2014 Steelers Report Card Coaches and Special Teams

Taken from the grade book who saw his pupils take an unrelenting stream of criticism without withering before coming out on top, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 Report Card for special teams and coaching. Note, these are grades for the entire season, not a composite of each week’s report cards.

Special Teams
Dri Archer was a failure as a kick returner, although Markus Wheaton was a competent if not spectacular return man for the Steelers. Shaun Suisham saw more kicks returned for the Steelers than the Steelers were able to return, but he did get it into the end zone plenty of times. Brad Wing showed himself to be a good punter, save for the Tampa game. One wonders why the Steelers continue to use Antonio Brown at punter, and then you see what he did in the season finale vs. the Bengals. Shamarko Thomas may not be a worrisome question mark on defense but he was a special teams ace – his blocked punt was play making in its purest from.

Steelers punt coverage was good, and kick coverage solid although the later gave up one touchdown. Overall, while the Steelers special teams might not have been “special” they did complete a fake punt and turn a broken PAT into a two point conversion and blocked a punt in the playoffs. And clearly this until is no longer a liability as it was in 2012. Grade: B

Coaching

Todd Haley took a lot of heat early in the season, and much of it was justified. At that point in the season, it was beyond evident that center of gravity on the Steelers roster in terms of talent tilted heavily towards to the offense, but the offense struggled, mightily at times.

Then, vs. Houston, something clicked. Was it the insertion of Martavis Bryant into the lineup? Was it Le’Veon Bell finding his stride? Was it just things coming together?

Who knows. Either way, from that point forward, the Steelers offense performed consistently, and showed itself to be a force to be reckoned with.

That is not a comparison Steel Curtain Rising make lightly, and while talent is the prime component here, Haley deserves credit for deploying it effectively.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Steelers struggled, and this was to be expected. Which is not to say that progress was not made there too. It was. Early in the season, no-name backs were looking like Jim Brown rushing against the Steelers. Although the rushing defense faltered a little bit at the end, the Steelers went back to stuffing the run by mid-season.

  • Dick LeBeau took a lot of heat all year long and most of it was simply out of place.

LeBeau is a defensive wizard, but even he couldn’t conjure up a spell to protect the likes of Taylor and Polamalu from the effects of Father Time. LeBeau did the best with what he had, and while the defense was far from a strength at the end of the season (see the playoff loss to Baltimore), it was better than it was on opening day.

  • Credit LeBeau for that progress.

It would be a mistake to say that Keith Butler inherits a defense with the front seven settled, because Jarvis Jones is still very much a question mark, and there is literally no one opposite him now. The secondary is of course a shambles, with Mike Mitchell still a question mark, William Gay playing well, and two number three corners behind him.

Still, the defense came on strong to finish the season, and that happened with contributions from players named Tuitt, Spence, and Blake which are good signs for the future.

Finally, a word about Mike Tomlin, who took a lot of criticism throughout the year.

Most, although not all, is unfair.

  • Really, fans who think Tomlin should go, need to take a good look northwest to Cleveland, north to Buffalo or southeast to Washington to see “How the other half lives.”

Seriously. Mike Tomlin has coached in the NFL for 8 seasons, reached the playoffs 5 times, won one Super Bowl, lost another, and never had a losing season and just coached a team, that as recently as Thanksgiving, most pundits had scratched in at 8-8, to its 4th AFC North Championship.

  • Fans who think the Steelers would still hold six Lombardi’s if the Rooneys changed coaches willy-nilly a la John Elway-John Fox (to give one example) need a reality check.

2014 was a growing year for the Steelers and 2015 promises to make a stiffer challenge. Celebration is premature. No future Lombardi shipments have been pre scheduled.

But assuming the Steelers progress continues in 2015, Tomlin will have overseen a major rebuilding project since 2010, and done so without dropping below .500. Just is as important is the way Tomlin did it – by keeping roster spots competitive deep into the season. The result was to get his men focused and playing their best when they needed to – each win of the 4-0 finish got more impressive.

