Pittsburgh Steelers: The Good, Bad, and Ugly Of Week 4
The 3-0 Pittsburgh Steelers returned home to Heinz Field Sunday to take on their hated division rival—the Baltimore Ravens. The last few seasons have been filled with overtime thrillers, three point games, and a hatred for one another so intense that bounties have been put on opposing players.
Even the casual fan watching at home on their couch can typically feel the predictable defensive intensity between these two teams, but Sunday was different. The intensity never seemed to be there as far as the Steelers are concerned.
The black and gold came out of the tunnel with the look of lethargy, and even in the game’s biggest moments, their even-keeled approach never changed.
After a Week 3 game that made it hard to pick out the ugly aspects, the boys from the burgh made up for lost time in Week 4. So without further ado, here is the back-loaded Week 4 version of “The Good, Bad, and Ugly.”
The Good – Mike Wallace
In a game that had few bright spots as far as individual performances are concerned, wide receiver Mike Wallace stood out from the crowd.
While his numbers (two catches for 24 yards) certainly don’t reflect his level of play, Mike Wallace is proving week in and week out that he is capable of being one of the most explosive wide receivers in the NFL.
Wallace may have had only two receptions in Sunday’s game against Baltimore, but quarterback Charlie Batch targeted him six times. Out of those six times passes were thrown in his direction, Wallace was open and underthrown or overthrown by wide margins.
Wallace’s big play capability is beginning to attract the attention of opposing defenses, and specifically players like Ray Lewis, who mentioned him several times in pregame interviews.
With his number one quarterback scheduled to come back from suspension, Wallace’s offensive output can only get better as the Steelers are bound to throw the football more with Roethlisberger under center the rest of the way.
The Good – Ben is Back
Love him or hate him, Ben Roethlisberger’s worth as a starting quarterback has been proven in his absence.
Big Ben is big in a lot of ways. He got the name from his 6’5” stature, but it has become exponentially clear that he’s not short on physical strength, late-game fortitude, or ego for that matter.
Steelers fans can only hope Ben Roethlisberger is a truly changed human being who won’t let them down concerning team chemistry in the locker room or his personal behavior. What they are definitely getting regardless, is a lighter, better-conditioned version of their top five NFL quarterback.
Roethlisberger is allowed to return to team activities Monday morning, and if he can win over his teammates and buy into the team unity and chemistry that has already been established, he will, without a doubt, upgrade a beleaguered Steelers offense.
No one expected the Steelers to come out of the first four weeks of the season 3-1, and arguably having given away a perfect start late in game four. If Roethlisberger can assimilate to what is happening in the locker room rather than change it, the Steelers have the opportunity to be a force in the AFC.
The Bad – Defensive Intensity
The Steelers’ defense carried them through the first three weeks of the season.
The intensity of play that they showed made them all but impenetrable to opposing offenses. The combination of a relentless pass rush, suffocating run defense, and a healthy Troy Polamalu allowed them to not only force turnovers, but also require very little in terms of offensive production to win football games.
The intensity that made them so dominant was the lacking factor in Sunday’s loss to the Ravens. The lethargic nature with which they played was not only unexpected in a game against their biggest rival, but it also proved just how good they really are.
The Steelers defense got very little pass rush against the Ravens offense. With the exception of Casey Hampton’s sack-fumble, Joe Flacco was only hit twice the entire game.
While the Steelers’ defensive backs have played well in recent weeks, they are closer to the weakness of the defense than the strength.
By dominating the offensive backfield with their defensive line and linebackers, the Steelers have forced opposing quarterbacks to throw earlier and under pressure.
The ability to take decision making time away from opposing quarterbacks has put the Steelers’ defensive backs in a position to be successful. With less time for receivers to complete routes and inaccurate passes from hurried quarterbacks, the defensive backs have less time in coverage and more opportunities to make plays on the ball.
Lack of overall defensive intensity creates an imbalance that exploits weaknesses. The fact that the defense was able to hold the Ravens to essentially 10 points with little to no pass rush shows just how good they are. However, they are going to need to bring the intensity they showed in Weeks 1-3 if they are going to compete against offenses like New Orleans and New England that will thoroughly exploit their weaknesses.
The Bad – Steelers Inability to Convert Turnovers
The Steelers once again showed a complete ineptitude for converting turnovers into points.
The Steelers have forced 12 turnovers through Week 4. Twelve opportunities have resulted in just one offensive touchdown and five field goals.
The Steelers failed to score a point on either of their two takeaways Sunday against the Ravens, and it ended up costing them the game.
The return of Ben Roethlisberger should help some in this department, but he is certainly not a cure all. The Steelers were at their worst in short yardage and the red-zone in 2009. If the Steelers are going to be serious contenders, they will need to find a way to put more points on the board as a result of the many opportunities their defense has afforded them through turnovers.
