This season is already one of my favorite seasons of recent memory, of course the Steelers making a playoff run at its conclusion would be incredible, but I say that first sentence purely from a football lover's point of view.
The phrase "Any Given Sunday" is almost cliche these days, you hear it everywhere, hell there is even a movie named "Any Given Sunday". But this season it is more apparant than any other season. No team made it four wins without loss. After watcing Indianapolis and New Orleans record 14 and 13 consecutive wins respectively to start last season, the fact that the "Perfect Season" talk will never surface is a blessing in my eyes. Although the 1972 Miami Dolphins have already popped the corks and drinking the season away, every team can now just focus on one thing. Winning. Not records or any other place in history other than being crowned Superbowl champions.
More on the parity of the league later, lets get to the AFC North. With the bungling Bengals on the bye, we left it to the Steelers and Ravens to jostle for the early AFC North lead, whilst Cleveland - already being shown the basement door - attempting to play spoiler for the return of Big Ben. It was all for naught as the Steelers harassed the Browns en route to a big win, and the Ravens botched opportunities as they fell in overtime to the New England Patriots.
Recaps after the jump:
GAMEDAY WRAP UP:
Baltimore Ravens 20 @ New England Patriots 23
As much as any Steeler fan would love to discredit our most heated rival, the Ravens were no doubt on a roll heading into Foxborough this past weekend. They had beaten division rivals the Browns and Steelers in consecutive weeks and followed it up on a dominating performance over the Denver Broncos the week previous. After being denied the top spot in many websites weekly Power Rankings, this was a week for the Ravens to further enforce they were the real deal, and shut down a Patriots team that was winning, but not really in the high - flying fashion that we have become accustomed to over the last few years. After going blow for blow, this one went to Overtime, and after neither team succeeded on offense, the Pats finally pulled through to send the Ravens to 4-2 and ultimately second place in the AFC North.
Haloti Ngata continues on a great start to the season and picked up two more sacks on Tom Brady during this one, not to mention numerous other pressures and hits. The Ravens pass rush was getting the job done for the most part (that is, when the defense wasnt just sitting back) and forced Brady into a couple picks. Haloti has probably played one of his best first thirds of a season to date and is certainly at a Pro Bowl level once again. He finished with 7 tackles (5 solo) and 2 sacks. If he were to continue at this ridiculous pace, he would finish the year with 98 tackles and 10 sacks. 3-4 OLB's would be proud of those numbers, let alone a 3-4 Lineman.
This was a game that was there for the Ravens to win. Holding a 10 point lead, and with the Ravens defense, almost anyone would be sealing away the win in the 4th, especially with how the game had gone to that stage.
Surprisingly, the Ravens running game wasnt as potent as I would have expected. Coming off a dominating rushing performance against the Broncos, the Ravens reverted to the weeks previous, and although the stats arent too bad (99 yards rushing) they never threatened the Patriots young defense, and the longest run was a mere 8 yarder by Ray Rice. Flacco passed a lot and even though his stats looked nice on paper, he failed to get the ball downfield and resorted to dinking and dunking his way up the field, particularly in the 4th and Overtime.
The Defense wasnt overly impressive in this one either. A Moss-less group of receiving corps shouldnt have posed that much of a threat, yet the Ravens continued to let Brady find holes over the middle and underneath coverages to effectively get past the Ravens. The Ravens allowed 394 total yards to the Patriots. I know there were essentially 5 quarters to this game, but the Patriots were allowed to move the ball, particularly at key stages in the game.
The Head Scratcher:
The lack of aggressiveness in the late game play calling was a real head scratcher for me today. Up 20-10 the Ravens got conservative and allowed the Patriots to step up and take the win from under their noses.
The Patriots had no real deep threat to their offense now that Moss had been traded away to the Vikings, yet the Ravens defensive backs, especially in the 4th and Overtime periods, were playing so far off the receivers it was ridiculous. Tom Brady was held to zero touchdowns and two interceptions up until the 4th quarter, and then the Ravens made the job easier for him to dink and dunk his way down the field. Deion Branch was pretty invisible until the beginning of the 4th quarter. He finished the game off by grabbing 7 catches in the final two periods.
To move to offense, at times it looked like Joe Flacco had been told NOT to throw the ball down the field, such was the extent to which he kept checking down the ball to Ray Rice. 8 catches, 38 yards. Hes not even in position to get anywhere once he catches the ball. Cam Cameron of all people I thought understood that you play to win the game, you dont play to "not lose the game".
Surprise of the Game:
Deion Branch stepped in and looked liked he'd never left. Especially against the Ravens, I wouldnt have guessed that he would be the prime receiver in his first game back, especially considering his career had derailed since leaving New England. He finished 9 for 98 including a key touchdown in the 4th which ultimately helped set up the win. A nice surprise.
I also think the Patriots have a nice little project in Danny Woodhead, and he looks like he will be the second coming of Kevin Faulk for their offense. He killed the Ravens for 115 total yards (62 rushing, 53 receiving) and its another surprising emergence of a next to nobody in the Patriots offense.
