The NFL is crazy

I’m not going to lie. I didn’t have any expectations for this one. I punted on the Steelers chances for Sunday’s game in Baltimore and was resigned to the fact they were going to be 6-6 and was plotting out playoff scenarios involving the final four games of the regular season. I didn’t see anyway a team quarterbacked by Charlie Batch, coming off of last week’s performance in Cleveland, could go into Baltimore and win. Or even keep it close.

Not only did they keep it close, the Steelers found a way to pull off one of their most satisfying regular season wins in recent memory thanks to a late drive by Batch and the offense and a game-winning 42-yard field goal by the suddenly reliable Shaun Suisham.

I’ve given up on trying to make sense of the NFL.

A few thoughts on Sunday’s game and the Steelers in general:

1) I guess I owe Charlie Batch an apology after this post last week. It wasn’t pretty at times, and the interception by Ed Reed in the end zone was nearly a game-changer (not to mention him airmailing a wide open Mike Wallace in the back of the end zone) but he was able to play a capable game, on the road, against Baltimore, and play well enough to get a win. After his touchdown pass to Heath Miller (which was set up by a James Harrison strip-sack of Joe Flacco) the Steelers defense was able to get the ball back after four plays with over six minutes remaining in regulation. They never gave the ball back to Baltimore.

2) After turning the football over eight times last week (and fumbling five times) the Steelers were guilty of three more turnovers on Sunday and put the ball on the ground three times (this time they were lucky enough to only lose one). One of the turnovers was the aforementioned Batch pick in the end zone on a poorly thrown pass in the direction of Heath Miller (the only one of the six passes Miller was targeted on that he did not catch). The other two turnovers was just incredibly frustrating, both of which led to Baltimore touchdowns.

First, after Ryan Clark picked off a pass thanks to Joe Flacco being Joe Flacco, the Steelers started a drive at midfield and had an opportunity to take the lead. But on the second play of the drive Todd Haley dipped into the trick play portion of the playbook and had Antonio Brown try to throw a pass the entire way across the field to Jonathan Dwyer. It was badly underthrown and easily intercepted by Corey Graham.

Just a few plays later the Ravens turned it into a touchdown on a Flacco to Anquan Boldin strike, giving them what appeared to be at that point an insurmountable lead.

Perhaps even more frustrating than that turnover was the one that Emmanuel Sanders was guilty of in the third quarter when Batch hit him over the middle for a huge gain. Sander was wide open, in the open field, and may have taken it all the way into the end zone … until he fumbled for no reason. Ed Reed fell on it and the Ravens scored four players when Ray Rice bounced a run outside and raced 34 yards for a touchdown.

It was an unfortunate play for Sanders because he’s been having such a strong season, and I still think he’s been the Steelers’ best wide receiver. He ended up catching five of six passes for 60 yards.

Of the 12 passes that were thrown in the direction of Sanders and Miller on Sunday they resulted in 10 completions for 157 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. That’s a passer rating of 111.8.

When they threw to everybody else (I’m not including Antonio Brown’s failed pass) they were 15-for-24 for 119 yards, no touchdowns, and no interceptions. That’s a passer rating of 74.8.

The biggest play to Miller on the day wasn’t necessarily his game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter, but the 43-yard catch and run he made on the first drive of the third quarter to help set up Jonathan Dwyer’s 17-yard touchdown run (the one that was sparked by the lead blocking of … Charlie Batch). That was a huge play, and also showed how Mike Wallace can still be an asset even when he’s having a bad stretch of games (including another big drop on Sunday). Both Ravens defensive backs in the area went to Wallace down field and bracketed him in, leaving Miller all alone in the middle of the field. That’s an asset. That has value.

3) What were the Ravens thinking by giving Ray Rice only 14 opportunities to touch the football? He carried the ball 12 times (for 78 yards, including the 34-yard touchdown) and was targeted on two passes (he caught one for five yards and dropped the other). He didn’t touch the football once — not one time! — in the fourth quarter. No idea what their game plan was, but as a Steelers fan I approve of it.

