Some thoughts about the Pittsburgh Steelers' 23-14 victory over the rival Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field on Sunday. The W completed the three-game sweep of the Ravens for Pittsburgh this year, which is a beautiful thing in and of itself. But more importantly, the win puts the Steelers just 60 minutes away from what would be an NFL record 6th Super Bowl triumph. After soaking in the thrilling victory with Steelers fans from across the globe immediately following the game, I began my recap coverage of the victory with a short shout out to Troy Polamalu, who I felt was the difference maker in the game above all others. Onward:
* Let's start with franchise QB Ben Roethlisberger. This exact moment is not the right time to look at Ben Roethlisberger's 2008 season as a whole - this week or next, and certainly this off season will be when we get there. But let's take a look at how Ben has performed since the 2 INT and 4 Fumble day against the Tennessee Titans in Week 15.
(FL = Fumbles Lost)
|vs CLE / 12.28.08||Passing||Rushing|
|vs SDC / 1.11.09||Passing||Rushing|
|vs BAL / 1.18.09||Passing||Rushing|
Of the charts numbers? No, no. Good numbers, but nothing outstanding. Except in the most critical department - turnovers. Ben's making fantastic decisions with the ball right now and he seems to be as confident as ever sniffing out where to slide to in and out of the pocket to avoid would be pass rushers. More on Ben in a bit.
* Let's move on to the Offensive Line, a unit I thought played up to their ability for the most part. The reality of course is that the Ravens defense, particularly up front, outclasses our offensive line in terms of sheer physical ability. That means it's going to be tough sledding running the football just about every time these two bitter rivals (as currently constructed that is) lace it up. It also means that there's going to be some sacks - 4 of them in total in fact.
To me though, this unit played hard and close to up to their ability. They maybe would disagree with that, and the numbers surely aren't that impressive: less than 2 yards per carry and 3 sacks. But there were key moments when Ben had the time he needed to make the reads and throws he made. Let me put it this way - while the line has had many games in 2008 where they've had good moments at the least critical times and melted down when it mattered most, tonight they largely did the opposite. Againt Baltimore they had struggles matching up with the Ravens tenacious defense and unrelenting blitzing for much of the game, but didn't once stand in the way of the team's success by having a letdown in critical moments of the game.
There were very few momentum changing gaffes from them for example. In the wake of one of them, a 14 yard sack of Big Ben where he had next to no time to react, the line responded on the very next play by giving Ben Roethlisberger more time to throw than he had all day. Ben found Heath Miller for a 30 yard gain and the Steelers were in business again. The drive started at their own 20 yard line but ended with a huge FG from Jeff Reed that put the team back up by two scores, 16-7, early in the 3rd quarter.
* Speaking of Jeff Reed, we haven't had the opportunity to call his name recently.
Spikey was critical though Sunday in the Steelers victory. He was 3/3 on FG attempts and 1/1 on XPAs and make no mistake about it, the game could have had a totally different dynamic if he were not to have made any 1 of those 3 kicks. The most impressive one of course was the 3rd quarter FG I previously alluded to, a 46 yarder that had plenty of distance to spare. That FG capped an 11 play drive that ate up 5:29 seconds of game time. Big time game for our loveable FG kicker, who of course had to be 'that' guy and dye his hair blonde for the playoffs. No visual confirmation yet, but it's probably a safe bet to assume we're talking about just the tips of his spiked hair that get highlighted. Bro dog to the end :)
* Real quickly here but man oh man, this game was tight deep into the 4th quarter partly due to Limas Sweed's head scratchingly frustrating drop of a sure TD in the 2nd quarter, his second such gaffe on huge plays down the field in as many weeks.
I wish I had a shot of Mike Tomlin's reaction on the sideline. What was it? Nothing of note, the way it should be. I immediately think of Tom Coughlin when I think of emotional sideline outbursts. Coughlin can coach, there's no denying that. But there's also a certain way to handle fragile psyches - which Limas clearly has been dealing with - and then there's this:
Let's feel blessed we have the proper coach to make sure that guys like Limas Sweed, Lawrence Timmons, Rashard Mendenhall, Darnell Stapleton, and even guys like Santonio Holmes and Willie Colon, are keeping their head up and continually focused on process and competing rather than single play results. Tomlin's unique instincts in how to interact with his players and coach them up has already yielded tremendous results for a number of the team's younger players. It's ust a matter of time before Limas comes around as well. No doubt in my mind.
I'm glad we see little of this:
And instead lots of this:
* Another series of thoughts coming soon enough.