By David Todd
Last week I led off with, “It doesn’t get much worse than that.” This week: It doesn’t get much better than that. Last week I finished with, “The Steelers playoff situation really hasn’t changed.” This week: while the win over Baltimore certainly helps, the Steelers playoff situation really hasn’t changed with wins by both Indianapolis and Cincinnati.
However, the Steelers 23-20 win serves notice that this team, even without some of its stars, can play with any team in the league. Charlie Batch exhorting the offense
(video) in the huddle as the clock clicked down to the two-minute warning is an image that will stay with me for a long time. A signature win and a great result in what may be the last start of Charlie Batch’s career.
The Steelers apparently can’t go a game without losing one of their starters. Last week it was Mike Adams and LaMarr Woodley. This week it’s Ike Taylor and Will Johnson. Taylor suffered an injury to his fibula and it’s being reported preliminarily that he may be out 2-6 weeks. Johnson suffered an apparent concussion and will be evaluated further.
*Charlie Batch elevated his game to a level that I and many others didn’t think possible after his effort in Cleveland last week. He finished 25-36 for 276 yards, with one touchdown, one interception and an 89.6 passer rating. He got better as the game went on and showed great composure leading the Steelers on their game-winning drive. His post-game hug with Ben showed how much it meant to him to come through when needed.
*Both Steelers touchdowns were the result of great individual efforts. Early in the third quarter Jonathan Dwyer was stuffed up the middle but kept his legs churning and bounced outside for a 16-yard scoring run. Charlie Batch threw the crucial block to help Dwyer get into the end zone for his first career Steeler touchdown. Health Miller caught the other touchdown when Todd Haley rolled the pocket right and Miller made the catch around the three and lunged for the end zone. He was able to keep his feet inbounds and just stretch the ball inside the pylon breaking the Steelers touchdown record for tight ends with 38.
*The Steelers offensive line was a patchwork group without Willie Colon, Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert (out for the year), but Charlie Batch generally had plenty of time to throw and was only sacked twice, both coverage sacks.
*The Steelers converted two of three red zone chances against a defense that was first in the league in that statistic and hadn’t allowed a touchdown on ten consecutive trips before Dwyer’s TD.
*Will Johnson did an excellent job of holding onto a pass on a 3rd-and-2 on the Steelers opening drive. A small play in the big scheme, but it kept the drive alive and helped lead to the Steelers opening field goal.
*Not a stellar day for the wideouts. In the second quarter, just two plays after Ryan Clark intercepted Joe Flacco, Antonio Brown threw an interception on an end-around pass to Jon Dwyer. On the next series Charlie Batch made a great sideline throw to Mike Wallace who just flat dropped it, and on the second series of the second half Manny Sanders fumbled the ball away on what may well have been a 72-yard touchdown. Sanders also had a drop the next time he was targeted.
*Charlie Batch missed a wide open Mike Wallace in the end zone at the end of the first half. The Steelers left four points on the field which could have been costly in games that are as close as these prove to be every time out.
*Another in a string of solid efforts holding Baltimore to 288 total yards, 177 passing yards and 3/11 on third downs. The Steelers pass defense continues to stifle opposing quarterbacks holding Joe Flacco to less than 50% completions (16-34), 4.8 yds/att (including sacks) and a passer rating of 61.9.
*Turnovers have been few and far between, but the Steelers created two in this game and both were a direct result of pressure on the quarterback. Flacco made an ill-advised throw after being pursued by Brett Keisel which led to Ryan Clark’s interception and James Harrison stripped Flacco after coming around right end, causing a fumble that was recovered by Ziggy Hood.
*As was the case last week it’s difficult to cite individual performances when the collective effort was so good, but Cortez Allen did a solid job filling in for Ike Taylor who he left the game for good after just the third play. He wasn’t perfect, but he held up well as the Ravens targeted him early, often and deep.
*The Steelers held Torrey Smith to three catches for 33 yards, giving him four catches for 40 yards in the two games this season.
*Not much bad here, but a rather pedestrian performance by Troy Polamalu in his first game back from injury. He recorded two tackles, but seemed to get caught out of position on a 3rd & 11 play the Ravens converted to Dennis Pitta for a 19-yard gain (his only catch of the game), catching the Steelers on a corner blitz by Allen and eventually leading to the touchdown that tied the game at 20.
*Sushi from 46, 41 and 42. All dead down the middle. Ho-hum. Four of his five kickoffs were in the end zone and two resulted in touchbacks. He’s having a Pro Bowl season.
*Chris Rainey had a 42-yard kick return on one of two that he was able to return. It gave the Steelers good field position on the drive that ended in a FG just before the half.
*Drew Butler punted four times and only average 38.5 yards, but Baltimore had zero return yards after taking one back for a touchdown two weeks ago.
*Antonio Brown was completely ineffective returning punts. The tape on the bottom of his shoes also appeared to negatively impact his footing on more than one occasion.
*Mike Tomlin was roundly and rightly criticized for his handling of things last week during the loss to Cleveland. He deserves a lot of the credit this week. He made a firm decision about his running backs at the beginning of the week and went so far as to not dress Rashard Mendenhall for this game. That decision paid off as Dwyer and Isaac Redman carried 25 times for 92 yards and a touchdown. He never makes excuses for injury. He had a team and a game plan that was ready to go in Baltimore. He is a confident coach and a strong leader and it was certainly reflected in his team’s play this week.
*Todd Haley did a great job of working Charlie Batch into the game, building his confidence and taking advantage of what the Ravens gave him. I was constantly tweeting
to middle of the field
with intermediate routes that were wide open. Eventually the Steelers did that. The pass-run balance was again probably more pass-heavy than many anticipated, but it worked.
*Haley did a good job of using Chris Rainey as a decoy. On one occasion Batch faked a swing pass and was able to hit Heath Miller on quick-hitter up the middle for 23 yards. It has been difficult to work Rainey into the offense because of defenses’ focus, this was a great answer.
*Kudos again to Dick LeBeau as he dialed up a game plan that contained Joe Flacco and Torrey Smith. Ray Rice had a better day, but LeBeau’s schemes were solid, generated pressure and caused turnovers.
*This probably isn’t the right place for this, but Mike Tomlin is going to great some criticism for his handling of the post-game press conference with John Harbaugh (video
). No big deal.
Big Officiating Calls:
*It looked like a couple of the calls against the Steelers’ DBs, holding on Keenan Lewis and pass interference on Cortez Allen early in the game, were questionable, but the refs generally did a passable job in this one with a couple of questionable calls going against the Ravens as well.
Up Next: The (7-5) Steelers will host the (4-8) San Diego Chargers who are coming off back-to-back home losses to AFC North foes Baltimore and Cincinnati and have lost four in a row. Kickoff is 1:00 Sunday 12/9 at Heinz Field.