The Steelers 2016 AFC North Title is More than Just a Stocking Suffer

Steelers fans like to brag about not cherishing playoff spots, division titles or even conference championships.

I guess the standard really is the standard, and after watching the Black and Bold capture six Super Bowls, well, not to sound too cliched (it’s like nails on the chalkboard, sometimes), fans expect nothing less.

However, there’s something to be said for winning a division title, which Pittsburgh did, Sunday night, thanks to a pulsating Christmas 31-27 victory over the Ravens at Heinz Field.

Mike Tomlin, steelers 2016 AFC north title

Mike Tomlin addresses the 2016 AFC North champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Did the win secure home-field advantage or even a bye? No, but a division championship is nothing to sneeze at and not just something that you look back on years later and say, “Oh yeah, they won the division that year.”

The AFC North is a pretty tough and bruising division, filled with hard-fought and often dirty battles. Sometimes, the best teams don’t always come out on top, and even when they do, like the Steelers did in 2014, it’s not always unscathed. (Le’Veon Bell suffered a hyper-extended knee against the Bengals in the regular season finale and was lost for the wild card game versus Baltimore a week later.)

The Steelers got out of Sunday’s game without any serious injuries, and the fact that they survived at all, heck, that’s better than the alternative.

  • Can you imagine how glum things would be this week, on the heels of a depressing home loss to Baltimore that would have seriously put the Steelers playoff hopes in jeopardy?

Believe me, the chances of the Bengals, the unstable and probably ready for the tropics Bengals, mustering up the enthusiasm to wreck Baltimore’s season in Week 17 on the way to the plane were probably slimmer than none.

Now, Pittsburgh, a team with a lock on the third playoff seed has a chance to rest players such as James Harrison, Stephon Tuitt, Ladarius Green and perhaps even Ben Roethlisberger. Likewise, players who’ve been injured such as Darrius Heyward-Bey, DeAngelo Williams and perhaps even Sammie Coates can get a chance to get their feet wet.

So, who do the Steelers match-up best against in the postseason? Who cares……for now. Just enjoy that division title for the next couple of weeks. Sure, it’s been done in Pittsburgh 22 times since 1972, but it’s still not that easy (if it was, everyone would do it).

Go out and buy that t-shirt. Go out and buy that cap.

The Steelers are in the playoffs, and that just never gets old.

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What’s Missing from Steelers Christmas Win over Ravens? Narration from NFL Films John Facenda

The Steelers 31-27 win over the Ravens secured the AFC North, eliminated their rivals from playoffs and snapped Pittsburgh’s 4 game losing streak to Baltimore. The Steelers and Ravens fought an instant classic, featuring legendary performances on both sides of the ball.

  • Compared to the Lombardi-Landry matchups of yesteryear, the only thing lacking from the Steelers Christmas win over the Ravens was narration NFL Films legend John Facenda.

Both stars and understudies stepped up at critical times to make the plays the Pittsburgh Steelers needed to prevail, but like all good Steelers-Ravens matchup, the winning team carried the day because they hit the hardest.

antonio brown, steelers christmas win over ravens, steelers vs. ravens

Four Ravens can’t stop Antonio Brown from score the game winning touchdown in Steelers Christmas win over Ravens. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Steelers Set Tempo Early, but Fail to Maintain Rhythm

Perhaps most disturbing aspect of the Ravens win over the Steelers in early November 6th was the fact that Baltimore dominated at the line of scrimmage. Le’Veon Bell had 32 yards on 14 carries, and DeAngelo Williams only managed a single yard on his only carry.

  • The Ravens front seven didn’t simply dominate the Steelers run blockers, they bullied them.

Mike Munchak’s offensive line has played much, much better football since that day, and the Steelers lineman came out early in the game looking liked they’d taken their November manhandling personally.

In the space of just over five minutes, Le’Veon Bell ripped off runs of 10, 7, 7, 6 and 10 yards. And, foreshadowing things to come, Ben Roethlisberger hit Xavier Grimble for a 20 yard touchdown strike, giving the backup tight end his first catch since the Steelers loss to the Cowboys.

  • The Steelers first drive against the Ravens impressed by any measure

More importantly, it established the game’s tempo – this game was going to be won in the trenches, with contributions coming from across the depth chart.

Ravens Match Pittsburgh Physically, Peck Away at Lead

The Steelers had done well to set the physical tone for the game, but unfortunately Pittsburgh struggled to keep pace. The Raven’s first half offense might have lacked for fireworks, Steve Smith Junior’s 44 yard catch notwithstanding, but the Ravens established that Baltimore was ready, willing and able to match the Steelers physical challenge.

  • During the first half, the Steelers defense did a good job of matching the brute force of the Raven’s attack.

Both Lawrence Timmons and Bud Dupree had sacks which helped force punts, and on two other occasions, the Steelers defense turned away the Ravens offense, forcing them to settle for field goals.

But, more importantly, the Ravens defense responded to the gauntlet the Steelers had thrown down to open the game. Sure, the Steelers offense made its share of penalties during the first half, but the Ravens took advantage of those by forcing the Steelers to punt three times.

Roethlisberger Send Steelers Nation Cardiac Units into Overdrive

The difference between Ben Roethlisberger’s play on the road and at home has provided one of Steelers 2016 season’s the more interesting subplots, even if Ben Roethlisberger’s road performance perked up during the second half of the season.

  • At home, Ben Roethlisberger had been virtually untouchable….

…Until the third quarter of the Ravens game. Ben Roethlisberger opened the 3rd quarter with an ugly interception, and closed it with an uglier one. Observer-Reporter scribe Dale Lolley spoke for everyone in Steelers Nation after the second pick:

Baltimore capitalized on the Raven’s first interception, scoring a touchdown and two-point conversion. Thanks to some smart play by James Harrison, Ryan Shazier and Sean Davis, the Steelers defense held the Ravens to another field goal following Ben Roethlisberger’s second pick.

