As crazy as this NFL football season has been, there has been one constant with the Pittsburgh Steelers. They win, and its usually ugly. The Steelers outplayed the Ravens for four quarters on Sunday, but needed a late pick 6 from Troy Polamalu to assure themselves of the franchise's 7th trip to the Super Bowl.
On a day that Willie Parker was repeatedly stuffed by the Ravens (24 carries for 47 yards and a fumble) and Limas Sweed got significant playing time (Hines missed the final three quarters due to injury), Ben Roethlisberger played another solid game, completing 16 of 33 passes for 255 yards, 1 TD, and 0 interceptions. If not for several drops, these numbers would have been more like 315 yards for 3 tds.
Despite Big Ben's play, the game was controlled by the two defenses. Neither offense gained 300 yards (Pit - 275, Bal - 198). The Ravens had 13 first downs, the Steelers had 11. But the major difference in the game was turnovers. While Big Ben was mistake free in this area, Joe Flacco threw three interceptions that led directly to 10 points. Joe Cool finally looked like a rookie.
The Steelers special teams unit hardly looked special. Mitch Berger averaged 28.3 net yards per punt, which understates how badly he played. The Steelers allowed another long punt return that led to the Ravens first TD. And if not for a stupid penalty by Baltimore on another poor punt in the 4th quarter, Steelers fans might be watching the Ravens in the Super Bowl.
Other random thoughts from the game:
- This was a game of missed opportunities. The Steelers should have blown out the Ravens, but made repeated mistakes that kept this game close. Santonio Holmes "drop" at the goal line cost the team 4 points. The blown punt coverage and subsequent pass interference gave the Ravens 7 points. The Limas Sweed drop cost the team 7 points. Clock mismanagement at the end of the first half cost the team 3 points. This game should have been a blow out in the range of 31-10. Mike Tomlin is lucky that he was once again bailed out by the defense.
- I still haven't heard a good explanation for overturning Holmes catch near the end zone. The rule states that a receiver going to the ground during a catch must maintain posession when he hits the ground. But, Holmes wasn't going to the ground when he made this catch. He caught the ball, took three steps, then lunged to the goal line.
- Limas Sweed, please catch the ball. And don't fake an injury that costs the team a timeout. I won't yet declare him a bust (I declared Troy Polamalu a bust during his rookie year), but he needs to spend some serious time with the football passing machine.
- The refs had another bad game. The Holmes review, two ticky tack pass interferences that led to both Ravens TDs, roughing the kicker against the Ravens.
- It's hard to put into words how bad Mitch Berger was in this game. Every punt was a low line drive. He nearly whiffed one punt entirely. I'm counting down the days to Daniel Sepulvada's return.
- The Steelers coverage units are reverting back to pre-2008 form. The punt coverage unit was ranked second best in the league. In the last two weeks, they've allowed long returns to Darren Sproles and Jim Leonhard. This needs to be fixed in the Super Bowl. Giving Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald a short field will not work out well.
- The offensive line played an average game. This is a great Ravens defense, so it's no surprise that we couldn't run the ball. But an average of 1.9 yards per rush is unacceptable. The pass protection was decent, but Baltimore still had 4 sacks. This performance was no where near as good as the San Diego game, but it also wasn't a debacle like some of the regular season games.
- The defense was stellar once again. If not for two questionable pass interference calls, the Ravens wouldn't have come close to scoring. Joe Flacco was confused all day. LaMarr Woodley had his third straight multi-sack playoff game. James Harrison was quiet, but that's only because he was double teamed (and held) on every play. Still, he provided the pressure that led to Troy's game winning interception. Troy was HUGE. He stuffed Flacco on 4th and 1, tackled Flacco for an 8 yard loss on a surprise QB running play, and dealt the knock out blow with his pick 6.
- Why in the world, when we are up 9 with 12 minutes left, does Arians call a shotgun spread with 5 wide receivers on 3rd and 1? Yes, it's difficult to run on the Ravens, but the five-wide spread completely eliminates the threat of run. Also, Hines Ward is out of the game at this point, so we don't have five reliable wide receivers. I'd rather hand it to Gary Russell. Even if you get stuffed, it takes another minute off the clock.
- If the Steelers win the Super Bowl, does that make it harder to fire Bruce Arians?
- Jeff Reed had another great game. The 46 yard field goal in the bad weather at Heinz Field was huge.
- In the last two weeks, it sure seems like a lot of passes have been thrown at Ike Taylor. I haven't re-watched these games so I could be wrong, but it sure feels like teams are staying away from McFadden and attacking Ike.
- The Steelers have the Harbaugh's number.
- Any good slogans for this Super Bowl? One for the other hand isn't all that catchy.