Game Recap: Steelers at Rams, Pas de Trois
I write this with the sort of heavy heart I usually have when chronicling a Steelers loss. In fact, I didn’t feel this bad when they lost to the Patriots.
2015 was supposed to be the year the offense carried the defense. And make no mistake, there are still a lot of playmakers on this team. But part of the “playmakerliness”, if I may be allowed to coin a term, is predicated on the chemistry between Roethlisberger and his receivers.
It was heartening to see Bell ripping off a few good runs against a very good defensive front. And all of a sudden we might be seeing the sort of two-back look a lot of people were hoping for but Tomlin nixed. But given that everyone is going to key in on the run, it might not be a successful strategy.
Insofar as Game 4, the Steelers have precisely three and a half days to figure out how to deal with an undoubtedly pissed-off Baltimore team, the last team in the NFL not to have ever had an 0-3 start until yesterday afternoon. Honestly, if I were Mike Tomlin, there is no way I would play Ben on Thursday night, even if the injury turns out to be a sprain and Ben thinks he’s good to go. Tomlin made that mistake back in 2011 (although that time it was a high ankle sprain) and one can argue that it cost them a longer playoff run than one and done against Tim Tebow and the Broncos.
In fact, if I was Tomlin I would consider not playing the marquee offensive starters and leaving the back-ups to see if they could draw some penalties. Let the Ravens win the game 50 – 0 if need be to keep Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell out of harm’s way. As Ivan said:
Given the circumstances do you really want to take on this wounded animal on a short week? Likely a close game with the season being on the line for at least one and maybe both teams, a lot of people could end up getting hurt.
He’s feeling some definite ambivalence, though:
The Dagger. Today’s win coupled with the results in Baltimore this afternoon means two good things. First we remain within one game of the Bengals, and even given our diminished circumstances, the prospects look good for us to strike, perhaps, the death blow to the Ravens season, which would only be fair and just.
As Homer might say, “from your lips to God’s ear.” Ivan continues to unleash his optimism:
In my season preview I pointed out that because of moves made during the off season, even if Ben went down for a time all was not necessarily lost. As Tony Dungy said this evening, the Steelers offense may have to depend more on the running game while Ben is out. This makes DeAngelo Williams more than an extravagance. Time for Tyler Murphy to get some quarterback reps? Its not ideal by any stretch but with some first team reps from Vick this offense can remain potent and competitive.
So with that remarkably long preamble, here’s a discussion of yesterday’s anti-climactic victory over the St. Louis Rams. Why anti-climactic? Because it left a bad taste in my mouth to win it on an incomplete pass ruling on what was a nice throw by Nick Foles, a seemingly great catch by Kenny Britt, and admittedly a great tackle by Antwan Blake. Not that I wouldn’t take the win, naturally, but somehow that seemed to sum up the whole game.
But win it they did, in no small part due to the very first(!) interception of the season for the Steelers’ defense, by Will Allen. Just goes to show that occasionally old age and treachery wins out, although honestly it only won out over youth and over-enthusiasm, if not stupidity.*
But that was one of a relative paucity of bright spots in a depressing afternoon. Didn’t you just know it was going to be one of those games? When the Astroturf catches on fire during the run out of the tunnel and the game is delayed for half an hour, you just don’t have a great feeling about what you’re going to see. The question was, who was going to turn out to be the dumpster fire?
Or, as Homer J. said:
Is this a trap game? Shazier out. Steelers offense coming off a big game—going on the road against a Rams’ team that has a strong D line and an electric deep threat in Tavon Austin.
Homer compared it to the Raiders game a couple of years ago, and said “Ivan will attest that I was scared to death about this game from the opening kickoff…to the very end.”
