Week 4 Recap: Fail

Can’t win ‘em all.

Although the Pittsburgh Steelers had plenty of chances to win on Sunday.  Sadly, the hated Baltimore Ravens handed the Black and Gold their first loss of the season by pulling off a heartbreaking last second 17-14 victory.  It was your typical close, hard-hitting game between the two rivals.  At the end of the day, though, what will stick with me is all the missed opportunities.

Charlie Batch (12-21 141 yards 0/1) had an up and down game.  Last week, it seemed as if he was born with a rabbit’s foot wedged firmly between his buttocks.  But Lady Luck is a fickle mistress.  This week, he left a number of plays on the field, played scared at times, and simply couldn’t catch a break.  If this was the final start of Chaz’s career, it was an honorable if disappointing way to go out.

The Steelers began the scoring on their second drive of the afternoon.   A number of short runs by Rashard Mendenhall (25 carries 79 yards) and a pass interference call on Baltimore set the Steelers up on the Ravens 37.   Batch lofted a bomb down the left sideline where Antwaan Randle-El made a fantastic leaping catch over the cornerback for a 34 yard gain.  It was truly Swann-esque.   Mendy banged it home for the first of his two TDs on the day for an early 7-0 lead.

The Raven answered immediately with a touchdown drive of their own.  They exploited the middle of the field quite effectively.  They discovered a weakness in the Steelers D where on three WR sets, they’d try covering the slot guy with either a linebacker or safety.  Well, as fast as Lawrence Timmons or Ryan Clark are, they aren’t going to keep up with Anquan Boldin or Derrick Mason.  A 40 yard play to Mason and an 18 yarder to Boldin set them up at the Pittsburgh 9.   James Farrior was caught flat-footed allowing Willis McGahee to blow right by him for a TD.

Late in the half, the Ravens followed the same formula to move into field goal range as time expired.  Kicker Billy Cundiff, who missed one on Baltimore’s opening drive, knocked this one home for a 10-7 halftime lead.

Things completely fell apart for the Steelers in the second half.  People are going to bring up 2009 and blame the defense for surrendering a late lead but that is absolutely unfair.  With one exception, the defense was the only thing keeping them in the game.  They didn’t give up a point in the entire second half until the last 30 seconds of the game.   They forced two turnovers in Ravens territory.  And they had a tremendous four-down goal line stand to preserve what should have been a victory.

On the opening drive of the third quarter, James Harrison wrapped up McGahee and punched the ball free.  Timmons scooped it, setting the offense up at the Baltimore 27.  Bruce Arians, who called his first idiotic game this season, ordered up a reverse to Mike Wallace that got nothing.   After a short gain by Mendy, Batch was sacked for a seven yard loss.  The offense had no flow and no coherent game plan.   Like I said, you could say “Baltimore attacked the middle of the field.”   The Steelers did a little bit of this and little bit of that.   And almost nothing worked as they finished with a puny 210 yards of total offense, 93 of which came on a single drive in the fourth.

After the three and out, Jeff Reed doinked his kick off the goalpost.

A couple drives later, Joe Flacco threw up a duck which Ike Taylor fair caught for his first interception of the season.  Wait, did I just type that?  IKE TAYLOR INTERCEPTED A PASS!!!  The apocalypse must be nigh.

Starting at Baltimore’s 33, the Steelers offense went three and out yet again.  This time, they did manage a bit of a threat as Batch hit Wallace with a bomb in the end zone.  The pass was perfect and Wallace had it in his grasp but the Ravens cornerback managed to rip it free before he could complete the catch.  As I said, Lady Luck is fickle and there was no love for Charlie.

Skippy lined up for a 45 yarder and this one missed wide left.  That’s your Franchise Player, Steeler Nation.

The Steelers finally put together a decent drive early in the fourth.  Starting on their own 7, Batch connected with Heath Miller for gains of 19 and 13 yards.  He did catch a break on a deflected pass which fell harmlessly between three Baltimore defenders.  Randle El caught a 16 yarder to move them down to the Ravens 26.  Mendenhall toted the rock on three of the next four plays, finishing the long drive with a 7 yard touchdown which put the Steelers ahead 14-10.

Flacco immediately answered with a 21 yard pass to TJ Houshmandzadeh.  The Steelers began playing soft coverage (not quite a prevent) and gave up catches in ten yard chunks as time ticked down.  With a little over three minutes left, Baltimore found themselves with a first and goal on the Steelers 8.  A fade pass to Boldin fell incomplete and a Ray Rice plunge netted only 6 yards.  Then the incredible happened.  Willie Gay rose up to make two fantastic plays for the Steelers.   He saved a touchdown on third down by breaking up a pass intended for Mason.   On fourth and goal, the Ravens tried another fade to Boldin but he couldn’t escape tight coverage from Gay and it again fell incomplete.   Willie Gay = Hero?

The end really must be near.

Taking over at their own 3, the Steelers ran Mendy up the gut three times.  The first time netted two yards but a false start set them back.  The second run got nothing.  The third attempt gained three yards but, repeat after me, a false start set them back.  So the Steelers kicked.

Baltimore fair caught but…wait for it…there was a penalty on the Steelers.   Add ten more yards so instead of starting on the 50, the Ravens began at the Steelers 40.  Now notice how I’m not bitching and moaning about all the flags against the Steelers, who were penalized 11 times for 88 yards.  The Steelers played sloppy and stupid, plain and simple.  It’s not some vast NFL fueled conspiracy against the Black and Gold.  Take note, Ratbird fans.

