A Necessary Dose of Humility

While I've been reading BTSC for the past two years, this is my first post.  Unfortunately, it comes on the heels of one of, if not the most, embarrassing losses in franchise history.  In light of numerous boasts put forth by many of our star players this off-season, from Mike Wallace's comments regarding his desire to be the first receiver in NFL history to reach 2000 yards in a season to Ben Roethlisberger's proclamation that we have one of the most dangerous passing offenses in the league, I was quite concerned heading into the first game against the Ravens.  I felt there was too much boasting and not enough attention to detail, especially after watching teams like Washington and Carolina carve up our first team defense with relative ease, especially on the ground.  And when Ray Rice raced off left tackle for a 30 yard gain to begin the season, a sense of dread settled over me.  Three plays, sixty-six yards.  Touchdown.  And it all went downhill from there.  So, without further ado, here are my top observations following the first game of the new season.    

1) Too much talk, not enough walk: The Steelers have been one of the best and most consistent teams in the NFL for the past 8 years.  Perhaps this has gone to their heads a bit.  Evidence: Woodley's challenge to the Ravens issued earlier this summer.  Well, the Ravens listened, and they responded.  Big Time.  We failed to show up.  We played without heart, without enthusiasm, without discipline, without desire.  We didn't tackle, we didn't block, we didn't cover.  The only two players on defense who even showed up were Hampton and Taylor.  Hampton was consistently getting penetration, but the linebackers were too late to plug the hole.  Taylor shut down his man all day, but the safeties, the linebackers, and the other corners continually blew coverages and were often either completely out of place or two or three steps late.  This is a sign of a team who already considered the day theirs, before they even took the first snap.  And I could continue on about all the boasts made prior to the season.  Antonio Brown's and Emmanuel Sanders's desire to each reach 1000 yards.  The boasts that Lawrence Timmons would be the best inside linebacker by the end of the season.  Roethlisberger's stated desire to throw the ball all over the field.  If you're going to talk the talk, you had better walk the walk.  Not throw 3 interceptions; three badly thrown interceptions, while continually missing open receivers.  If you're going to reach 1000 yards receiving, it's important to run proper routes to gain separation and catch the ball when it comes to you.

2) Everything begins with the line, offensively and defensively: I don't care how good your skill position players are, and Pittsburgh does have plenty of talent at the skill positions, if your offensive line can't block, it doesn't really matter.  The line often looked lost, missing blitz pickups, getting knocked to the ground by the more physical Ravens, and simply looking overwhelmed most of the day.  The same can be said for the defensive line, excepting Hampton, who I thought had a good game.  Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel were both getting blown off the line off scrimmage, allowing Baltimore's line to tie up linebackers all day long.  This is either a case of the line getting too old, or a lackadaisical performance by a team that wasn't prepared.

3) Roethlisberger: He supposedly had the best camp of his career.  Really?  That either means our defense is really bad, or he simply had the worst game of his career.  I'm hoping for the second.  But, from the beginning of the game, he looked skittish in the pocket, as if he didn't trust his line to keep Baltimore's defenders off of him.  He rushed some throws, missed some reads, held on to the ball too long, once again, and simply made some of the poorest throws I've seen him make in the past 3 years.  Perhaps, Big Ben, we don't need to throw the ball all over the field; perhaps we should maybe run the ball more.  Don't fall more in love with yourself than is good for you.  Until you can prove you can read defenses, make smart decisions, and get rid of the ball on time, I would not let you have free reign of the offense.

4) Coach Tomlin: Sorry, coach, but you did not have your team prepared mentally, physically, or emotionally.  They were dead.  Actually, they looked scared, and that's what upset me most about this game.  The Steelers never look scared--ever.  Until today.  And that's not good.  You were easily outclassed by your opponent.

5) Timmons: You can lead the NFL in tackles, but please let's make them closer to or behind the line of scrimmage.  Tackling runners 5, 6, 7 yards downfield doesn't help, and will certainly not help you make your first Pro Bowl.

6) Clark: Learn to tackle.  How many did you miss today?

7) Wallace: Stop rounding off routes and you'll get better separation.  Also, why did you stop and go down when you saw Lewis coming?  You should have been able to outrace him to the endzone.  Also, on third downs, it's especially important to catch the ball, even when it's low and you have slide. 

8) Coach Lebeau: It's not a good idea to allow tight ends and running backs to run free through your secondary.  We don't think Flacco is that good either, but he does at least play in the NFL, so he can probably hit wide open receivers relatively easy.  Whether this was a lack of discipline on the players parts, missed assignments, or simply poor scouting and game planning, your defense made Joe Flacco look like an All-Pro.  Yes, he did make some tremendous throws, but more often than not, he was playing pitch and catch with wide open tight ends and running backs.   

9) Coach Arians: Mendenhall was actually good running off the right side early.  Why did we get away from that and try to run off the left side?  Better yet, why so many empty backfield sets so early in the game, especially when your line can't pass block and Roethlisberger doesn't get rid of the ball fast enough?  Why not a three wide set with two extra blockers?  Better yet, why did you get away from the running game so early?  You were easily outclassed by your opponent.

I guess I could go on, as I'm extremely irritated by this loss.  Not just because I had been looking forward to the game the whole summer, not just because it was against the Ravens, not just because my old college roommate is a Ravens fan and I'll have to hear about this until the next meeting, but because the Steelers did not show up.  At all.  They talked the talk, but failed miserably to walk the walk.  They laid down and let the Ravens roll all over them.  They played scared, timid.  They were less physical, less emotional, and less motivated than the Ravens, and that is the truly sad part of this game.  And it rests on the shoulders of both the coaches and the players.  My only hope for the season is that this loss will truly humble them, that they will stop talking about or boasting in their own individual skill levels and goals, in their own desire to achieve individual greatness, and will remember this is a team game, and that individual stats are of far less importance than what appears in the win/loss columns at the end of the season.

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