Steelers/Ravens—Be Still My Beating Heart…
photo via Steelers.com
So far this season I have set my TV thingy to record the game before I go to church. I’m usually out of church by 12:30, so I run some errands, come home, have a leisurely lunch, and then start to watch the game after an hour and a half or so has elapsed. This allows me to fast-forward through the commercials and generally makes for a more wholistic view of the game, you might say.
But this is Ravens week, and I can’t manage to fill the space. So I watched the game in real time, suffering through the commercials like everyone else, and experienced it as it was meant to be seen—in bits and pieces. Does this make sense to you? Not to me either. Here’s what I saw:
After all the fuss this week they could hardly not show the national anthem. Is this usual? Until last week I don’t recall the anthem typically being part of the broadcast (although perhaps it is in the pre-game stuff I don’t watch.) From a musician’s perspective, I thought the trio singing the anthem was good.
But as I watched the many faces the cameras panned across on the sidelines I couldn’t help but think of one of Mike Tomlin’s comments during his press grilling on Tuesday. He asked the assembled press (including reporters from CNN, who don’t typically attend Mike Tomlin’s weekday press conferences) whether they had ever given any thought to what is actually going through the minds of the guys as they stand on the sidelines. In case they missed the point, Tomlin elaborated—they are thinking about what is going to happen after the ball is kicked off. This, as Tomlin carefully spelled out for those who might have missed the point, is because the reason they were there in the first place was to play a football game. Imagine that.
At any rate, this made me look more carefully at the faces. I caught Joe Flacco apparently making a little joke with someone behind him just as the trio got to “O’er the land of the free…” I wonder if that will be in all the headlines this week—FLACCO DISRESPECTS THE FLAG AND VETERANS AND MOM AND APPLE PIE!!!!!!!!! Probably not…
It would appear everyone stood on both sidelines. I wonder if John Harbaugh and Tomlin had an agreement… But the Ravens apparently took a knee before the anthem began, which is an interesting choice which wasn’t shown. But now that I’ve gotten all of this out of the way, let’s talk about ACTUAL FOOTBALL, shall we? I will make my usual Acceptable, Objectionable, and Appalling verdicts, but first some general comments based on the questions I asked in my preview of the game.
1. Is the supposed high-powered offense which has averaged just over 21 points per game so far ever going to live up to its potential? If not, why not?
We still don’t know. The Steelers beat their season average average, although oddly the final score was exactly the same as it was against the Vikings in Week 2. But this was Ravens/Steelers, in Baltimore (where the Steelers haven’t won since 2012), and those games are usually a slugfest won by 3 points. So perhaps this 26 points means more. Not to mention that Baltimore had the best defense in the league, by a very large margin, in the first two games.
And I’m certainly not going to say I’m unhappy about the game plan. Given that the Ravens’ DBs had four interceptions in each of the first two games, and given that the Ravens’ very capable and ferocious nose tackle, Brandon Williams, was out, I was entirely in favor of running the ball until the cows came home. I thought a few 3-and-outs was a small price to pay for no interceptions. (Okay, no REAL interceptions—see rant below.)
Okay, I have one complaint, because that’s what fans do. I’m not sure a deep throw to Martavis Bryant on a 3rd and 4 was a great idea. You have to take those shots to keep the defense honest, but they weren’t working all day.
2. Is Ben just “old, slow, and over,” to quote someone we don’t like very much around here?
I don’t think we have enough information at this point to decide what’s going on. But I suspect part of it is Ben’s new-found resolve not to throw interceptions, which I’m definitely on board with. This doesn’t explain how he would not notice a wide-open Antonio Brown and instead throw an ineffective slant to Bell. Brown would like to hear that explanation too.
3. Is the very expensive offensive line going to disappoint when they should be in their prime?
We have to withhold judgment until they all play at the same time. That said, they were doing way better in the run game, and Ben was only sacked once, in Baltimore, so that has to be considered a win.
4..Did Le’Veon Bell’s most recent brush with the surgeons somehow take away part of what makes him special?
Interestingly, Bell himself said last week that he wasn’t playing like he was special. He looked much more like his old self today. So I guess we have to assume that’s how long it takes to get into “game shape.” He’s gonna be sore tomorrow. He took some fierce hits.
5. What about the defense which seemed so promising at the start of the season?
What about it? Perhaps the lesson we can take from this is “no Tuitt, big problem.” Speaking of special players…
6. What about special teams?
What about them? They weren’t the stars of the show. Chris Boswell missed a 47-yard field goal attempt (although the commentators noted that the wind kicked up right about then, in the direction that the ball was wide.) Of course, his Baltimore counterpart, Justin Tucker, missed one too. It was a 62 yarder. Seems crazy to even try it, but the Ravens were desperate to come up with some points then, and the half was over, so the Steelers couldn’t take advantage of a short field if it failed.