  • But in just over 1 quarter, the Ravens had scored 14 points, and the Steelers only three.

More ominously, during their 8 minute 3rd quarter field goal drive, the Ravens had proven that they could run the ball on Pittsburgh’s defense, as L.T. Walton, Javon Hargrave and Ricardo Mathews seemed to struggle in Stephon Tuitt’s absence.

That did not bode well for a Steelers team that needed at least 2 scores in 15 minutes to take the lead….

Ben Roethlisberger Channels His Inner Hulk Hogan in the 4th

In the 1980’s, Hulk Hogan transformed professional wrestling into a mainstream industry in large part by pretending  to get beaten into despair, only to rally when things looked to be their worst to secure victory.

  • While he certainly didn’t script it that way, Ben Roethlisberger did something similar against the Ravens.

Ben Roethlisberger started strong, only sputtered around for much of the first half, and then followed by playing some of the worst big-game football of his career in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, Big Ben, did what true Hall of Fame caliber quarterbacks do – elevate their play when a trip to the playoffs hangs in the balance.

Demarcus Ayers, Steelers Christmas win over Ravens, Jerraud Powers

Demarcus Ayers stiff arms Jerraud Powers in his first NFL catch. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune Review

When NFL Films retells this game to future generations, they’ll rightly credit Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown for their All Pro 4th quarter performances. But the performances of the players below them on the depth chart, as well as the Steelers defense were just as important to the final outcome.

  • Jesse James started it off with his impressive, 21 yard catch
  • Demarcus Ayers followed by drawing a pass interference penalty that put the Steelers in the Red Zone
  • Two plays later, Ayers blocking occupied Kyle Arrington allowing Le’Veon Bell to reach the end zone.

Let the record reflect, that when the Ravens got the ball back, they stuck with what had been working for them as Kenneth Dixon got 7 yards on two runs. But Bud Dupree stepped up and defended a pass on third down, forcing Baltimore to punt.

  • At this point, the Steelers offense was on fire.

Le’Veon Bell took the first handoff and ripped off a 23 yard run. His next carry when for 13. Then Ben Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown for 21 and 26 yard receptions where Brown earned the bulk of his yards after the catch.

Then the Steelers showed what makes their offense special. As Le’Veon Bell explained to Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell:

…[Ben] was looking the other way. He said my name. I heard it. ‘L. Bell,’ that’s what he said. I’m blocking but I turned around and he was scrambling to the right but looking to the left, so when I caught it, nobody was there because he looked everybody off and he was wanting to go to me the whole time. That’s a special play but it’s stuff like that that he does all the time. In certain times in prime-time drives, when he knows we need it, he comes up huge. That’s what we need. You need that from your quarterback. You need that on your team.

With 7 minutes remaining, the Pittsburgh Steelers had pulled off a dramatic comeback to take a 24 to 20 lead at Heinz Field, having clearly put the momentum on their side. But the 4th quarter drama was only beginning.

Fantastic Fourth Quarter Finish

There wasn’t a single Baltimore Raven who was ready to back down. Baltimore got the ball at the 25, where Joe Flacco proceeded to convert 3 third downs, as he moved down the field consuming precious clicks on the clock.

  • It was at this point in the game that Baltimore’s commitment to the run paid off.

Ravens running backs had a number of impressive carries on this drive, as all of them refused to go down at first contact, and they fell forward each time. With just a minute 1:25 to play, the Ravens handed it to Kyle Juszczyk who saw a couple of Steelers bounce off of him en route to the end zone and a 27-24 Ravens lead.

Again, Dale Lolley echoed the thoughts of Steelers Nation. The lesson of loss to the Cowboys seemed to reveal that the 2016 Steelers simply weren’t that good.

If the Steelers 5 straight wins had disproved that lesson, then Kyle Juszczyk’s touchdown seemed to assure the Ravens a 5th straight win over the Steelers, hammering home the painful reality that John Harbaugh’s Ravens were simply better than Mike Tomlin’s Steelers.

  • But this group of Steelers wasn’t finished writing their story.

Working with two time outs and starting at his own 25, Ben Roethlisberger hit Jesse James twice, Demarcus Ayers once, Eli Rogers once, and Cobi Hamilton once to bring the Steelers to the 4th yard line with 13 seconds to play.

Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, steelers christmas win over Baltimore ravens

Ben Roethlisberger stands with Antonio Brown in Steelers Christmas win over Ravens. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

With no timeouts remaining, the easy call would have been to bring Chris Boswell on the field to tie the game and bring on overtime.

  • Instead, with the season in the balance, Mike Tomlin chose to go for all the marbles, trusting in Ben Roethlisberger

Ben Roethlisberger, in turn, trusted Antonio Brown to get across the goal line, even though he had two men in front of him.

  • Brown caught the ball, then squiggled, squirmed and stretched towards the goal line.
  • Before he was done, four Ravens were hitting him.

But in the end, they couldn’t hit Antonio Brown hard enough. Brown broke the plane, which ut  Pittsburgh ahead for good. The Steelers were AFC North Champions, while the Ravens would spend January at home.

Steelers in Position to Make a Run for a Ring

The 2016 Pittsburgh Steelers began the season looking like sure-fire favorites to contend for a championship. Midway through the season, things looked quite differently, as rookies struggled to learn the defense, and injuries took their toll on the offense.

  • But Mike Tomlin’s team never blinked.

The Steelers scratched and clawed their way first back to respectability, getting a little better each week. Now the Steelers are headed to the playoffs for the 7th time since Mike Tomlin arrived in 2007. Can the Mike Tomlin’s Pittsburgh Steelers bring home Lombardi Number 7 their 7th trip to the playoffs?

  • Time will tell.

The Steelers won’t enter the playoffs as the AFC favorites, but both the resiliency and the championship caliber plays the men in Black and Gold  made against the Ravens proves that Pittsburgh is capable of proving a lot of people wrong.

