Pittsburgh Steelers: Grade Report for Playoff Victory over the Baltimore Ravens
Hines Ward set the tone early for the Steelers.
On Pittsburgh’s first offensive possession, Ward mixed it up with Baltimore’s Ed Reed and was flagged for unnecessary roughness.
Ward more than made up for it later with a touchdown reception and a key third-down catch on the Steelers game-winning drive. He was also an emotional leader throughout the game and the win felt good for Ward.
“And what a better way to win and put Baltimore out of the tournament. They asked for us and they kept asking for us. Sometimes, like my momma always said, be careful what you ask for,” said Ward.
Even with a 21-7 halftime deficit, the veteran leadership in Pittsburgh’s locker room made sure that they would not give up.
“The way we fell behind, the way we believed in ourselves, the way we fought back ... we never gave up,” said James Farrior. “We came into the locker room at halftime, and guys just talked about needing to go back out there and do our jobs.”
That is exactly what they did.
The defense played lights out, forcing three turnovers while holding Baltimore to only 28 yards in the second half.
Behind Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh’s offense used the effort of their defense to put up 24 points leading the Steelers to the AFC Championship game.
Six sacks and a fumble which was recovered by Baltimore and ran in for a touchdown were the low lights of Roethlisberger’s day.
Two touchdown passes and an unbelievable 58-yard completion to Antonio Brown in stride on third-and-19 to set up the game winning score are why Roethlisberger is considered to be one of the best clutch quarterbacks in the league.
“Let's just chuck it deep,” Roethlisberger said of the third-down conversion. “If they pick it, it will be a pick way down there, just as good as a punt. (Brown) usually gets short routes, and he's only in for a handful of them. He stepped up big when his number was called and he made a play.'”
Roethlisberger easily outplayed his counterpart, Joe Flacco, en route to his ninth playoff win and fourth AFC Championship appearance in seven years.
Running Backs: C+
Rashard Mendenhall only had 46 yards on 20 carries as the Ravens defense held Pittsburgh’s ground attack in check. As a team, the Steelers only rushed for 71 yards, averaging 2.3 yards per carry.
A critical moment in the game came in the first half when Chris Kemoeatu elbowed the ball out of Mendenhall’s grasp as he was being tackled. Ed Reed recovered the ball and the Ravens scored soon after.
The play was a microcosm of the first half for the Steelers, but Mendenhall’s two touchdowns, the first of the game and last of the game, were both on hard runs picking up tough yardage to help give the Steelers the win.
Wide Receivers: A-
Though Hines Ward only had three receptions for 25 yards, he set the physical tone for the game from the opening offensive snap.
However, two of his three receptions were huge in terms of the outcome of the game.
Ward’s eight-yard touchdown reception tied the game at 21 and on the Steelers final offensive drive he caught a 12-yard pass to convert a crucial third-and-10.
Pittsburgh’s leading receiver, Mike Wallace, was held in check. He only had 20 yards on three receptions. Instead, it was their young receivers who made up for it.
Emmanuel Sanders had four receptions for 54 yards, but did have one critical drop. Antonio Brown only had three catches, but made the play of the game when he caught Roethlisberger’s 58-yard bomb on third-and-19 to set up the game-winning score.
Tight Ends: A
Heath Miller led all Steelers with five receptions. On several catches he burned Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis.
Miller’s best catch of the day, though, came on a 9-yard pass from Roethlisberger to cut Baltimore’s lead to 21-14.
This touchdown was a crucial moment in the game as the momentum turned in the Steelers favor as they turned a Ray Rice fumble into seven points.
Offensive Line: C-
Once again the offensive line was beset with injuries. At various points of the game the Steelers lost Flozell Adams to an illness and Jonathan Scott resulting in a lot of line shuffling, though Scott would later return.
Though the line played against a tough defensive front, they allowed six sacks to the Ravens and Terrell Suggs had his way with the offensive line all night.
Pittsburgh paltry 2.3 yards per carry was nothing to smile at either.
