Anyone remember 1980? A bunch of guys got old at once and the greatest team in NFL history was done capturing titles. It was a big change, and a sudden one, It would be a quick descent and a long wait till the Steelers would be a dominant force again.
Anyone remember 2006? An not young team, a QB who was doubted and acting pretty dumb, a season that stunk pretty bad. Fortunately that year was an aberration and the Steelers would come back to win another Super Bowl two years later.
Anyone remember 1989? Week 1, 51-0 stomping at the hands of the Cleveland Browns. I'd say today was the worst game since that day. That year we made the playoffs, beat the Oilers and lost to the Broncos by one point (we would have faced the Browns again in the AFCCG if we had won).
It is indisputable that today's game was pathetic, that the Steelers laid an egg and the Ravens made them eat every bit of it. But while some things can be written off to the short off-season, the Ravens fired up at home, first game of the season insanity, etc.; we have to ask how much of this game was an aberration, how much an illusion, and how much a new reality.
First on the Ravens side of the ball:
1. Flacco isn't going to run into a corner and cough up turnovers anymore. I think his demons have been exorcised. It has been commented on this site many times that Flacco seems to fall apart against us. Flacco is in his fourth season now. If you remember it was 2007 that Ben went from being a game manager to carrying our team, Ben's fourth season. What I'm saying is Flacco is hitting his prime, and he isn't going to be scared of us anymore. He's going to pose more problems for us now and down the road.
2. Vonta Leech: I was worried about Leech. Ray Rice is the prototypical Steeler-killing back; speed, toughness, and a quick cut that can free him from a wall of pursuit. He just never seemed to consistently perform against us. I think we all know what a good FB can do for a RB, and we are getting to see that with Ray Rice. I understand our front seven played a bad game, but I can't help but wonder how much of that was due to Leech blowing LB's out of rush lanes. It's not like we have Earl Holmes anymore, neither Timmons or Farrior are that type of LB, and it didn't look like Foote was up to the task either. I thought Troy would be a big part of our run defense this game because of Leech, but that's a different issue.
3. TE's: Heap used to just us, and he's gone. Seven catches for 104 yards and a TD say the young guys can carry the position just fine.
4. The downside to Leech playing so well is you can't spread the Steelers out with only two WR's in the game. Seven catches by TE's, six by RB's and four by Boldin. While they didn't need them this game with all our TO's, I wonder if the Ravens can have success if we can shut down the run. Hopefully we find that out next time.
On to the Steelers:
1. Ben played horribly. He's done it before, he'll bounce back. I am not worried about him. I know he was getting beat up, but he doesn't play this badly other times he is getting hit. That said. . .
2. The O-Line. Haloti Ngata & Terrell Suggs are going to kill us if we can't block them. I don't worry about many of the other teams on the schedule, they don't have many guys like those two in the league, we have time to sort out the line before game 2. We need to sort those troubles out though, or this is going to be a very long year.
3. Fumblitis: It happens, bad things tend to steamroll at times. This won't be a consistent problem.
4. The D-Lines. They are getting old. Whether this year is the year too many drop off at once is yet to be seen. This is probably the last year we have several of these guys, let's hope they still have a year left in them. Keisel still looked good out there, but Smith looked invisible to me (anyone else's thoughts?) and when they were cut blocking Hampton I expected him to retaliate like I'm used to. It didn't happen.
5. LBs. Timmons in the first half was making tackles, but often it was because he was beaten on the play to begin with. The entire LB group was getting blown up by Leech, but they seemed to be struck by the same disease as everyone else on the defense (waitingfortheballitis), and that should be a one game wake up call.
6. The CBs. Ike Taylor stand up and take a bow, you were a bright spot on a dark day. Once again owning Lee Evans, it was nice to see. Bryant McFadden got beat but not as badly as you might think, the TD to Boldin was good coverage, until he lost the physical battle. Boldin will get one or two of those catches in a game, esp. if Flacco nails the throws like he did early in this game. Not saying McFadden had a good game, he needs to do better, but he wasn't dreadful.
7. Troy. This one scares me a bit. Troy was getting outrun on the field, and he wasn't around the ball like the old days. If Troy is losing a step I expect the drop-off to be big. Not saying he won't be good, heck he was defensive MVP last year and he wasn't himself, but there are games where we will need a defensive player to step up and make a few big tackles, a ridiculous interception, jump over the line to stop a QB sneak, that type of play, and Troy, Timmons and Harrison accounted for zero of those plays this game. Let's hope it is an aberration and not a sign of the times.
I'm not preaching doom and gloom here, and I'm not saying everything is fine, I'm saying there are questions that only time and more games will answer.
In 1980 the defense got old at once, in 2006 problems we thought could be brushed off couldn't, and the extenuating circumstances cost us a season, in 1989 a team with some talented youth overcame an embarrassing start to finish strong. I think this year could be an amalgamation of those three seasons.
Our defense is getting old, and while the youth is here, it isn't ready to step in at that level of play yet, and I think the off-season has hurt us, esp. the Max Starks injury turned weight issues and the lack of someone stepping up to take the RG spot. We will bounce back from this embarrassing game, but while I will write off much of our trouble as a one game collapse there are some serious issues that may be hitting us now.
Then again maybe it is just one game, and we'll bounce back and make another run to the Super Bowl. I hope so. I'd love to put off the inevitable for one more year.