Polamalu Strip Sack of Joe Flacco Powers Team Effort in 2010 Steelers Road Win Over Ravens

Injuries will not be an excuse. The Standard of Expectation Remains the Same.” – Mike Tomlin

The Steelers lost Dan Sepulveda. They lost Flozell Adams. They lost Heath Miller. The Baltimore Ravens broke Ben Roethlisberger’s nose.

  • But they never broke the Pittsburgh Steelers resolve.

Anyone tempted to say “NFL division rivalries are not what they used to be” must watch this game.

  • Call it what you will: A Steelers-Ravens Street Fight; A Pittsburgh-Baltimore Bar Room Brawl. Either metaphor applies.
Issac Redman, Steelers vs Ravens

Issac Redman scores winning touchdown in Steelers 2010 win @ M&T Stadium. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune Review

Injuries felled players on both sides, yet the game did not hinge on a battle of attrition. Like previous contests, the outcome remained in doubt until the final minute, yet the game did not turn on a test of wills.

Instead, the contest came down to playmaking ability, and Pittsburgh prevailed.

Team Effort Paves Path for Steelers Playmakers

To whom do you award the game ball for last night? Ben Roethlisberger, Isaac Redman, Shaun Suisham, or perhaps Troy Polamalu? You could easily double the choices presented above (vote please) for the game ball award and still snub someone on the Steelers.

But if Steelers Nation will remember the heroic efforts of a few key players in the victory over the Ravens, we must not lose sight of the reality that this victory represented a team effort.

  • Despite giving up a few long balls, the Steelers defense forced no fewer than six 3 and outs
  • Holding a 7-3 lead, the Ravens marched down to the Steelers six – but the defense held, forcing a field goal

Both the Steelers and the Ravens posted nearly identical 3rd down conversion rates, rushing averages, passing totals, and each committed a turnover

  • Yet the Steelers won the time of possession battle, to the tune of 34:08 to 25:52, much of that swing occurring on the Steelers 9 minute 27 second drive that ended with field goal.

Against this backdrop, the Steelers were losing starters, forcing their kicker to double as a punter, and shuffling men and out of their line up. One man goes down, another steps in.

Nonetheless, with just over three minutes left to play the Ravens stood at the Steelers 43 and Ray Rice had just run for 5 yards on first down. A number of commentators described the situation as “looking bleak” – an opinion not shared in the Steelers huddle.

The fireworks were only about to start…

Two First Round Picks and an Undrafted Free Agent Rookie

Chicago has one Michael Jordan, who with the game on the line, takes the ball in his hands and he knows can score… Well, we had 4-5 guys who felt they could do that on any given play.” – Lynn Swann on “The Steelers of the ‘70s In Their Own Words”

Yes, Steel Curtain Rising showcased that quote after the AFC Championship game, and we will showcase it again when appropriate.

Another way of framing the issue is with a question:

  • What do USC, Miami of Ohio, and Bowie State University have in common?

They produce play makers who cause game-changing events for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Watch for yourself (available as of 11/6/16):

For the second week in a row, Troy Polamalu stepped up and altered the course of the game with everything on the line.

This is no accident. A phenomenal athlete, Troy Polamalu’s training and preparation routines are legendary. He studies film like no one else. But beyond that, Troy Polamalu has that intangible on the field presence, that instinct, that draws him to the ball during critical situations.
But Polamalu had help.

The Steelers had stalled badly in the Red Zone once before, and they got nowhere on first down. On second down Roethlisberger did what only Roethlisberger can do, with defenders clinging to him he managed to wiggle and pivot just enough to toss the ball away, saving a sack.

  • The next play found Isaac Redman in the huddle. He apparently was not supposed to be there. Roethlisberger had to call out Redman’s assignment at the line of scrimmage.

Redman got the message. More importantly, the 2009 training camp sensation lived true to his name, “Redzone Redman” breaking not one, but two tackles in route to the end zone.

Redman remains a work in progress, but on this night the undrafted rookie was the equal of the two ballyhooed first round draft day darlings.

The Steelers Road from Here

The victory over the Ravens puts the Steelers in the drivers seat in the AFC North race. As with many victories, this one was costly.

  • Logic dictates that the Steelers cannot continue to stay a step ahead of the toll that injuries are taking on this team.

But the same logic says the Steelers should have already capitulated to attrition. It has not happened because this group of Pittsburgh Steelers concedes nothing to adversity.

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Steelers Report Card vs. the Ravens at Home

Each week Steel Curtain Rising grades the performance of the individual Steelers units. “Scouts Honor” no other “grades” have been consulted. Here are the grades for the Steelers loss to the Ravens.