4) James Harrison appears to have started the 2012 season, and just in time. After playing his best game of the season a week ago in Cleveland he was back at it again on Sunday by making the biggest defensive play of the game to strip Flacco and give the Steelers a mulligan after Batch’s end zone interception.

He led the team in tackles (seven) and was one of three different Steelers to record a sack.

On the subject of outside linebackers: Has anybody else noticed that Jason Worilds is starting to become a player and a pretty darn good pass rusher? He’s still leading the team in sacks and has a similar number of hurries, pressures and QB hits as Harrison and LaMarr Woodley despite entering Sunday’s game playing less than 40 percent of the defensive snaps this season.

5) There was a Troy Polamalu sighting on Sunday! I can’t say that he really stood out that much, but he did play and the Steelers did get him back into the lineup. They also lost Ike Taylor to an ankle injury on one of the first plays of the game, which meant Cortez Allen had to play more, and he played extremely well. Keenan Lewis also continued his strong play, and there was even a pass breakup by Curtis Brown.

6) NFL kickers are totally unpredictable. Last season Shaun Suisham was the worst kicker in the NFL (percentage wise). This season he has been incredible and nailed the game-winner from 42-yards out as time expired. He was three-for-three on Sunday and is now 24-for-25 on the season. The only kick he missed was a 50-plus yarder at the end of the Tennessee game, and on that kick he had the accuracy, but was just one yard short.

7) Ziggy Hood hasn’t had a great season, but he very quietly had a productive day on Sunday with five tackles, a sack, a quarterback hit, two tackles for loss, and a fumble recovery on the James Harrison strip-sack.

8) Even if the Steelers had lost on Sunday I still liked their chances to make the playoffs given the remaining schedule and the fact that Ben Roethlisberger is due back, perhaps as soon as this upcoming Sunday against the San Diego Chargers. Obviously this win makes those chances even better.

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  • David

    I won’t fall into the trap and look ahead beyond next week. Our season has been sooooo up and down, that doing so leads to crazy unexpected results, which leads to me become bipolar and thus imitate Jack Nicholson on Cuckoo’s Nest.

    So for this week, I still would like to see Ben play, if healthy.

    As far as the Raisins, their reactions and excuses after the game tell you all you need to know about their underachieving. Ex. 1: Boldin’s wah-wah-wahing about PI and holding after the game. Ex. 2: Harbaugh’s surprise at Tomlin’s quick handshake today, where 1) it’s not like he’s never done that before, 2) controversial handshakes evidently run in his family, and 3) when has Harbaugh ever chatted after the game with an opposing coach not named Harbaugh?

  • David

    And I have only one thing to say about our team MVP this year: Suisham, in a landslide.

  • Cols714

    The difference between this game and last Baltimore game was the defense making a game changing play by causing Flacco to fumble. That’s twice now that Flacco fumbles have cost Baltimore the game vs the Steelers.

    The OL pass blocked well. We need Colon to come back because Pouncey + Colon is much much better than Legursky + Pouncey, I’d like to see them find a better backup G/C than Legursky.

    Yes Worilds was really good again. And the DBs played great.

    • David

      I thought the interior of the line played pretty well last night. We might have found something with Bronco at C and Mike at G.

      • Cols714

        Not in run blocking though. The Pouncye/Colon combination is much better at run plocking than the Legursky/Pouncey combo.

        • Sarah

          Am I right to think they’re afraid to put Leg at G? He seems way better at C….

          • Cols714

            Yep. Legursky is terrible at guard, he is a much better center. When Colon is out, this is definitely better.

          • Rob D

            We need to find a repacement guy who can play both center and fill in at guard with some level of NFL ability. Legs is only really good at center.

        • Phil Heidenreich

          Agreed – Also keep in mind we had Beachum instead of Adams, a road-grader(/turnstile) at RT. Beachum held up surprisingly well, but it’s still tough to run inside on Mt. Cody and Ngata.

        • israelp

          I kind of miss hearing “False start number seventy-four.”

  • David

    The best thing about this win?

