Ravens @ Steelers: A 38-Tums Game*

Photo via Steelers.com

If you watched the game you have no need of an explanation for the headline. If you have watched the Steelers at all this season you probably don’t need an explanation either. I had the joy of watching the game with both my sons, and it was a corker. After taking a 14-0 lead in the early going, the Steelers had to make it interesting for the next 45 minutes or so. And the Ravens managed to make it interesting by seemingly Bungling the end of the game, not at least going for a Hail Mary pass in the waning seconds. But in fact it was T.J. Watt’s strip sack that decided their fate. And a timely play it was, too. It was, I believe, the only sack of the game by the Steelers’ defense, and it couldn’t have been more welcome. Except, perhaps, to Joe Flacco.

There’s just something about this team. They are scarily slow on defense in the middle of the field without Ryan Shazier. The tackling was improved tonight, enough to come up to perhaps junior varsity level, but Alex Collins frequently ripped through them like a hot knife through butter. Or Javoris Allen. Or the friggin’ fullback.

On the offensive side, Ben threw for 506 yards, generally a recipe for disaster. There were some big catches, but also a few drops and a couple of either bad throws or poorly-run routes—as usual it’s pretty hard to tell. Antonio Brown was otherworldly. Le’Veon Bell looked fairly mortal after he left the game and returned, and I suspect he’s going to be on the injury report. Vance McDonald came up big, until he left with a different injury than the one that’s kept him out so much of the year. Eli Rogers made some good catches, grabbing the opportunity he was given with JuJu Smith-Schuster suspended, and Martavis Bryant drew a few big PI penalties. Jesse James had perhaps his best game ever. But it would be difficult to call the offense a well-oiled machine for the bulk of the game.

The Ravens’ defense looked as good as advertised, and I sincerely hope we don’t have to see them in the playoffs. On the other hand, for about 50 minutes of almost every game the Steelers look capable of losing to anybody, and then they win the game somehow or other. It’s been said many times before—it’s better to be lucky than good. But it isn’t luck, exactly—it’s just they have the seeming ability to crank into another gear, but not a moment before it’s necessary.

I’m not going to say much more about this game. It’s very difficult to type when you are lying on the floor moaning gently. I guess I need to get a special stand for my iPad that can be angled down to make it easier, because it’s clearly going to be necessary.

Another thing that is necessary, although I probably won’t manage it, is to avoid reading all the commenters and callers to the sports radio stations whining about how the Steelers will never beat the Patriots that way. This is patently obvious, of course. The thing is, they have beat everyone in a different manner. All season long the complaint has gone out—this team has no identity.

In one sense this is true. We thought they were going to be a fantastic offense that would carry a still-young and growing defense. Boy was that wrong. And just about the time we thought the defense was going to carry the offense they started springing leaks. And somehow or other the offense got its act together and started carrying the defense. Sort of.

And now, this seems to change moment to moment. This game is a perfect example. The Steelers put up 14 points right away, thanks to a timely interception, and it looked like a cakewalk. And then the defense started hemorrhaging big plays and the offense started going three and out. Then the offense got it together, and the defense had a last stand, and somehow or other they won yet again. It’s a different script every week, although the plot line is very similar. I just hope I can survive another few games.

In the meantime, your 2017 Pittsburgh Steelers are the AFC North Champions. It’s merely a milestone on the intended journey, but it’s a significant one nonetheless. Whatever happens in the ensuing three games, the Steelers will be the division champs. Given everything, this isn’t something to take for granted.

Who knows what next week will bring? I fully admit that I will sign on for another nail-biter won at the last second. I’m not expecting it, especially given how the defense looked for a considerable portion of the game, but it wouldn’t shock me either. I think I’m finally beyond being shocked by this team.

I was never a fan of the thrill rides at amusement parks. The sedate old-school roller coasters that never ever made you feel in the least danger of a violent death were just about my speed. So this Steelers team isn’t really in line with my preferred sort of entertainment. But in my 64 years I’ve gradually learned that you have to take people as they are. And this is certainly true for the Steelers. There will never be any comfort with this team. We can’t ever feel that if the offense will put up X number of points the defense will hold it. But there is always hope, and isn’t that, in the end, better than comfort?

*My eldest son suggested I begin the article thus: “I’m writing this post for the half a dozen or so Steelers fans who did not succumb to cardiac arrest during the game.” That may be a high estimate.

19 comments

  • You know, I believe that at this point of the season it might be nice to see some style points. This ugly, win by the skin of your teeth mode is getting old, and so is my heart.