The Rams aren’t setting the league on fire…but…indoor pyrotechnics is simply insane. it should be banned by the fire marshals, but there isn’t a fire marshal in the nation who has the political clout to stand up to the NFL and still expect to have a job on Monday morning. This should serve as a wake-up call to the NFL that this type of nonsense should be banned. Indoor pyrotechnics killed 100 people at a nightclub fire in West Warwick, RI a few years ago, and doing it in a place with 60,000 people or more in a closed area is absolute insanity. Almost criminally insane.
And speaking of fires, after getting torched for some trademark Ben-to-Antonio kind of completions, with the odd one to Wheaton, or Heath Miller, or Le’Veon Bell, the Rams front seven dug in and held the Steelers to a field goal on their first possession.
This wasn’t the major annoyance for Homer, though—this was:
We are having a terrible time with Direct TV and NFL Ticket…not getting a signal…thanks to Direct TV, we didn’t see the first part of the drive…only the move into the red zone and the fizzle.
They got signal back just in time to see the Rams defense stop Le’Veon Bell at the 3-yard line. Homer gave all due credit to the Rams defense. But being held to a field goal is never a good sign, although at least the field goal was good.
The arrow is pointing up for Josh Scobee, who was 2 for 2 on field goal attempts, didn’t have a PAT try, and whose kickoffs resulted in either touchbacks or sub-20 yard line field position for the Rams. The only time the Rams had the ball farther along than their own 20 was the very last kick return, in which they got all the way to the 21.
Kudos to Danny Smith, Josh Scobee, and the kick-off and punt teams. Jordan Berry also put his hand in the pile, with punts resulting in the following field positions for St. Louis: 15, 12, 29. (The latter punt landed at the 9 yard line, but Tavon Austin happened.) The first Steelers punt wasn’t until 4:41 in the third quarter, so that’s something as well.
Even after a Roethlisberger interception the Rams began at their own 19. So the Steelers won the field position battle, although not by a lot. They also won time of possession, by 32+ to 27+. As we saw last week that doesn’t necessarily mean a lot, but it was important this week, in a low-scoring game partially played without Ben, to keep the Rams offense off the field.
As for “home field advantage for the Rams,” well, I heard an awful lot of Steelers fans, and near the end of the game the crowd seemed to be making it difficult for Foles and crew to hear with their cries of “Defense! Defense!” All that was lacking was Renegade.** The Steelers fans came ready to play, obviously!
During the Steelers’ second possession Homer had some interesting takes:
Le’Veon rings the bell for twenty before fumbling on the combustible turf. Turf caused the fumble.
Brown double teamed. They will need 11 guys to cover him. Setting the field on fire didn’t even help them…5 catches for more than 50 yds in first quarter!
On to the second quarter. As Homer says:
Ben gets enough time to catch up on Marvel Comics in the pocket…finally finds Bell short and he does his AB hurdling dealie to the 4.
3rd and 1 from the six – LeVeon rings the bell!
NFL Ticket on Direct TV goes out again… people leaving….we are being forced to “watch” the game on NFL.com, reading play-by-play on computer.
Homer said to please leave in the stuff about Direct TV etc. I think perhaps he’s trying to make a point.
Things turn ugly, and not just with the game broadcast:
Ben with the pick on the long pass — what were Wheaton and Heyward-Bey doing in the virtually the same route….and neither one either going for the ball or trying to break up the interception? Steelers had great field position when they got the ball. They need to finish these drives.
We will get to the defense soon, but let’s finish up with the offense. After expressing unease regarding the Ben injury, Homer notes that Bell saves Vick’s cookies on a sack/fumble. I thought that was huge, and went mainly un-noted at the time. Instead of a turnover on their own 27 yard line the Steelers at least got to punt. Bell also had a tremendous leaping catch on the first play of that drive, jumping about 10 feet (perhaps I exaggerate) to get Vick’s pass. It looked like a dance. Check out the picture. You won’t see anything better at the Bolshoi Ballet…
But partway through the fourth quarter Homer comments:
This is looking more and more like some Stephen King movie…
As he notes, the high throw to Wheaton is a “good way to get a guy killed.” There was a “cheap holding call on Wallace.” Homer gets more and more morose:
Two unimaginative runs to Bell and a pass to DHB that is short of a first down.