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Vote Now Steelers Nation: Steelers Game Ball Winners for Christmas Win over Baltimore

Wow! What a game. On Christmas Day 2016 the Pittsburgh Steelers snapped a 4 game losing streak to the Baltimore Ravens on the heels of a heroic, furious 4th quarter comeback that saw the lead change twice as Steelers score 3 touchdowns. As we always do after a Steelers win, we invite you, the citizens of Steelers Nation to vote game ball winners.

Steelers vs. Ravens, Antonio Brown, Shareece Wright, Steelers Ravens Christmas

Antonio Brown makes a catch on Shareece Wright in the Steelers 31 to 27 win over the Ravens

Earning the top ballot slot is Antonio Brown, who was quiet for most of the game, but came alive in the fourth quarter making a number of tremendous catches, including the game winner.

This poll is closed! Poll activity:
start_date 12-06-2014 18:49:27
end_date 01-02-2017 19:29:59
Poll Results:
Who deserves a game ball for the Steelers Christmas win over the Ravens (votes for multiple players allowed)

Behind Brown, you have Le’Veon Bell who also had an impressive game rushing for 122 yards who also came on strong in the 4th quarter. Ben Roethlisberger, who did throw two interceptions, never lost his composure, as he threw 3 touchdown passes including two strikes in the end zone in the 4th quarter.

Xavier Grimble also gets a ballot slot, for his early touchdown that put the Steelers ahead at the beginning of the game. And we’re also giving the Steelers offensive line a slot on the ballot, who did not allow a sack, and opened the lanes for Le’Veon Bell.

James Harrison leads the balloting on defense, as he ran for led the team in tackles. Lawrence Timmons is next, as he was second in tackles, and brought Joe Flacco down early on a critical 3rd down. Ryan Shazier is next, as he recorded 10 tackles and also had a last minute interception. Bud Dupree also gets a slot on the ballot, due to his sack of Joe Flacco.

  • Finally, my wife Alejandra gets a ballot slot.

Due to the Christmas celebrations down here in Argentina yours truly needed to watch the game on tape delay. My wife knew the result, but didn’t let on in the slightest, all the way until the end.

Remember, You Can Write in Your Game Ball Choices

This Steelers game ball winner poll isn’t about who I think should get game balls, its about who you think should get game balls. Both William Gay and Sean Davis had strong games – if you think they deserve a game ball, write their names in.

A case could also be made for Jesse James and Chris Boswell. Again, write in their names if you think they deserve a game ball. Better yet, write in their names and leave a comment stating your case.

Please be sure to check back later for our full analysis of the Steelers AFC North clinching win over the Baltimore Ravens.

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6 Changes in Pittsburgh Since the Steelers Last Win vs Ravens

The Pittsburgh Steelers Christmas Day show down with the Baltimore Ravens has turned out to be everything the schedule makers hoped it to be: A contest to determine the AFC North champions.

While the Steelers are taking a superior 9-5 record and a six game winning streak into the game, they’re also fighting another inconvenient truth:

  • The Steelers last win vs Ravens came 784 days ago.

Yes, the Ravens arrive in Pittsburgh with their own four game winning streak vs. the Steelers.

For the record, the Steelers last win against the Ravens came on November 2nd, at Heinz Field on the night that Joe Greene joined Ernie Stautner as the only Pittsburgh Steeler to have his number retired. A lot has changed in Pittsburgh since the Steelers last win vs. the Ravens.

james harrison sacks joe flacco, james harrison, joe flacco, steelers last win vs ravens

James Harrison sacks Joe Flacco in the Steelers November 2014 win over Baltimore. Photo Credit: Justin K. Aller, Getty Images via Baltimore CBS Local

1. Keith Butler Replaces Dick LeBeau at Defensive Coordinator

This represents what is likely the biggest change since the Steelers last win against the Ravens. Following Super Bowl XLV, Dick LeBeau did what he could to compensate for the declining talent on defense and kept the Steelers competitive on the defensive side of the ball in 2011 and 2012.

  • Yet, but 2013 the talent deficiencies could no longer be swept under the rug.

Statically the Steelers defense dropped further in 2014, although those numbers mask a late season surge by the Dick LeBeau’s defense over the final four games of the season. Mike Tomlin nonetheless decided to make a change following the season when it appeared that Keith Butler would finally accept a defensive coordinator promotion rather than wait for LeBeau to retire.

  • During his first year, Keith Butler fielded a bend but don’t break type defense.

If yardage totals rose, they were off set by an increase in sacks, turnovers, and Red Zone play. After a slow start in this season, the 2016 defense is showing a lot of similar characteristics.

Advantage: Steelers

2. Steelers Scrap Their Secondary and Start Over

When you look at the Steelers defensive backfield depth charts from 2014 and 2016 side by side, the sea change really strikes you:

steelers secondary depth chart, steelers defensive backs depth chart, steelers depth chart defensive backfield

The Steelers secondary has changed a lot since 2014…

First, the Steelers are carrying 3 fewer defensive backs now than they were 2 years ago. Some of that was dictated by age – even the most wild-eyed optimists knew that Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu were nearing the end when 2014 started.

  • But it also appears that the Steelers were perhaps trying to substitute for quality with quantity.

The complete makeover says that their attempt failed. Of the 12 defensive backs the Steelers had on their roster the last time they beat the Ravens, only 3 remain. Yes, that number is three, because Shamarko Thomas is now exclusively a special teams player whereas Robert Golden occupied that role 2 years ago.

But gone or Antwon Blake, Brice McCain, Ross Ventrone, Cortez Allen, and Will Allen who the Steelers have replaced with Justin Gilbert, Artie Burns, Ross Cockrell, and Sean Davis.

Going into the Christmas game vs. the Ravens, the Steelers secondary looks to be improved since their last win.

