The Steelers pulled out a hard fought 13-10 victory in Baltimore on Sunday night to move their record to 9-3 and take sole possession of first place in the AFC North.
Here’s a look at what went right for the Steelers, and what still needs work.
What I liked from the game:
• Ben’s toughness. We all know how tough Ben is, and it would take something big to keep him out of this game, but starting the game with a ‘possible’ broken bone in your foot and then getting your nose smashed the first series of the game takes his toughness to a whole new level. There was some clamoring for Ben to step aside this game and let Byron Leftwich take the field against the Ravens since he wasn’t 100%. Well, after this game Ben left no doubt that this is his team, and as long as he can walk he’ll be out there battling with his teammates. Broken nose, broken foot, just another day at the office for the toughest QB in the league.
• Troy Polomalu. What can you say, it was a huge AFC North game, and that’s when Troy seems to always come through. He was once again all over the field, first deep in coverage, then stopping Ray Rice in the backfield for a loss. With only 4 minutes left in the game, and Casey Hampton told Polomalu that it was time to do something special. On an all out blitz, Polomalu came in clean from Flacco’s blind side and instead of going for the straight sack, he tomahawked Flacco’s arm causing the fumble that would eventually lead to the go ahead touchdown. Special? Yeah, but it was also just Troy being Troy.
• Steelers Front Seven. Nobody runs on the Steelers, and this game was no different. They gave up a total of 43 yards on 20 attempts. A whopping 2.2 yards per rush. They sacked Flacco 4 times, but where in the backfield with him the entire game. Keisel was back in the fold, and along with Hampton, Ziggy Hood, and Chris Hoke the D-Line controlled the line of scrimmage for the majority of the game. They took up blockers, which led to huge games from all four starting Steeler Linebackers. Farrior led the way with 6 solo tackles, was in Flacco’s face the whole game, and maybe most importantly consistently covered Ray Rice when he leaked out of the backfield into a pass pattern. Their ‘structured chaos’ style of play was epitomized on one particular play in the second half. Flacco faked a run up the middle, and had six of the front seven crashing in to demolish the line and the runner. He handed off on an end around, and the ball carrier ran right into LaMarr Woodley who was disciplined enough to contain the outside. He was dropped for a big loss, and proved it’s going to take more than a little trickery to fool the Steelers’ front seven.
• Shaun Suisham. First, he did what he was brought in to do, going 2 for 2 on field goals, including yet another from the dreaded 40-49 yard range. (He is still perfect in that range so far this season at 5 for 5). What was really impressive though is how he stepped up and filled in for injured punter Daniel Sepulveda. Sepulveda punted three times in the game with an average of 44.3 yards per punt. After injuring his ACL in his non-kicking leg, Suisham was called upon to fill in with the punting duties. He punted three times himself, averaging a very respectful 38.3 yards per punt, and putting the Ravens inside their 20 once. Although it was nullified by a penalty, he placed a perfect kick down on the Raven’s own four yard line. He might have looked a little nervous before each snap, but when the team needed him he stepped up gallantly and handled the punting duties admirably. Pretty impressive, especially when you realize this is only his second game as a Steeler, and his first in this bitter rivalry.
With all that being said, there were also some things that need some work.
What I didn’t like from the game:
• Cornerback play/McFadden. Be honest, how many times during the game did you yell to no one in particular, “McFadden! How the hell are you still on the team? Time to go!” At least a couple I am sure. Sure, he played well at times, but there was definitely a reason that Flacco was targeting any receiver that he was covering. One play in particular that could have cost them the game came late in the second half. Flacco was being pressured and threw the ball “towards” Derrick Mason, who ran a quick out pattern. The ball was way over his head and heading out of bounds. McFadden lost sight of the ball, seemed lost on the play and shoved Mason out of bounds. Pass interference, first down. Gay, Taylor, and McFadden are all serviceable DBs, but the last few games they seem to make each QB they face look like Joe Montana.
• Offensive Line. Granted, the line has been decimated by injuries this season. Every starter has either missed time due to an injury, or is out for the season with a major injury. They’ve had to rebuild the line, move players from the left to right side, then back again. But as Tomlin says, “Next man up has to do the job. Injuries are no excuse.” The patchwork line has shown signs of holding up, and they’ve gotten better opening some holes for the RBs. But when the playoffs roll around, they are going to have to pass protect much better if Ben is going to survive.
• The officiating. Okay. The Steelers can’t do anything to improve this, and I won’t go on another rant on how biased the zebras appear to be. But when a QB gets his nose broken (12 games now, still no roughing the penalty passer on hits to Ben this season…) and a starting tight end just about gets decapitated with an illegal helmet-to-helmet hit with no penalties on either play….well, there’s really nothing else you can say. If the Black and Gold are going to make a run in the playoffs, they’ll have to be near perfect because everybody knows they’ll get no help from the officials. That’s all I got to say about that.
Most importantly, the Steelers limped away from this street fight, I mean AFC North showdown, with a victory and a one game lead over the Ravens. Their destiny is in their hands now to secure a bye and at least one home playoff game.
But don't look too far ahead yet, next up is another AFC North foe: the Bengals.