Incredibly, the Ravens won almost every single statistical category at the end of the day, including all the cliche "key stats" such as TOP, Turnovers, Third Down efficiency etc. The one the didnt win was the most telling though, the Ravens were a mere 1/3 (33%) in the Redzone. The Patriots were 2/5 (40%). Need to score when you get inside the 20.
The return of Big Ben Roethlisberger was not a disappointment. The first career start of Colt McCoy - albeit not a winning one - was not a disappointment. However the competitiveness of this game went pretty much as planned, and the Steelers easily went on to dispatch the Browns in a rout in what was always a high emotion game. Although they didnt know it, after this win the Steelers took back sole possession of first place in the AFC North. For the Browns, they fought and fought hard, but it was a game in which they just couldnt keep up, and for the first time this season, they werent in with a sniff come the 4th quarter.
For the Steelers, there was a lot of good to go around in this game so I will try to keep it short. First of all, Pass protection was excellent. Flozell Adams and Maurkice Pouncey were the standouts for me on the Offensive Line, and although at times there were the odd breakdowns and elongated plays due to Big Ben being Big Ben, they finished clean on the stat sheet, not one sack allowed. A breath of fresh air after the Browns bullied their way to 8 sacks in the teams last meeting. Run blocking was a bit to be desired, as we didnt quite move the ball on the ground as I expected they would, but overall a solid performance from the section of the team considered "the weakness". Now to prepare for Miami and Cameron Wake.
Big Ben. Although a little rusty, he shook off an early interception on a ball thrown too high to comeback and pick apart the defense like he has done for 99% of his career against the Browns.
Isaac Redman. No piss taking here, Isaac had a strong performance and picked up first down on four of his six carries for the game, not to mention having a healthy 5.2 ypc average. I am still far from convinced Redman will live up to his Hall of Fame status as an every down back, but he is making his role work well with the Steelers, and he will have a long term job as a backup here if he continues to get the job done. He is on pace for 67 carries for 284 yards this season, which means I wont have to dance naked on a car.
Now to get to the Browns, give Colt McCoy some credit, he far exceeded my expectations in this game. He was cool and calm for the most part and make some very accurate throws, but he had trouble sustaining drives, partly due to the offense not being a ble to effectively establish the run. A lot of McCoys yardage came in the 4th quarter when the Steelers once again decided to play further off receivers, and at times he rushed plays when the pass rush wasnt actually coming, but its a great start to his career. I think the Browns would be wise to continue to let him take his lumps as the starter
Browns cornerback Eric Wright got burned all day. After having a promising start to his career, he hasnt been able to make a mark since being the #1 cornerback on the Browns roster, and is quickly losing support in the Cleveland fan base, especially with all the hype surrounding rookie Joe Haden.
Browns Pass Rush failed to sack Big Ben once. The pass rush was actually a strength of the Browns lately, surprising considering they traded away now - Raider Kamerion Wimbley. There was pressure at times, but with the rush consistantly being stagnant, Big Ben and the Receivers picked apart the Browns shoddy secondary.
The complaining about James Harrison's hits being labelled as dirty and intentional. Although violent, slow motion looking is required to further evaluate them:
The Cribbs hit was completely un-intentional and unfortunate. Lamarr Woodley wraps up Cribbs and proceeds to twist him to the ground. You can see James Harrison is already getting in position to hit Cribbs low before Cribbs' body is lowered. He misjudges the movement of Cribbs, mostly due to Lamarr stopping Cribbs in his tracks, and he ends up clobbering Cribbs around the head with a helmet to helmet hit. He may well be fined for this one.
The Massaquoi one is a little worse. Although he is not defenseless as many claim. When you go over the middle, any receiver knows you need to be aware of your surroundings. Massaquoi struggles to catch the ball initially, and he takes a step and a half before being clobbered in one of the most vicious hits I have seen in some time. Had he caught that ball rather than juggling it, that play would probably be called a fumble. Massaquoi's head drops as he juggle the ball, and non intentionally lowers his head right into Harrison's. Again, although penalty and likely fine worthy, I do not find this hit intentional nor dirty.
I may be a little bias, but I cannot stand what the PC - ness of the world is doing to my game.
The Head Scratcher:
My head scratcher is once again allowing garbage time yardage to Colt McCoy and the Browns offense. I prefer old school Steelers football, we dont relinquish even though we know we have won. I would rather pummel you into submission and keep your points tally and statistics pathetic.
Phantaskippy already brought up an interesting point which Johnny_S highlighted in an earlier story, in that we force the opposing defenders to run out the clock. This is fine in a game like Sunday when we have a clear lead, but it has no place in close - scoring games such as Tennessee and Baltimore.
Surprise of the Game:
Colt McCoy. I'll give it to him for a solid performance against likely the biggest odds ever seen in football. Cleveland quarterbacks in years past have been notoriously bad against the Steelers, and he looked alright. Who knows, give him a couple more reliable wideouts and perhaps the future is looking bright for the Browns.