Advantage: Steelers

3. Le’Veon Bell Establishes Himself as an Elite Back without a Backup

OK. This one involves a little slight of hand. Le’Veon Bell’s breakout game vs. the Tennessee Titans came two weeks after the Steelers last win over the Ravens. But that is the moment he lost his backup, when LeGarrette Blount decided to go AWOL.

  • Since then, the Steelers have struggled to find someone to back up Le’Veon Bell.

No, no one is forgetting DeAngelo Williams, but due to injuries and suspensions, you can count the number of games Williams and Bell have played in together in single digits. Williams is returning from an injury and is expected to dress, but he hasn’t played since loss to the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.

Advantage: Steelers, unless Bell gets hurt….

4. A Carousel of Receivers has Started Opposite Antonioy Brown

Antonio Brown was already an All Pro and then some the last time Pittsburgh beat Baltimore but injuries and suspensions have forced the Steelers to play musical wide receiver since then.

Martavis Bryant had announced his presence two games earlier and was expected to usurp Markus Wheaton as the Steelers number 2 wide receiver, but that hasn’t happened thanks to Martavis Bryant’s issues with addiction.

Darrius Heyward-Bey was basically just a special teams player when the Steelers last triumphed over the Ravens, but since then he’s emerged as a legitmate downfield threat, gotten promoted to the number 2 WR slot only to get hurt. Sammie Coates has had shots at the Steelres number 2 WR slot, but has failed to grasp them due to injuries and inefficiency.

Mike Tomlin has said that Darrius Heyward-Bey might play against the Ravens on Christmas, but at this point it looks like Eli Rogers and Cobi Hamilton will have serve as Ben Roethlisberger’s 2nd and 3rd choices downfield.

Advantage: Ravens

5. Heath Miller Has Hung It Up

Heath Miller has since retired since the Steelers last win against the Ravens. For the record, Miller only caught one pass in that game, but it went for 14 yards, so it probably resulted in a third down.

The Steelers of course brought Ladarius Green in to replace Heath Miller but lost Green for the first half of the season due to injury. Green has been making his presence felt since then, but is in the NFL’s concussion protocol. Given his history with concussions, it is not likely he will play.

Advantage: Ravens

6. Steve McLendon and Brett Keisel Have Moved On

The fact that Brett Keisel has retired since the Steelers last victory over the Ravens surprises no one, but Steve McLendon’s departure perhaps does. By 2014 it was clear that Steve McLendon wasn’t going to be Casey Hampton, but he didn’t need to be and he appeared to have a long future in Pittsburgh ahead of him.

However, the Steelers made a salary cap calculation not to invest in a nose tackle, and moved one.

Stephon Tuitt has replaced Brett Keisel and Javon Hargrave has replaced Tuitt. Normally that would give the Steelers a strong duo, but Stephon Tuitt is nursing a knee injury. And with Cam Heyward out for the year, that is not good.

Advantage: Ravens

There you have it. Pittsburgh has seen a lot of changes since the Steelers last win vs. the Ravens. Some of them offer promise for the Christmas day show down, others favor Baltimore.

What does that mean?

Probably that the Steelers-Ravens Christmas Day game will come down to who can hit the hardest – just as any good Steelers-Ravens game should.

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Looking @ the Steelers Thanksgiving Record – Can Pittsburgh Break the Turkey Day Curse?

The NFL is “honoring” the Pittsburgh Steelers for the 8th time by putting them in the national spotlight on Thanksgiving Day. Given the Steelers Thanksgiving record, one can imagine Art Rooney II saying a heartfelt “Thanks but no thanks” the next time the NFL offers them a turkey day slot.

Here is a look at the Steelers Thanksgiving record that has made for many a memorable turkey day that most of Steelers Nation Wish they could forget.

steelers thanksgiving record, steelers thanksgiving history, le'veon bell, le'veon bell concussion ravens, steelers ravens thanksgiving

Le’Veon Bell loses his helmet in the Steelers 2013 Thanksgiving loss at Baltimore. Photo Credit: Matt Hafley, Post-Gazette

Pre-Noll Era Steelers Thanksgiving Record 1-2

The Steelers played the Philadelphia Eagles on Thanksgiving Day in 1939 and 1940. The Pittsburgh Pirates, as they were still known then, lost to the Eagles on Thanksgiving in 1939 17-14. In 1940 the newly renamed Steelers had no better luck, losing to the Eagles 7-0.

The Steelers would have to wait another ten years, including their World War II stint as the Steagles, before playing on Thanksgiving Day. However, the NFL matched the Steelers up with the Chicago Cardinals on Thanksgiving day in 1950 and Pittsburgh prevailed led by Joe Geri’s 101 rushing yards, two touchdowns and 3 extra points.

1983 – The Thanksgiving Day Massacre

November 24th, 1983 @ The Pontiac Silverdome
Detroit 45, Pittsburgh 3

The 1983 Steelers had played the entire season without Terry Bradshaw, but despite that Cliff Stoudt combined with a defense that looked to be Super Bowl caliber had given the Steelers a 9-3 record and command of the AFC Central Division heading into their Thanksgiving Day game against Detroit. Detroit for its part was only 6-6.

As defensive coordinator Woody Widenhoffer admitted later, the Steelers weren’t prepared. And then some:

  • At the time, it was the Steelers worst loss in 36 years.

Cliff Stoudt threw 4 interceptions Mark Malone threw 1, Franco Harris gained 16 yards on 5 carries as both Harris and Walter Abercrombie’s combined totals were less than Frank Pollard’s. Meanwhile, Bill Sims looked like genetic fusion between Jim Brown and Barry Sanders, and Eric Hipple looked like Johnny Unitas.

The Steelers would lose the following week in Cincinnati. The week after it would take the last throws left in Terry Bradshaw’s arm to left them over the Jets as the Steelers stumbled into the playoffs where the LA Raiders quickly eliminated them.

1991 – Joe Walton Fails the Steelers. Again.