    Remember that scene in Revenge of the Nerds after the Nerds beat the Jocks, and John Goodman was telling his players, “You just got your asses kicked by a bunch of GD Nerds!”

    Well, last night, Harbaugh was probably telling his team, “You just got your asses kicked by a GD 37 yr old 3rd String QB who outplayed our 25 yr old one-eyebrowed 1st Round QB!”

  • David

    BTW, I’m not a big fan of Collier over at PG, but his article today (“Silly Birds Turn Tide”) was great.

  • David

    Schefter is reporting Ike is out 3-6 weeks. Damn.

    • Sarah

      And Ike has been playing well lately – ugh, what a shame.

      And not to get ahead of ourselves (and not like Ike lit it up last yr in playoffs) but the notion of going to Denver without Ike and Ryan Clark is sobering.

      Here’s hoping Troy keeps healing well…..

  • Cols714

    It’s funny that the Ravens are going to have to make a decision on their “franchise” QB Flacco. I don’t really know what I would do if I were them.

    It’s interesting that Bruce Arians is totally kicking ass in Indianapolis while our offense sort of plods along.

    • David

      They gotta pay him. They have no choice, really. Look at who they had before: Grbac, Zeier, Banks, Boller. The only capable ones were Dilfer and McNair.

      • Cols714

        I know, that’s why it’s so awesome. They are going be paying a guy who hasn’t hit 60% completion percentages the last two years while having a good OL, a great running game, two pretty good TEs and receivers.

        • Eric

          We should really celebrate if they give Cam Cameron an extension too. The number of times they’ve barely used their best offensive player, Ray Rice, is amazing to me. Any coach who thinks Flacco should be the focal point over Rice is the kind of coach I’d like on the Ravens.

          • EasyLikeSundayMorning

            Looking at the QBs in the NFL, I wouldn’t rate Flacco any higher than 17th. Paying him like a top-tier guy when he’s no better than a league-average starter would be foolish. But they probably will… good for us.

            In less positive news for us, the Holmgren era in Cleveland ended.

          • Rob D

            Flacco. Is there anything he can’t do? I love that guy….Please take up as much of the Ravens SalCap as you can. It’s for the best.
            I also note with sadness the passing of the Holmgren era. It’s always possible some young hotshot comes in and revives the orange beast..and we don’t want that.
            I’m for as weak a division around us as possible. NE has feasted on their weak sisters for years. Jets, Dolphins and Bills..o my!

          • Eric

            You should really be mourning Lerner selling the team then. The problems with the Browns organization goes all the way to the top.

    • Sarah

      Well all credit to Luck. He’s been great.

  • roethlisbergh

    manny sanders had his worst game by far. the fumble was absurd. then, on the reed INT, phil simms noted that if manny had continued his route to the post, reed would have followed and miller would have been open.

    then finally his drop / faux injury looked like a player who just quit.

    concerning thoughts of where was rice in the 4th quarter…

    1st ravens 4th qtr possession: (carry over from 3rd quarter) only one play (3rd and 15)

    2nd 4th qtr possession: pierce was in on this possession (ravens are alternating)

    3rd 4th qtr possession:4 passes and mini-ray-ray was in but only to pass block.

    • Eric

      Phil Simms has no idea what the route was supposed to be, so don’t fault Sanders for that.

  • Eric

    Suggs reportedly has a torn bicep. It’s not clear how long he’ll be out. If he is out for a significant amount of time the Ravens could be in deep shit. They have a tough closing schedule, @WAS, DEN, NYG and @CIN.

    It’s extremely unlikely that they will be caught but it might end up being closer than we would have expected two days ago.

    • Rob D

      I was really thinking they’d fall apart but they’ve really gotten the breaks and to their credit…they’ve won. Maybe the facade will start to show some cracks and eventually collapse with that sked!
      There’s only one scenario I greatly fear..going to Denver in the playoffs but I guess that’s an obvious one. I’m OK playing anyone else in their crib..not happy but not scared like Denver. No Clark really hurts us more than no Polamalu THIS year.

      • Sarah

        Well here’s hoping we’re at BAL then – and the Ratbirds time their collapse for first week January!!!!

