Report Card: Steelers vs. Buccaneers

Each week Steel Curtain Rising grades the performance of the Steelers individual units. (We offer scouts honor that neither Gerry DuLac’s grades nor any other grades have been consulted. ) Here are the grades for the Steelers performance against the Buccanners.

Quarterback

Charlie Batch did not look like a man who had not started a game since 2007. He was far from flawless, throwing two picks which could have been costly, plus another should have been pick. But those blemishes do not obscure a brilliant performance. Batch went 12-17-186, but beyond the numbers, Batch had a commanding precense in the huddle and in the pocket. Grade: B+

Running Back

Mendenhall ripped off 6 double-digit runs en route to 143 yards and 1 TD. Redman also broke double digits in his five runs for 31 yards. Power rush’s return to Pittsburgh was welcome, at least for one Sunday. Grade: A

Receivers and Tight Ends

Combined, Wallace, Ward, Miller and El only totaled 7 catches, but each man made his catch count. Grade: B+

Offensive line

The Steelers were substituting almost as much against Tampa as they had in Tennessee. But you wouldn’t have know it. They gave Batch time and opened the lanes for Mendenhall and Redman to move the chains. Grade: A

Defensive Line

When your opponents’ leading rusher gained 27 yards you know it’s a good day for the defensive line. Ziggy Hood also had a pass defense. And of course, Brett Kesiel took one to the house. Can’t ask for much more. Grade: A

Linebackers

This group didn’t make the splash plays that it made against the Titans, but it didn’t need to. They got pressure when necessary, made plays in coverage, and in general stuff the run. Jason Worilds got his first sack. Grade: B+

Secondary

William Gay nabbed a sack and while the Steelers did give up a long gain of 46 yards, that is as much on the linebacking and the line corps as it was the secondary. Ryan Clark recovered a key fumble. Grade: B+

Special Teams

Brown didn’t break a big one but he looked like he could have. Reeds kickoffs have been getting deeper, and Sepulveda boomed on for 62 yards. A very good day. Grade: A-

Coaching

It looked like the Steelers might succumb to the dreaded trap game – for about a quarter, but no one will remember that come December. Charlie Batch was ready. About the only negative was the coaches decision to keep so many starters in late in the game. Grade: B+

Unsung Hero: The offensive line.

Batch, Wallace, Ward, and Kesiel took all the headlines, even the television crew failed to point out the regular substitutions as their colleagues had done the week before.

But Batch’s pocket poise and Redman & Rashard’s room to run only happen if the line does its job. It did it, and it did it well. Granted, no one will confuse this front seven with the 85 Bears front seven, but the offensive line dominated an opponent it should have dominated, and that’s where championships start.

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Batch, Steelers Bulldoze Buccaneers, 38-13

The Steelers opened the season with the defense carrying the offense and special teams to victory over the Falcons. A week later, special teams joined the defense in carrying the Steelers to victory over the Titans while the offense was along for the ride.

Against Tampa Bay the Steelers offense roared to life, putting 31 points on the board while the defense continued to dominate.

Lest any part of the story become bland, the Steelers offensive explosion was led by Charlie Batch, a man who was not even an after thought only 30 days ago.

Tampa Tries to Turn the Tables

This game was filled with subplots. Mike Tomlin squaring off against his protégée and best friend Raheem Morris.

  • Greg Lloyd making his coaching debut against the Steelers.
  • Josh Freeman growing into his “little Ben” role on the heels of a surprise 2-0 start.

And for a while it appeared Tampa might have caught Tomlin in a trap game as the Buccaneers intercepted Charlie Batch’s first pass and took a quick 3-0 lead.

  • Batch struck back quickly with his 46 yard lob to Mike Wallace, but Tampa showed no signs of relenting.

On the next possession Tampa looked every bit as impressive as advertised. Their offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage. Josh Freeman was evading the rush, scrambling around, and hitting open receivers on the run.

Freeman, in fact, played like “little Ben” and it looked like the story line was setting in: The pupil surpasses the master; the upstart team serves the NFL notice by surprising an established contender.

That is how it was shaping up as Tampa marched from its 21 to the Steelers 7, threatening to retake the lead.

Dick LeBeau and the Steelers defenses’ pride must have been hurt by that, because at that point they shifted into high gear and never looked back, forcing Freeman into 3 ineffective plays that ended in a field goal.

Charlie Batch Answers the Call

Up to this point in the 2010 season the Steelers offense had not shown much. Yes, Mendenhall’s 50 yard overtime bust against Atlanta was impressive. And Batch’s 46 yard strike to Mike Wallace was also good, although both men benefited from Cody Grimm’s mental error. So the question still hung in the air, could this unit go the length of the field?

Charlie Batch and Rashard Mendenhall answered with a definitive “YES” on the next drive, going 90 yards, 26 of which came on a 3rd down scramble by Batch, and ended with a 3 yard touchdown run by Mendenhall.

Against the Falcons Troy Polamalu’s interception gave the Steelers the chance to win the game in over time. The offense could only muster a meager sum of yards, and Jeff Reed missed makeable field goal.

Against the Titans, the Steelers defense presented the offense with 7 turnovers, of which the offense was only able to convert into 12 points off of field goals.