November 28th, 1991 @ Texas Stadium
Dallas 20, Pittsburgh 10

Considering that Dallas went to the playoffs and won a game and followed the next season with a Super Bowl Championship, one might wonder why this game was close at all. But it was.

  • And in many ways it symbolized all that was wrong with the Joe Walton era of the Steelers offense.

The Steelers still had a talented defense that had finished number 1 overall in 1990, led by players such as Rod Woodson, Greg Lloyd and Carnell Lake. It still had the offensive core that had led the rallies that fueled the 1989 Steelers improbable run. But unfortunately, Chuck Noll’s last hire was his worst one, as he’d name Joe Walton his offensive coordinator and gave him total control.

The Steelers defense kept the Dallas Cowboys to 13 points until late into the third quarter, when Warren Williams narrowed the score to three.

  • Alas, Steve Beuerlein to Michael Irvin pass put the gave the Cowboys a 10 point lead.

And under Joe Walton’s offense, Neil O’Donnell couldn’t muster more than 167 yards, and no other skill player could break the 60 yard mark. In other words, in those days 10 points was far too much to overcome in a quarter.

1998 – The Phil Luckett Coin Flip Thanksgiving Day Fiasco

November 26th @ the Pontiac Silverdome
Detroit 19, Pittsburgh 16

For as bad as 1983’s Thanksgiving Day Massacre was, the Thanksgiving Day Coin Toss Disaster is standard by which every disappointment on the Steelers Thanksgiving record will be judged because it signified the end of an era.

The 1998 Steelers had had their ups and downs. Without a doubt, this Steelers team was missing something and Kordell Stewart clearly lacked the mojo he’d shown in the season before. But these 1998 Steelers had authored enough Tease Games – convincing wins over serious contenders – to give fans legitimate hope Bill Cowher’s boys could pull it together for a deep playoff run.

The scenario for the 1998 Steelers Thanksgiving Day game had all the trimmings for one of The Chin’s late season surges. The Steelers were fresh off a win at home over the division leading Jacksonville Jaguars and took a 7-4 record to Detroit. Jerome Bettis’ parents even had the entire team over for Thanksgiving dinner the night before.

  • It was not to be.

The Steelers played a sloppy game filled with blown coverages and easily catchable balls that receivers dropped. Nonetheless they opened a 13-3 lead in the third quarter, only to see the Lions kick a field goal, followed by a Charlie Batch to Herman Moore hook up that tied the score. Jacksonville added another 3 and the Steelers had to fight to get into position for a Norm Johnson field goal to tie the game.

  • Carnell Lake and Jerome Bettis approached midfield, called tails, the coin landed on tails but referee Phil Luckett awarded the ball to the Lions as Detroit’s captains struggled to suppress their laughter.
Jerome Bettis, Steelers Thanksgiving Record, steelers thanksgiving coin flip, phil luckett

Jerome Bettis clearly called tails, but Phil Luckett said he heard “heads” in the infamous Thanksgiving Day Coin Flip. Photo Credit: USA Today For the Win

The Lions got into scoring position thanks to another Herman Moore reception that came at Carnell Lake’s expense. A ticky tacky face mask penalty gave Detroit even more yards as they kicked the overtime field goal for the win.

The loss knocked the wind out of the 1998 Steelers sails, who would go on to lose their next 4 games. The Pittsburgh Steelers had been contenders since Bill Cowher and Tom Donahoe began in 1992, but that era ended on Thanksgiving Day 1998 in Detroit.

2013 – The Tomlin Two-Step and the Failed 2 Pointer

November 28th @ M&T Bank Stadium
Baltimore 22, Pittsburgh 20

Outside of Pittsburgh, everyone remembers this game because of Mike Tomlin’s sideline two-step, but inside Steelers Nation this one was a heart breaker – not because the Steelers played poorly, but because they played so well. The 2013 Steelers had of course started at 0-4 and the 2-6 yet had clawed their way back to 5-6. A win vs. the Ravens would have restored the Steelers record to .500 and put Pittsburgh within striking distance of the AFC North title.

  • Alas, it was not to be.

The Ravens scored a quick touchdown, but the Steelers defense held Baltimore to field goals for the rest of the night. The Steelers offense stalled during the first half, but in the second half Le’Veon Bell and Emmanuel Sanders scored touchdowns, as Ben Roethlisberger connected with Heath Miller 9 times.

With time expiring the Steelers moved into scoring position:

  • Ben Roethlisberger hit Heath Miller for 19 yards and an apparent touchdown. Overturned on replay.
    Le’Veon Bell rammed it in from the one. Overturned on replay because his helmet slipped off as he was being concussed.
  • Two plays later Roethlisberger hit Jerricho Cotchery in the end zone…
  • ….but the two point conversion failed.

The Steelers tried an on-sides kick, but failed and the Ravens ran out the clock. While this loss was disappointing, it was Steelers-Ravens slugfest in the truest sense of the word.

Can the Steelers  break their Thanksgiving Day curse vs. the Colts in 2016? Time will tell.

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Steelers Nation Speaks: The Failed Chris Boswell Rabona On Sides Kick was a Worthy Risk

The beauty of doing polls is that sometimes that results shock you. If you’re reading this, you know very well that the 2016 Steelers loss to the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium ended with failed Chris Boswell’s rabona on sides kick attempt.

  • Steelers Nation understandably erupted in fury after the game on Twitter and other social media.

Calls for Art Rooney II to summarily fire Mike Tomlin and/or Steelers special teams coach Danny Smith were not hard to find. Yet, that seemed to simple and a far too easy scape goat given that Chris Boswell had executed a rabona on-sides kick while at Rice University.

Hence the poll.

When Steel Curtain Rising posted the poll and the accompanying article exploring both sides of the failed Chris Boswell on sides kick The results are surprising, because after all, what good is the internet if you can’t demand your pound of flesh and demand it now. But cooler heads prevailed, at least in this corner of Steelers Nation:

chris boswell on sides kick ravens, chris boswell rabona on sides kick

68% of our voters felt that the decision to have Chris Boswell try a rabona style on sides kick was a worth coaching risk. The other 32% took issue with Mike Tomlin and Danny Smith’s choice. That’s a pretty clear margin of victory.