        • Rob D

          Excellent!
          Release the hounds!!

      • Phil Heidenreich

        I’d feel much better about going to DEN with Will Allen than with Ryan Mundy. Hopefully Polamalu can stay healthy to make that work. Mundy’s good to give up a TD per game at least.

  • Cols714

    Steelers are working out Stanford Routt today. This does not make me feel good about Ike Taylor’s chances of coming back this season.

  • David

    Well, looks like Ben’s back this week. He better be healthy, or our coaches, medical staff, and FO better start typing their resumes.

  • Intropy

    I liked what I saw from Worilds too. He’s not Harrison or Woodley, but he’s a competent starter as an NFL linebacker, which makes him a good backup. And every game I see him play seems to be a new career-best, which is a nice trajectory to be having.

    • Canadian Steeler

      Agreed. He’s getting pressure a couple times a game, which is no worse than Woodley or Harrison. You’d like to see him finish more, like on Flacco in the 1st quarter where he wrapped him around the waist, but I have some sympathy for him considering how easy it is to pick up a roughing the passer penalty right now.

      I think we need to see more of him before knowing if he can replace Harrison long-term, but I think safety’s a bigger need than rush linebacker in the 2013 draft, given Worilds’ play.

      • EasyLikeSundayMorning

        I’ve been hoping we’d pick a safety early for years (I wanted Delmas over Ziggy, for example). But the Will Allen experience makes me wonder whether safety is easier to play in LeBeau’s system than I thought… just don’t give up deep balls and be a hitter in run support and you are doing your job well enough. But a sack or forced fumble or pressure on the QB that causes a rushed INT dramatically improves the effectiveness of our D; in the last two years, with Harrison’s and Woodley’s injuries, we’ve seen a huge drop off in those defensive splash plays. So to me, getting the next top OLB is the biggest issue I want to see addressed in the draft.

        • Canadian Steeler

          I can definitely see that argument, but I’d love a playmaker in the secondary that can consistently convert those chances. While all of our starting DB’s are good enough, without Troy in, the defense doesn’t consistently turn over the ball. Ike and Keenan have done a great job in coverage this year, they’re not exactly playmakers. In 2008 and 2010, the defense had 20+ picks, of which Polamalu delivered 7 each year. Every other year since 2008, our number’s been down around 11 or 12. If he’s not picking off the ball himself (usually because of injury), our turnovers are down.

          Players can make plays due to reading of the game or athletic ability. I think LeBeau’s very good at scheming intelligent players who are relatively limited athletically – which is how I’d describe Clark and Allen – so that the defense is still excellent. Maybe having an athlete in there could open up more possibilities for turnovers.

          I just realized that this post is pretty much asking Colbert to re-draft Polamalu. Seems realistic to me haha.

          • EasyLikeSundayMorning

            I guess it depends whether this D could get more turnovers from a playmaking safety making plays or from a playmaking OLB creating pressure that leads to turnovers by others and themselves.

            Even with Troy being one of the top playmaking safeties in league history, in 10 years he’s had 29 INTs and 7 forced fumbles (and 9 sacks). I’m not sure how you’d quantify it, but James Harrison has forced a bunch of INTs and also has forced 27 fumbles (in addition to having 60+ sacks) in 9 years. Also, it is next to impossible to find another Troy, but you could argue that there have been several OLBs who are roughly as impactful as Silverback: Lloyd, Porter, Chad Brown, Gildon among them. So I’d say chances of drafting another elite 3-4 OLB is much greater.

          • Rob D

            I agree,Easy. With Harrison out or dinged up, you really see the future in and it’s not pretty even though I like Worilds. Woodley seems to have chronic problems with his legs and that’s not good considering he’s roughly the size of a freight train. I’d take an Aldon Smith or Silverback clone any day of the week. Put pressure on up front and you can get away with very good to average talent in the secondary IMO. AT least the way Lebeau schemes things. The upside to all of this is we already have above average talent either already here in the back end (Cortez Allen, Keenan Lewis) or very promising (Curtis Brown) but I don’t think we can say the same about OLB. Harrison is one of the greatest run stoppers in Steelers history from his OLB spot and when healthy, a whirling dervish of a pass rusher. That’s something we have to replace, maybe as soon as THIS draft if there are players available.

