Taken from the grade book of a teacher who just watched his star pupil fail an eminently passable portion of crucial pass-fail final, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the loss to the Ravens at M&T Stadium.
When the history of Ben Roethlisberger‘s career is written, this game might not be his absolute worst, but it will make the Top 5. To start, Ben Roethlisberger threw two interceptions, had another nullified by a penalty, and threw a fourth pass that should have been picked off. His indecisiveness at the line of scrimmage betrayed the inaccurate passes that followed. Roethlisberger did not look to be prepared for this game, and while he had help, even an average game from Ben is probably enough for a win. But Ben wasn’t even close to average. Grade: F
DeAngelo Williams looked like he was going to own the Ravens, rushing for over 70 yards in just a quarter. The Steelers got away from that after all of that rushing only put 3 points on the board. Williams found other way to make the Ravens pay, with six catches on six targets for 5 yards. He also scored both touchdowns. Will Johnson blocked well and Fitzgerald Toussaint had six yards on two carries. Grade: A
Heath Miller had 5 catches on 6 targets and seemed to be the focal point of the only drive that the Steelers moved the ball effectively on. Jesse James had one catch on one target but couldn’t quite get the first down. Matt Spaeth got flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. Grade: B+
Grading the Steelers wide receivers after a loss like this is difficult. On the one hand, both Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton stepped up and make some tough catches, in some cases that required adjustments. In other cases, they failed to make those adjustments. Clearly, however, both Brown and Wheaton and Martavis Bryant struggled to get open. The receivers did draw pass interference penalties, which, quite frankly, is as much a part of being a successful wide receiver in today’s NFL as anything else. Darrius Heyward-Bey had one catch on one target. Grade: C
Clearly, the Steelers offensive line was able to open up holes for DeAngelo Williams, early and often. Williams didn’t find so much rushing day light as the game moved on, but the line did well enough. It is hard to gauge how well the line did in pass protection, because Ben Roethlisberger held on to the ball for quite a while, and at least one of the Ravens 3 sacks was a coverage sack. Still, the Ravens sacked Ben when the Steelers could least afford it, and that was not a coverage sack, and the line’s grade reflects that. Grade: D
Lost in the shuffle over Ben Roethlisberger’s poor play, and other flaws in the Steelers game plan and execution (or lack thereof) is that the Ravens ran the ball quite well at times. Javorius Allen and Terrance West didn’t pile up yards, but both men had long runs, and they allowed Ryan Mallett to get into a rhythm which was crucial to Baltimore’s 13 point half time lead. Neither Cameron Heyward nor Stephon Tuitt were factors in pressuring Mallett and both must bear responsibility for allowing Baltimore to run when it needed to. Grade: D
Ryan Shazier led the team with 13 tackles, but didn’t even sniff a splash play. Lawrence Timmons was next, with 8 tackles. James Harrison led outside linebackers with one QB hit and 5 tackles, while Jarvis Jones batted down a pass. Arthur Moats had 1 QB hit. Bud Dupree had one tackle. The linebackers didn’t get much pressure on the quarterback, and must bear some of the responsibility for the Ravens ability to shred the Steelers on third and short. Grade: D
Antwon Blake missed a tackle third down on a drive that ended with a Ravens field goal. Brandon Boykin had the team’s only sack and was second on the team in tackles. Robert Golden was third, in part because of an injury to Michael Mitchell. William Gay had a solid game but that should surprise no one. Ryan Mallett was channeling his inner Johnny Unitas, particuarly during the first half. Sure, it isn’t the secondary’s fault that the Steelers didn’t decide to pressure Mallett until the second half, but the secondary simply could not make stops when needed. Grade: F
Chris Boswell made his only field goal. Steelers Nation wishes he’d had one more attempt. The Steelers special teams didn’t commit any egregious errors which is good. But they didn’t do anything to provide a spark with a convincing return, a forced fumble, or blocked kick. And the Pittsburgh Steelers sure could have used a spark vs. Baltimore. Grade: C
This is where it get ugly folks….
So the Pittsburgh Steelers could put up 17 points against a Baltimore Ravens defense ranks 22nd in points allowed but scored 34 against a Denver defense that ranked 5th in points allowed? The Ravens had 4 interceptions going into the game, yet came away with 2 vs. the Steelers? OK, it says here that Todd Haley is not responsible for Ben Roethlisberger’s two interceptions, nullified by penalty interception and one almost interception.
- But what about the game plan?
Roethlisberger took one game of delay penalty and burned two other time outs to avoid others. The play clock burned down to T-minus 1 on innumerable occasions. Clearly the offense wasn’t prepared for what it saw when it looked across from the line of scrimmage. Did Ben mail it in on preparation? Perhaps, but there’s zero evidence to support that. Either way, the Steelers offense wasn’t ready for the Ravens defense.
- Should the Steelers have stuck to running the ball?
All of DeAngelo Williams first half yards only netted three points, with the other 14 coming after the Steelers began to throw. The blunt truth is that when you play badly enough to make a 4-10 team a 5-10 team, people have every right to ask those questions.
On the defensive side of the ball the tendency is pretty clear. When the defense secures take away the Steelers have a shot at winning. Keith Butler’s game plan appeared to be to let Ryan Mallett beat the coverage. Well, Mallett owned the Steelers in the first half.
- Certainly, a more aggressive approach limited the Ravens to 7 second half points.
But Kyle Juszczyk burned the Steelers for 34 yards to set up the Ravens final TD on a check down pass. Whether that was the Ravens exploiting something in coverage or a simple failure of execution, this defensive lapse mortally wounded the Steelers.
- Finally, it comes to Mike Tomlin.
Mike Tomlin is a good coach. He has the hardware to prove it (please save me the “winning with Bill Cowher’s players B.S.” Sure, his (failed) gambles this year have been costly, but on paper the Steelers should have the fire power to overcome a failure to convert a 4th and short on their first series.
- Clearly, John Harbaugh and his staff had a better game plan coming in.
That can happen, and one can quibble about Tomlin’s overall record vs. Harbaugh – perhaps there’s something to quibble about. But the key criticism after the Baltimore game doesn’t revolve around the game planning, because Tomlin and his staff made adjustments, and those adjustments had some impact.
- The issue here is with execution.
The Baltimore Ravens executed, the Steelers failed to execute. Tomlin can dispute that his players came out flat all he wants, James Harrison and others in the Steelers lockeroom have admitted that they came out flat. Steelers Nation saw it with their own eyes.
For most of the game, it looked like it was the Ravens, and not the Steelers who were playing for a slot in the post season. Most of Mike Tomlin’s 52 losses have come against teams with losing records. Trap games torment Mike Tomlin’s Steelers, and there is no better example of it than the loss to the Ravens. Grade: F
The loss to the Ravens was a total team failure with DeAngelo Williams looking like he was the only player who got word that the game had been flexed back to 1:00 pm. Another player who did everything that was asked of him and did it well was Heath Miller who wins the Steelers Report Card’s Unsung Hero Award for the Steelers loss to the Ravens at M&T Stadium.