Win or loss, this game highlighted some of the things the Pittsburgh Steelers do well and some of the things that they do poorly. I'm firmly convinced that some of these things are why this team has won so consistently and I'm just as big a believer that some of them are why they will struggle to do much in the playoffs.
The Steelers are both their own best asset and worst enemy. Take a look at what we learned from the team's Sunday night tilt against the Baltimore Ravens.
The Steelers offense does plenty of wonderful things. Scoring inside the 20 is NOT one of those wonderful things. In fact, it is possibly the biggest thing working against their hopes of winning another title in 2011.
I complain each week to my television about this problem and yet there is no answer in sight. The Steelers do not score with anything resembling consistency in the red zone. In fact, the Steelers red zone percentage is possibly one of the worst they've ever had.
The play calling appears to be to blame. The Steelers cannot get out of their own way thanks to it. They run on obvious running downs, don't use play action or no huddle effectively in the zone and they just do not move the ball much once the field gets short.
If the Steelers cannot start putting the ball into the end zone instead of at the feet of their kicker, they will not win games against difficult opponents.
The play calling and mentality in the red zone must change or all of those long passes to get down there will mean nothing.
The Steelers have no ability to get off the field on third down and any distance. It cost them a victory against Baltimore. It will cost them again.
Well it finally bit them. I've been waiting for it to happen. I knew it would happen.
And it finally happened.
Congratulations, defense, you cost your team a victory because you have NO ability to cover teams on third down.
I've never seen a team do this. The Steelers can stop anyone and anything on first and second down. I've never been so aggravated by something in my life. Third down arrives and almost every single time the Steelers find a way to allow a conversion.
Troy Polamalu has disappeared as a factor on defense. He doesn't make plays anymore and gets to the ball late all the time. His big plays are the exceptions this season. He's followed up his Defensive Player of the Year season with a Least Valuable Defensive Player on the team performance.
Tonight, his inaccuracies in coverage played a role, but the awful play of William Gay (save for a fumble recovery) and a failure of Dick LeBeau to adjust to the Ravens exploitation of bump and run coverage absolutely murdered the team's chances to win the game.
The Steelers aren't the class of the AFC. The Baltimore Ravens are the class of the AFC. Why? See below.
They beat the Steelers. It's that simple. The Steelers are not very good.
That may seem a bit much for a team sitting at 6-3, but I'll break it down for you very succinctly.
The Steelers do not adjust to what teams do well. The sole exception to this is the game against the New England Patriots. That is the only time the team has stepped outside its box to do something different to beat someone.
Against Baltimore, they played their usual zone defense and usual dink and dunk offense. It killed them because Baltimore, of all teams, knows exactly how to defend it. When halftime came, the Steelers changed little, particularly on defense where they were getting gobbled up on third down.
They also aren't very good because they are a mentally weak team. They whither under pressure. The don't play good under the lights. They can't overcome bad calls by the referees (of which this game had many and was, by far, the worst officiated game of the season in my eyes). They can't get up and get motivated to beat a division opponent.
They won't make any noise that matters unless they toughen up and get smarter.
The referees in this game were poor and made some of the most inconsistent calls I've ever seen.
I'll make this quick because it's a broken record that gets played all the time by every team.
The NFL's officials and officiating are broken. If it cannot be fixed, then it must be blown up (literally if possible) and replaced by something more efficient and fair.
I'll illustrate my biggest case of the night.
Hines Ward caught a pass (which was incorrectly ruled incomplete) and took a heavy, helmet-to-helmet hit by noted dirty player Ray Lewis. Lewis was not flagged. We'll see if he draws a fine. Ward never returned to the game.
Later, Ryan Clark hit a Ravens receiver who was catching the football and was flagged for an illegal hit. His helmet did not directly contact the crown of the receiver's helmet and the receiver was mysteriously ruled defenseless even though he was facing the hit and was making a football play.
I am baffled.
I am also baffled as to Ward's catch being incomplete but a Torrey Smith catch later in which the ground CLEARLY held the ball in place as it was moving was ruled as complete. How do these mistakes (both on reviewed plays) happen? Wasn't replay designed to prevent these issues?
Bruce Arians does not like the no huddle offense when it makes the most sense: when the team needs to get in a groove.
This makes me so angry.
The Steelers run the no-huddle almost flawlessly. Ben Roethlisberger and his teammates are at their best when Ben is calling the plays and running up to the line after each one. It keeps defenses messed up and gives the Steelers a huge momentum surge.
Unfortunately, the man who never should have been allowed to have his finger on the play sheets won't let it be run very much.
Bruce Arians is to offensive coordinating what Pedro Alvarez is to home run hitting. A nothing.
Arians' inability or shortsightedness when it comes to the team's successful use of the no-huddle is alarming, annoying and baffling. It holds the Steelers back. That's a shame, because they have more talent on offense than most teams can every dream of getting.
The Steelers need a marching band. It's that simple.
As a former marching band member, I'm always impressed by only one thing that the Ravens do. They employ a full marching band and even take it on the road sometimes. It's a classy move and something that really makes the whole game more enjoyable.
I include this here because it interests me and it also was something brought up to me by a few friends. Why don't the Steelers, one of the best, old-fashioned, family-oriented organizations in the NFL not have something that really harkens back to those Friday nights and Saturday afternoons that pepper the teenage years of most football fans.
Why don't the Steelers have their own marching band?
I think it's something that should be considered. It definitely makes the Ravens look more classy than they really are as an organization. Plus it makes halftime, always a bore in Pittsburgh, so much more interesting.