and a holding call while battling James Harrison. Furthermore, with a six-point lead in the fourth quarter, there was not enough push on the line to keep the clock moving, as the Ravens went three and out twice to start the quarter, and then allowed the blind-side hit to fumble the game away.
Interior Line: C
The interior of the line was a little better picking up the blitz, particularly Ben Grubbs, but a little worse generating anything in the running game. Chris Chester got pushed around early by Woodley but played better as the game progressed.
While he showed he did not have the speed of Mike Wallace, Lardarius Webb did a fine job holding Wallace to just one catch in the first half from the right side. Webb also made an excellent tackle short of the sticks to force a punt. Fabian Washington saw limited action in the red zone and made a similarly nice tackle short of the goal line to force a field goal. Chris Carr was even better on Hines Ward, who was held to one catch and reduced to running interference across the middle for the most part. In the second half the Steelers flipped Wallace to Josh Wilson’s side, who played soft to keep the speedy receiver from beating him deep, and allowed some underneath catches to keep the chains moving. Wilson did have a pick in the first half.
Much of the Steelers’ offensive success was keyed by poor play from a Ravens safety. Haruki Nakamura had a rough night. He was flagged for holding on Heath Miller to give the Steelers a first down when they were stopped on a sack and fumble on third down. Nakamura also allowed Roethlisberger to slip his blitz on third and 11 to connect on a 28-yard completion to rookie Emmanuel Sanders, down to the Ravens two yard line. The other key miscue by a Ravens safety occurred when Dawan Landry failed to drag Redman down at the five to allow the winning score. Landry was also beaten by Wallace on a wide receiver screen that went down the sideline for 23 yards.
The Ravens linebackers played well as a unit. Jarret Johnson had one of his better games containing the run and did enough as a pass rusher to disrupt. Ray Lewis was tremendous filling holes on the inside, and finished with a team-leading 13 tackles. Jameel McClain was better this week fighting off blocks and finding the ball, but was beaten by tight end David Johnson for a gain of 25. Similarly, Tavares Gooden did a poor job getting to his man on a swing pass that went for 33.
Defensive Line: A
This group dominated the Steelers line, particularly Terrell Suggs who was a one-man wrecking crew. Even when rushing three Suggs was unstoppable, finishing with 1.5 sacks, three tackles for a loss and five quarterback hurries. Haloti Ngata was also able to get a ton of penetration into the backfield. Brandon McKinney rotated with Cory Redding and they made for an effective run-stuffing tandem. Redding picked up a coverage sack.
Special Teams: C
The Ravens started the game in the hole when Marcus Smith was flagged for holding on the opening kick, reversing good return by David Reed. Smith also missed a chance to down a punt at the three. Reed showed a lot of burst on kick returns including a 34 yard return to answer a Steelers field goal. Billy Cundiff continued to boot kick offs into and through the end zone. Brendon Ayanbadejo was flagged for a false start that wrecked a fake punt attempt. Chris Chester jumped offsides on an extra point. Lardarius Webb was able to generate a 35 yard punt return, but also muffed a punt, falling on the ball.
The coaching staff gets credit for taking away James Harrison for much of the game on offense despite the loss of McClain and Heap from the game plan. However, they became too conservative to start the second half. Two three-and-outs took the air out of the offense and handed the Steelers the momentum, including the game-losing turnover on a run-blitz by Polamalu as the Steelers zeroed-in on the conservative play calling.. On defense, they did well generating defensive pressure while protecting the back end. It would have been nice to see them generate more pressure on the Shaun Suisham, when the place kicker was pressed into punting duties; in a tight game, it was a missed opportunity.
Terry McAulay’s crew missed a lot of calls, or chose to let the teams play, depending on how you view it. They could have called a lot more penalties on both sides, but perhaps the game was more enjoyable to watch because of it. Some of the crew’s misses included an obvious grab of TJ Houshmandzadeh’s facemask in the red zone. And also what appeared to be an obvious hit on a defenseless receiver by Jameel McClain that knocked Heap Miller out of the game. Miller was falling to the ground when McClain hit him, and perhaps that saved him from the flag, as it did earlier this season for James Harrison on a hit on the Browns’ Mohamed Massaquoi; but like Harrison, expect a fine by they league on McClain. The officials allowed Hines Ward to set a few picks for his fellow receivers, and Anquan Boldin was held down field on more than one occasion without a flag. When Ngata broke Roethlisberger’s nose to start the game, a blow to the head call certainly seemed warranted but was missed.
If you are a Steelers fan, you might give the broadcast an A grade, thanks to Chris Collinsworth’s apparent disdain for all things Ravens. Collinsworth was ready to give Ben Roethlisberger the league MVP for back peddling out of a sack and heaving the ball out of bounds like a two-hundred-eighty-pound gimpy ballerina. As he overhyped Roethlisberger’s feat, Collinsworth tossed in a comment about Suggs getting shots to Ben’s head, unseen on replay. Collinsworth was quick to call McClain’s hit on Miller helmet-to-helmet but on replay was forced to reduce his sentence to hitting a defenseless receiver in the head with his shoulder. And the former Bengals receiver seemed reluctant to admit that an obvious pass interference call against Darren McFadden was a correct call. Collinsworth’s selective praise and criticism was hard to swallow in an otherwise typically entertaining Ravens-Steelers clash that outshined the broadcast.