 

I for one now agree with the poll results. Last Sunday’s loss was hard to swallow, and given that special teams snafus had hurt the Steelers badly (12 men on the field on one play, the blocked punt) that didn’t seem to be the time for Danny Smith to be trying something cute.

But Jim Wexell offered some valuable insight via Twitter:

That changes things considerable. This wasn’t some hair brained, “Hey Chris, you nailed did rabona on-sides kick once in college… think ya can go out there and do it again…?” scheme hatched on the sideline during at TV time out.

The Steelers special teams had practiced the rabona on-sides kick and, while risky, it was a worthy gamble on the part of Mike Tomlin that had it gone a little better, could have resulted in the game ending with Ben Roethlisberger’s getting the ball at midfield with 2-3 chances to hook up with Antonio Brown, Eli Rogers, Cobi Hamilton, Sammie Coates or even Le’Veon Bell.

That’s a long shot, but a shot worth taking.

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Was the Botched Chris Boswell On Sides Kick a Poor Play Call or Failed Execution?

Was the botched Chris Boswell On Sides Kick Poor Play Calling or Poor Execution? Read through and vote at the bottom….

398 days ago it all seemed not only so easy but also so tempting.

On October 6th 2015 the Pittsburgh Steelers signed Chris Boswell as their 4th place kicker in as many months. Pittsburgh was in the middle of a kicking crisis not seen since the Kris BrownTodd Peterson transition. Mike Tomlin and Danny Smith desperately needed was a kicker they could count on.

But Boswell teased at offering something more….

chris boswell, chris boswell on sides kick, steelers vs. ravens

Before he botched it in Baltimore, Chris Boswell had nailed the “Side Step” on sides kick at Rice University. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

….First, his athletic resume was impressive, having not only place kicked but punted for the New York Giants during the previous summer’s training camp. And then there was this tantalizing tidbit of tape the Chris Boswell had left from his days of kicking for Rice University….

Boswell brought a solid resume of splitting the uprights to Pittsburgh and his knack for making side-step on-sides kicks looked to be an added benefit. For all of his reliability as a place kicker, Shaun Suisham for failed to master the art of an on sides kick.

  • Would Boswell’s unusual ability someday become the Steelers Ace in the Hole late in a game when they needed one?

We now know that, against the Ravens, the answer to that question was no. But Bill Cowher once said “I’d rather walk off the field saying ‘I wish I hadn’t done that’ as opposed to asking myself, ‘What would have happened if I’d done that?’”

The Case For the “Side-step” Chris Boswell On Sides Kick

The Steelers (latest) loss to the Ravens Baltimore will long be remembered by Chris Boswell’s failed on-sides kick at the tail end.

After all, it was an uncanny play call resulting in an epic fail that graphically symbolizes the downward spiral that Mike Tomlin’s 2016 Steelers are falling into before our very eyes.

  • Yet, as first video shows, it wasn’t as crazy as it looked on Sunday afternoon.

Chris Boswell has “Been There and Done” that before. Doing it in the NCAA and pulling it off in the NFL might be different animals, but Boswell does have a track record here. Plus, Boswell had tried a convention on sides kick vs. the Patriots to no avail, so a “business case” so to speak, existed to justify Tomlin and Smith’s gamble.

Or so the thinking goes.

Look at in that light, the failed Chris Boswell onsides kick seems to fall into the category of the defines all unconventional plays:

  • A risky play that works is a good call, a risky play that fails is a bad call.

Yes, that sounds hollow here 48 hours after the Steelers 3 straight loss of the season, 4th consecutive loss to the Ravens, and Ben Roethlisberger’s 5 loss in a row in Baltimore. But think about it.

And Boswell nailed it and gotten it right into Artie Burns arms, and had Ben Roethlisberger fired off a sideline pass to Antonio Brown, followed by an end zone hook up with Le’Veon Bell as time expired, Steelers Nation would be erecting statues of Danny Smith.

  • So the blame for the failure falls on Boswell, not the play call. Right?

That sounds good, but it isn’t so simple, and I honestly am of two minds on the subject.

The Case Against the “Side Step” Chris Boswell On Sides Kick

There’s a contrary school of thought that places Mike Tomlin and Danny Smith firmly on the hook for this failure. And the logic flows like this:

  • You should never try to get cute when you’re either struggling or failing to execute the fundamentals.

While this story dates me, the 1998 Steelers Monday Night Football game vs. the Green Bay Packers provides a perfect example.

The 1998 Steelers offense has struggled to find consistency all season long, but seemed to have FINALLY found a rhythm that night against the Packers. Riding a 27-9 lead with 9:55 left in the 4th quarter, the Steelers reached the goal line and were about to make it 34-9 when Mike Tomczak appeared under center and Kordell Stewart split wide.

  • Tomzcak fumbled the ball, Keith McKenzie recovered and returned it 88 yards.

A game that should have ended with a steady diet of handoffs to Jerome Bettis and Richard Huntley running behind Dermontti Dawson and Alan Fancea became a nail-biter as the Brett Favre forced the Steelers to hold on for life, winning 27-20.

The lesson of that incident was clear:  If you’re struggling to execute fundamentally sound football, you shouldn’t be tempting fate with trick plays. And on Sunday, the Steelers special teams most certainly were not playing sound fundamental football.

Ergo, the Mike Tomlin and Danny Smith NEVER should have made the call.

Vote Was the Botched Chris Boswell Onsides Kick a Bad Call or Poor Execution

With that, we leave it to you to decide. Was Chris Boswell’s botched onsides kick a bad call in the first place, or was it a worthy risk that ran awry to poor execution? Vote now:

This poll is closed! Poll activity:
start_date 11-07-2016 23:59:59
end_date 11-12-2016 21:09:59
Poll Results:
Mike Tomlin and Danny Smith's decision to have Chris Boswell try an unorthodox on sides kick was...

