Pittsburgh Steelers Vs. Baltimore Ravens Game Review
The Pittsburgh Steelers are in firm control of the AFC North and a No. 2 seed in the playoffs heading into Week 14 after a 13-10 win over the Baltimore Ravens put them at 9-3.
The Steelers, after having practically no offense for the whole game, managed to find some in the last few minutes to squeak out a victory.
Of course, none of that would have happened if it wasn't for Troy Polamalu's timely sack strip of Joe Flacco in the waning minutes of the game.
This makes the second week in a row Polamalu has made the game changing turnover. Big time players make big time plays, and boy was that play big.
The Steelers have to put this victory behind them as it is now officially Bengals week. Before we talk about the Bengals, let's look at how the game unfolded.
Coming into this game, I fully expected the Steelers to try and pound the ball early to keep the pressure off Ben. What I didn't expect to see was the Steelers line up in the pistol formation to accomplish this.
Whether they were using it to throw the Ravens off balance or to protect Big Ben, it didn't work because the Ravens certainly weren't fooled.
The offensive line gave Ben no protection whatsoever and it led to him getting his nose broken by Haloti Ngata early in the first quarter. However, it was no accident as Ngata hit Ben directly in his face mask.
Of course there was a penalty called. After all isn't hitting a quarterback in the head a penalty? But no. For the second week in a row, Ben did not get a roughing the passer call after a complete and obvious foul.
That wasn't the only blown call on the night. In the fourth quarter, Heath Miller had a pass broken up and as he was falling to the ground, Jameel McClain threw his full body weight up against his head. Miller suffered a concussion and laid on the ground for several minutes.
To add insult to injury, McClain wasn't even flagged for the play. As small comfort, Carl Johnson, the head of football operations, said McClain should have been flagged
The running game didn't help much as Mendenhall rushed 19 times for 45 yards. To his credit, the offensive line was getting manhandled by the Ravens all night and there were no holes for him to run through.
Isaac Redman carried the ball a few times and besides one nice run off a draw play, he didn't gain many yards. However, he did score the game-winning touchdown, bouncing off tackles and bullying his way into the endzone.
The wide receivers had a case of the drops last night, especially on third down, that stalled a few promising drives. Besides the drops, the receiving corps had a good night.
Mike Wallace has gotten better at taking a short pass and turning into a long gain as he had a few against the Ravens. He finished the night with five catches for 76 yards. The Steelers should really start throwing more screen passes to him.
Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown looked great together again and combined for six catches for 75 yards. I hope Arians continues to utilize both of them in the passing game.
Hines Ward was a non factor as he only had one catch for 13 yards and a crucial third down drop in the third quarter.
The spotlight player was Big Ben. Playing with a broken nose, a broken foot and a broken offensive line, Ben refused to be beaten as he kept fighting and finally threw the game-winning touchdown to Isaac Redman.
What an outstanding effort by the defense. The Steelers rarely dropped back into coverage as they relentlessly blitzed Flacco and company all game long.
Troy Polamalu got it started when he blew up Willis McGahee in the backfield on the Ravens' first play. He would make a bigger play on the same blitz later in the game, but more on that later.
Ziggy Hood preceded to sack Flacco on third down for his first of the season. A lot as been required of him lately, and he has been steadily improving every week. He really showed a lot against the Ravens.
Things started to go a little down hill from there as the defense allowed Flacco to complete two 60-plus yard passes from his own end zone to Donte Stallworth and Anquan Boldin on back-to-back drives.
The Ravens drew first blood when they scored with Flacco throwing a 14-yard pass to Anquan Boldin.
Bryant McFadden was in man coverage on Boldin and took his eye off him for a split second to look at Flacco moving around. Boldin was able to get behind him for the score.
It wouldn't be the last time we would hear his name as he got called for a few pass interference penalties and allowed some big completions. With his performance, I wouldn't be surprised if he's lost his starting job.
Ike Taylor did a better job in coverage as usual and even had a sack on a corner blitz. The Steelers finished the first half with two sacks.
Even after a few big plays by the Ravens, the Steelers were only down 7-0 by halftime. In the second half, the Steel Curtain solidified as they only allowed three points all half.
James Farrior added his third sack in four games when he came up the middle untouched in the fourth quarter. Then the big play happened.
Dick LeBeau called a zero blitz which is basically an all-out blitz. Somehow, Troy Polamalu came off the edge untouched and as soon as Flacco was about to release the ball, Troy swiped his arm down and knocked the ball out of his hands.
