Taking a look back at the Steelers-Ravens game on my DVR.
* You have to give Baltimore all the credit in the world because that game-winning drive was very well executed.
Anytime you can go 92 yards in just over two minutes, needing a touchdown to win the game, and do it on the road without using your last timeout, credit has to go to the offense … but not all the credit.
The Steelers sure helped the final drive along by letting Baltimore’s best receiver, Anquan Boldin, have has way with a cover guy who is not your best.
We all know what kind of a season Ike Taylor is having, and he blanketed Boldin all over Heinz Field for the majority of Sunday’s game whether it was on the outside or in the slot.
Up until that final drive, Taylor have up a 15-yard catch to Boldin and a 9-yard catch. That’s all.
But with the game on the line, what do we get? Try William Gay covering Boldin, and in the most crucial of times.
On the 12-play drive, Gay lined up across Boldin eight times allowing catches of 21, 9 and 10 yards – all resulting in first downs.
The most critical instance was on a 4th-and-1 near midfield. Of course, the Ravens were going to try to pick up the first down with their best receiver coming out of the slot to keep the game alive.
Instead of Taylor on Boldin, Taylor was on speedster Torrey Smith.
Boldin promptly catches a 9-yard pass for a first down and the game continues.
It was just a very strange scenario to see knowing that Taylor matched up with Boldin the entire game up until that point.
*As a free safety, and with fewer 20 seconds left in the game, it’s baffling that a very heady player like Ryan Clark let Smith behind him for the game-winning touchdown.
Actually, it’s totally inexcusable.
But what was the most disturbing is that Clark anticipated the pass out of Flacco’s hand and tracked it for some 10 yards before finally realizing that his angle was bad, and obviously it was too late.
I’m still totally stunned.
* The first play of the game that resulted in Ray Rice’s touchdown run that was called back was a disaster all around for the Steelers’ defense.
First, Casey Hampton was worried about getting cut blocked and was pushed off the ball by Matt Birk; James Harrison got up field way too far allowing a cutback lane; Brett Keisel jumped inside Bryant McKinnie leaving his gap; Larry Foote over-pursued; Clark took a bad angle; and Troy Polamalu tried to knife in and around the block of Ed Dickson to no avail.
Add that all up and you get a 78-yard touchdown run.
* It was kind of stunning how easily Joe Flacco was able to convert third downs against a defense that has been pretty going preventing just that.
It was even more stunning that the Steelers never adjusted to what Baltimore was doing in order to convert those third downs.
Eight of the 14 third-down conversions by the Ravens came via some sort of pick play.
The Steelers played tight man on nearly every medium-range third down, and the Ravens answered by bunching up three receivers on one side of the formation and letting the defenders pick each other off allowing a window for Flacco to get the ball to a receiver.
The beneficiary of it all was tight end Dennis Pitta. Four of his five catches on the night were because of picks.
* You have to give Max Starks a lot of credit for keeping Steeler-killer Terrell Suggs under control.
Usually Suggs has his way against the Steelers, but was held to one assisted tackle.
Actually, there was a good reason for that.
Suggs rushed the passer on 32 of the 40 times Roethlisberger dropped back to pass, didn’t collect one sack and managed to pressure Roethlisberger only twice.
Was Starks that good?
Well, yes and no.
Baltimore had a game plan of using Suggs the good portion of the game as a person who was making sure that Roethlisberger didn’t get out of the pocket. (I know, it is kind of strange).
Suggs didn’t rush with speed and vigor that he typically does, sometimes he just stood there and watched and other times he just tried to bull rush Starks, which rarely ever happens.
Suggs only stunted twice the entire game as well which was something he had great success during their first meeting.
It was a very strange plan knowing his past success against the Steelers.
Don’t get me wrong, Suggs rushed to get the quarterback a number of times and was turned away by Starks, but not as many times as you may think.
* Speaking of Suggs, he switched to the opposite side of Starks for a couple snaps, and ironically, that’s when he intercepted Roethlisberger.
Again, Suggs didn’t rush on the play. He stood up and read Roethlisberger, who threw it right to him.
* Mike Tomlin is pretty good at his job, but managing a game is something he has yet to master.
