A Blast from the Past: Questions We Were Debating Back in the Day

AP photo/Don Wright, via Washington Post

After the previous Sunday’s glorious victory over the Patriots, Steelers fans were ready to see the Ravens crushed as some sort of payback for the season-opening debacle. But alas, it was not to be.

As Hombre de Acero wrote on that dreary day in early November of 2011:

A week ago the Steelers had pole position on an AFC first round bye and at least one guaranteed home playoff game at Heinz Field Now tie breakers place them third in the AFC North. Does anyone require more proof that the NFL really stands for “Not For Long?” The upside is that the Ravens sweep gives us plenty to talk about.

If you go to the NFL.com game page and view the posted video, as the commentator talks you see flashing across the screen “Is Joe Flacco a Championship-Caliber QB?” How you answer that question depends on whether you are talking about his play in the 2012 post-season, which was nothing short of outstanding, or his play during, say, the 2011 or 2015 seasons, which was somewhat short of outstanding. Just for kicks, here’s the comparison:

  • 2011 season: Average Passer Rating: 80.9 Average QBR: 53.8
  • 2015 season: Average Passer Rating: 83.1 Average QBR: 40.9
  • 2012 post-seaon: Average Passer Rating: 117.2 Average QBR: 83.6
  • Career Passer Rating: 84.7

I don’t know what they put in his Wheaties, but talk about another level! Curiously, other than his first two years in the league (2008 and 09) Flacco seems to have good years and mediocre years in strict alternation, at least if you go by the NFL Passer Rating:

  • 2010: 93.6
  • 2011: 80.9
  • 2012: 87.7
  • 2013: 73.1
  • 2014: 91.0
  • 2015: 83.1

QBR doesn’t rate him as generously as the NFL Passer Rating, and the alternation isn’t as marked there. But if this is true, we unfortunately have to expect a good season for him in 2016, which is not helpful.

But Hombre’s questions, not surprisingly, were not about whether Joe Flacco is an elite quarterback but about the game. The first question rather resonates:

1. The Steelers played the Ravens without LaMarr Woodley, James Farrior, Chris Hoke, Emmanuel Sanders and they lost Hines Ward in the game. With all due respect to “The Standard is the Standard” which player(s) could have made the difference Sunday Night?

How familiar does that sound (although you have to substitute the current player names.) One player they did have was James Harrison, who was back for the first time after fracturing his orbital bone. Apparently he had saved up a lot of aggression, because he had 8 unassisted tackles, three sacks, and a forced fumble in the game. This is three more sacks than were produced by the entire rest of the defense. The rest of the defense came up with 38 tackles (among 13 different players) and no forced fumbles or fumble recoveries. In other words, he was a one-man wrecking crew.

And thanks to his efforts and those of others not in the secondary, the Steelers were winning by four points right up until 14 seconds were left in the fourth quarter.. And then, from the PIT 26 yard line, after two incompletions, Elite Joe broke the hearts of Steeler Nation with a bomb to Torrey Smith for a touchdown. Had it not been a touchdown, the Ravens would have accepted a PI call on William Gay. Not a happy moment…

So the question I’ve chosen is this, because I imagine it will be interesting to read the comments and compare them to last week’s outpouring of faith in the Steelers defensive backs:

The Steelers secondary went from a lights out performance against the NFL’s most elite passing attack to a “lights are on but nobody’s home” performance against a far inferior passing combo. Diagnose what went wrong?

PixburghArn, who had stated his abiding faith in the secondary the previous week, chose a sacrificial goat:

William Gay is not a true corner. He didn’t cover any true receivers against the Pats. Meaning the Patriot receivers he covered don’t strike any fear into any DB.

Ivan Cole, who I think I’ve heard of, had this to say:

For the last play or two the coverage should have changed to more of a deep zone scheme. No point covering them all over the field just make sure they don’t get in the end zone. They would have been hard pressed to get off another play without timeouts. And don’t blame Gay. The same guy was much more open working against Ike previously and dropped a well thrown pass. Ryan Clark also must shoulder some blame as well. I just think it was the wrong coverage given the situation. This also says something about LeBeau as well. Let’s also remember that the scheme came as a total surprise to the Pats. The Ravens had a week to prepare for it.

barnburner had a different take:

Flacco’s protection seemed pretty good for the most part. Sometimes the coverage was a bit sloppy right off the snap and other times it naturally broke down after the play had run for a bit. I think what really went wrong was not making whatever adjustments would’ve gotten them off the field on 3rd down (not that I’m claiming to know what should’ve been done).

Doug D expressed something a lot of commenters believed:

The absence of Woodley affected how everyone else could be used. With inferior LB pass coverage, Troy could not do some of the improvising that he is used to doing. THAT FACT alone makes a great Defense average, at times.

This is where the hindsight comes in, as Woodley made very little difference in the few remaining games he did play, and was never the same player afterwards. It’s interesting how this cuts both ways. People went on yelling about how useless William Gay was for a long time after he was clearly a much improved player. (There are still a few people you can find who are talking about how dreadful he is.) Conversely, it took a while for fans to start realizing that, whatever the reason, LaMarr Woodley was not the ferocious pass-rusher we thought the Steelers had locked up. That is, he was locked up, but he lost a step, as it were, a good deal sooner than anyone would have expected, clearly including the Steelers brain trust.

Interestingly, one of the people saying the Steelers shouldn’t sign him to an extension was Michael Bean. I wonder if the FBI paid Michael a visit after that…

A commenter by the name of Bexpo was so exercised by his comment that it was pretty hard to read. I’ve tidied up the spelling for clarity:

The biggest question that everyone has missed all week is: What the heck was Big Ben thinking when he threw the interception? Suggs was in postion to at least disrupt that pass before the ball was snapped. That was a totally [stupid] play that totally turned that game around. That was at least a 10 point and possibly a 14 point swing. Arians is in love with those ridiculous WR screens and quick-outs and it looks like this has rubbed off on Ben when he runs the no-huddle.

This comment amuses me, because how many years did Steelers fans spend yelling at Ben to just get the ball out (or throw it away, or whatever he didn’t do?) And clearly we can’t lay all the blame on Todd Haley for the so-called “dink and dunk” offense Ben was a bit snarky about during the early, uneasy days of their relationship.

All of which appears to prove that, as King Solomon would have it, there is nothing new under the sun.

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