The job done by the coaching staff in 2014 wasn’t perfect – there was far too much inconsistentcy early on and the playoffs left a lot to be desired. But overall, it was pretty damn good. Grade: A-

Unsung Hero
When he left in free agency in 2013, few fans bothered to turn a head, and chalked it up to rebuilding. When he returned in 2013 after the Steelers 0-4 start, most saw it as a desperation move on the part of the Steelers. Yet as he did in 2012 and as he did in 2013, Will Allen played a vital role in stabilizing the Steelers defense, and helping it establish the type of consistency needed to raise its level of play to keep the Steelers competitive. You won’t see many people commenting on that or praising Allen for playing that role, and that’s why Will Allen is the Unsung Hero of the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers.

To read the 2014 Steelers offensive Report Card, click here.
To read the 2014 Steelers defensive Report Card, click here.

 

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2014 Steelers Report Card Defense, “Life’s Work” Approaches for Veterans

Taken from the grade book who experienced the bittersweet moment of seeing several of his older students reach or near the moment of graduating on to “Life’s work,”while taking in enough joy to see some of their replacements budding into maturity, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 Report Card for the defense. Note, these are grades for the entire season, not a composite of each week’s report cards.

Defensive Line
This unit saw some real firsts for a Johnny Mitchell defensive line with not one but two rookies make starts in the form of Daniel McCullers and Stephon Tuitt. While neither could be called a “rookie sensation” both played well and showed a lot of promise heading into 2015. The same cannot be said for Cam Thomas, who quite frankly struggled at defensive end, and while better at nose tackle, got pushed around. Steve McLendon make much noise statistically, but McLendon returned full time to the lineup for the season’s final four games and that’s when the Steelers defense played its best ball. Those two facts are not coincidental. Brett Keisel rejoined the team as a last minute edition, and while it took time to work himself into football shape, it was clear that The Beard, still had plenty in the tank. Indeed one could argue that Keisel’s pass defense-interception vs. Houston was the play that turned the Steelers season around. The shining start of the unit was Cameron Heyward, who recorded 7.5 sacks, tying Jason Worilds for the team lead. Heyward might have started the year a little slow, maybe, by year’s end he was the veritable hell raiser that this team needed him to be. Grade: B

 

Linebackers
Things didn’t quite pan out as projected here, as Jarvis Jones, 2013’s first round draft pick, and Ryan Shazier spent large portions of the season on the inactive list due to injury. James Harrison and Arthur Moats filled in admirably for Jones, and the defense was at its most dangerous when Harrison teased at turning back the clock. In place of Shazier, both Sean Spence and Vince Williams filled in admirably giving Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler a good problem to have. Jason Worilds didn’t quite match his sack production of 2013, but he was rushed less often and had a solid season. Lawrence Timmons was this unit’s leader and continued to lead by example, making plays when needed. Although it was an overall strong year from the linebackers, lack of a consistent pass rush brings this grade down. Grade: B-

Secondary
The Steelers had hoped that Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu had enough left to lead the Steelers secondary for one final year. Unfortunately, and this is as brutal as it sounds, the Steelers defense played at its best when both men were out injured at the end of the season. Cortez Allen’s season was an unmitigated disaster, and his reclamation project should keep Keith Bulter, Carnell Lake, and Mike Tomlin late into the night. On the flip side, William Gay played far better than anyone had a right to expect. You don’t get 3 pick sixes in the NFL by accident. Brice McCain and Antwon Blake were surprises. Perhaps, at the end of the day, both men were in fact below average talents playing above their heads and perhaps they came down to earth. But both men stepped up and created turnovers at critical times during the regular season, and they deserve credit for that. Even if you take those positives into account, the secondary was the Steelers big weak link in to 2014. Grade: C-

To view the Report Card for the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers Offense, click here.
To view the Report Card for the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers Coaches and Special Teams, click here.