    Liked by 2 people

    • cold_old_steelers_fan

      I know what you mean. It is a good thing I pvr’d the game. I had stopped watching after the last Raven’s TD and did’t go back to watch the remainder till after I had checked the final score online (what can I say, the Winnipeg Jets had just lost 3 in a row and I was demoralized)>

      Like

    • What’s a little cardiac event among friends, Ivan? As any true Steeler fan knows, it is better to die a winner than have to live with the shame of losing. And that’s only the half of it. The other half is that you get to die a winner. What could be better than that?

      Like

  • cold_old_steelers_fan

    I understood the issues the defence is struggling with, no Hayden, no Shazier and Mitchell seems to be held together with spit and baling twine but the offence drives me crazy. Bubble screens reared their ugly head last knight and it seemed, after the early 14 points, the offence couldn’t get it’s act together until team was sufficiently behind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I try not to get pulled onto the Haley – bashing bandwagon but it really seems as if the offense is stagnant until Ben takes charge and starts calling the plays when they have to come from behind in the second half.

      Like

  • cold_old_steelers_fan

    More random thoughts.., bear in mind these are more impressions than fully formed thoughts:

    It looked like the Ravens spotted and exploited the Steelers CB blitz very effectively. Between that and the defence’s inability to stop Collins, all the Raven’s had left was the “heave and prayer” which, in fairness to the Ravens, did get answered with a couple of very dubious PI calls against the Steelers.

    MB, regardless of his intent, is never going to fight his way though a tackle. The young man is all skin and bones. He needs to be tethered on windy days if he wants to wear baggie clothing. Not Jon Ross/Dennis Dixon level skinny but darn close. He better never play for the Vikings because the wings on the side of the helmets might be enough for lift off.

    Connor needs to learn how to pass block. It is obvious when he is on the field that he will either get the ball as a RB or be sent out as a decoy WR. The one time he stayed in, he slipped out to be the safety valve but Ben didn’t see him.

    More thoughts later… maybe… day 10 of a nasty head cold. Cold is mostly gone but I am worn out from coughing and lack of good sleep.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are being VERY generous with calling those PI calls “dubious”. In the first half, I made the observation that the officiating was great. I didn’t see any missed calls or terrible calls on either side. I think the stat was the Ravens had 2 penalties for 10 yards and the Steelers had 1 for 5 yards. The second half on the other hand made me want to travel to Pittsburgh and smack the refs upside the head (ala Leroy Jethro Gibbs of NCIS) and tell them to Wake up. It was as if at halftime they realized who was playing and, after last week, got it in their heads that the Steelers were all dirty and deserved to get penalized as much as possible.

      Ok, Rant over. We Won! Woohoo!

      Like

  • Joe Haden’s absence wasn’t the problem last night. It was poor, undisciplined play by our sophomore DB’s Artie Burns and Sean Davis. Davis’ tackling technique improved dramatically after Tomlin got in his ear!

    Ryan Shazier’s absence was a big problem. Can anyone explain to me why Sean Spence started and played most of the game? don’t teams usually sign a player at this point in the season for depth? LJ Fort has been on the team and in practice every week. If Spence is that much better than Fort why isn’t he on the roster and Fort at home waiting for a call?

    AB showed again why he is the team’s MVP and a leading candidate for league MVP.

    I could complain all day about the horrid officiating last night but both teams suffered from their lack of reffing competency so what’s the point?

    Like

  • I have deep reservations about playing the Patriots next week. We just don’t match up well against Brady’s passing style (high accuracy destroys the zone). Which is why the Steelers built their D around Shazier’s speed and pressure from the inside linebackers as well as having Bud Dupree shadow TE’s and RB’s in the flat.

    With Shazier’s loss, Keith Butler is going to have his work cut out for him to turn one or more OLB’s into ILB’s.

    But the Steelers survived, and that’s all that matters.

    If the Steelers are going to beat the Patriots, I’d rather do it in a few weeks in the playoffs….

    (One final note: I thought it was interesting that on the last play of the game they had Harrison play his usual position and MOVED Watt – and seemingly replace Dupree (unless he dropped into coverage and I didn’t see him.) I’d be interested to see if we get that defensive alignment more often. Harrison collapsed the pocket, which prevented Flacco from stepping up, and ultimately allowing TJ to chase him down.)

    Like

    • Dupree was ineffective last night. He couldn’t hold the point against the run nor could he apply pressure on Flaco. The Raven’s gained most of their yards on the ground to Bud’s side. Dupree just doesn’t stand out and that’s disappointing. Watt, on the other hand, should be a star in this league if he stays healthy.

