After twin wins vs. the division leading Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos, Mike Tomin’s 9-5 Pittsburgh Steelers were sitting pretty with a clear line to the playoffs. All they needed to do was knock off the bottom feeding Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns. On paper it was so simple….
- …But, beating lesser teams has too often been too tough a challenge for Mike Tomlin.
And so came the game vs. the Baltimore Ravens, a 4-10 team playing their 4th quarterback of the season, with 19 players on injured reserve, and only pride to play for. After their dramatic comeback vs. Denver, the Steelers said all the right things about only focusing on Baltimore. Their actions on the field at M&T Stadium said something different.
The sad matter is, the Baltimore Ravens were the better team and deserved to win, while the Pittsburgh Steelers earned their 20-17 loss.
Did Haley Out Think Himself….?
Following the Broncos win, Dale Lolley observed that Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley are two coaches who are intent on taking what they want, not reacting to what the defense gives them, pointing to the Steelers boldness in airing out the ball against Seattle and Denver’s tough pass defenses.
- Yet, when the Ravens went into double deep zone Steelers enthusiastically ran the ball.
On paper, it is hard to argue with their efforts. DeAngelo Williams had close to 100 yards before the 1st quarter ended, and the Steelers appeared intent on imposing their will on the Ravens defense. Yet, the Steelers lost a key test on their first drive when they failed to convert a 4th down instead of kicking a makeable field goal.
- While there’s no guarantee Chris Boswell makes that kick. the Steelers sure could have used those 3 points.
Fans have second guessed Haley’s decision to abandon the run. Fair enough, when you lose people ask those questions. But the success of the Steelers in running the ball wasn’t translating to points on the board.
Credit Todd Haley for adjusting his game play at half time, but the stark reality is the Steelers offense wasted an entire half, allowing the Ravens to jump to a 10 point lead. Normally 10 points would be a small margin for this offense to overcome, but this was not a normal game for the Steelers.
The Butler Did It? Mallett Carves Up Steelers Secondary
It’s been said here before, the Steelers 2015 accidental secondary doesn’t scare anyone. Yet, for one half, Keith Butler’s game plan seemed to be to sit back and force Ryan Mallett to beat the coverage.
- Mallett was up to the task.
The Ravens were perfect or near perfect on converting third downs in the first half. In fact, it is probably fair to say that the Steelers were lucky to have held the Ravens to only 13 points at half time.
Like his counterpart, Keith Butler made second half adjustments and, while the Steelers second half against the Ravens failed to evoke memories of Blitzburgh glory, Pittsburgh’s defense did play better.
The Steelers limited the Ravens to one touchdown in the second half, and that should have been enough to win, perhaps would have been enough to win but….
While the move was not popular with number 7, Art Rooney II’s decision to force out Bruce Arians has been equated with the Steelers President giving his franchise quarterback some tough love. Roethlisberger and Arians had a father and son like relationship, and that did not always serve the best interests of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
- The parting has been good for both Arians and the Steelers.
The Roethlisberger-Haley relationship didn’t begin smoothly, but Todd Haley’s arrival has resulted in an improved Ben Roethlisberger, save for his return from injury in ’12 and 0-4 start to 2013. Under Todd Haley, Ben Roethlisberger has played better, smarter football. His sacks have been down, and the Steelers burn people downfield with an intensity not seen since the days of Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swann, and John Stallworth.
- Yet, in the last few weeks, Ben’s penchant for throwing “stupid interceptions” has crept back into his game.
It resurfaced again today, with Roethilsberger throwing two ugly picks and having a couple of other passes that should have been intercepted. As it was, the Ravens scored 10 points off of Roethlisberger interceptions, and that total would have been 17 if it were not for a neutral zone infraction nullified a 100 yard interception return.
- Even setting the awful interceptions aside, Ben Roethlisberger’s game was off against the Ravens
Time and time again, Ben Roethlisberger looked confused as the play clock ticked down to zero. His indecision cost the Steelers one delay of game penalty while early in the first half he was forced to burn two time outs to avoid two more.
- Ben didn’t always get a lot of help from his receivers.
Martavis Bryant dropped a couple of passes he should have caught. Markus Wheaton made some nice catches but could have caught the last one thrown his way. Antonio Brown made some nice grabs, but sometimes struggled to get open. And it wasn’t until the second half that Ben Roethlisberger found Heath Miller (save for the piss poor pass intended for Miller that the Ravens picked off.)
It would be unjust to pin this loss all on Ben Roethlisberger, but by any measure, Ben played poorly.
Tap Games Continue to Trip Up Mike Tomlin Teams
This game recalls another game at M&T Stadium in December. A backup quarterback was called into action, one who’d spent the season as a discarded afterthought. The heavily favored superheavyweight faltered, and lost by a field goal. Yet the superheavyweight righted himself, and ended up winning the Super Bowl.
- The game of course is the Charlie Batch upset of the Ravens in December 2012.
The Steelers collapsed after that win, but the Ravens rebounded went on to win the Super Bowl. Could the Steelers follow the Ravens model?
- Don’t count on it.
The Steelers could theoretically make the playoffs, but this game has the feel of a season-ender. Moreover, Pittsburgh’s play vs. the Ravens indicate that they don’t deserve post-season honors. Steel Curtain Rising has been a stalwart defender of Mike Tomlin and is not inclined to change that, even after such a piss poor performance in a must-win situation.
- But the fact remains that Mike Tomlin teams too often struggle with trap games.
Numbers don’t lie. It happened in 2007 (but not 2008.) The ugly trend resurfaced in 2009 but was blissfully absent in 2010. Trouble with trap games was at the root of the playoffless 2012 and 2013 campaigns. Throw in the Tampa loss in 2014.
The sad fact is that the Pittsburgh was out-coached by Baltimore off the field, out-executed by Baltimore on the field and, yes it hurts to write this, the Ravens looked like they wanted it more than the Steelers did.
And that’s why the headline Baltimore Beats Pittsburgh 20-17 hurts so badly.