            Of course, we’d all love another Troy..but it’s unlikely to happen soon.

    • David

      Agree on Mendy. Also gone will be Mundy, Lefty, and Wallace.

  • gamn3705

    The Steelers still shoul set Ben this week and be ready for Dallas next week. Also still think Mendenhall is gone next year!

  • israelp

    I am still looking at the division and as usual I begin with “Assuming the Steelers win out.” (The division should ensure that there is no Denver game without Ryan Clark.) That is good for 11-5.

    Baltimore could easily lose two of their next three to Washington, Denver and the Giants, making them 10-5. Now Cincinnati would be 9-6 if they beat Dallas and Philadelphia, losing to the Steelers. Meantime, the Colts will lose at least one of their two games against Houston, making them 10-6. But if either Baltimore loses all three and the Colts lose two to Houston and one other game, then CIN can get the sixth seed by beating Baltimore. (CIN would have to go 10-6 and have BAL or IND go 9-7, as both beat CIN in a tiebreaker.)

    The best scenario in my mind is that The Steelers finish 11-5 and probably get #4 (as Denver will have 12-13 wins), so we can host BAL, while Cincinnati or the Colts goes to Denver. (Baltimore is not winning in Denver and it would be fun fun fun to see them lose yet again at Heinz Field.)

    • David

      Israel, greetings!

      I will not comment on our final record, but IMO:

      Indy will go 10-6
      Cincy will go 8-8

  • Cols714

    Any heads in Steeler nation going to explode when Bruce Arians’ offense puts up more yardage and points with a rookie QB than the Todd Haley offense?

    • Eric

      Why would they? Call me when Indy starts their 2nd and 3rd string quarterbacks for a quarter of a season.

      • Cols714

        Why wouldn’t they? Haley was supposed to bring an offense that ran the ball effectively and didn’t get Ben injured while scoring more points because ARIANS SUCKS!!!!! in the redzone (supposedly).

        None of this happened. Meanwhile Bruce Arians is one of the leading candidates for coach of the year.

        • MRav

          Arians might be a good coach and a good offensive coordinator, but you’d never have known it with the way he called games in Pittsburgh. I’m not an Arians hater, but you can’t say that his complete misuse of Heath Miller, his easily predictable play-calling, and the large amount of time that the offense spent off the field because of missed home-runs leading to failed third downs weren’t obviously a bad fit in Pittsburgh. Arians might be using the tools he currently has like a master, and I don’t necessarily disagree with you that he is, but his use of the tools he had in Pittsburgh was less than impressive.
          I love the trade-off in deep passes for our insane TOP because you can see the impact it has on our Defense. And I don’t blame Ben’s injury on Haley because it was a freak accident and he’s taken more and way worse hits in the past. I also didn’t blame his sacks in years past on Arians because the o-line was like a day spent drinking the water in Mexico – everything went right through it.
          Both Haley and Arians suffered from poor execution at times by the players (i.e. bad/frequent drops and poor o-line play respectively). But I do think Haley uses the tools he has in Pittsburgh better than Arians did.

        • MRav

          Also, just looking quickly at the espn.com schedules and trying to keep track in my head, the scoring totals are 265-264 in favor of Indy. Not bad with Chuck Batch/Byron Leftwich at the helm for three and a half games. So, to your point, your question is very fair in that you’re right, we aren’t seeing any sort of dramatic increase in wins/points/yards than some Arians-haters expected when they showed him the door. But I do think it was time for him to go and I think Haley has definitely worked to this point.

  • Cols714

    Just to be clear, I don’t mind the switch in coordinators and think you have to do that every now and then on offense to get new ideas in there. I just like to point out that the same problems from last year, the inability to run and get the ball in the end zone are still present this year without Arians.

    I point this out because I was sick and tired the last few years of blaming everything on BA. We still do WR screens, we still go shotgun and empty sets on 3rd and 3, we still got Ben injured.

