Sunday, December 14, 2008

Steelers @ Ravens:
The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly

I've made much of Pittsburgh's struggles in Baltimore, and that fact makes Sunday's victory all the more special. Oh, and clinching the AFC North title, and a first round bye in the playoffs, and putting themselves in a position to earn the #1 seed in the AFC (in another locale ~ Tennessee ~ where they have underperformed), all of that is pretty special too.

There are so many things to discuss, but let's begin with some statistical notes:
  • The Steelers are now a perfect 6-0 in those games in which their opponent has scored first.

  • Ben Roethlisberger recorded his 50th win as a starting quarterback in the NFL.

  • According to the Steelers' media department the win versus Baltimore is the 550th of the franchise since the merger of the AFL and NFL, and is the highest win total of any AFC franchise.
Without further adieu, here are some of my thoughts on this week's game:

The Good
  1. I try not to get into matters of officiating, but given that John Harbaugh was complaining about the touchdown call in his postgame press conference, we offer up the following quote from the NFL Rule Book: "A touchdown is the situation in which any part of the ball, legally in possession of a player in bounds, is on, above, or behind the opponent's goal line (plane) provided it is not a touchback" (Rule 3, Section 39). Rule 11, section 2, article 1 reinforces this important fact ~ the ball does not have to cross the plane ~ it simply has to touch the line
    ("Rule 11, Scoring, Section 2 Touchdown Article 1 It is a touchdown (3-38):
    (a) the ball is on, above, or behind the plane of the opponent’s goal line and is in possession of a runner who has advanced from the field of play; or
    (b) a ball in possession of an airborne runner is on, above, or behind the plane of the goal line, and some part of the ball was passed over or inside the pylon; or
    (c) a ball in player possession touches the pylon, provided that no part of the player’s body, except his hands or feet, struck the ground before the ball touched the pylon; or
    (d) Any player who is legally inbounds catches or recovers a loose ball (3-2-3) on or behind the opponent’s goal line; or
    (e) The Referee awards a touchdown to a team that has been denied one by a palpably unfair act."
    )

    Given that fact, not surprisingly, the view from here is that the touchdown call was correct, albeit close.

    If Ravens fans want something about which they can complain, consider this: Of the Ravens' twelve offensive possessions none began at or inside their own 20 yard line. Eight of those possessions began at or outside their own 35 yard line; and three began on the Steelers' side of the field ~ and they still came away with only nine points. Can't blame the officials for that.

  2. Moving on, the offensive line, despite multiple penalties being called against them, was amazing. Indeed, considering the excellence of the defense they were facing, it was arguably their finest performance of the season. Sacked three times and rushed on more than a few occasions, Ben Roethlisberger had still had time to deliver on target passes throughout the contest; and the job that the line did on the final, game winning drive (not to mention the final, scrambling touchdown pass) was as good a job as an offensive line can do. Additionally, the Steelers managed to rush for 91 yards ~ 22 yards better than the first meeting this season between these two teams ~ and 311 total yards of offense ~ 74 yards more than their previous meeting this season; and everyone remembers (I'm sure) that the first meeting went to overtime.

    Special recognition goes to the oft maligned Max Starks ~ none of the three sacks on Mr. Roethlisberger came from the blind side (indeed my recollection is that they came from up the middle), meaning that Mr. Starks and those who helped him (i.e. Max Spaeth, Heath Miller, and Mewelde Moore) in pass protection were terrific.

  3. Speaking of Ben Roethlisberger, his performance in managing the game was so refreshing. He threw the football away when no receivers were open, he ran the football when there was an opportunity to do so, he moved laterally in order to keep plays alive, and he did not allow himself to become frustrated by the inconsistent play of a couple of his receivers. In other words his performance was a mature one, and he showed the calm of a leader during the winning drive. His statistics are fairly run-of-the-mill (22/40, 246 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions, QB rating 81.9), but he kept his poise under duress and led his team to an important victory.

  4. All of this would be pointless if not for the continued excellence of the defense. Yes, James Harrison was largely contained (and continues to make a habit of crashing down the line while a running back carries the ball outside of the spot he just vacated) as was LaMarr Woodley, but there is no doubt that Lawrence Timmons more than picked up the slack ~ delivering a beautiful open field tackle on special teams, a ferocious hit on Derrick Mason, and a sack and strip on Joe Flacco (a huge play in the game) ~ in playing his best game as a Pittsburgh Steeler.

    We continue to be concerned about the rushing yardage suddenly being surrendered by the Pittsburgh defense (112 yards this week) but the scoreboard does not lie, and nine points allowed in an NFL game is mind boggling.

  5. Hine Ward was criticized here last week, but this week we come to praise him. One clutch catch, often times going over the middle without fear or hesitation, after another literally made up for the inconsistent (i.e. maddening) play of his colleagues at the wide receiver position. Moreover, his eight catches and 107 yards is (in both categories) more than he accumulated in his previous three games combined.

    Well done Hines, well done.
The Bad
  1. Coming into the game the special teams, specifically the punt coverage and kick coverage teams, were amongst the best in the NFL.

    Not on Sunday.

    The outstanding field position that the Ravens enjoyed all day was the direct result of the beat down that Baltimore's special teams delivered on Pittsburgh's. The Ravens averaged 18.0 yards per punt return (even if the 46-yard return is excluded they averaged 11.0 yards per return which is still 4.3 yards more per average return) and 22.8 yards per kick return (5.6 yards more than the average allowed coming into the game).

    As for the returns teams, the punt return unit gained a grand total of five yards on three punt returns and the kick return unit averaged 17.5 yards per return (the lone bright spot on special teams ~ that is .3 yards more than the average kick return coming into the game).

    The abysmal performance of these units should keep Bob Ligashesky working long hours all week in preparation for next week's game.

  2. Nate Washington is making me crazy.

    Drop one pass, catch one pass.

    I believe that he may now have the team lead in that dubious category; and it is only the big plays that he did make that kept him from sinking into the "ugly" section of this posting. Also, I have grown weary of watching him run the football (either on a designed running play of after a reception) only to come to a veritable standstill as he approaches would-be tacklers. Feel free to deliver a hit every now and again, Nate. But only after you start catching those balls that are hitting you in the hands.
The Ugly
  1. Santonio Holmes caught the winning touchdown pass ~ and it is a good thing that he did.

    The poor punt return totals? That was Santonio Holmes.

    Dropped pass on 3rd-and-6 in the first quarter? That was Santonio Holmes.

    Two fumbles, including one that gave Baltimore the football at Pittsburgh's 16 yard line? That was also Santonio.

    Indeed, until that touchdown catch I have to say that the best thing he did the entire game was to block downfield for his teammates.

    On the day when Santonio Holmes scored the winning touchdown he was the one player whose poor play cost the team the most.

  2. A personal foul on Jeff Reed? Now that was a bad call.

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