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2014 Steelers Report Card Offense – Killer Bees Strike

Taken from the grade book who saw his star pupil flirt with mediocrity early on, until breaking out and soaring to achieve his full potential, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 Report Card for the offense. Note, these are grades for the entire season, not a composite of each week’s report cards.

Quarterback
Statically speaking, this wasn’t Ben Roethlisberger’s best season, that would have been 2007 by 0.3 of a quarterback rating. Roethlisberger only threw 8 interceptions, and half of those came vs. the Saints and Jets. Beyond statistics, Roethlisberger played and acted as a team leader – not an insignificant role on an offense featuring 9 players under 30. Ben Roethlisberger is clearly in his prime now, and the unquestioned leader of this team. Grade: A

Running Backs
Le’Veon Bell succeeded beyond the wildest hopes and dreams of even the most optimistic draft day projection. Between his rushing and catching efforts, Bell accounted for close to 1/3 of the Steelers offense. Bell had 2215 yards from scrimmage on 373 touches – with no fumbles. After Bell the Steelers suffered a significant drop off. LeGarrett Blount did play well, but was a negative influence on the team, and walked out his teammates. Dri Archer may well some day vindicate the faith the Steelers showed in drafting him in the third round, but he did none of that in 2014. Josh Harris looked “OK” with his playing time as did Ben Tate. Will Johnson, in contrast, played quite well as a full back. Grade: B+

Tight Ends
Heath Miller perhaps had a little slow start to 2014, but by mid-season it was clear that he was back to form and was simply Mr. Reliable, although is performance did drop a notch in the playoffs both in the passing and blocking. Matt Spaeth didn’t get many opportunities, but caught 3 of the 4 balls thrown his way, with one for a touchdown he also converted 1 two point conversion. Spaeth was a force in the blocking game. Michael Palmer struggled to get a helmet, but did catch one touchdown. Grade: B+

Wide Receivers
This was a banner year for the Steelers wide receiving crops. Early in the year debate centered around why Justin Brown was starting over Lance Moore. By year’s end, Brown got sacrifieced when the Steelers needed to sign Ben Tate, and Moore found himself deactivated for the playoff game. That’s just how strong Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant came on. Bryant sucked up most of the ink, as you’d expect for a player who catches 8 touchdowns in 10 games played, but Wheaton also showed himself to be a treat, and came up with critical catches when the Steelers needed him to. And of course, there’s Antonio Brown, who is clearly one of the NFL’s best receivers right now. Grade: A

Offensive Line
The first accomplishment of this unit was to stay healthy. From 2010 to 2013 the Steelers offensive line resembled more of a M.A.S.H. unit. Even as the Steelers invested high round draft picks in the line, injuries forced the team to continue “plug and patch.” That ended in 2014, as the Steelers line played relatively injury free. Overall this until saw a lot of gains from years past. But for as well as it played, the until struggled to both run block and pass block in the same game a little too often, and they were dominated in the playoffs, which was a disturbing surprise. For that, their grade goes down. Grade: B-

To read the Report Card for the 2014 Steelers Defense, click here.
To read the Report Card for the 2014 Steelers Coaches and Special Teams, click here.

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Steelers sufren dolorosa derrota contra Ravens en Heinz Field, dejó fuera por “Knock Out”

Wild Card week
La carrera de los Acereros de Pittsburgh  hacia el séptimo Super Bowl fue interrumpida por una inapelable derrota, en casa, frente a los Baltimore Ravens

Como en 2011, las aspiraciones de los Pittsburgh Steelers al Gran Juego, llegaron a su fin en el juego de Wild Card. Aquella vez los verdugos fueron los Denver Broncos. Ahora, sus archirrivales: los Baltimore Ravens.

Por la tarde, el dìa del juego, leí en @ESPNNFL que los cuatro panelistas de un programa daban como favoritos a los locales.

  • En ese momento tuve un mal presentimiento.