Scobee hits a 41 yard FG, which allows him to come home with the rest of the team
on the charter flight. Otherwise, it would have been commercial.
Or perhaps he would have been walking.
Ivan gets the last word, giving us the good news about the offense:
Antonio Brown: Do I really need to say anything here? Were we the only people laughing in awed appreciation as Brown humiliated the Rams defense in the first half?
Le’Veon Bell: Back. And performing solidly against a really difficult defensive front. Wiil be interesting how he and Brown respond to the additional burden they will have to bear in Ben’s absence.
Other winners: Heyward-Bey. Showing as more of an asset than almost anyone was willing to believe a few short weeks ago.
And I think you can see the confidence growing. Nobody’s talking about Josh Scobee. Jordan Berry and the rest of special teams are playing solid, winning ball.
Tomlin: Didn’t panic and followed a nerve wracking but conservative path to victory.
Now, the defense. Let’s take stock, because a lot of the hope for the Steelers going forward during any Roethlisberger-less set of games is going to rest upon whether they can maintain a reasonable level of competence, whoever the opposition. I’ll let Ivan start:
The defense was part of the good news from this game. I know the comeback even before it’s made. The Rams were the weakest offense that we have faced thus far, and they did more than their share in ineptitude to help us get the victory, but six points is six points. They did it without Shazier, and a basically invisible Cam Heyward. The positives were good first half play from Tuitt, a generally good performance from the linebackers, especially Sean Spence in relief of Shazier, a continuation of the brutal hitting in the secondary, and the critical interception by Will Allen. Most importantly they stepped up when the offense faltered. Last week wasn’t an anomaly. This group is on its way.
Let’s talk about Ryan Shazier for a moment. He was on the sidelines with, officially, a shoulder injury. Unofficially, it was a stinger. It seems the recovery time varies considerably for stingers, and they frequently reoccur. Dang. So we’ll have to hope this is relatively benign.
How did his subs do? It’s a comedown after Shazier’s 11 tackles last week, but Spence had five tackles including a tackle for loss and Williams had two tackles.
The leading tacklers were Lawrence Timmons, with seven tackles, and Will Allen., also with seven. In addition he had a pass defensed and the above-mentioned interception. Given it’s the first interception of the season for the defense, Allen deserves some sort of special recognition. For that matter, it was the first interception of the season for Foles. So that’s worth something, too.
Stephon Tuitt also had a big game, with six tackles, two of them for a loss, a quarterback hit, and a sack. Arthur Moats had the other sack. Foles had only been sacked three times thus far this season, so we should be grateful for a mere two. Mike Mitchell and William Gay both had five tackles as well. Everyone else had two or less tackles.
They got a bit chippy out there, too, as Homer noted, and for once it was a good thing, I suppose:
Tavon Austin scuffling with Will Allen. Break it up boys…The scuffle actually forces the Rams to take a time out.
Homer’s getting more nervous, though:
Defense badly beaten…but Lance Kendricks, who had beaten Deebo, drops what could have been a huuuuge play. Lucky, but this is scary.
Foles back to pass, Moats comes off the edge untouched, and sacks Foles. Huuge defensive play makes it 3rd and 17.
This forced a punt after a short completion. My question is, why on earth is Deebo covering anybody? Or attempting to. I love Deebo, but he hasn’t been able to cover receivers for a few years now.
After a lot more of this sort of thing, Homer notes:
…aaaand, on 4th and 6, the luckiest little call at the best big time….ball grazed the ground…and they say BASEBALL is a game of inches.
Homer noted, partway through the game:
It is quite clear that Tomlin has decided not to lose this game by taking any unnecessary risks. If St Louis is going to win this, they will have to win it on their own. Tomlin is not going to give it to them.
