When the Steelers last faced off against the Ravens, they waltzed into Baltimore with the swagger of defending AFC Champions and got their clocks cleaned by a Raven's team that had a superior game plan, executed it better, was more physical, and quite frankly wanted it more.
The Baltimore Ravens saw a different Pittsburgh Steelers team Sunday night at Heinz Field, but the end result was equally damming.
Against the Baltimore Ravens the Pittsburgh Steelers did a lot of good things and offered a lot to like, but they committed the ultimate sin for a team fancying itself as a contender - they consistently failed to make plays when they needed to.
In colloquial terms, the Steelers choked.
The Flip Side of "Not Adding Style Points"
Mike Tomlin loves saying: "we don't add style points." This Tomlinism generally follows an ugly win. His point is that it matters little if you throttle the Titans or hold on for dear life against Jacksonville or Indianapolis because collectively they all increase your sum in the "W" column by 3.
The same logic applies to losses. As Steel Curtain Rising has said before,
- Unlike high school algebra, the NFL awards no partial credit for "showing your work."
Against the Ravens the Steelers showed the tremendous strides they'd made since the Debacle in Baltimore:
- The Steelers offensive line played its best game of the season, neutralizing Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata
- Rashard Mendenhall ran as well against the Ravens as any Steelers back has run in memory
- The Steelers rendered Ray Rice and the Ravens rushing attack an essential non-factor game's final outcome
- James Harrison played with the passion of a animal in heat
Each of these represents an exponential improvement from the Steelers first outing and, had the final score remained 20-16 each would have been an impressive accomplishment.
Alas, all went for naught and these efforts were wasted.
Big Ben, Taking Some Flacco….
ESPN America Latina’s pre-game show focused on the quarterback duel. For those of you who missed it (or wouldn't have been able to understand), the summary was simple:
- Ben Roethlisberger is reaching the prime of his career and worthy of elite status
- Joe Flacco is struggling to show he even merits consideration in the conversation
After thoroughly outclassing Tom Brady, the NFL Gold Standard at quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger got a classic schooling in quarterbacking essentials from Joe Flacco Sunday night.
“Quarterbacking essentials” is the operative phrase here, because Flacco was hardly flawless against the Steelers. He struggled in the red zone and first and second down Flacco looked every bit the journeyman his critics have tried to make him out to be.
But Joe Flacco delivered when it mattered, his play defined quarterbacking excellence on third down and again during the two minute drill.
Roethlisberger conversely struggled to convert third downs for much of the night. In the first half alone he had three near-interceptions, and his third quarter pick ended a drive that most likely would have resulted in at least a field goal.
- Instead, it sparked a Raven’s touchdown.
That’s a ten point swing in a game decided by 3. If Ben is even aware of Terrell Suggs he renders the Ravens last minute heroics meaningless.
“What They’re Really Asking Is, Why Don’t You Win?” – Chuck Noll
During the depths of the 1989 Steelers 92-10 start, Chuck Noll answered away Pete Axehelm’s “Has the game passed you by?” question by explaining “Questions like that are similar to ‘why don’t you throw to the tight end, why don’t you use the shot gun?’ what they’re really asking is ‘Why don’t you win?’”
The Steelers didn’t win, so here come the questions.
When the Raven’s needed 12 yards, Flacco found a receiver that was 12 yards deep. When they needed six, he threw it six.
Joe Flacco, Cam Cameron and the Baltimore receivers deserve full credit for this.
- Why, however, did the same coaches and players who just seven days earlier smothered a superior passing attack, fail to execute on any sort of adjustment?
The same goes for the offensive staff. Rashard Mendenhall looked pretty damm sharp against the Ravens yet only got 13 carries.
- Why not at least attempt to lean on the running game more while Roethlisberger was struggling?
Their recent winning streak notwithstanding, the Steelers have committed some avoidable penalties of late. It was only a question of if and not when it was going to cost them, therefore….
- How in the hell do you allow a delay of game penalty to push you out of field goal range in when defending a 4 point lead closing in on the two minute warning?
Once Again, NFL = Not For Long
Just seven days ago pundits began declaring the Steelers as “the team to beat in the AFC.”
Today tie breakers place them at third in the AFC North. Instead of poll position for an first round bye the Steelers will likely need help to make the playoffs unless they run the table.
Mike Tomlin has started every season at 6-2. Save for his rookie campaign, 6-2 has always led to 6-3. Tomlin railed the team week nine losses against in '08 to Indianapolis and in '10 New England into Super Bowl appearances.
- The ’09 loss to Cincinnati started a five game losing streak.
Tomlin has done a good job of taming the emotional roller coaster that forms part of any NFL season.
He’d better be able to do so again because the Steelers have left themselves with little margin for error.
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