Y escribí en mi cuenta de twitter que el hecho de ser favorito me asustaba y que no estaba seguro de cómo influiría en la cabeza de los jugadores de los Steelers salir al campo con la presión extra de ser los predilectos de todos los analistas.

Por supuesto Coach Mike Tomlin haría todo lo posible para abstraer a sus jugadores de ese clima triunfalista para mantenerlos enfocados en el juego.

Pero el otro Entrenador en Jefe, John Harbaugh, intentaría todo lo contrario: imaginemos el vestidor de los Ravens, en Pittsburgh, en postemporada, con desventaja histórica frente a los Acereros en enero de 0-3 y dados por perdedores por todo el mundo…

No imagino un ambiente más motivador para esos jugadores que salieron al campo a arrollar literalmente a los Steelers.

  • Lo que sucedió después no era lo esperado pero realmente estaba dentro de las posibilidades.

A decir verdad esta historia comenzó a escribirse en la semana 11 en Nashville, Tennessee, con la decisión de la Organización Rooney de desafectar del equipo al RB LaGarrette Blount.
Revisemos el tipo de jugador que los Steelers despidieron.

En postemporada 2013 jugando para los New England Patriots:

  • 2 partidos jugados; 29 acarreos, 172 yardas (73 yds el acarreo más largo), 5.9 yds promedio por acarreo, 4 TD y 0 fumbles.

El segundo capítulo de esta previsible historia, continuó en la semana 17, en Heinz Field, al momento de lesionarse Le’Veon Bell.

El segundo mejor corredor de la liga quedó fuera del primer partido de postemporada y no había reemplazo del nivel requerido, de su medida.

Yo puedo entender que el despedido LaGarrette Blount sea un jugador de carácter complicado, egoísta y sin espíritu de equipo pero…Señores: es un jugador de football profesional, dentro de una de las organizaciones deportivas más sólidas del mundo.

Me van a decir que no pueden lidiar con un joven revoltoso?!

El epílogo de esta historia se terminó de escribir la semana previa al juego de Comodines: el RB Josh Harris fue promovido, se contrató a Ben Tate (quien por otra parte había sido desafectado de al menos uno de sus equipos por motivos de conducta) quedando el trío de corredores conformado por los mencionados anteriormente y Dri Archer, quien en realidad no se sabe en qué rol o posición puede ser útil…

El sábado por la noche, la ofensiva de los Steelers rápidamente se volvió unidimensional: de un total de 72 jugadas sólo 19 fueron por tierra.

Y como dijimos otras veces en esta misma columna, depender sólo del ataque aéreo, en esta ofensiva, tiene sus riesgos. Y no dejo de reconocer al mismo tiempo que esta es una de las mejores de la liga. Aún con Big Ben, con Antonio Brown, con Martavis Bryant.

  • Porque esta ofensiva es capaz de mover las cadenas, vaya si lo hace.

Pero la flaqueza de esta ofensiva aérea es que muchas veces no encuentra la end zone dentro de la 20.
Y esta vez fue una de esas veces (1 TD en tres viajes)

Y los Steelers volvieron a ser, un poco por incapacidad propia y otro mucho forzados por su rival, el equipo de los primeros dos meses de la temporada.

  • 5 capturas de QB permitidas
  • 114 yardas en infracciones (una de ellas, un holding, anuló un TD clave de Dri Archer)
  • Turnovers 1 a 3 (big Ben había lanzado 6 pases de TD en el último encuentro entre estos mismos rivales con 0 INT. Ahora fue 1 TD y 2 INT)

Pero esta ofensiva debilitada por la ausencia de Bell se enfrentó, además a uno de los equipos de pass rushers más tremendos de la actualidad.

La renovada y confiable (si consideramos los últimos 4 ó 5 partidos de la temporada regular) línea ofensiva pudo hacer poco para proteger a Ben Roethlisberger. Ejerciendo presión por el centro con Brandon Williams y sus 152 kg, quien se anotó con 4 tackles, 2 asistencias y 1 sack y Haloti Ngata con 1 captura y 1 tackle, pero también con presión por afuera a través de Elvis Dumervil con 3 tackles y 2 capturas y Terrell Suggs 2 tackles y 4 asistencias.

