Taken from the grade book of a teacher who saw his star student ace his final quarter in high school, only to fall flat on his face during his first semester in college, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the playoff loss to the Ravens.
The stat sheet isn’t too kind to Ben Roethlisberger, who threw for 334 yards, on 45 passes and 31 completions with one touchdown and two interceptions. Truthfully, his first interception could have been caught and was a miracle catch by Terell Suggs. The Ravens did what they could to take away the deep ball from the Steelers and Ben had no underneath check down to rely upon. Bruce Gradkowski came into a difficult spot and made a nice throw on third down and converted a fourth down. Ben Roethlisberger didn’t play his best game, but he certainly can’t be “blamed” for the loss. Grade: B
On the surface, the decision to start Ben Tate made sense. But if you accept that then why not sign an experienced veteran earlier in the season? Looking at the numbers Tate played a respectable game, but fumbled early and bobbled a pass that got intercepted. Josh Harris had 9 carries for 25 yards, but didn’t get a lot of running room. Tellingly, the Steelers turned to Will Johnson when they needed to convert in short yardage. Dri Archer ran once for a loss, but did catch 3 passes. The running backs weren’t asked to do a lot but, even then, they didn’t quite answer the call. Grade: C-
Heath Miller came up with some clutch catches as he always does. But he also failed to come up with a few others that the Steelers needed. His fumble also made the Steelers 1 and done official. Moreover, he struggled in blocking particularly against Terrell Suggs. Miller’s catches bring the grade up, but the Steelers needed more from the tight ends than they got. Grade: D
Antonio Brown caught 9 passes, including one that almost went for a touchdown that he had little right to catch. Martavis Bryant had 6 catches including a touchdown, and Darrius Heyward Bey and one catch for six yards. The Steelers put up 356 yards of passing against the Ravens, and the wide receivers came up with 250 of those. A good night. Grade: B
Baltimore’s ability to control the line of scrimmage and collapse the pocket was a big difference maker in the game. The Steelers relative lack of playoff experience has been noted, but Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster, and Marcus Gilbert have all started playoff games before. Pouncey and Foster have won them too. None of the savvy supposedly gained from playoff experience was evident vs. the Ravens. The Steelers needed a strong game from their offensive line. They got the opposite. Grade: F
Baltimore ran the ball when it had to, in the first half. The defensive line made its adjustments, but by then the damage had been done. Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt got 4 tackles a piece, with the stat sheet showing that Heyward hit Joe Flacco twice. Fair enough, but Steelers front seven generated little pressure on Flacco, and the line must share part of that responsibility. Grade: C-
Going into the game one of the story lines was how would Baltimore’s inexperienced offensive lineman fare against the Steelers edge rushers who’d been making a lot of noise of late. The underdog won this battle in a big way. Jason Worilds personal foul penalty was boneheaded to say the least and he was a non-factor in the pass rush, as was James Harrison. Sean Spence did get a sack, and Ryan Shaizer did force a fumble in a nice play. Vince Williams had 3 tackles including one for a loss. Lawrence Timmons, turned in a strong game as he has all season. Grade: D
Three of the Steelers top four tacklers were members of the secondary, Troy Polamalu, Brice McCain, and Mike Mitchell. Polamlau did help in run support and got a lick in on Flacco, but for all intents and purposes he wasn’t an impact player. Mitchell’s personal foul penalty energized the Ravens to their first touchdown. McCain got his hands on a pick, but unlike Terrell Suggs, McCain couldn’t hold on. Welcome to the playoffs Mr. McCain. Flacco simply completed the throws he had to complete, and while the non-existent pass rush helped, the Steelers patchwork secondary also was a factor. Grade: D
Markus Wheaton had 3 returns which averaged 20.7 yards a full four yards below his season average. On the flip side, Jacoby Jones was held to 23.7 yards per return, in line with the Steelers regular season average, but well below Jones’ average for 2014. Brad Wing averaged below 40 yards per punt, but did pin the Ravens down twice inside the 20. Shaun Susiham made all 3 of his field goals. All of that points to an average night for the Steelers special teams, but Shamarko Thomas’ blocked punt was sensational coming at just when the Steelers needed it. The fact that the offense failed to capitalize doesn’t dim the brilliance of the play. Grade: A-
The Steelers coaches have taken a lot of heat for the Ravens performance, and this comes with the territory when you lose so badly in the playoffs. With that said, its important to acknowledge that the execution vs. game plan debate is legitimate. Even so, Todd Haley’s offense couldn’t protect its quarterback, couldn’t make the run threat real, struggled in the Red Zone, but did move the ball. Haely is certainly not responsible for the turnovers. And his backup entered without the offense missing a beat.
Dick LeBeau’s defense failed to pressure the passer, and its secondary failed to shut down the Ravens when it counted. However, the unit did eliminate the running game for an entire half.
At the end of the day, the crisp execution and smart play that had characterized the Steelers during the season’s final four weeks was largely missing, and as Mike Tomlin would be the first to say, “The Steelers are what they put on tape.” The Pittsburgh Steelers final 2014 Report Card will rate the coaches more well, but this Report Card is based solely on outcome and performance vs. the Ravens. Grade: D
Unsung Hero Award
This gentleman isn’t one of the Killer Bees. He’s not the rookie sensation who specializes in catching touchdowns. The stat sheet says he had 5 catches for 66 yards, which is respectable in today’s NFL, but will do little to make him the envy of the Fantasy Football owners next season.
But go beyond the numbers, and you’ll see why he was so special to the Steelers on a night when much went wrong. Those 5 catches came on 6 targets. And here is how they broke down: 1-11, 1-11, 1-12, 1-15, and 1-17 – all but the final catch (which came on 2nd and 20) went for a first down. You can’t score if you don’t move the chains in the NFL and this gentleman kept the chains moving for Pittsburgh. While the end result remains, his individual effort deserves far more recognition than he’s getting, and for that Markus Wheaton is the Unsung Hero of the playoff loss to the Ravens.