The Steelers decided to play a prevent this time.   What’s worse, it was a stupid prevent.  The Ravens were out of time outs and there was less than two minutes left.  If you’re going to surrender yards, at least take time off the clock and/or make the Ravens rush to run their next play.  Incredibly, almost every play ended with a Ravens’ receiver going out of bounds.  This allowed Flacco to calmly stroll to the line of scrimmage and call the next play.  Also, in prevent, you’re supposed to never ever ever ever let a WR get behind you.   Yet, Housyourdaddy blew right by Bryant McFadden and caught a strike from Flacco for an 18 yard TD.

Now some people are going to blame Skippy for blowing two makeable field goals.  And that’s fair considering how he cried and whined about wanting to be the highest paid kicker in football.   Money kickers make those kicks, Jeffy.  And some people are going to say “It’s 2009 all over again!” and blame the defense for giving up that touchdown at the end of game.  But the bottom line is the OFFENSE HAS TO SCORE.  When two drives begin deep in Ravens territory and you not only fail to score one measly touchdown but can’t even make a freakin’ first down, that’s embarrassing.  If  the Steelers capatilize on even one of those golden opportunities, everything else is moot.

Help us, Obi-Wan Ben Roethlisberger.   You’re our only hope.

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  • zam

    Good assessment yet again, Chris. I think we’re all looking forward to getting Ben back. I just hope he’s not too rusty.

    • http://nicepickcowher.com chris

      Thanks, Zam. This team badly needs more offense. Yeah, they had offense against the Bucs but the Bucs suck. Against good teams, they can barely score. Bottom line is, if Ben can just do what he did in 2008, this team is going to be real good.

  • mark

    Good analysis Chris; agree if Ben can play like he’s capable the Steelers will be dangerous. Reed’s already missed 4 FG’s, he missed that many total last season; time to cowboy up dude.

    • http://nicepickcowher.com chris

      Thanks, Mark. I think this is the last year we’ll see be seeing Skippy in the black and gold.

  • Tom G

    As much as I don’t want to add to the love-fest above, I gotta agree and say good analysis, Chris.

    • http://nicepickcowher.com chris

      Thanks, Tom. I’m sure I’ll totally blow it about a play or player or two in the near future so it’s nice to receive all the positive reinforcement I can when I finally get something right. :)

  • CaptainAge

    Love your articles – read your posts faithfully!
    I am not as convinced as you are that the defense giving up the lead yesterday is not symptomatic of a bigger issue. The Steelers defense has been suspect since the superbowl , where they gave up a lead with very little time left. The pattern showed itself last year – and if not for some luck, they may have given up the game at Tennessee. They need to make some adjustments or last year’s results may be repeated.

    As for the offense, I’m pretty sure I call a better game while playing Madden. To be honest, I’ve NEVER like B.A so it’s entirely true that I may be too hard on his play calling. That being said, 1st down run, 2nd down run, 3rd down pass – on almost every possession – I mean, come on now. My biggest beef with B.A is his inability to play with what the defense is giving him. When the defense is over aggressive, why not throw some quick slants, or some quick outs – not a chance. He’d rather continue to call up the four wide receiver long bomb from Madden ’98. Yesterday, they had a 3rd and 4 inside the Raven’s territory, and instead of going for a first down – he draws up yet another long pass to Wallace. It felt like every drop back from Batch was a long pass to Wallace. I guess since it worked twice the week before, it SHOULD work every time right…..
    In any event, on the whole I’m very pleased with the OL so far this year. Even against the Raven’s Batch had a good pocket on most occasions. Hard to believe how much a good center can make to an offensive line.
    Anyways, keep up the amazing posts – love reading it.

    • http://nicepickcowher.com chris

      Thanks for the kind words, Captain. I totally agree with your take on Arians. I can’t stand him either. I’m convinced he thinks he’s a genius and every D-coordinator is an idiot. I swear his run-run-BOMB! theory of offense is because after two straight runs, he’s truly convinced “Ah-HA! I’ve got him now. He’ll never suspect a deep throw after two runs!” What a bozo.

      I can’t really say I agree with your take on the D, though. It sounds like something Mark Madden would say just to stir up debate. What happened last year and what’s happened this year is totally different. Last year, our D didn’t force turnovers (the CBs didn’t get an INT until week 15) and our O would score 20+ points and then the D would blow it. This year, the D is forcing tons of turnovers but the O is doing nothing.

      Take the Tenn game you cite. The D forced SEVEN turnovers. We got zero TDs out of those seven. This week, two turnovers produced zero points. Not counting the Tampa game (because the Bucs suck), we’ve scored 3 TDs in three games. Expecting any defense to completely shut out the other team three straight games is unrealistic. Fact is, with even an average offense the first two games would’ve been blowouts and the Balt game would’ve been a 4-6 point victory.

  • Matt

    Another hard-fought game between these two teams. Say what you want about the Steelers D folding on that last drive, Flacco showed poise to come out like that after failing to convert the first time around. See you guys in Baltimore with Ben Roethlisberger and Ed Reed back. Should be another classic!

  • BestInTheBuisness

    We didnt lose to the ravens. we lost to the steelers. the steelers beat themselves sunday. If Richard Robert Roethlisberger is on the field, we dont lose that game. take it as a learning experience. look forward to the brownies

  • SteelerChick

    Good analysis, much as I hate hearing the truth. Love the ending line and I think Big Ben will answer the call. He makes the whole offense more comfortable and he’s ready to roll.

    • http://nicepickcowher.com chris

      Thanks, SteelerChick. I was going for a Ben Roethlisberger – Ben Kenobi thing but it sounded a lot cooler in my head. I’m glad my point still got across. I think we’ll all breathe easier with #7 taking the snaps.