Por el lado de la defensiva faltaron jugadas grandes en el momento necesario, con fallas en el tackleo y permitiendo muchas yardas después de la atrapada.

El factor más importante en esta falla defensiva fue precisamente el plan de juego de los Ravens, ejecutado a la perfección por el propio QB Joe Flacco: Lanzó más pases profundos que en los últimos 2 ó 3 juegos combinados.

  • La defensiva secundaria Steeler cometió faltas y pudo sólo desviar un pase sin obtener ninguna intercepción.
    Me pregunto sobre la actuación de Troy Polamalu. Líder en tackles en este partido pero sin la capacidad de antaño para lograr jugadas grandes.

En definitiva, falta de contundencia a ambos lados del balón por parte de los Steelers y gran planteo estratégico del lado de Harbaugh y Flacco.

Sin embargo, tal vez esta dura temporada haya sido el banco de pruebas de un equipo que, habiendo alcanzado la maduración necesaria, dará que hablar en el futuro y pueda conseguir el tan ansiado y esperado séptimo trofeo Lombardi para sus vitrinas.

El tiempo lo dirá…

El Dr. de Acero

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Steelers Report Card vs Ravens 2014 Playoffs at Heinz Field

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.

steelers, report card, grade, ravens, playoff, loss

Quarterback
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

Running Backs
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-

Tight Ends
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

Wide Receivers
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

Offensive Line
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

Defensive Line
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-

Linebackers
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

Secondary
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

Special Teams
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-

Coaching
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.

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Ravens Defeat Steelers 30-17 at Heinz Field

The Baltimore Ravens arrived at Heinz Field Saturday night wearing an 0-3 playoff millstone around their neck, an embarrassing loss to the Houston Texans and an escape like win vs. the lowly Cleveland Browns. In contrast, the Steelers had closed their season with 4 straight wins looking as a team that had hit its stride.

Some faithful in Steelers Nation have looked to the statistics and see the Steelers coming out ahead in terms of yards, plays, and time of possession and scratched their heads asking “Why?”

In a game like this, numbers that measure fundamentals and not Fantasy Football stats are what really carry the day. And on that front the Ravens dominated where it really counted and in doing so they revealed limits of how far the 2014 Steelers could realistically aspire to.

Bubble Gum, Spit and Duct Tape Secondary Only Gets Steelers So Far

Throughout Steelers Nation, fans are fingering any number of the Steelers flaws to explain the Raven’s first playoff win at Heinz Field. Most of what’s being discussed is on point and will find its way into this article further on down. But there’s something most are missing:

  • The Steelers secondary may have been good enough to get it to the playoffs, but lacked the talent to carry them through the playoffs.

Just six days before, Cris Collinsworth – whom no one will ever accuse of favoring the Steelers – praised the job that the Steelers “spare parts” secondary had done. The secondary earned that praise, as they pushed the Steelers over the Bengals. The Tribune-Review’s Rob Rossi noted how the group had virtually eliminated the long-ball in the season’s final weeks.

  • But the playoff introduce an entirely new dynamic.

And in this new dynamic, the Steelers secondary was out of its depth. Brice McCain had a shot at an interception – very similar to the one he made in the regular season a week ago. Interceptions are harder to make in the playoffs.

Steve Smith Sr., Owen Daniels, and don’t call him “David” Crockett Gilmore all had catches for over 20 yards. But the numbers only tell part of the tale. The Joe Flacco may have passed for fewer yards than Ben Roethlisberger, but he connected with his receivers when he had to….

…And there’s a reason for that.

Ravens Dictate at the Line of Scrimmage

Like all good Steelers-Ravens match ups, this one was won and lost in the trenches. It would be wrong to say the Ravens controlled the line of scrimmage all night. Saying they dominated at the line of scrimmage when they needed to would be right.