LaMarr Woodley scooped the fumble up and returned it to the nine-yard line. This turned out to be the game deciding play as the Steelers proceeded to score on a quick slant to Isaac Redman and take the lead in the game.
This happened to be the only touchdown scored against the Ravens off a turnover all season long.
The Ravens still had a minute and change left on the clock and they proceeded to march down the field. At first it looked like they might pull off another upset.
The Ravens converted on 4th-and-2 and got an extra 15 yards on a pass interference penalty on McFadden. However, on the second 4th-and-2, Flacco's throw to the flat was too short for the tight end and the Steelers walked away with a 13-10 victory.
There were many spotlight players on defense. James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley gave the Ravens offensive line fits all night and constantly fought off double teams to make a play.
Brett Keisel looked like he hadn't missed any time at all and helped the Steelers stop the Ravens for only 47 yards rushing.
None made an impact more than Troy Polamalu though. His sack strip on Flacco possibly saved the Steelers from being swept by the Ravens. Thank you Troy.
Special Teams C
After doing so well all year long, the coverage units are starting to break. With each passing week, the returns are getting longer and longer.
It's only a matter of time before one of those long returns goes for a touchdown. I don't know what it is, but it needs to get fixed quickly. The Steelers can not afford to start having breakdowns on returns, especially this late in the season.
Another thing that needs to end is stupid penalties. For the second week in a row, the Steelers have been called for being offsides on kickoffs.
I mean really, how hard can it be to wait for the ball to go in the air before you cross the 30-yard line?
On punting, it looks like Daniel Sepulveda is lost for the season with a torn ACL. He tore it when LaDarius Webb took a punt return back 35 yards. Shaun Suisham finished the game as the punter.
He did a pretty good as he downed a couple inside the five, but they were called back due to penalty. Don't expect to see Suisham kicking punts for the rest of the year. The Steelers will probably sign a punter this week.
Along with his punting duties, Suisham was a perfect two-for-two on the day on field goals with his first coming from 45 yards out into the wind.
Antonio Brown did a decent job returning punts. He didn't have a chance to return kickoffs as all of them were touchbacks.
Not a bad job by special teams, but in a game where field position meant everything, they could have done a much better job.
I can tell the coaches put together a good gameplan for the Ravens, and it showed on Sunday night. In some of the pregame articles written last week, one of the most frequently mentioned keys was putting pressure on Flacco.
The Steelers did exactly that. Dick LeBeau dialed up heavy pressure all game long and the end result was four sacks on Flacco.
I rarely saw the Steelers rush three or four and drop seven and eight. It seemed like on every play, at least five people rushed the quarterback. This is something Steelers fans have been dying to see and I hope LeBeau continues to do what he did Sunday.
Bruce Arians had a so-so game. He didn't do a bad job calling plays, but he didn't do anything particularly impressive.
I felt that he stuck with the pistol formation too much, but I believe he did that to keep Baltimore guessing run or pass. I think with more practice and better execution, the Steelers can make some big plays out of this formation.
Mike Tomlin always seems to have this team ready to bounce back from a bad game. He definitely had them ready on Sunday night and his work definitely wasn't in vain.
Now I think he needs to make a decision on whether or not McFadden should be the starter next week. He's basically the William Gay of last year.
The only problem is neither Gay nor Lewis has shown that he can be the starter, so Tomlin may have to stick with McFadden.
The Steelers head into Week 14 at 9-3 and in firm control of the AFC North. However, they didn't emerge unscathed as they suffered numerous costly injuries in this game.
Ben got his nose broken and had surgery to fix it. Word is that he will still play on Sunday, so no worries there.
Heath Miller sustained a concussion on a flagrant hit by Jameel McClain that wasn't flagged, and will be out a week, maybe more.
Flozell Adams continues to injure his ankle as he suffered another ankle sprain against the Ravens. His status is up in the air at this point.
Bryant McFadden left the game briefly, probably aggravating his hamstring, but he did return.
Daniel Sepulveda will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. This is his third one since college. For now, it looks like the Steelers will sign another punter.
The Steelers really can't afford anymore injuries right now, especially since the Bengals are up next at Heinz Field.
While they have been playing poorly, we all know what happened a few weeks ago in Cincinnati. This is why the Steelers can't get caught up in this victory and overlook the Bengals.
They still owe the Bengals from sweeping them last year. I can't imagine what the reaction will be at Heinz Field if the Steelers lose to the Bengals two years in a row at home.
This concludes my game review. Come back next week for my review against the Bengals.