Pittsburgh Steelers: What went wrong against Ravens?


Well that didn’t take long for Steelers Nation’s hopes to be tossed away into the three rivers. The Pittsburgh Steelers lost to the Baltimore Ravens 30 to 17.  This game’s outcome might have been different if Le’Veon Bell were healthy, but that wasn’t the case. The entire offense came out a bit flat to start the game.

Perhaps it was the decision to start the newly signed  running back Ben Tate, who was on his fourth team in two years (Houston, Cleveland, Minnesota, and the Steelers).   Tate looked OK early with a nice run, surprised with a catch out of the five wide receiver set, and then disappointed with a fumble.  After that, Tate was more of an afterthought. Rookie runner and former practice squad member Josh Harris looked a bit more plodding but made sure he gripped the pigskin with both hands and always fell forward.

I’m not sure if the coaching staff would have done a better job of rotating the backs, that it would have helped slow down the Ravens merciless pass rush.  Oh, offensive weapon Dri Archer, looked more like a quick freshman on a high school varsity team without the size to defend himself on the field, rather than an NFL impact player.  It looks like he was a wasted third round pick. The offensive line struggled get off the ball quickly and did not move defenders around enough to create space very often.

The Pittsburgh passing game could not take advantage of the banged up Baltimore secondary.  Ben Roethlisberger held the ball too long getting caught up in traffic too many times.  All five of his sacks were a result of four pass rushers.  The offensive linemen were on their heals for most of the night and could not keep Big Ben’s pocket clear for more than a few seconds unlike the quarterback’s six touchdown effort earlier this season at Heinz Field against these same Ravens.

Rookie receiver Martavis Bryant continues to improve his all-around play, becoming more of a starting wide receiver not just a deep threat.  He ran crisper routes, made short receptions all over the field, adjusted his body better to poorer throws, and got positive yards running a designed reverse.  His inside-out bubble screen was a well designed play.

Antonio Brown dominated the short routes, slipping and spinning away from Ravens.  The problem was that he could not get open deep against them.  His nine catches and 119 yards were the only thing that was consistent about the Steelers offense in this game. Marcus Wheaton showed some heart that didn’t get much chance to come out in the regular season.  I thought he looked great as a third receiver catching  a few more passes in traffic and got the job done as a kickoff returner.

While he will never be Brandin Cooks, his fellow Oregon State Beaver, Wheaton can be a reliable target in a great passing offense.  Maybe it was me, but Heath Miller is starting to look a bit old in the tooth.  He is not as flexible or fast as he was in his prime and it shows.  Miller still makes difficult catches, but now has issues securing the ball.  The Steelers need to draft his replacement soon.

On the defensive side, defensive tackle/nose guard Steve McClendon knocked offensive linemen back into Joe Flacco forcing the quarterback on his butt.  McClendon has a good burst off the line of scrimmage, while along with Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward, they do their best to try to occupy multiple blockers.  This should leave the linebacker corps free to flow to the ball, but this wasn’t happening enough against the Ravens.

Baltimore played with two inexperienced rookie offensive linemen that kept the Steelers defenders away from Flacco most of the night.  The linebackers and safeties made too many tackles several yards away from the line of scrimmage due to this limited pressure.

The Steelers pass coverage broke down due to the long amount of time it took to get to the quarterback.  The Ravens tight ends started to cause damage down the middle of the field, then as the game went on, other leaks sprung up.  Steve Smith wiggled and fought his way to a few more yards than he should have.  The Pittsburgh backend could not come up with a turnover despite putting the Ravens in quite a few third and longs.  I saw at least two potential interceptions dropped by the defensive backs.

Roethlisberger took the loss on his broad shoulders, but this team needs to fortify itself next season.  The offensive line has to get better tackle play, while the defense needs better cornerback and safety production to start.  This season the Steelers got bailed out by the likes of James Harrison and Brett Keisel, but I doubt either will return next season.  Perhaps, the team also needs to look to a different safety combination than Polamalu and Mitchell.

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