  • The Steelers defensive line offers a perfect example.

Credit Dick LeBeau and Johnny Mitchell for adjusting to shut down Justin Forsett in the second half. As Behind the Steel Curtain’s editor Neal Coolong pointed out, Forsett had fewer yards at the end of the game than he began the 3rd quarter with. All of those “Tackles for loss” look pretty on Vince Williams, Lawrence Timmons, and Jason Worilds stat sheet.

But such appearances fail to mask the reality that the Ravens imposed their will by rushing the ball down the Steelers throat during the final 26 yards of their first touchdown drive.

More importantly, the Ravens offensive line kept Joe Flacco clean, giving him the time he needed to pick apart the Steelers secondary.

  • The story is similar on the other side of the ball.

The Steelers offensive line struggled in the first half, but improved somewhat in the second half. There were times when Ben Roethlisberger had all day to throw. But the Ravens didn’t simply sack Ben Roethlisberger 5 times, Baltimore collapsed Pittsburgh’s pass protection at the worst possible times:

  • Haloti Nagata knocked the Steelers out of field goal range on their first drive
  • Elivs Dumervil ended a 3rd and 11 with a sack on the Steelers next drive, forcing another field goal
  • Brandon Williams sacked Ben Roethlisberger with the Steelers at the Raven’s ten, scuttling the series and helping force another field goal
  • Elivs Dumervil ended the Steelers final drive of the 3rd quarter by sacking Roethlisberger for a 12 yard loss
  • Courtney Upshaw’s final sack of Roethlisberger didn’t end the drive, Bruce Gradkowski kept it alive

But when Roethlisberger returned to the game, he promptly threw an interception in the end zone….

Steelers Stumble, Ravens Rumble

…It was that kind of a game for the Steelers. However, if any one word describes the 2014 Steelers it is “resilient.” The Steelers defense not only kept the Ravens pinned down against Pittsburgh’s end zone, Shamarko Thomas blocked a punt, netting a safety.

Suddenly, the Steelers were within 13 points…

…And just as suddenly, the ever reliable Heath Miller was fumbling the ball back to the Ravens.

  • And so ended the Steelers 2014 season.

Credit the John Harbaugh and his Baltimore Ravens squad – they were the better team at Heinz Field Saturday night. They made the plays when they needed to, they deserve the victory.

Ravens Advance, Pittsburgh Picks Up Pieces

The 2014 Steelers have been an erratic bunch, and for whatever reason they reverted to their early season form in the playoffs. It is impossible to know why.

  • Credit the Steelers for refusing to use the absence of Le’Veon Bell as an excuse, but clearly not having Bell hurt the Steelers.

But Bell’s absence had nothing to do with the epidemic of penalties, including three bone-headed personal fouls. Playoff inexperience may have contributed in part. But that fails to explain the poor line play (Maurkuice Pouncey, Marcus Gilbert, and Ramon Foster all have post-season experience) or execution failure by the likes of Heath Miller.

Steelers Nation may resist swallowing such a bitter pill, but the Ravens remain the class of the AFC North, as they have been since their November 2011 win at Heinz.

  • Baltimore proved it by advancing to the divisional playoff round.

The truth is that the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers probably went as far as their talent could take them, and for that, this team should hang its head high. For the first 3 quarters of the 2014 season, the Steelers slipped into “win a game, lose a game” mode, until late in the season when the team succeeded in stepping up its focus enough to string together four straight victories.

If this playoff loss can teach these players to apply the same lesson then next time they reach the post-season, then this loss will not be for naught.

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Steelers Lose to Ravens Rapid Reaction

Well folks, in our heart of hearts, everyone in Steelers Nation knew the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers magical mystery ride had to end at some point. Most didn’t think that sad event would occur vs. the Baltimore Ravens. But it did.

