Steelers defense unbreakable, Leftwich shatters where Roethlisberger would have triumphed

Joe Sargent

The game followed movie director M. Night Shyamalan’s scripts almost exactly. The Signs were there, despite the Steeler defense being Unbreakable. The Happening was when Byron “Elijah Price” Leftwich tripped over his own feet in the end zone after a 31 yard run and shattered the one super power he brought to the game, his arm strength.

Leftwich, starring in place of injured quarter back Ben Roethlisberger, showed that power the very first play of the game, by throwing a perfect 42 yard strike to Mike Wallace. The pass was broken up, but only because of defensive pass interference by Ravens CB Carey Williams (the first plot twist, Steelers actually get a DPI against the Ravens). Two plays later Leftwich gave the solo performance of his Steeler career scoring their only touchdown of the game.

The Steeler defense, predicated for years under the direction of defensive coach Dick LeBeau on the concept of "bend but don’t break", was truly unbreakable. They held Ravens QB Joe Flacco to just three third down conversions in 14 attempts and limiting "Slightly Above Average" Joe to 20 out of 32 for 164 yards, zero touchdowns, and zero interceptions for a QB rating of 75.5 QB. The Ravens as a whole managed just 47 yard rushing on 23 attempts, or a 2.0 average. With Roethlisberger in the lead role, the Steelers would have clearly had a box office hit this night.

Apparently, Leftwich doesn’t watch Shyamalan's movies. If he did, he might have realized that the character he was playing, Elijah Price, compensates for his genetic fragility by playing the role of the arch enemy to the hero of the movie. However, in this remake, the movie had two villains. The second is Steeler offensive coach Todd Haley.

Despite the imprecations of the audience attending the game, and the viewers at home, Haley stuck to his insidious plan of depending on his star second string quarterback and his powerful arm. Despite his injury, which was so obvious that national broadcaster Chris Collinsworth even noticed it, Leftwich refused to bow to the inevitable and Haley, like most villains in the movies, sealed his own fate by refusing to change the plan when it went awry.

Haley refused to learn the moral of the Steelers running story; pounding the ball works. Running back Jonathan Dwyer ran just 12 times, but made each attempt count banging out 55 yards, and the supporting cast of backs (Isaac Redman and Rashard Mendenhall) combined for an average of five yards per carry. In the second half, the Steelers’ offensive line was effectively controlling the game, but Haley refused to go off script, and the ending was far too predictable.

There were many subplots in this drama, as there usually are with a large cast of characters:

Mike Wallace, in his self-appointed tough-talking supporting role, was the character destined to learn the moral: let your actions do the talking. Wallace, despite his pre-game vocal opinion that the Ravens needed to be "…brought back down to reality a little bit", should have learned what every student of drama knows; that hubris is always rewarded with a humbling experience. Wallace learned this first-hand, committing the Steelers' first turnover by fumbling at the Steelers' 29 yard line on just the seventh Pittsburgh play of the game, allowing the Ravens to eventually convert the turnover into three points despite the first of many heroic Steeler defensive stands, making the score 7-3.

Raven’s kicker Justin Tucker provided some well needed comic relief by missing a 41 yard field goal in the second quarter, which would have made the score 7-6.

They say life imitates art. If that’s the case, then the Steelers' special teams must be imitating Shyamalan’s Price/Leftwich character too, for they too shattered like glass numerous times in coverage, giving the Ravens excellent field position, and requiring the Steelers' defense time and time again to give the performance of their careers.

By far the biggest plot twist of this entire drama however, was the first quarter 67 yard punt return for the Ravens' only touchdown by WR Jacoby Jones.

Leftwich foreshadowed the conclusion of the game by committing the second Steeler turnover, an interception in the third quarter that led to a field goal, making the score 13-7.

The Steelers defense was the true hero of this NFL drama. Playing as if they were in a Greek tragedy instead of the horror movie this game turned out to be for the Steelers' playoff chances, the defense gave its all, and with this group of doomed warriors choosing to die on its hypocycloid shield rather than surrender, nothing more needs to be said but that its effort not be forgotten.

And in keeping with the venal nature of Hollywood, the executive producer of the NFL, Roger Goodell, has ensured that Part II of this epic drama of Good versus Evil will be released in just two weeks.

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