The Ugly – Charlie Batch
After coming up big last week, everything that seemed to go right for Charlie Batch went wrong against the Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens came into the game having allowed the fewest yards in the NFL through Week 3, and they left having kept that title intact. However, it wasn’t without the help of No. 16.
Batch’s decision making, which is usually his strength, was almost as bad as his accuracy during Sunday’s game. While his teammates let him down against the Titans, dropping catchable passes, he certainly didn’t give them many opportunities in Week 4.
Batch seldom threw a pass where it was intended, grossly under-throwing a wide-open Mike Wallace deep on several occasions, and lofting his short and intermediate passes well beyond his intended receivers.
While Batch didn’t lose the game for the Steelers, his overall inaccuracy and poor judgment certainly didn’t help them either.
The Ugly – Play Calling
“Taking your chances with your defense late in the game,” as head coach Mike Tomlin puts it, is a reasonable line of thinking considering their recent performance, but doesn’t that depend on what defense you are sending out there?
There are two factors here that have to be considered… thought about… at least cross your mind, maybe...?
First off, how has the defense looked today? I’m not talking about against Tampa Bay, Tennessee, or even Atlanta for that matter. I’m talking about Sunday October 3, 2010 against the Ravens.
The answer is solid, but without desire, at best. They’ve shown flashes of brilliance, but overall looked like a team that could have cared less if Joe Flacco stayed on his feet the entire game.
Secondly, what kind of defense are we going to run with our opponent getting the ball at midfield with over a minute left? The late game prevent defense has been largely unsuccessful this season—and every season for that matter.
If you consider these two factors—and they will both be at play in the situation—are you still taking your defense without at least throwing the ball once?
A defensive mastermind of Dick LeBeau’s caliber I will never claim to be, but at what point does it register that the pile of bull manure known as the prevent defense doesn’t work?
If there is anything that is of least concern on this Steelers team, it’s the defense, but the late game play calling is turning late game situations into ugly ones on both sides of the ball.
The Ugly – Placekicking
The “franchise tag player” has been anything but what the tag and his salary implies so far this season.
Placekicker Jeff Reed missed two field goals yesterday, bringing his grand total of misses at home up to four on the season.
Sure, the two yesterday were at the open end of stadium. Yes, they were from 40-plus yards, but they were far from consistent in a stadium he has made his career kicking in.
Reed has made only one of four kicks from 40-plus yards this season home and away, and has been extremely inconsistent in the placement of field goals made or missed. Distance has yet to be a problem for Reed, but accuracy has been a concern in opposing stadiums as well as at home in Pittsburgh.
On a team that has had to rely heavily on field goals in the absence of their top quarterbacks, Jeff Reed has been the source of some unneeded late game suspense. After putting the Steelers in an overtime situation in Week 1, his two misses Sunday put his team in a position they should never have had to be in.
If his early performance is being blamed on early fall weather in Pittsburgh, what is to be expected from him when the high winds of winter come swirling through Heinz Field?
Reed must elevate his play from a physical and mental standpoint if the Steelers are going to be successful this season. While Roethlisberger’s return will bring a stronger element to the offense, the Steelers must be able to rely on Reed in close games at home where the advantage should clearly be theirs in the kicking game.
The Ugly – Penalties
The Steelers went from two aggressive penalties in Week 3, to being penalized 11 times for 88 yards in Week 4.
Late false start penalties against an offensive line that was flawless in Week 3 backed the Steelers into a corner they simply could not get out of on their last drive of the game.
While mistakes are sure to be made, penalties were the culprit to several stalled drives and the instrument by which momentum was continually snatched away from the Steelers offense.
Defensively, the Steelers showed a lack of focus for the first time since the preseason, and it cost them big on two third down plays that would have otherwise led to punts.
Whether it was holding (Stevenson Sylvester) on the late kick, Kemoeatu’s false start, or Ike Taylor's hands to the face penalty on third down, the Steelers played sloppy football on both sides of the ball, and ultimately gave away almost a football field’s worth of yardage in a game where every yard counted.
The Wrap Up
While the bitter taste of a win-within-reach-turned-loss still resides in the mouth of player and fan alike, no one expected a 3-1 start for the Steelers, and even more so, no one expected the Steelers to be sharing the AFC North lead after Week 4.
Now that the Steelers are gaining a starting quarterback and a bye week with which to get him acclimated, the time for excuses and “what ifs” has passed.
Week 6 against the Browns is going to be a much bigger game than many expect from a number of standpoints.
The Browns have played every game close this season, and surprised the Bengals in Week 4 to get their first win of the season. The Steelers' ability to not only bounce back with a new sense of intensity after a tough loss, but also refuse to take the Browns lightly, and to keep their sense of identity on both sides of the ball with the return of Big Ben will all be determining factors going forward.