 

This isn’t the time to point fingers or single out scapegoats, far from it, but the truth is the Steelers failed on the fundamentals on several levels:

  • The Steelers offensive line struggled to win the battle of line of scrimmage
  • The Steelers corners had difficulty covering the Raven’s receivers
  • The Steelers reverted to their early season form, committing all sorts of costly penalties

At the end of the day, on this night at Heinz Field, the Baltimore Ravens simply played a better game, and were a better team.

None of that should detract from what this team has accomplished under Mike Tomlin during 2014. This is a young team that found its identity down the stretch. And if they came up short in the playoffs, there are now 30 some players who never wiffed post-season football, including the likes of David DeCastro, Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton, Stephon Tuitt, and Kelven Beachum, who now know what it is like to buckle the chinstrap in a game that is for all of the marbles.

Yes, this playoff loss to the Ravens was a disappointment. And as it is probably the final game for Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu, and also perhaps James Harrison and Brett Keisel, its a sad way to end.

But the 2014 Steelers have no need to hang their heads in shame. They returned the franchise to the post-season after twin 8-8 seasons and, hopefully, in the process learned some valuable lessons which they can build on.

Its now 2:14 here in Buenos Aires. Thanks to Carlos, Carlos, Claudio and Sergio who came out to Sugar to join Gustavo and I for the game at Sugar in Buenos Aires. Steel Curtain Rising will have a full analysis later tomorrow.

Until then we ask everyone in Steelers Nation to join us in saluting the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers.

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Watch Steelers vs Ravens in Buenos Aires

The Pittsburgh Steelers Fan Club of Buenos Aires is calling on all of the Black and Gold faithful in the porteño capital to join us to watch the Steelers-Ravens game at the bar Sugar, in Palermo.

Mind you, this is an informal gathering, but Sugar is the top expat bar in the city, and regularly shows NFL games. It will also give you a chance to meet El Dr. de Acero, the master behind this site’s Spanish articles, making Steel Curtain Rising the only bilingual blog in Steelers Nation.

Consider the Steelers track record when El Dr. de Acero and yours truly see games together:

That’s 5-3. Not a perfect record, but we’ll take it. Be part of the trend. Join us at Sugar (Costa Rica 4619) to watch the third Steelers-Ravens match up at Heinz Field during the Mike Tomlin era.

Go Steelers!

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Mira Steelers Contra Ravens en Buenos Aires Con Fanaticos del Negro y Oro

Queridos amigos de la Nación Steeler.

 

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Contra todos los pronósticos de mediados de temporada, los Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) han ingresado por derecho propio y con autoridad a la postemporada y mañana, en la noche de Buenos Aires, recibirán en Heinz Field a los eternos rivales de división, los Baltimore Ravens (10-6)

  • Los Acereros llevan ventaja histórica de 15-7 (3-0 en postemporada).

En los juegos disputados este año hubo una victoria para cada equipo. Sin embargo, el último encuentro disputado en Pittsburgh, el QB Ben Roethlisberger ingresó al libro de records al lanzar por segundo juego consecutivo, 6 pases de TD y alzarse con la victoria por 43 a 23, tomando revancha del primer encuentro en Baltimore en donde estos se impusieron por 26 a 6.

  • La intensidad será invitada de honor a esta noche.
  • Intensidad en las tribunas y en el campo de juego.
  • E intensidad en cualquier lugar del planeta en donde se reúnan al menos 2 fanáticos de los Steelers para acompañar a su equipo.

Allí donde ondeen las Terribles Toallas Amarillas.

Buenos Aires no podría ser la excepción. Aquí también ondearán la Toallas Amarillas. El punto de reunión será el Sugar Bar, en Costa Rica 4619, en el Barrio de Palermo.

Allí los esperamos un rato antes del partido.

Go Steelers!

El Dr. De Acero

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Should Steelers Play Troy Polamalu vs. Ravens?

Should the Steelers play Troy Polamalu vs. the Ravens in the playoffs? It is the elephant in the room that few in Steelers Nation want to discuss. But it is a question the Steelers must answer and a decision Mike Tomlin must make.

