Ravens v. Steelers:
The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly
For the better part of the Monday evening's game we were not sure there would be much good news to discuss, and by the end of the game . . . we remained convinced that there is not much good news to discuss. Be that as it may, here's our perspective of the latest Ravens-Steelers slugfest.
- The best news to come out of Pittsburgh last night was that Andre Frazier was on his feet and walking around when the game ended. Any injury is unfortunate but none has the tragic ramifications of a spinal cord injury. Seeing Mr. Frazier driven off the field strapped to a backboard was frightening (not to mention an ominous harbinger of things to come) and we are thankful to our personal God that his injury was not more serious.
- Special teams ~ specifically the kick and punt coverage units ~ turned in another strong performance. In fact, if Mitch Berger continues to perform as he did Monday night (6 punts, net average 39.1 yards, total punt return yards for Baltimore was 7 yards) the Steelers will have a tough decision to make between him and Daniel Sepulveda. As for Jeff Reed, what can we possibly say that hasn't been said? He is as clutch as a kicker can get, and his kickoffs have improved dramatically (i.e. they are routinely sailing into the end zone). At the same time the coverage unit has improved even more dramatically ~ Monday night the Steelers limited the Ravens to 120 return yards on six kicks. So far in 2008 the kick coverage team is limiting opponents to an average of 19.4 yards per return, as compared to an average of 22.6 yards last season ~ an improvement of nearly 15%.
- The best group of linebackers in the NFL, led by their two Pro Bowl caliber outside linebackers (i.e. James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley), delivered the win Monday evening by making 32 tackles, four sacks, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, and one touchdown. Even Lawrence Timmons playd well ~ possibly his best game as a member of the Steelers.
- We dinged Bruce Arians last week, and now we want to hit the point more emphatically ~ Bruce Arians is coaching himself off the Steelers' staff. Early in the game we were pleased to see two "sidecars" in the backfield on passing plays, one of those being Heath Miller who delivered a solid hit on an oncoming rusher before releasing into the flat as a safety valve receiver. We were also heartened to see (in the first quarter) the use of a fullback, even if it was tight end Sean McHugh. These, and other factors, resulted in the Steelers' offense gaining fifty yards during that first quarter.
So imagine our surprise when they moved completely away from that approach during the disastrous second quarter, a quarter in which their ten offensive plays resulted in -4 total yards. Looking at the offensive numbers another way the 38-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes ~ that single play ~ accounted for 16% of the Steelers' total offensive output.
Some will point to injuries as a way of explaining the difficulties the offense is facing; however it is fairly clear already that this offensive unit is not capable of protecting the quarterback much less running the ball on a consistent basis. It's time for Mr. Arians to look at this group, its skills and weaknesses, objectively and begin creating game plans accordingly.
- Related to Mr. Arians, has anyone seen or heard from quarterback coach Ken Anderson lately? Ben Roethlisberger's propensity for holding on to the ball too long is not improving, and either he or his receivers are missing hot reads in blitz situations.
- We love Dick LeBeau ~ who doesn't? At age 71 he looks better than men half his age, not to mention the great work he's done over the years in Pittsburgh. But Monday evening's performance was, overall, somewhat disappointing especially in terms of the zone coverage scheme that was employed. How does Derrick Mason end up with 71.35% of the receiving yards for the Ravens? At times it seemed that the Steelers' defense was more intent on squeezing in as many pre-snap formation shifts as possible than actually stopping the Ravens' offense ~ as evidenced by the Ravens' fourth quarter, 76-yard touchdown drive to tie the game.
- Broken shoulder? Spinal injury? Achilles tendon rupture? Ankle sprain? It was not that long ago that a friend was riding his bike, and during this ride he was hit by a car ~ and ended up in better shape than some of the Steelers did in Monday's game. Wow
- We try to be constructive in our comments, but we are incapable of intelligently expressing our feelings regarding the Steelers offensive line play. The reduction in the number of sacks from the game against Philadelphia to this game is more a testimony to Ben Roethlisberger's strength than it is to any improvement by the linemen. The offensive line has been pummeled two consecutive weeks, and they now look forward to playing Jacksonville.