Make your voice heard Steelers Nation, and don’t hesitate to defend your vote in the comments section.

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Baltimore Beats Pittsburgh 21-14, Ravens Have Now Won 4 Straight vs Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers traveled to M&T Bank Stadium coming off their bye week with relatively strong health against a Baltimore Ravens team that had lost four straight. At the end of the day, none of those off the field aesthetics mattered at all, as the headline Baltimore beats Pittsburgh 21-14 communicates a basic reality.

  • The Baltimore Ravens improved their winning streak over the Pittsburgh Steelers for one simple reason:

Across the board, the Ravens beat the Steelers by because they had better execution of fundamentals that define winning football. That’s the stark truth of the matter.

baltimore beats pittsburgh 21-14, ben roethlisberger, steelers at M&T Bank Stadium

Ben Roethlisberger remains winless in Baltimore following the 2016 Steelers 21-14 loss. Photo Credit: Christopher Horner, Tribune-Review

Ravens Dominate the Line of Scrimmage

Todd Haley’s game plan became crystal clear very early on in the game: Use Le’Veon Bell to dictate the pace of the game. Given how effective Le’Veon Bell has been with the ball in his hands this fall, few should fault the logic behind Haley’s thinking, even if Baltimore did enter the game with the NFL’s number 3 rush defense.

  • But if you’re going to run the ball effectively, you must dominate at the line of scrimmage.

And the Steelers offensive line got dominated by the Raven’s front seven. The Pittsburgh’s offensive lineman may have provided decent pass protection, but they chronically failed to open lanes for Le’Veon Bell. On paper the Steelers offense is designed to take advantage of those situations.

  • If it were all just a simple fantasy football exercise, frustration upfront should give Ben Roethlisberger time to do damage downfield.

Except real football doesn’t mimic a fantasy game, and Ben Roethlisberger looked very rusty and consistently misfired in trying to hit receivers downfield. That stat sheet shows that Ben Roethlisberger only threw one interception, but the fact is he threw two or 3 passes that could easily been interceptions.

In this case the numbers don’t lie, and the picture they paint isn’t pretty for Pittsburgh:

What’s more, failed exchanges between B.J. Finney and Roethlisberger came together to make up a comedy of errors. And that’s without even considering the special teams….

Butler’s Adjustments to Steelers Defense Effective, but Insufficient

Before turning to the special teams, a review of the performance of the Steelers defense vs. the Ravens is in order, because of the context it provides.

Fans can be forgiven if they abandonded all hope when the saw Terrance West open the game with runs of 8, 6, and 5 yards. He also tacked on another 9 yard effort and then opened the second half with runs of 8 and 5 yards.

  • Yet, when it was all over, West walked away with a total of 21 rushing yards.

Kenneth Dixon didn’t do much better. Credit Keith Butler for making the in-game adjustment to effectively shut off the Raven’s rushing attack. Likewise, credit Butler’s crew for forcing the Ravens to punt as many times as the Steelers did.

  • The 2016 Steelers have forged identity of a team that struggles on the road.

During the Steelers road losses to the Eagles and the Dolphins, Keith Butler’s defense was a glaring liability on so many fronts. The same cannot be said of the Steelers loss to the Ravens (or to the Patriots for that matter.) Yes, the defense did give up a 95 yard touchdown pass which isn’t forgivable.

  • But Keith Butler’s defense went into Baltimore, and held the Raven’s defense to 13 points at home.

While no one will confuse the 2016 Ravens with the 1989 49ers, the 1993 Cowboys or the greatest show on turf, if you go into an opposing stadium and hold their offense to 13 points, you’re generally playing winning defense….

Steelers Special Teams Disaster in Baltimore

…Unless you have a total collapse elsewhere, as the Steelers did on Special teams. Since Danny Smith arrived in Pittsburgh the Steelers special teams haven’t been very special, but they’ve avoided being a liability.

  • The Steelers special teams were a liability against the Ravens.

A roughing the kicker penalty gave the Ravens a second lease on life, although the Steelers defense did damage control. The coverage units might not have given up a big run, in a game of field position every yard counts.

But Chris Moore came in untouched to block Jordan Berry’s punt, and his recovery effectively ended the game for the Steelers. That’s simply inexcusable.

It says here that the Steelers late 4th quarter surge was little more than garbage time glory against a Raven’s team with plenty of its own internal demons. Nonetheless, if you take it strictly by the numbers, without that blocked punt the Steelers score enough to win the game. The Steelers special teams broke down at a critical time in the game.

John Harbaugh has Mike Tomlin, Steelers Number

When the Baltimore Ravens beat Pittsburgh at Heinz Field in November 2011 to complete John Harbuagh’s first season-sweep of the Steelers, Dejan Kovacevic suggested the victory might have represented a changing of the guard in the AFC North.

  • At the time critics balked.

However, it is now November 2016. Ben Roethlisberger STILL has not won a game in Baltimore since 2010 and the Baltimore Ravens now own four game winning streak over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Cincinnati Bengals might take exception to any “changing of the guard to Baltimore storyline” but the bottom line is that right now John Harbaugh has the number of Mike Tomlin’s Pittsburgh Steelers.

And until Mike Tomlin’s team changes that reality on the field, the Steelers will continue to be AFC also-rans. Today’s latest loss underlines just how far Mike Tomlin and the Steelers still have to travel.

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Is 7 Raven’s Lucky Number? Inside Ben Roethlisberger’s M&T Bank Stadium Losing Streak

Although the Steelers injury report still lists him as “Questionable” word is that Ben Roethlisberger will start for Pittsburgh vs. the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium today. The news is welcome. Landry Jones first start in the Steelers loss to the Patriots wasn’t the disaster many (including yours truly) feared it would be. But starting at home is one thing, starting away is another.

