What a game.
Let me start this off by saying congratulations to the Baltimore Ravens and their fans. Well-played game, as games in this series always are. Both teams played their hearts out and really dug deep within themselves to put forth their best efforts.
Moving on from that, let's take a look at how the Pittsburgh Steelers played.
Might as well start with Dennis Dixon, right?
Now, if you had the opportunity to join me and some friends of mine in the Live NFL Game-Thread at Sports Jabber, then you may have seen my frantic dismantling of Dixon's play directly after the interception he threw to Paul Kruger in overtime that set up the winning field goal.
Let me chalk that up as a heat-of-the-moment rant that was full of both Tommy Maddox comparisons and expletives.
To put it lightly, I was mad that we had lost a very winnable game and perhaps even more mad that the game had to be placed in the hands of a quarterback making his first NFL start.
To be honest with you, prior to that interception, Dixon played fantastically. He made plays with both his feet and his arm and truly shocked most, if not all, of Steeler Nation.
He was only called upon to throw the ball 26 times and responded well, tossing one touchdown on a perfect pass that saw Santonio Holmes sprint to the end zone.
He also rushed three times for 27 yards and a touchdown that was greatly aided by Mewelde Moore's vicious block to seal the edge for his quarterback.
The biggest issue with Dixon isn't really an issue with Dixon himself. It's with Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians. (I know what you're thinking: another Arians rant.) He absolutely refused to roll the speedy quarterback out of the pocket, even though Dixon's release point is a prime target to get knocked down at the line of scrimmage.
Think back to Dixon's college days. He played at Oregon, a team renowned for their speed and their execution of the spread offense.
Arians' excuse for not running him more? He was wary of injuring the young starter due to the lack of depth at the position.
The sad thing is that as paper-thin as the excuse is, it's passable and won't make a lot of people think twice.
While on the subject of running the ball, the Pittsburgh ground game looked good again. Rashard Mendenhall put up a 95-yard performance, spinning all the while.
In fact, I'm not sure that he knows that he's allowed to make a move besides spinning, which adds to his tendency to fumble the ball. Not to say that I have a problem with his running style per say, he's just not what I expected him to be. He's still an upgrade over Willie Parker though.
The Pittsburgh defense is what concerned me the most, however. Including an uncharacteristic mistake by Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau.
There is absolutely no excuse to have James Farrior playing man-to-man coverage on Ray Rice, Baltimore's leading receiver. It was an absolute disaster as Rice finished with 155 total yards from scrimmage against the generally tenacious defense.
Tackling is becoming a concern for our cornerbacks as well.
Ray Rice shook the check off of the entire defense's Nike's on fourth down that would set up the field goal to send the game into overtime. William Gay absolutely must improve his tackling.
Ike Taylor having no ball skills is really starting to irritate me as well. The man is an excellent cover corner, but even shadowing Holmes last year before training camp didn't help him increase his interceptions. He currently has a grand total of zero this season.
Ryan Clark and DeShea Townsend both also could have had an interception, but couldn't make a play on the ball.
That being said, the defense did pretty well and I'm just magnifying mistakes.
They got to Joe Flacco five times, forcing three fumbles.
Lawrence Timmons is showing us all why the coaching staff was confident enough to allow Larry Foote to walk to Detroit. He's a special player that is going to continue making an impact in the middle of the Steelers defense.
Timmons is surprisingly fast for a linebacker and there's always the option of moving him outside once James Harrison calls it quits.
The Steelers came into this game with viewers expecting an easy Baltimore victory. Many were expecting to be watching something else come halftime, but Dixon and company made it a game, and perhaps we found something special in the former Duck.
As I've said, great game on both sides.
Time for the defending champions to look ahead to the Oakland Raiders, grit their teeth, and push on, in the true fashion of Pittsburgh Steelers football.
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