From the decision to when to use the challenge flag to using a timeout on defense when Baltimore was dying for a break in the action during the final drive all adds up to poor decision-making.
* You would have to believe that Hampton was a little tentative on the first play of the game that resulted in Rice’s futile touchdown run.
Hampton was cut 10 times the first meeting by the Ravens including the first play of the game.
On Sunday, it looked like he was anticipating backside guard Ben Grubbs to cut him. Instead, Grubbs went right past him to block Foote.
Actually, Baltimore didn’t use the cut blocks very much.
Only three times did Marshal Yanda cut Hampton, with none coming when he was engaged with another lineman.
All told, the three cuts resulted in a total of 1 yard. Last time, the 10 cuts of Hampton resulted in 96 rushing yards.
* Taylor had another solid game even though he was called for a pass interference call for the third straight game.
You can accept a guy who uses his physicality the way Taylor does to get a flag here and there.
Taylor gave up three catches for 35 yards to Boldin and one catch for 2 yards to Smith.
It is becoming evident the way to beat Taylor is quick slants from the slot. Actually, it’s becoming evident that’s the only way to beat Taylor.
Here’s the updated list of who did what against Taylor this year:
Wes Welker, New England 4-23 yards
Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona 3-58 yards
Anquan Boldin, Baltimore 3-35 yards
Andre Johnson, Houston 3-23 yards
Nate Washington, Tennessee 2-11 yards
Rob Housler, Arizona 1-20 yards
Jason Hill, Jacksonville 1-18 yards, TD
Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis 1-11 yards
Deion Branch, New England 1-10 yards
Mike Williams, Seattle 1-9 yards
Damian Williams, Tennessee 1-8 yards
Mike Thomas, Jacksonville 1-3 yards
Torrey Smith, Baltimore 1-2
Pierre Garcon, Indianapolis 1-(-2) yards
* The possible fines for Week 9 are …
Ryan Clark for hit on tight end Ed Dickson.
James Harrison for late shoulder to the back of Ray Rice
Clark’s fine will be the second in as many weeks and will get smacked for at least $20,000.
* Harrison had three sacks, but none of them were really impressive Harrsion-like sacks that we have seen over the years.
Nonetheless, Harrison looked surprisingly good, especially with the new wrinkle LeBeau tossed in the game plan just for him.
On a number of obvious pass situations, Harrison lined up in the middle of the defense like a middle linebacker and would rush the quarterback from various angles, which he never did before.
Harrison would be in the middle and Brett Keisel would stand up as an outside pass rusher where Harrison would normally line up.
It was a nice scheme for Harrison.
He sacked Flacco once when he started in the middle before eventually finding his way to the left side of the defense to rush the passer.
I’m sure that was thrown in there because LaMarr Woodley wasn’t in there, but I wouldn’t mind seeing that when Woodley is back.
Grading the Starters
QB – Ben Roethlisberger – A (Made some nice throws)
RB – Rashard Mendenhall – B (Ran very hard yet again)
TE/FB – David Johnson – B (Nice block on Mendenhall’s TD run)
WR – Mike Wallace – B (Made a super play to give Steelers the lead)
WR – Antonio Brown – A (Was best player on the field)
TE – Heath Miller – B (Wasn’t in game plan much)
LT – Max Starks – A (Was near flawless)
LG – Chris Kemoeatu – A (Played his best game to date)
C – Maurkice Pouncey – A (Handled Ngata well)
RG – Ramon Foster – B (Needs to get better at pulling)
RT – Marcus Gilbert – B (Continues to play well)
DE – Ziggy Hood – C (Still waiting for a breakout game)
NT – Casey Hampton – A (Like how he’s playing)
DE – Brett Keisel – B (Still struggles with gap responsibilities)
LB – James Harrison – A (Can’t ask for much more)
LB – Jason Worilds – B (Played pretty well considering)
LB – Larry Foote – A (Can’t emphasize how well he’s playing)
LB – Lawrence Timmons – B (Asked a lot out of him moving inside to outside in game)
CB – Ike Taylor – B+ (Another solid game)
CB – William Gay – D- (Played like the Gay of old)
S – Troy Polamalu – B (Very good at stopping the run)
S – Ryan Clark – D (Terrible play at the end)
By Mark Kaboly