Ravens Can Batter Ben, But Still Can't Beat Him

This past week was one of the worst I've had in a while. A couple weeks after having to take my car for a costly transmission repair I can't really afford, I lost my job at SB Nation for reasons that still aren't entirely clear or reasonable. That firing, of course, came five days after the company made me miss Thanksgiving with my family because I had to work in the late afternoon and evening with them.

So it goes without further complaining that I personally really needed that Steelers victory.

Not that it wasn't supremely important to the team or any other fan for that matter. You'll forgive me my self-involvement after such an emotional win, right? After all, this was one of the most satisfying and impressive Steelers regular season victories for as long as I've watched the team. Impressive obviously not in the sense that it was a dominant showing but an incredibly resilient effort.

With what was their best chance to win the division on the line, the Steelers went into Baltimore with a depleted line, a hobbled quarterback and won despite incurring more injuries and ceding the lead in the first quarter and not getting it back until there were three minutes left in the game.

All during the week we heard jeering comments from Ravens fans and idiots like Mike Florio that Ben Roethlisberger was doing his drama queen thing again because Roethlisberger happened to sustain a foot injury against Buffalo. Only minutes into the game, Ben gets his nose broken on an uncalled shot to the face by Haloti Ngata. Roethlisberger struggled with his accuracy early trying to adapt to playing with the boot on his foot, but was on par with his usual output by the time the second half came around. His escape from a Terrell Suggs sack two plays before the winning touchdown was one of a handful of huge plays the team came up with in the waning minutes. Isaac Redman's touchdown catch and run was no less amazing, having broken tackles by Dawan Landry and Jarret Johnson before plunging into the end zone.

In many ways, it felt like a repeat of the 2008 road victory in Baltimore to take the division. Of course, while the controversial call in that game went in favor of the Steelers, there were multiple big non-calls on Sunday night that went the way of the Ravens. I can understand missing the Ngata hit on Roethlisberger, but for McClain's incredibly illegal decapitation of Heath Miller to go unflagged was egregious. Maybe it was the fact that the sloppy flags were such a prominent storyline the week prior that made the referees more hesitant than usual to dispense them. Whatever the reason, it's inexcusable.

A lot of Ravens fans are harping on offensive coordinator Cam Cameron for opting to pass on a 2nd and 5 with the lead and three and a half minutes left in the game. If Joe Flacco had slightly more awareness at the line of scrimmage, it's probably not a terrible play, as the Steelers allowed a five yard run on the previous down being in nickel coverage and were now poised to send the house. Of course, this was the same Joe Flacco who had been playing amazing football for the past month or so and had supposedly turned the corner as a complete quarterback. And it's not like the Steelers had a decisive effort in the offensive coordinator department. Bruce Arians' decision making on the Steelers first trip to the red zone in the second half could have been the difference in the game had Polamalu not made his play. Having lost two of the team's better run blockers in the game, Arians calls up back-to-back runs up the gut before a quick dump pass to Mike Wallace that has almost no chance of making it into the end zone.

It can be somewhat excused (or at least slightly mitigated) because he was returning from injury, Bryant McFadden had yet another terrible game against the Ravens. Granted, he helped break up a pass in the end zone on the Ravens final drive, but he was being picked on all evening the way William Gay was most of last season. Keenan Lewis and Joe Burnett haven't made the leap and Ike Taylor is going into free agency. Keeping Ike and taking a corner high seem like huge priorities for the offseason. Of course, it would be difficult not to pull the trigger on a offensive tackle should a good one fall to Pittsburgh.

Not often does it happen in big games or against the Ravens in general, but Hines Ward had a rough day. Hines had only one catch all game, coupled with a bad drop on the Steelers final offensive possession of the first half. Had he made that one, the team would have likely been able to put up at least three before intermission. In the second half, he and David Johnson ran into each other on a route, which left no one open and Roethlisberger having to swallow the ball for a sack.

The win came at no small cost, however, with Heath Miller almost certain to miss Sunday's game against Cincinnati. Flozell Adams suffered a high ankle sprain and will be a question mark as well. Worse still, Daniel Sepulveda tore the ACL in his right leg and will miss the rest of the season. So we're looking and near and long term issues for the rest of the season on offense and special teams. The blocking will be aided slightly on Sunday, as Matt Spaeth has been cleared to return to practice on Wednesday.

Obviously the team can't allow themselves a slip-up after such a pivotal victory. The Bengals gave the Steelers a scare in the first meeting in Cincy and now it appears like the team will be even more shorthanded than they've been accustomed to this season. Nevertheless, it's a game they should be able to win to maintain their hold on the division and the second seed in the AFC.


fx said...

Welcome to the economy. It has been particularly tough on us independent contractors. Hang in there, brother. You are a good writer, but it's a tough and thankless gig. Get your bread buttered some other way and write for fun.

It's never been easier to get published. If you stick with it, you'll rise above the blogospheric gas as you did before, but even then you'll never get paid a wage to live on. Your talent deserves better than the life of a scribbler.

Constant Gardener said...

Ditto to what fx said. I know so many people who've lost their jobs or had offers rescinded for bullshit reasons over the past year. You're a talented sports writer & humorist, but the ease of internet publication is devaluing writing. But things will get better.

So. Second season out of four that we've lost Sepulveda to injury. That's some awful bad luck there-- and I have to wonder if they're going to keep him. I just hope we don't get a repeat of the Mitch Berger experience.

Bassbiscuit said...

Hell of a game steelers fans. I stress out mightily each time we play but I was at that game and it was a real ball breaker. Your (Steelers) fans were very courteous as visitors to our stadium and should rightly celebrate your win. I can say that most Ravens fans I know did not expect anything but a complete slug- fest. I for one am not harping on Cam as we were one dimensional by late in the 4th quarter thx to to the Steelers 1st place run defense... we had no other choice... Polamalu did what he does... In regards to complaining about our respective O- coordinators, it's amazing the similarities between fan bases (Suggs supporting Harrison notwithstanding). One minute Arians or Cameron are heroes, the next they are pariahs. It's feast or famine I suppose. At any rate, Good on ya Steelers and Fans. Perhaps we meet in the playoffs. Always a hell of a game. Ps... even as a ravens fan, I enjoy your work. keep it up. gets me riled... but isn't that why we pay attention?

Patrick said...

Just curious...were you a writer or an IT guy for SB Nation?

It's amazing how the refs always seem to get it wrong when it comes to the Steelers with the illegal hits. It happens too often for it to be a coincidence. Funny how you never see the Patriots deal with insane calls that go against them.

I saw this video the other day...cracked me up, cause it's true.


Christmas Ape said...

I was a writer for them.

I think bad calls are pretty widespread. The Pats' only advantage is that the league has decided you can't even breathe menacingly in Brady's direction. But Brandon Meriweather was among the three who initially touched off the head shots scare with James Harrison.

Spatula said...

I still have the (thread-bare) T-shirt from KSK after the whole WaPo incident. Any plans for similar clothing options?