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.