Quarterback

Charlie Batch avoided costly mistakes (at least until the end) and managed to make some tough throws, despite facing a heavy rush during much of the game. Still, he missed on two deep throws to Wallace that he should have made, and he failed to get it done on third down, pressure or no. Grade: C-

Running Backs

Isaac Redman did not get carry, but made some key blocks and caught a pass. Rashard Mendenhall ran when, when he had room and scored both of the team’s touchdowns. The problem was that he had little room to run. But that was not his fault. Grade: B

Receivers

Randal El reminded everyone of why the Steelers brought him back, even if he doesn’t have the speed he used to have. Health Miller also had to clutch catches. Ward and Wallace each had two passes for short yardage, and Brown and Battle each had a grab. The receivers made no “splash” plays, but they did do what was asked of them. Matt Spaeth’s false start hurt badly. Grade: B-

Offensive Line

Mendenhall had no rushing room and Charlie Batch had little time. Unlike against the Titans, their were no injuries or dehydration to fight. The Steelers in large part lost because they could not control the line of scrimmage. While he certainly did not get “crushed” the stat sheet says that Ngata got the better of Pouncey. The false start and holding penalties were inexcusable. The offensive line was, “below the line.” Grade D

Defensive line

Although none of them was in full health, the Raven’s three running backs averaged 2.6 yards per carry. That’s the good part. The bad part was that Flacco had ample time to throw. Pressure is not the line’s prime responsibility in LeBeau’s defense, but the Steelers needed more than they got from their front 3. Grade: C

Linebackers

Timmons had another monster game with 14 tackles. Farrior had a pass defense, Woodley and Harrison both had tackles for losses. Those stats are nice, but don’t be foold. The LeBeau blitzed infrequently, and ultimately ineffectively, meaning the linebackers were used in converge extensively. While they made a few plays, they failed to make enough as evidenced by Flacco’s seeming ease at passing at key moments. Grade: D

Secondary

The Steelers goal line stand was a thing of beauty, and the fact that the Ravens got the ball back does not count against them. But Flacco’s final drive was facile (Spanish for easy.) He also made some other key throws earlier in the game. Grade: D

Special Teams

The return game was a net wash for both teams. 45 plus yards in the open end of Heinz Field is tough for anyone, but Jeff Reed has got to make at least one of those. And if the false start penalties with the Steelers playing out of their own goal were a “get back in the game gift” for the Ravens, the holding penalty was beau on the wrapping paper. Grade: F

Coaching

It is way too early to say that Cam Cameron and Jim Zorn “have Dick LeBeau’s number,” but they clearly had a better game plan, stuck to it, and their players executed better. Roethlisberger or no, the Steelers did nothing to tarnish the credentials of the league’s number one defense. Grade: D

Unsung Hero

Daniel Sepulveda. It may seem odd to honor a man whose unit receive a collective “F” but he averaged 49.4 yards per kick with a long kick of 57, and pinned them inside the 20 once. In a game where yards and points were scarce and field position at a premium, Sepulveda’s punting help keep the Steelers competitive.

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The Perils of [Not Being Able to See] Preseason Football

As any NFL fan registering a pulse knows, the four game preseason is going the way of the doe-doe. Debates on the merits and drawbacks of playing 18 regular season games will come later (perhaps here on Steel Curtain Rising). This is about something else.

Long-time readers know that I have lamented my inability to watch preseason football in the past (as you’d expect, they do not show Steelers preseason games in Buenos Aires). My reasons are simple.

  • Preseason gives fans a real chance to evaluate talent for themselves

And while many moan about the starters getting pulled early, there is an upside:

  • The guys playing after the starters depart are busting their assess ‘cause they want to make the team

Today, the Post-Gazette’s gave me another reason to miss preseason.

A Punishing… Punter?

Just a few days ago Steel Curtain Rising took exception with Mike Tomlin’s [apparent] decision to end punter Daniel Sepulveda’s foray into kicking off after only one game.

Ron Cook added fuel to the fire today.

When the Steelers shocked the world by drafting Sepulveda in the 4th round of the 2007 draft, they explained themselves by arguing that he wasn’t just a punter, he was a complete athlete.

Sepulveda started out as a linebacker at Baylor and never shed that mentality. Don’t believe me? Take a look:

Sepulveda did something similar last weekend against the Giants, as Cook explains:

….Sepulveda made one of the signature plays in their 24-17 exhibition win against the New York Giants Saturday night. All that stood between Giants punt returner Aaron Ross and the end zone was Sepulveda. Worse, Ross had a lead blocker — cornerback Courtney Brown — looking to hurt someone.

“I’m on the field thinking, ‘This really isn’t good,’ ” Sepulveda said.

But darned if Sepulveda didn’t fight off Brown to hurl Ross out of bounds. Forget for a moment that it came after a 45-yard return, which means the Steelers still haven’t solved all of their special teams issues from last season.

Cook reinforces the point made here in Steel Curtain Rising and in other places:

  • Even if Sepulveda cannot kick the ball much deeper than Jeff Reed, he should be handling kickoff duties, because he can and will hit.

Dangers of Dependency

What, pray tell, does this have to do with the dearth of preseason football that members of Steelers Nation living outside the US suffer?

It is simple. I did not find out about the Giants almost punt return for a touchdown until reading Cook’s column, published five days after the game.

To be fair, I might have missed Ross’ 45 yard return in one of the post-game summaries I read, and I certainly did not pour over the box score too closely. No door prize for attention to detail for me, and no unleashing the Watch Tower on the press.

But the Steelers special teams were an appalling liability last year. If they can cover the opening kick off against Kansas City, Ryan Clark doesn’t need to worry about holding on to an interception, Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t get a concussion, and Charlie Batch doesn’t break his hand.

The “what if’s” only begin here.

The press didn’t make a big deal about Aaron Ross’ 45 yard return. They had other stories to cover.

But had I seen it you would have seen it discussed in Steel Curtain Rising and a lot sooner than 5 days after the game, because if the Steelers fail to right the ship on special teams, a lot else will go wrong in 2010.

Alas, those are the opportunities that those of us deprived of preseason football miss….

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