      Like

      • Do you remember the last couple of years when the Steelers had so much trouble dealing with tight ends? How no matter what the Steelers did the tight ends always seemed to be open for big gains? It’s not happening so much anymore, for one good reason. At least 75% of the time Dupree is in coverage on those tight ends. Dupree is playing well, it’s just not what we are used to seeing from a 3-4 outside linebacker. Ben Watson is the Ravens leading receiver. How many plays did he make last night? I would have expected them to use him a lot, with the way the WRs were dropping but he was usually covered IIRC (I haven’t re-watched the game yet)

        Like

        • So Bud Dupree can only be on the field during passing downs so he can cover the TE? That makes him very one dimensional since he is a liability against the run and is ineffective as a pass rushing 3-4 OLB. I appreciate that Bud covers TE’s better than our safeties but the Steelers need more from a 1st round pick.

          Liked by 1 person

          • “So Bud Dupree can only be on the field during passing downs so he can cover the TE?”

            Somehow I don’t think that’s what I said. What I was saying was that the days of the outside linebackers, particularly the strong side linebacker are no longer the primary pass rushers that we are used to. Our main pass rush now comes from the defensive line. In Bob Labriola’s Asked and Answered on Steelers.com http://www.steelers.com/news/asked-and-answered/article-4/Asked-and-Answered-Game-Day-Week-14/11e9dea7-4c01-46a4-aad1-d53b9acf92e8 Bob quotes Tomlin in an answer to a question asking primarily about Harrison but covers this as well.

            “And it’s evolved within the last decade, since I’ve been here. Outside linebacker was a rush-man’s position in the early part of my tenure. Guys like LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison were defensive-end-like. They rushed the vast majority of the time. With the evolution of spread football, read-option football, RPOs as the college guys call it – run-pass options – and all the empty backfield stuff, it has become a hybrid position, where they’re asked to do a lot of things: rush, drop in zone, play man-to-man. I just think it’s part of the evolution of football, and I think (outside linebackers) are the most significant components to the adjustments that defenses have made.”

            The next question was about Dupree.

            “Thoughts on Bud Dupree this year? Is he our long-term answer to playing opposite T.J. Watt?”

            ANSWER: Re-read the above answer from Mike Tomlin, and as a follow-up to that, I asked, “Within that answer, did you just explain to Steelers Nation why James Harrison isn’t playing a lot of snaps?” And he said:

            “Or also why Bud Dupree doesn’t have 12 sacks or why T.J. Watt doesn’t have 12 sacks. That position probably is being redefined in a lot of ways by the game. Some of the plays we’ve seen T.J. Watt make in the passing game this year – the big-time interception in Cleveland in his first NFL game, the big-time breakup he had against Jordy Nelson in the Green Bay game a few weeks back – and 10 years ago you never would’ve seen LaMarr Woodley even in a position to make those plays. That’s just the evolution of football. I laugh a lot of times when people ask me, what’s wrong with the production of our outside linebackers? It lets me know these people don’t understand the evolution of the game of football, and I politely answer in some way.”

            Like

            • No, I wasn’t implying you said that. That is my question based on my observation that he is not very good against the run nor can he apply decent pressure when asked to rush the passer. The majority of Baltimore’s runs last night were right at Dupree. Adequate ILB play could have helped stop those runs but the fact is Bud gets handled fairly easily by tight ends and if he’s in on the tackle, it seems it usually is several yards down field. I have no problem with the OLB position evolving to a position asked to cover receivers more, but they also have to be able to stop the run.

              Like

        • I did hear, towards the end of the game, Collinsworth say that Flacco was looking to hit the TE, but it was covered by Dupree.

          I’m personally thrilled with the shift of defense eliminating the TE threat that killed the Steelers. I just wished Dupree could get more pressure when he IS rushing the QB / stopping the run.

          But I’m not a hater. If this is the game plan for him, and the coaches are truly happy with his play, then so be it. Dupree wasn’t the problem last night, it was the other LB’s.

          Like

        • I always struggle to share impressions based on watching the game live versus going back and studying the tape but I would add that on at least a couple of those runs last night, it looked like the play went right past Harrison and he didn’t even tough the guy. I don’t know if that’s because James has lost a step or because the back for the Raven’s was just that fast. My point is that Dupree wasn’t the only guy that couldn’t seal off the end last night. Still, I agree that you would hope one of the younger LBs and a first round pick would have a little more success in stopping the run. All those guys are going to have to figure it out over the next month so they can fill the void left by #50.

          Like

          • You’re right. Our run D didn’t stop much at any position last night. It just gets frustrating watching tight ends push Dupree around. I’ve been watching the Steelers defense shut down elite running attacks for 40 years so I’m just another spoiled member of Steeler Nation. lol

            Like

            • We must be about the same age. I wish I had that unwavering confidence I had when I was 12-16 that there was no way someone could beat Joe, Jack, LC, Ernie…………

              I used to be on the edge of my seat for those Oiler games when Earl Campbell came to town…… and he never got the best of them. Those were the days!

              Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s