Matt Aaron suffered a broken nose while grading the Steelers performance against the Ravens last Sunday night, but he managed to battle it out.
Sunday night, a game where the nose bleed section was behind center, where concussions were as common as touchdowns and a two team fight resulted in only a false start penalty. It must be a Steelers/Ravens game. Brutal and bloody does not begin to describe this AFC North clash, but in the end the Steelers hobbled out of M&T Bank Stadium victorious, by a score of 13-10.
Ben Roethlisberger, still heavily criticized in Pittsburgh, showed a lot of intestinal fortitude against the hungry Ravens’ defense. This morning at breakfast, he smelled the left side of his plate a lot easier than the right side, after having his nose adjusted by Haloti “The G is silent” Ngata. Roethlisberger could not get into a rhythm in the first half and it had a lot to with the weather conditions, lack of protection, broken bones and “the pistol” formation. With the extra elements that Ben had to deal with, he still missed many throws that he usually connects on. His timing with Wallace on the deep ball is still inconsistent and it cost the Steelers’ a touchdown. Even while squandering a few opportunities, he, of course, stepped it up in the second half and made exceptional plays to give his team a chance. It is truly remarkable how this Super Bowl winning quarterback continues to find ways to win. He is now 8-2 against the Ravens in his career.
(Roethlisberger breaking away from Terrell Suggs on the final drive and shoveling the ball out of bounds is currently Matt Aaron’s favorite play of the season)
Running Game: C-
Play calling must be addressed (Continue reading for more on that), but that does not excuse Rashard Mendenhall mindset and effectiveness against the Ravens. He is running behind a patchwork offensive line against THE best defensive lineman in the league, Ngata, and a top 3 unit. He has zero time to be patient and wait for the floodgates to open. He wasted numerous opportunities to gain 2-3 yards up the A gap, while trying to bounce it outside. Mendenhall needs to understand the defense he is playing against and a 2 yard gain is exponentially better than a 2 yard loss against the Ravens. He finished the day with 45 yards, but could have easily had 65-70 which would have made a huge difference. His lack of a run attack played a major role why the Steelers were 4-14 on 3rd down. His efforts did put him over the 1000 yard mark for the second consecutive season so the kid’s dedication to Tomlin’s approach is paying off.
Wide Receivers: C
Drop passes are becoming an all too familiar scene with the Steelers’ young core. Hines Ward certainly went to the sideline and told his mentees “Do as I say and not as I do,” as he had a ball bounce between the 8 and the 6. Emmanuel Sanders had two drops as well, but did finish with a career high 49 yards. When the quarterback is getting shattered and your offensive line is getting bullied, drop passes are almost as costly as turnovers. Mike Wallace was consistent, hauling in 5 catches on 7 targets. His route running continues to improve as he becomes an all around receiver. Now once that route running becomes constant on a game to game basis, Steel town will have one of the best wideouts in the league.
Offensive Line: C
Flozell “The Hotel” Adams sprained his ankle in the 3rd quarter and for most of the day, Terrell Suggs sprained the spirits on the Steelers’ tackles. Roethlisberger faced habitual pressure, beginning with the opening drive. The injury to Heath Miller did not help the protection either as he has cemented his reputation as one of the best blocking tight ends. Maurkice Pouncey learned all about Ngata Sunday night, but this kid showed the coaching staff and the rest of the league that he has heart. He was the one in the middle of the extra-curricular pushing, he was the one jawing and he did not back down. Pouncey might have been humbled somewhat, but at the same time he got that much tougher. If Sam Bradford was not putting together a historic season for a rookie behind center, than Pouncey would be in the discussion for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Defensive Line: A
Brett Keisel returned and played well. Ziggy Hood had an early sack and he is really starting to turn heads with his increased role. The Ravens finished the day with 43 rushing yards and Ray Rice was virtually invisible. Casey Hampton and Nick Eason continue to clog up gaps and unselfishly swallow up double teams.
A+’s are as rare as a Coach Tomlin smile, but this entity played nearly flawless. James Harrison needs a personal referee, not to call personal fouls ON him, but to call holding calls AGAINST him. It literally occurs on every drive. James Farrior’s new found youth continues to impress as he tallied another sack and a TFL. LaMarr Woodley’s box score does not come close to explaining the impact he had. Only 2 tackles, but his discipline and intelligence on stopping the Ravens reverse in the 2nd half needs to be in every linebacker training video. Of course, securing the lose fumble with less than 4 minutes left in the game was not too bad either.
Bryant McFadden went to the trainers after the game to ice his ego. He was torched more than a cigar with a questionable pass interference call for a little icing on the cake. Nightmarish thoughts of Aaron Rodgers pin pointing McFadden in last year’s playoffs when he was a member of the Arizona Cardinals. He will recover from this game. He is still head and shoulders (We’ll get to Troy in a second), above William Gay and will play well in Dick Lebeau’s zone defense down the stretch. Joe Flacco connected on two 60+ long passes on 3rd down which is unacceptable. Ike Taylor and Ryan Clark played well in the 2nd half and Flacco was not a huge factor.
Troy Polamalu deserves his own paragraph. His magical, opportune timing on his forced turnover was vintage Troy. A lot of credit must be given to James Harrison for his inside move opening the lane for Polamalu. Don’t forget that he reached Flacco, sacked and forced the fumble ON a 3 STEP DROP. Questions of him losing some speed need to be packed away with your summer clothes.
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Bruce Arians needs to reevaluate and be reevaluated. 1st and goal inside the 5 and you go to an inside handoff. Bad call. 2nd and goal inside the 3 and you go to Mendenhall without a fullback. Bad call. Running the ball out of “the pistol” when the running back literally starts 8-9 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Bad call. The middle of the field was infrequently used and 3rd down play calling was atrocious. Fortunately, the Ravens struggled in similar regards.
Dick LeBeau got too creative early when Anquan Bolden broke free on a 3rd down and long inside the Ravens’ 5. Bolden in the slot, one on one with Clark, is a mindboggling mismatch. He made the adjustments in the 2nd half and let his playmakers do the work. Dialing up a blitz with Polamalu shooting off the edge with Harrison on his inside was executed to perfection.
Final Grade B-
The injuries are piling up (Only if Sepulveda’s bones in his legs were as big as his biceps), the penalties are still frequent and the defense does breakdown occasionally. But the Steelers went into a hostile environment and defeated an animalistic, bruising team. They now control their own destiny for a playoff bye with three straight games at home.