I had some questions about the Ravens, too, and let’s see what the answers look like, according to today’s game:
1. The defense which pulled in five turnovers per game in Weeks 1 and 2 and who sacked the quarterback 4 times in each game in Weeks 1 and 2 had a total of 0 takeaways and 0 sacks in Week 3. Which one is the real Ravens’ defense?
Well, all of a sudden their season average of 5 takeaways per game after Week 2 is down to 2.5 per game. (Sorry, but that “interception” by Eric Weddle was totally bogus, and I refuse to include it.) But considering how long the Steelers kept them on the field, particularly in the first half (the over-10-minute opening drive was the longest in the NFL so far this season) and considering they lost the anchor of their defensive line, I thought they played well. Had their offense not kept dumping them back on the field with 3-and-outs they might have played even better.
2. (The question was about Joe Flacco. Is he merely a shell of the player we are accustomed to, or what?)
Given what we saw today, I’d say Joe is afraid of having his back hurt again. When the chips were down and he had a very short field, thanks to the bogus interception, he looked a bit like the Flacco we’ve all come to love. Or not. But for the moment at least he’s definitely not the same player. If you can take away the run game (which the Steelers pretty effectively shut down, except for that one 50-yarder) it looks as if Flacco is going to struggle.
So on to the judgment seat:
Most everything, really. It is a win in Baltimore.
Oh, I could quibble about things. What if the defense doesn’t get two interceptions? The game might have come out very differently. (But they did and it didn’t.)
Is Vance McDonald ever going to catch a pass? (Probably one here or there, more or less by accident. But he’s a hell of a blocker, and between that and saving the TD last week, all is forgiven as far as I’m concerned.)
What about the long pass on 3rd and 4? (Not that I’m bitter. But I’ve moved on.)
What about all the offensive penalties? Um, I’ll leave that to Coach T to holler about…
And now the commendations:
Mike Hilton—Hilton had a sack, a tackle for loss, a QB hit, a pass defensed, and an interception. I’ll bet the coaching staff/front office/whoever are feeling pretty smug about that pickup right about now. It was a shame Senquez Golson didn’t work out, but I think we’re doing okay with his college teammate.
Ryan Shazier—he was a one-man wrecking crew—11 tackles, 3 passes defensed, an interception, and probably some pretty fierce trash talk. And it was he who deflected the pass Mike Hilton alertly caught…
Cameron Heyward—What more can be said? I sure hope he stays healthy, and Tuitt stays healthy, because they are a force to reckon with.
Juju Smith-Schuster—I love this kid. I hate to see Eli Rogers lose his spot, but Juju earned it.
A day when Jesse James has better stats than AB has to be noted. And he actually had significant yards after a catch, at least once! He’s learning…
And finally, I would be remiss not to give major props to Le’Veon Bell, who carried most of the offense on his shoulders. Don’t believe me? Bell had 186 yards—144 rushing and 42 receiving. The entire rest of the offense had 204 yards. And he had two of the three touchdowns.
Which still doesn’t mean I think he should get paid like a running back plus a No. 2 receiver, but that’s an argument for another day.
And it’s not very kind of me, but I did enjoy seeing the pained looks on Joe Flacco’s face, and John Harbaugh’s face, and so on. I did also find it quite funny that right near the end of the game, with the Ravens trailing by three scores and about two minutes to go, the cheerleaders were as enthusiastic and perky as ever. Which just goes to show how silly it is. At least have some pom-poms in more sombre colors and a dejected-but-hopeful-for-the-future routine you can pull out at such moments.
I covered most of my objections already. There’s just one more—the whole thing of whichever idiot of a fan blew a whistle in the stand during the second Ravens re-punt in the second quarter. If it was a Steelers fan I’m ashamed. If it was a Baltimore fan what can I say? I kind of think it must have been a Baltimore fan, though, because presumably if it had been a Steelers fan there would have been a summary execution in the stands, and they surely would have shown that on the broadcast. Because the nation deserves to know…
I usually don’t even go here in a win, but I have to complain again about the “interception” by Eric Weddle. If you like conspiracy theories, my eldest son thinks that the failed 2-point conversion by Baltimore was a make-up call, because he thinks the guy had it. I’m just waiting to see whether there is an apology this week. If I were Ben I would totally be mad, because now he has an “interception” on his record, when at the most it was an incomplete pass.
Rant over. Steelers won. Patriots lost. All is right with the world.