News that Ben Roethlisberger probably will start evokes classic moments from the Steelers-Ravens rivalry like this one (available as of 11/6/16):

Although that wasn’t Troy Polamalu’s finest moment in the series – that distinction would be Polamalu’s pick six in the AFC Championship game – it is probably number two. Polamalu’s game changing play is also notable for fact most of Steelers Nation would prefer to forget:

  • It set up Ben Roethlisberger’s final winning effort at M&T Bank Stadium.
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers vs. Ravens, Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium, Ben Roethlisberger's M&T Bank Stadium losing streak

Ben Roethlisberger’s M&T Bank losing streak began in 2011 had has continued since. Photo Credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Since the 2010 Steelers glorious Sunday Night Football win over the Ravens, Ben Roethlisberger (and the Steelers have struggled at M&T Bank Stadium.

In between, of course there was the Charlie Batch authored 2012 upset of the Ravens, but that game has been the exception, not the rule.

Inside Ben Roethlisberger’s Losing Streak at M&T Bank Stadium

Ben Roethlisberger’s lifetime record vs. the Ravens is 9-8, a stat which includes his rookie debut and improves to 11-9 if you include Roethlsiberger’s playoff appearances against the Ravens. However, since that fateful night in 2010, Roethlisberger is only 2-5 in the regular season vs. the Ravens and 1-1.

  • And as we can see above, none of those victories have come at M&T Bank Stadium.

Just how bad has it rough have Ben Roethlisberger’s travels to M&T Bank Stadium been? Well, numbers don’t lie and the tale they tell isn’t pretty:

ben rothlisberger, M&T bank stadium, Ben Roethlisberger's M&T bank stadium losing streak

M&T bank stadium hasn’t been kind to Ben Roethlisberger

First you can see that he hasn’t had a 300 yard game in Baltimore since 2010, where has he’s done it at Heinz Field twice, although to be fair those are his only two 300 yard games in the regular season series. He completes about 3.3% fewer passes at M&T Bank Stadium than he does at Heinz Field – no big difference there. Neither do sacks appear to be a determinative issues, as the Ravens have sacked Ben Roethlisberger 7 times in 3 games at Heinz Field since 2010 and 9 times in 4 games at M&T Bank Stadium.

  • Interceptions are the real culprit for Ben Roethlisberger at M&T Bank Stadium.

Ben Roethlisberger has thrown 6 interceptions at M&T Stadium since 2010 and only 1 at Heinz Field. Whether he’s targeting Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, Heath Miller, or Hines Ward, Rashard Mendenhall or Mike Wallace, Ben Roethlisberger tends to hit the guys in Purple at M&T Bank Stadium.

There’s one other staistic that emphaizes the point above:

  • In 13 career games vs. the Baltimore Ravens, Antonio Brown has 1 touchdown pass.

If the Steelers are to break that cycle and assert their stamp on the AFC North title race, and if Ben Roethlisberger’s M&T Bank Stadium losing streak is to end, Todd Haley had better find a way for Number 7 to get the ball to Number 84, preferably in the painted parts of the field.

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How Cody Wallace to IR Makes Artie Burns Start vs Ravens Easier to Understand

Sometimes it pays to wait before preparing to grab the pitchforks and storm the barricades. Such is the case with the lead up to the Steelers showdown vs. the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Going into the game the key personnel questions for the Steelers, aside from whether Ben Roethlisberger or Landry Jones would start, was whether the Steelers would activate Ladarius Green.

artie burns, artie burns starting vs. ravens, artie burns vs. chiefs, chris conley

Artie Burns unsuccessfully tries to keep Chris Conley from catching a pass. Photo Credit: Peter Diana, Post-Gazette

Then a little bombshell exited the South Side – rookie Artie Burns would start ahead of William Gay vs. the Ravens. Steel City Insider’s Jon Ledyard voice what I was thinking:

Artie Burns might blossom into a competitive NFL cornerback. However, his play thus far calls to mind Ike Taylor‘s rookie season far more than it does Rod Woodson’s (Taylor only played special teams as a rookie, Woodson held out 1/2 a season but looked like a stud from the get-go.)

Jim Wexell speculated that this move merely signaled the Steelers desire to match Burns against speedy Mike Wallace. (Wexell also pointed out that in practice, Artie Burns has been a veritable ball hawk.)

And that indeed might be part of Keith Butler and Carnell Lake’s plan is. But the Steelers made another roster move made the news about Artie Burns first start a little easier to understand as they put reserve guard/center Cody Wallace on injured reserve, and activated practice squad defensive back Al-Hajj Shabazz.

As Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review explained when announcing the move, the Steelers decision to activate Al-Hajj Shabazz quite possibly indicates that William Gay will be unavailable for the Ravens game, given that Gay missed practice on Friday after participating during the entire week.

Mark Kaboly’s of DK on Pittsburgh Sports tweet seemed to advance the story in that direction:

If the story does turn out to be true, and William Gay misses the game against the Ravens, Joe Flacco will get the chance to revive the Raven’s fortunes against a secondary that has struggled mightily even with its most experienced player in the lineup.

However, the Steelers are expect to get both Ryan Shazier and Cameron Heyward back which can only help the unit.

Cody Wallace Season Ends Before It Starts

The franchise that started only one more center (Ray Mansfield, Mike Webster, Dermontti Dawson, and Jeff Hartings) than it had head coaches (Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin) during a 38 year period from 1968 to 2006, the Steelers have not had good luck keeping centers healthy of late.

  • If Maurkice Pouncey’s reputation for being “injury prone” is unwarranted, the man has not had good luck.

His replacement, Fernando Velasco, lasted 11 games before falling injured, only to be replaced by Cody Wallace. Now Cody Wallace’s 2016 has ended because of an injury he suffered during training camp.  is in the final year of the contract he signed with the Steelers in 2014. One has to wonder this injury might end his time in Pittsburgh.

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