    All of that being said, I think Haley does make some better halftime adjustments than Arians did. But I think that comes with the price of not starting out games quite as well as Arians did. I always felt like (and no I’m not looking up the stats but if someone does and it contradicts me then obviously I’m wrong) we started out the 1st quarter extremely well under BA and then slogged through the rest of the game. Here I feel like we do better in the 2nd half under Haley.

    • MRav

      Well in that case I agree! I (wrongly) deduced that you were inferring that Bruce should have been retained and that Haley was no good. I believe in both of the following statements.

      1. Bruce’s time had expired
      2. Haley has been a good change
      3. Haley has not been more successful than Bruce was/is.

  • Rob D

    Ben starts. HOpe he’s healthy enough to do so. I thought it would be six weeks minimum and he’s halved that. Protect the franchise boys..maybe it’s a good thing that he’s got bad ribs.and the Oline will put extra effort into keeping him on his feet.

  • Cols714

    I like the idea of Ben starting this week. Hopefully he can shake off the rust and be ready for the final 3 games. I’d blitz the crap out of him if I was the opposing team’s DC.

  • Cols714

    I’m pretty sad about the way Mendenhall’s career has gone. When he’s been healthy he looks terrific.

    There is an alternate universe where Mendenhall doesn’t get injured as much and doesn’t fumble in the Super Bowl and is MVP of the Super Bowl. He’s fast, powerful and has pretty good vision. It’s really too bad the way it’s turned out.

    • MRav

      In that alternate universe, could you make room for a Limas Sweed who develops into an insanely talented red-zone threat that makes the loss of Mike Wallace to free agency not seem so bad, like when Randle El left and Nate Washington actually started to show up a good bit?

      • Cols714

        That’s a different universe. Sweed never showed any ability to catch the ball. Mendenhall has shown the ability, but he’s haunted by that fumble and the injuries.

        I just watched the Packers Super Bowl highlights for some reason. Man the Steelers had that game. Even the final shitty drive Ben had a wide open running back on 3rd down but he threw deep to Wallace.

        Damn.

        • EasyLikeSundayMorning

          Yeah, that was Mwelde, if memory serves me. That bothered me for a few weeks until I let the game go. I’ve barely thought about it since then (I thought about our AFCCG losses much more).

  • Eric

    CBS would love it if the playoff matchups end up like they are currently.

    Wild Card weekend would have two big ratings games:

    1. Peyton Manning vs Luck and his former team

    2. Steelers vs Ravens

    Then, assuming that the Broncos win, you’re guaranteed to get another Brady-Manning matchup

    There would probably be some NFL execs high fiving too.

    • Cols714

      Except I think that Denver is getting the #2 seed.
      1. Houston
      2. Denver
      3. NE
      4. Baltimore with a very very outside chance of Pit or Cincy
      5. Indy
      6. Pit

  • EasyLikeSundayMorning

    I saw in Simmons’ picks that we’re 8 point favorites this week. That seems a little strange, as we’ve only won 3 games by more than 4 points this year, Ben hasn’t played in almost a month, we are riddled with injuries and most of San Diego’s games have been close. On the other hand, I believe we’re 14-0 at home in the regular season against the Chargers. Of course, in the postseason, we did lose to them at home in the AFFCG (in the Pupunu platter game, which is one of my bottom-5 sports memories).

    • Eric

      Part of it is that West coast teams playing in early games on the East coast tend to due poorly.

  • EasyLikeSundayMorning

    According to FO, Baltimore has the second hardest remaining schedule (ours is 24th). The odds aren’t great that we will make up 3 games in 4 weeks (which we need due to being 2 games back but unable to catch them on the conference record tiebreaker). But we should be favored in every game and Baltimore may be the underdogs each week. So it may be the case that if things go as expected each week, we could win the division. First things first, though. Let’s win one and get Ben healthy and back into the swing of things.

  • robert a calderon

    december 9, the chargers finally won their super bowl today over the steelers ha,ha,ha,ha,ha