Steelers Report Card vs. Ravens @ Heinz Field

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who sees a pupil with a performance arch that is startlingly familiar to the one he saw last year, here is the Steelers report card for their 2012 loss to the Ravens.

Mike Tomlin has reaffirmed his faith in Byron Leftwich several times over through the years. Leftwich began by exceeding everyone’s expectations, but it was all down hill after that. Yes, Leftwich was injured. But, the Report Card focuses on performance and outcome, and Leftwich didn’t get the job done. While it’s hard to blame Leftwich for not taking himself from the game, it doesn’t excuse his misplaced gallantry. Grade:  D

Running Backs
When Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman, and Jonathan Dwyer posted all strong performances, Mike Tomlin promised to go with the hot back. The stat sheets says that hot back vs. the Ravens was Dwyer. Unfortunately, he about split carries evenly with Mendenhall, who looked a little tentative at the line. Redman gained 5 yards on a run, and Baron Batch moved the chains with his lone carry.  Grade: C

Catching a ball from an unfamiliar hand requires an adjustment, and the Steelers receivers offered a mixed bag. Some plays were made, but there were drops and times when receivers failed to catch the ball in bounds. Likewise, Leftwich had to throw the ball away several times. Emmanuel Sanders and Mike Wallace led the group, although Wallace’s fumble cost the team dearly as did the non-touchdown catch. Heath Miller played well, but was held back to block. Grade:  D+

Offensive Line
Another shaky performance for a unit that seemed to be coalescing. At times the run blocking was excellent. At times, the line protected Leftwich well. Consistency however lacked. Mike Adams struggled at times, although he was not the only one at fault. The difference in the game probably did not come down to the failed exchange between Maurkice Pouncey and Leftwich, but such mishaps are inexcusable on final drives. Grade:  D

Defensive Line
It was perhaps the defensive line’s strongest performance, with Ray Rice being held to 40 yards on 20 carries. He had no where to run. Brett Keisel led the unit in tackles and the stat sheet doesn’t do justice to the way Casey Hampton clogged up the middle. Cameron Heyward played well in relief of Ziggy Hood. Keisel’s offsides penalty hurt however. Grade:  B+

The linebacking corps also turned in a strong performance. Lawrence Timmons seemed to be in on every tackle and so was James Harrison, whose sack could have be a difference maker. LaMarr Woodley also clocked in with a sack, and Larry Foote was his reliable self. The only thing lacking was a forced turnover, which the Steelers needed.  Grade:  B+

With each game, Keenan Lewis just seems to get better. But Ike Taylor is playing very good football, simply making it hard for opposing teams to throw when they need to. Ryan Clark didn’t light up the stat sheet, but whatever he lacked in quantity he made up in quality. Will Allen continued with his solid play, and Ryan Mundy didn’t get noticed for the wrong reasons. Baltimore was 3-14 on third downs. Like the linebackers, the only thing lacking was a turnover, and the again, the Steelers needed one. Grade:  B+

Special Teams
A truly awful night for a unit that has run hot and cold all season. Jacoby Jones 63 yard touchdown on a punt return put the Ravens over the top. But Baltimore’s return game was strong all night, and neither Chris Rainey nor Sanders did anything for the Steelers Shaun Suisham was 1-1, but his kickoffs, which were deep early in the year, fell shallow. Grade:  F

Steel Curtain Rising already took Mike Tomlin to task for either not knowing Leftwich was injured and/or failing to act on that knowledge. However, he is not the only one to blame. Dink-and-Dunk is not Byron Leftwich’s game. And while he did attempt and compete some long passes, the question is why was Todd Haley had him throwing so much to begin with? The Raven’s run defense is suspect to begin with, and the Steelers entered the game with a stud stable of healthy running backs. Why didn’t Jonathan Dwyer get more carries?

In contrast, Dick LeBeau called a tremendous game and his players executed, and that’s all that saves the coaching staff from an F-bomb in this weeks’ report card. Grade:  D

Unsung Hero
The 1998 and 1999 Steelers defenses started strong only to peter out, with the rest of the team, down the stretch. One reason for the decline was the disintegration of Joel Steed’s knees. As Ed Bouchette has said, the nose tackle is the fulcrum on which the Steelers 3-4 rises and falls.

Early in the year when something big happened up front, Steve McClendon was as likely as not to be in the game. Not so vs. the Ravens. The Steelers front seven made play after play, and the only happens if Casey Hampton is wrecking havoc in the middle. Havoc Hampton wrought, and for that he win the Unsung Hero award for the game.

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