Homer’s final assessment:
This was a clearly a trap game….a game the Steelers might well have lost…and yet they somehow managed to hold on and win.
As Ivan noted:
Mike was right about his trepidation concerning this being a possible trap game. It had all the elements even before Ben got injured. I believe Tomlin’s excitement at the end of the game came from the feeling that his young team has turned a corner by managing to prevail in contest they almost certainly would have lost a year ago. The shortsighted will neither understand nor appreciate the importance of this, but the Steelers are learning how to win in the way champions must, even when things aren’t going their way. And the win will starve the oxygen from those who you know would be crawling out from under the rocks and make a bad situation unbearable if the Steelers hadn’t won.
Whether it was a Pyrrhic victory remains to be seen. As Homer said:
We await the medical report to determine the true outcome of this game. The Steelers escaped with their lives, but without their quarterback. The only question is for how long he will be gone.
The current reports swirling around the interwebs are sprained knee, four—six weeks. We’ll find out more in the next day or so.
As we all know, as Ben goes, so goes the team, at least in the long term. With a very clever game plan and maybe being allowed to have an extra couple of offensive linemen on the field they can probably win some games without Roethlisberger.
After all, the 2010 team won three of its first four games without Roethlisberger, first with Dennis Dixon and then Charlie Batch at quarterback. But the 2010 defense was quite a different animal than this one. Pro Football Focus rated the 2010 defense as the second-best in the league, just barely behind the Miami Dolphins. Furthermore, in part because of the low-scoring initial games (the offense didn’t manage more than 19 points in any of the games except the third one) the offense was not very highly ranked.
But this offense has an advantage the 2010 team didn’t—a true threat in the running game. No disrespect intended to Rashard Mendenhall, but unlike Bell he wasn’t a player who could carry a team. Bell just might be able to. The wild card is Michael Vick. Charlie Batch was more than a game manager, but not much more. Vick has somewhat better offensive weapons in addition to a potentially explosive running game, but for that to happen there will have to be at least the threat of a successful passing game. It will be interesting to see how much Vick has left and whether he can deal with the ball security issues.
There are also the other issues. Ivan says this about Michael Vick:
I’ve already seen some really ugly comments about Vick, some hoping that the Steelers lose because of him.
This was inevitable. There are those who no longer follow the Steelers because of Milledgeville, and in that case nothing ever went to court, indicating the state had insufficient evidence to prosecute. However, Homer has his own opinion about this:
If the Devil incarnate was suiting up for the Steelers the majority of Steelers Nation would support him.
Ivan reminds us:
Of course, we know that if the Devil were playing it would be for the Ravens.
Personally, I think there will be a small subset of Steeler fans who refuse to watch with Vick as quarterback, and a majority who support him as the Steelers quarterback even if they wish it were someone else, or who even are happy to see someone who appears to have turned his life around getting another chance before it’s too late.
That is, IF the team wins with him behind center. I think the balance will shift if the Steelers lose the majority of the Ben-less games.
Ivan’s final downer:
Missing Maurkice, Martavis and Ryan. Their absence felt survivable before today, less so now.
My final comment:
It’s pretty much moot, since what’s done is done, but the Head of Officiating for the NFL, Mike Pereira, opines on this video that Mark Barron’s hit on Ben was illegal. Which doesn’t make me feel one bit better, although I would have been happy to take the Roughing the Passer penalty in the circumstances. That would have changed the situation when Michael Vick entered the game from 3/23 to 1/10 at about the Rams 35 yard line, which is likely to lead to a rather different result.
*But check out this article by Ralph Paulk from this morning’s Tribune-Review in which Allen claims they set up to bait Foles into the throw…
**Which gives me an awesome idea—the next time Steeler fans are out in sufficient force to overwhelm the home crowd, perhaps the fans there, via Twitter or some such, could decide to sing Renegade during such a time. Can you imagine what that would do for the defense?