Without Roethlisberger, could the Steelers offense be capable of converting turnovers into touchdowns?

Again, Batch answered the call.

Two plays after Ryan Clark recovered a fumble Batch lit it up again, with a 41 yard pass to Mike Wallace. It wasn’t perfect, the pass should have been picked off but, as Mike Tomlin says, they don’t add points for style.

Steelers Sitting Pretty at 3-0

It is still early in the season and the Steelers still have yet to play their most difficult opponents, let alone division rivals.

But with each week, they slip something else into place. As Tampa showed in the early going, it is a mistake to take any team for granted in the NFL. Let a young, hungry team build some momentum, and you open yourself to an upset (remember last year against KC?)

The Steelers prevented that from happening today. The defense dominated. Josh Freeman, after starting strong out of the gate, ended confused, battered, and befuddled. Cadillac Williams ran like a second-hand Chevette.

So far we have a mirror image of last week’s contest in Tennessee.

The difference this Sunday was that the Steelers offense took care of business to the point where Brett Kesiel’s 4th quarter 79 yard pick-six was simply icing on the cake.

It is safe to say that few predicted a 3-0 start for the Steelers. Next week brings the Steelers their biggest test as the division rival Baltimore Ravens come to Pittsburgh.

Could the Steelers improve their mark and hand Ben Roethlisberger a 4-0 record?

After what the Steelers offense showed today, we can begin discussing that as a realistic possibility.

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1989 Steelers Make Playoffs, Finish 9-7 After Beating Tampa Bay 31-22

Prelude

Saturday December 23rd, 1989. With a temperature near zero three Wheaton High school wresters head home from the Lackey Tournament in Southern Maryland. Jim, an Eire transplant, is destined to place fourth in the states. Tom, an immigrant from Vietnam, is destined to win Montgomery County’s coveted Richard Monisera Award for most career points in the county tournament. The other is destined to a 5-15 record (including forfeits), but will nonetheless win the team’s most improved award.

All are Steelers fans. The Oilers-Browns game is on. If the Oilers win, the Steelers road to the playoffs is easier as the Steelers’ record would have trumped Clevelands.

Fate does not smile upon the Steelers that night. Cleveland works up a 17-3 lead at half time, only to see Houston score 20 unanswered points out of the “Red Gun” offense. But Bernie Kosar and Kevin Mack rally, to bring the final score to 24-20.

Now in addition to winning their final game, the Steelers need the Indianapolis Colts to lose to the New Orleans Saints, and the Los Angeles Raiders to lose to the New York Giants, AND the Minnesota Vikings must knock off the Cincinnati Bengals.

Steelers Head to Tampa Bay

The Steelers final regular season of the 1989 season was held on Christmas Eve. The fans had their tie-breakers memorized, the Steelers were simply focused on what was necessary to win.

It would be poetic to say that the team entered and left Tampa firing on all cylinders, but that would also be incorrect.

The Steelers did, however, start strong with a 72 yard kickoff return by Rod Woodson. Bubby Brister and the Steelers offense made quick work of a short field as Tim Worley scored the first touchdown.

But Tampa answered quickly with a 7 yard pass from Joe Fergerson to Mark Carrier.

The scoring really took off in the second quarter, as Bubby Brister put the Steelers back ahead with a 79 yard touchdown pass to Louis Lipps. Tampa responded with a field goal, but Brister and Lipps were to hook up again, this time on a 12 yard touchdown pass.

Rod Woodson struck again before the end of the half, picking off one of Fergerson’s passes and setting up a Gary Anderson field goal.

Tampa got on the board first in the second half, but only with another field goal, bringing the score to 24-13. But the Steelers answered immediately, as Tim Worley scored his second touchdown giving Pittsburgh 31 points.

Things looked to get a little dicey in the final two minutes as a blocked punt gave Tampa another two, and then Joe Fergerson and Mark Carrier hooked up to give Tampa 7 more.

But the on-sides kick failed, and the Steelers ran out the clock, having defeated Tampa 31-22, and finishing the regular season 9-7.

Christmas Comes, both Early and Late

Although the New York Giants really had nothing to play for, they defeated the LA Raiders, 34-17, sending Al Davis’ boys packing for the summer. The New Orleans Saints were also playing for pride, but they devastated the Colts, to the tune of 41-6.

If the Steelers went to bed Christmas Eve knowing their playoff hopes were alive, they were forced to wait until Christmas night to see if Santa were to deliver all of the goodies on their Christmas list.

Playing the Bengals in the Metrodome, the Minnesota Vikings amassed a 22-7 half time lead. But Cincinnati fought back, making narrowing the gap to 22-21. But that was not enough, as the Vikings scored a final touchdown to win the final game of the 1989 regular season 22-29.

The 1989 Cincinnati Bengals had gone 5-1 in the AFC Central. But loss to the Vikings dropped them to 8-8 whereas the Steelers finished 9-7.

That meant that the 1989 Steelers, the same team that lost its opener 51-0, lost its second game 41-10, suffered three regular season shut outs, went ten weeks without out gaining its opponents, and set all sorts of records for futility en route to an NFL last 28th ranked offense, were going to the playoffs.

And their opponents were none other than Jerry Glanville’s Houston Oilers.

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