Taken from the Grade Book of a teacher who now assumes he grossly overestimated the talents of his students, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the 21-14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
Just looking at the numbers, Ben Roethlisberger’s 23-45-264-1-1 plus a rushing touchdown don’t look so bad. In fact, some Fantasy Football owners are probably happy. But we’re talking reality football here, and the reality is that Ben Roethlisberger looked a lot more like Mark Malone for 3 quarters than himself. He managed to make it interesting at the end, but that was little more than garbage time glory. Failing to convert third downs until the 4th quarter doesn’t cut it. Grade: F
So Le’Veon Bell is human after all. The Ravens stacked the line of scrimmage and gave Bell zero room to run. There were cases of Bell getting something where little was there, but he did not make enough of those plays. Bell caught 6 passes, but wasn’t as effective in the passing game (well, no one was.) DeAngelo Williams had one yard on one carry. Grade: D
Jesse James dropped the first pass thrown his way, and while that didn’t start any sort of chain reaction, it did set the wrong tone. James however caught to other passes, and appears to be blocking al ittle better. David Johnson had one catch for 15 yards. Xavier Grimble hand one catch for 10 yards. The Steelers tight end by committee system has been adequate, but hasn’t replaced Heath Miller’s dependability, nor added the spark that Ladarius Green was supposed to add. Grade: C
Antonio Brown too, it seems is human. The Ravens kept him bottled up for most of the game. He missed a catch that was well defended, but did make another catch. Overall Brown’s play was solid, but he can’t carry the wide receiving corps on his own. Eli Rogers helped fuel the late rally and looked strong. Sammie Coates dropped a touchdown pass that could have given teeth to the Steelers comeback effort. There were times when the Roethlisberger’s passes were WAY off, yet there were other times when the Steelers receivers didn’t step up as needed. Grade: C-
Any assessment of the Steelers offensive line’s effort against the Ravens must concede that, overall, Ben Roethlisberger had solid protection. And that is not a “nice to have” when you’ve got a quarterback returning from injury. Even if that does provide a “glass half full” the Steeler needed their class filled to the brim, and that means they needed to dominate the line of scrimmage, and get the running game going. They failed to do this as Le’Veon Bell has 5th lowest yardage totals of the year. 50% success from the offensive line will not cut it. Grade: F
In the early going it looks like the Ravens were going to gouge the Steelers on the ground repeatedly for large chunks of yardage. But both Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward stepped it up, with the former getting one drop behind the line of scrimmage and the latter getting two with both men getting licks on the Joe Flacco. Daniel McCullers and Javon Hargrave split time at nose tackle helping shut down the Ravens running game. Grade: B
The Ravens game approaches what the Steelers brass were thinking when they invested all of those number one picks on linebackers. Lawrence Timmons led the team with 9 tackles including a pass defense on a would-be touchdown throw. James Harrison had his best game of the season, sacking Joe Flacco twice, including hitting him with one of his patented strip-sacks. He also made three more run stuffing tackles for a loss. Jarvis Jones didn’t make any “splash” plays, but he also helped contain the run. Anthony Chickillo split a sack with Shazier and was a force behind the line of scrimmage. Grade: B
Obviously Artie Burns got burned by Mike Wallace (pun intended) and Mick Mitchell missed a tackle that he should have made. But you know what? Overall the play of the Steelers secondary was “Above the line.” Burns spent much of the day matched up against Steve Smith and the Ravens tested him, but Burns showed some scrappiness, he also netted the secondary’s first interception of the season. Ross Cockrell’s name wasn’t mentioned much, which is good – although his effort in trying to catch Mike Wallace most certainly won notice here. Ditto Robert Golden. You can never gloss over Wallace’s 95 yard touchdown, but the Ravens were 4-17 on third downs. Grade: C+
Shamarko Thomas looked sharp in downing an early punt at the one. And that ends the Steelers special teams highlight reel.
- The Steelers special teams performance vs. the Ravens was an unmitigated disaster.
The Ravens had a 28 yard kickoff return and a 14 yard punt return. Hardly lethal numbers, but combined this with penalties and you have the Steelers yielding field position unnecessarily on a day when the offense was struggling.
- Then you have the critical breakdown.
According to Dale Lolley, Ravens running back told him that Steelers gunner Sean Davis “Wasn’t paying attention to him.” He took advantage, blocked Jordan Berry’s punt, and the Ravens took it to the house effectively sealing the game. That’s disgraceful because judging solely by the numbers, the Steelers would have won without that error.
The ideal behind Chris Boswell’s on-sides kick wasn’t nearly as bad as its botched execution made it look. Still, that ugly play provides the perfect image to sum up an atrocious day of Steelers special teams play. Grade: F
Let’s start with the positive, and there is one positive to come out of this game. Keith Butler has taken a lot of heat this season so far for the apparent regression of the Steelers defense. And so he should. The Steelers defense was hapless in Philly and got manhandled in Miami. And, while Mike Wallace’s 95 yard romp is a major flaw, the Steelers defense held the Ravens to 13 points.
- Normally if you go on the road and hold the home team to 13 points, you’re playing winning defense.
By and large, Keith Butler’s boys were “Above the line.” Unfortunately, the rest of the team wasn’t.
Unlike the Miami game, no one can accuse Todd Haley of abandoning the run too early. Fair enough. Whether Ben Roethlisberger and his receivers finally found its rhythm or they simply enjoyed some garbage time glory, remains an academic question: The Steelers offense was absent for 3 and a half quarters.
- This is unacceptable.
And that brings us to Mike Tomlin. On the internet there are no shortages of fans calling for his summary firing. You will see no such talk here. The Steelers don’t operate that way, and fans should be thankful for that.
But that doesn’t excuse Mike Tomlin from yet another sub-par performance against a sub-par team on the road. A pattern has formed here and it is not pretty for Pittsburgh. The Steelers have replicated this experiment too many times. As has Ben Roethlisberger.
Which shifts focus to the question as to whether he should have played or not:
I watched two poor practices. Teammates, national media way too effusive in praise. https://t.co/mNDTcQNIyO
— James C Wexell (@jimwexell) November 6, 2016
Based on how he looked for 3 and a half quarters, the answer to that question is no. Mike Tomlin is not second guessing his decision to trust in his franchise quarterback over Landry Jones. Fair enough. But Tomlin is made to make the right call here.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are dangerously close to where they were in 2009, when a few bad games, injuries and “a couple of those kinds of things” snowballed into a 5 game losing streak. The current losing streak stands at 3 with the 7 and 1 Dallas Cowboys arriving at Heinz Field next week. Mike Tomlin must right the ship, and he must do it fast. Grade: F
His plays didn’t draw quite the level of attention that James Harrison’s did, but they were every bit as important and effective. Fans get down on him for being “Injury prone” but against the Ravens, he seemed to be back to full health and in fine form, making his presence known all over the field. For that, and for his half sack, 2 and half tackles behind the line of scrimmage, his quarterback hit, Ryan Shazier wins the Unsung Hero Award for the 2016 road loss to the Ravens.