By Christopher DiMarino
What a mess. The Pittsburgh Steelers showed some of the worst football I’ve seen by an offense in a few years against the Cleveland Browns. It felt like I was watching one of those old cartoons where the character keeps falling down the slope of a mountain for what seems like forever. The Steelers would fumble the ball and make mistakes, then the next time they got the ball, they replayed the same errors. It almost seemed scripted. I don’t what feels worse, the fact that the defense showed up and played with that terrible offense or that there were still several chances to launch fourth quarter touchdown drives to win the game.
Now that it’s out of my system, let’s throw that game away. Really, I’d like to throw this game against the Baltimore Ravens away as well. Many have been debating the veteran backup quarterback situation. I didn’t view it as a weakness, but what makes it interesting is when the quarterback struggles. The player in question is typically at the point of his career that he will not improve, unlike a young gun. So while there is a chance a youngster will grow over the week and put it together on game day I don’t remotely get that vibe from Charlie Batch or Byron Leftwich. I now fully believe that there is now way the Steelers can defeat the Ravens this weekend without Ben Roethlisberger.
I don’t want to act like it’s all based on the quarterback, but in this case it’s that simple. Let’s not also forget that the roster is worse for wear in terms of injuries compared to their matchup two weeks ago. Really, this game seems very similar to the game played two weeks ago with two key differences: there is no longer a question mark surrounding the chance that a backup quarterback can step up and win the game, and that this game is in Baltimore, where the Ravens have played great football. The Ravens and the Steelers share one main attribute, they both play much better at home then on the road. This is an especially daunting attribute given that the Steelers only playoff hopes is a Wild Card spot.
You can reference my competition analysis to learn a little more about the competition below:
You can reference my earlier analysis below:
You can reference my previous competition analysis from Week 11 (the link is above) because not much has changed. I don’t want to speak in absolutes, but the situation is genuinely the same with the exception that a couple new factors are slanted towards the Ravens. In the passing game, the Steelers should get a boost with the return of Antonio Brown because he just seems to make this receiver squad play with more conviction. Unfortunately, Batch’s evident lack of arm strength will clip the wings of these receivers quickly. Baltimore’s defense is good as is, so shrinking the field for them is not a fair advantage.
Batch does have a chance to mix in enough short and mid range passes to scrape a drive together with a few first downs and is just flat out better when he throws the ball to Emmanuel Sanders, so hopefully he can target him. Batch however, can’t forget about Heath Miller like he did against the Browns. Either way, the chances of success for Batch hinge on the banged up mix and match offensive line and their ability to protect him along with the success of the running game. He can’t turn the ball over this time. Every pick he throws halves the Steelers chances at victory.
The running offense hit a new low in a abnormally terrible season. Along with being unable to generate big plays or consistent success, the Steelers mixed in generosity. The backs fumbled the ball early and often and not one back had a good game. What is the word that comes to my mind when Tomlin made the decision to use Chris Rainey as his main back? Crazy. The guy is special, but he is not built for the grind of the premier back role. We’re lucky he came out of that game in one piece. I admire that Rainey stepped up, and if anything, the fumbles are a little more common out of him because of his size and speed.
Jonathan Dwyer needs to make a statement this week. Is this backfield going to get completely revamped in the offseason or can they build it around him? What’s sad is I still think Isaac Redman is a better back and has more potential, but whether it be luck or focus, he can’t put a complete game together. Rashard Mendenhall has also disappointed in his comeback and looks very Mike Wallace like in his effort level. What is distressing is how this heap of trash that we call a running game has to work with an offensive line that seems to be suffering a new injury every week. So even if a back comes to play, if the holes aren’t there, like we saw early in the season, it will be hard to find success.
The Steelers defense is like a steady locomotive that is still chugging along regardless of what’s happening around it. Lately it seems like the offense has guided that locomotive off the edge of a cliff, but it continues to persevere. After finally generating some points last week, the Steelers defense followed up a strong start with a stingy finish. They kept the game within reach and I have to give respect to Jason Worilds. What a dominating performance after struggling all season with injury. If he can have a few more strong weeks before the end of the season, it will take some pressure off drafting a replacement for James Harrison in the first round of the draft.
The passing defense was superb once again. The Browns are not awful, and although they completed a few nice plays, the Steelers defense had a great day. Josh Gordon looked good in flashes and he could be an A.J. Green type talent going forward. Other than that, the Steelers did a good job at generating pressure. The Steelers have the difficult task of following up a stellar performance against the Ravens in Week 11. I don’t know how long they will keep this game in reach, but if Ray Rice gets limited once again, and the pressure gets to Joe Flacco, they might keep the Ravens offense out of the end zone once again.
The rushing defense has continued to play well. While the defensive line stepped up its sloppy play from early in the year, lately the linebacker play has been the difference. Lawrence Timmons is playing great football and it has translated into turnovers. The linebacker’s success feeds off of the defensive line’s work and that pick six against Cleveland is a great example of it. I did notice that the talented Browns offensive line did get some push in the running game, but for the most part, Trent Richardson was met at or around the line of scrimmage. The Steelers tackling also deserves some mention as players like Keenan Lewis have made sure that they end the play when it’s in front of them.
There isn’t too much to wrap up. The keys to this game, as with every Steelers game, are turnovers and the running game. The defense has played so well that it’s hard to imagine a collapse in that department. The Ravens will likely have more success offensively than last time, but they are facing a Steelers defense that just doesn’t give you much. The Steelers offense will need to put up around 20 points and I really can’t imagine that unless the running game explodes. Is Batch capable of more than what we saw last week? Of course. While he doesn’t have the upside of a youngster, the addition of Brown and perspective provided by a harrowing defeat will drive better play out of the veteran signal caller. The question on everyone’s mind is, will it be enough.