  • Playoffs are no time for experimenting in the NFL.

Yes, teams can and do unveil new wrinkles some times to great effect – Deshea Townsend’s 4th quarter game-sealing sack of Matt Hasselbeck in Super Bowl XL came on a play that Dick LeBeau installed the night before. Other times playoff innovations turn to disaster (see the Bills attempt to with shovel passes to Thurman Thomas in their second Super Bowl loss to the Cowboys.)

  • During the playoffs teams are wisest to stick to what they do best.

And that brings up a difficult decision for the Steelers. All season long the Steelers secondary has struggled. Cortez Allen, he of the big off season contract, regressed so badly he not only lost his starting role, but got benched altogether. Michael Mitchell, the Steelers first “splash” free agent signing in years, hasn’t been a bust, but his “splash contract” hasn’t translated into splash plays on the field.

But the Steelers defense has improved during the regular season’s last four games and, as the Bengals win would indicate, so has the secondary.

  • And that improvement has happened with the defense’s one, sure fire Hall of Famer, Troy Polamalu on the bench.

Pittsburgh Tribune Review columnist Rob Rossi observed, “Dick LeBeau’s looked smarter in December, huh?” and he goes on to observe that during the Pittsburgh’s final four games, the Steelers defense only allowed two passes of 30 plus yards. Completions of 30 yards – or more – were staples of the Steelers 2014 season’s first 12 weeks.

While Steel Curtain Rising has no wish to steal Rossi’s thunder, his argument is simple:

  • Without Polamalu, the Steeler defense is more conservative, more cautious and ultimately more effective. Don’t fix what isn’t broken.

Troy Polamalu at Similar Cross Roads Now as Levon Kirkland was in 2000

In an interesting way, the situation Polamalu finds himself in now is very similar, for different reasons, to the one Levon Kirkland found himself in 2000. Levon Kirkland was not the same caliber player as Polamalu. Troy Polamalu is, what in the words of Behind the Steel Curtain’s Ivan Cole, “a generational player,” one of those rare competitors who can single handedly alter the course of a game (see the 2008 AFC Championship).

  • Kirkland never quite broached that level.

But he was a beast and a freak of nature in his own rite.

While Polamalu dazzled and devastated with is acrobatic dramatic playmaking, Kirkland treated Steelers nation to the spectacle of a 300 pound inside linebacker covering players down the field – and doing it extremely well. Kirkland nabbed 11 interceptions in 144 games with the Steelers. For comparison’s sake, Ike Taylor only has 14 in 174 games. But as Kirkland shift from his 20’s into his 30’s, the extra weigh slowed him just enough to rob him of his effectiveness.

  • Troy Polamalu is almost certainly at a similar point in his career.

Polamalu’s free lancing gave opposing quarterbacks and offensive coordinators fits. He was one guy they had to account for on every play, and they could never be sure where he was. Doubtlessly, detailed film study from Steelers games from 2004 to 2010 would reveal countless times when Polamalu’s gambles left him in the wrong part of the field at the wrong time.

  • But Polamalu had the athletic ability to compensate for those mistakes.

And if he didn’t, the likes of Ryan Clark and Ike Taylor were skilled enough and athletic enough to pick up the slack. Clark is gone. Mitchell hasn’t played with Polamalu long enough to intutitively make course corrections when Polamalu free lances. Ditto Brice McCain and Antwon Blake.

  • Still, that doesn’t mean that Polamalu can no longer add value to this defense.

As Dale Lolley points out, Polamalu is still very effective up in the box, playing against the run. And for however much his athletic abilities have atrophied, part of Polamlau’s punch came from his innate playmaking ability which is something players rarely “lose.” And Polamalu has shown that he steps up his level of play in big games.

  • Should the Steelers play Troy Polamalu vs. the Ravens?

Mike Tomlin must make that decision. No one in Steelers Nation should envy his choice.

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