Chris Kemoeatu also took a bonehead personal foul call after the Steelers go ahead touchdown setting up a kickoff from their own 15-yard line.
On a positive note, Maurkice Pouncey played much better than his first two games against the Ravens and was not beat by the power and strength the Ravens have up front.
Defensive Line: A
There was some hope when it was first announced that he would not go on the injured reserve that Aaron Smith could be able to make it back for the first playoff game. Well, that did not happen, but his replacement, Ziggy Hood, has more than stepped up.
Hood had, by far, his best game as a professional. He had five tackles, one for a loss, and sacked Flacco on Baltimore’s drive to set up a fourth and very long.
Brett Keisel was named to the Pro Bowl earlier in the day and logged another solid performance with four tackles. He also completely collapsed the pocket to free up space for James Harrison to sack Flacco.
Casey Hampton was a force in the middle, commanding double and triple teams throughout the game.
Baltimore only gained 35 yards on 19 carries, averaging 1.9 yards per carry.
For the first time in his playoff career LaMarr Woodley did not get two quarterback sacks. He finished with one and also recovered a Ray Rice fumble and had a tackle for a loss.
Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior combined for 14 tackles, but more importantly did not allow Flacco’s short dump-off passes to go for big yards. Rice had a game-high seven receptions but was held to 32 yards.
But it was James Harrison who was the star. He was all over Flacco, sacking him three times and pressuring him all night long. He also defended two passes.
Defensive Backs: B
Troy Polamalu was not the best safety on the field. No it wasn’t Ed Reed either. This honor went to Ryan Clark.
Clark got beat on by Todd Heap on a great play by the Ravens for a touchdown. He more than made up for this play with a forced fumble and an interception to set up two Steelers touchdowns.
“That's Ryan. Ryan doesn't get a lot of notoriety outside of our locker room because he plays with some great players, like Troy Polamalu and others. If you ask anybody in the locker room and you watch us work at practice, this guy is a leader. And that's why it was so important that we got him back here when he was a free agent last offseason,” said Mike Tomlin after the game.
Ike Taylor had one of his best games, deflecting two passes and fellow cornerback William Gay played well in place of an injured Bryant McFadden, nearly intercepting a Flacco pass.
Polamalu spent most of his night in deep coverage and did have two missed tackles on great plays by Rice.
Baltimore was limited to 125 passing yards and Flacco only completed 53 percent of his passes.
Special Teams: D
Shaun Suisham missed a field goal right before the half which could have given the Steelers some momentum heading into the locker room. He would later kick a 35-yard field goal to give the team the lead.
However, it was the return units that nearly cost the Steelers the game.
Lardarius Webb took the opening kickoff 38 yards and scored on a fourth quarter punt return. This play was called back as Will Allen was clearly held.
Mike Tomlin had to use a challenge on the first play of the game to save 15 yards on the opening kickoff return and later mistakenly used a challenge on Roethlisberger’s fumble which was returned for a touchdown.
Overall, the Steelers did not look playoff ready for most of the first half. They were sloppy and undisciplined as they were penalized nine times for 93 yards.
Bruce Arians continued to call long passes despite the relentless pass rush from Baltimore.
However, Tomlin held his team together unlike his counterpart John Harbaugh. The poise on the Steelers sideline was one of the keys to their second half comeback.
As Tomlin often says, “Don’t blink,” and the Steelers didn’t. The second half for Pittsburgh was a different story as Dick LeBeau’s defense was absolutely dominant and Arians’ offense got it back in gear.
Credit goes to Tomlin for keeping his team together at the half so they could mount the second-half comeback.
Study Up: What Must Improve
Pittsburgh will have to play a much more disciplined game next week. They cannot afford to take nine penalties, particularly personal fouls.
Even more important is protecting the football. In the AFC Championship game two turnovers will not cut it. They cannot count on getting three from their defense two weeks in a row.
The Steelers will also need better execution from their special teams coverage units.
It is Super Bowl or bust next week and the Pittsburgh Steelers will need to be on top of their game if they want to make it to the NFL Championship game for the eighth time.
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