The Steelers were 3/4 in the Redzone (75%) and the 3 successions were all touchdowns. Last year we failed to stamp authority at the end of drives. The only fail was the Big Ben to Haden interception. With Big Ben back, we also bounced our 3rd down conversion rate up to 50% in this game. To top things off, the Steelers won the turnover battle as well (3-0).
LOOK AHEAD TO WEEK SEVEN:
Seriously, Week 7 already? I hate how fast the NFL season goes sometimes (although I am still against expanding the season)
Cleveland Browns (1-5) @ New Orlean Saints (4-2)
The Browns have been surprisingly competitive this season. Other than the Steelers game, they have been leading every other game going into the 4th quarter just to lose it. The New Orleans Saints likely pencilled this in as a win right from day one, but the Browns will give it everything they have. Whether Colt McCoy will get a second consecutive start is yet to be known, the Saints should have too much firepower at home for the Browns to keep it close.
Saints: 31 Browns: 10
Pittsburgh Steelers (4-1) @ Miami Dolphins (3-2)
The Miami Dolphins have been incredibly up and down so far this season. The are 3-0 on the road and 0-2 at home. Meanwhile the Steelers are 2-0 on the road. I like this. Depending on which Miami team decides to show up, this one should be a win for the Black and Gold providing we keep Cameron Wake and the Miami pass rush under wraps. The Dolphins will bring a strong running game to clash with the #1 rush D in the league. Henne doesnt win many games when force to throw a lot, so this one isnt looking good on paper for the Phins.
Steelers: 27 Dolphins: 13
The Bengals need a win here on the road to avoid falling further out of the race in the AFC North. The offseason acquisitions that the Bengals added just havent paid dividends so far. Although Terrell Owens has performed well, Carson Palmers struggles cripple the team offensively, and defensively, their best pass rusher Odom has been sidelined with a 4 game suspension. The Falcons meanwhile have been hot since losing opening day to the Steelers, and will likely be too good for the Bengals, especially at their fortress.
Falcons: 23 Bengals: 17
Buffalo Bills (0-5) @ Baltimore Ravens (4-2)
Chalk up a win here for Baltimore. Playing at home has long been a strength for the Ravens and the Bills just struggle to compete these days. Poor defense and pathetic offense is a bad mix heading into Baltimore. The Ravens played well statistically against the Patriots, yet complacent and conservative play calling crippled the team late in the game and into overtime. They will have an easier matchup finding their feet against Buffalo and a win keeps them within a game of the AFC North lead.
Ravens: 21 Bills: 3
- The Steelers may be giving up garbage yardage, but ultimately the only statistic that matters is the W. However, it should be noted that the Steelers allow a ridiculously low 12 points per game, a whole 3.8 less than the 2nd placed Baltimore Ravens. A decent difference this early in the season bodes well.
- I saw MaLoR over on Beatdown say that the Steelers have had an easier start to the season than the Ravens. The Ravens opponents are 18-14 (0.563) and the Steelers opponents are 16-13 (0.552). Pretty much dead even. However, look at each teams next four opponents: Steelers next four opponents are 13-8 (0.619), Ravens opponents are 7-14 (0.333). If the Ravens are still behind the Steelers after those next four games, they will have no excuses.
- The Parity of the league this season continues to screw me over in BTSC Pick Em. Another 5/14 week sees me 23/50 in the BTSC league. Not my best season at all.
- I love seeing overrated teams lose. In Steel Spikes pick em thread, I mentioned I had a feeling St Louis would upset the Chargers. I wish I trusted that feeling and picked the Rams, because they came out victors and held Phillip Rivers and that high flying Chargers offense to their lowest output this season. Dont look now, but Bradford has his Rams at .500 and one game out of leading the NFC West.
- This could well be the best First Round Draft Class in recent memory. Just look at the contributions guys like Bradford, Suh, Berry, McClain, Spiller, Pouncey, Thomas, Graham and so on have made on their respective teams. I cannot think of any so far in that first round that is screaming "Bust" to me at this point.
- The Top 5 Rushers in the league have their teams at 17-12. The Top 5 passers have their teams at 13-16. Still think this league revolves around the pass? The teams that are winning are those having success on the ground.
- Players of the Week:
Offensively - "Backup" Quarterback Kevin Kolb destroyed the Falcons who were red-hot coming into this game, throwing for 326 yards at a ridiculous 11.2 ypa, en route to a two touchdown victory over a team that figures to be in playoff mix come December. Great outing for a guy who supposedly has "Job security issues" after the emergence of Vick. Kolb will be just fine.
Defensively - Cameron Wake of the Miami Dolphins destroyed the Packers. Rookie Brian Bulaga was torched for 3 sacks from Wake and SIX (count em six) quarterback hits. Wake will face the Steelers next week. Hands up if you still feel bad for wanting Bulaga over Pouncey? (I know I wasnt the only one)
Another week down, another step forward. Lets go Steelers in Week 7!