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Steelers Awaken In 2nd Half Against Ravens, Hold Off Rivals Late

I'm way too tired to thouroughly address all the myriad developments of this game right now (some fantastic, others unfortunate, and others still, frustrating). For now, I'll just throw out a few things to start, then we'll systematically get to it all this week and next. Because as I think we'll see, we've got some substantial roster decisions to make moving forward. Before we get to it, a quick shout out to all who joined me during the game. Our 1300+ comments covered the full gamut of emotions from low low lows to jubilant highs. It was entertaining to to read and navigate throughthem all while we watched an ugly, but emotionally rewarding sporting contest. That was fun and just another reason why we all collectively are able to make BTSC the most interactive, social, and diverse Steelers haven on the web. Cheers.

* Injuries: With Willie Parker already out, the Steelers entered the game with Rashard Mendenhall, Carey Davis and Mewelde Moore on the depth chart at RB. By game's end, just Moore remained unscated. In fact, Mendenhall (fractured shoulder) and G Kendall Simmons (Achilles) are gone for the year. That's right. No typo if you missed the game. Our #1 pick is gone for the year. On an even more somber note, our thoughts and prayers go out to ST ace Andre Frazier, who was carted off the field on the very first play of the game, the opening kickoff. I don't think this is career or life threatening, but I have yet to read any report on Frazier's status. Fill us in if/when you see something.


* Much, much more on this to come, but the Steelers gave up just three sacks to the Ravens. That's not a figure you'd necessarily brag about, as of course, three a game would lead to an unimpressive 48 sack season. But all three sacks came in the first half when we were doing many of the same things that led to disaster last week in Philadelphia.  However, even though I was as disappointed as anybody about the first half, it really wasn't entirely a protection problem by our offensive line. JUST like last week, it was partly Ben's fault, partly the WRs, partly Arians' (ok, fine, mostly his fault) and partly our line's fault. We actually did look much improved in the first half. That said...

* Bruce Arians figured it out, at least partially, just in the nick of time. The decision to go to the no-huddle brought instant dividends for our offense, and though the Ravens were able to flush Big Ben on plenty of snaps in the second half, it was evident that they weren't able to just tee off like they were in the first half. Now don't get me wrong, it's head scratching and impossible to understand why it took us a half to mix things up, but better late than never I suppose. Again, this is something we'll go into more this week, but wasn't it great to see us utilize Mewelde Moore in the passing game when we absolutely had to have yards? It seemed like all of our passing plays in the second half were designed to be more quick hitting.  In addition to keeping Big Ben in one piece, it also allows guys like Santonio Holmes to make things happen in the open field. 

* Before anybody thinks that we've busted out the annointing oil, as Bill Parcells once famously said, let's be clear that not all has been fixed. The first half our offense turned in following what happened in Philly was inexcusable and as bad to witness as the most gruesome of train wrecks. At halftime, I actually though to myself, 'this is boring. I'm not at all entertained and I tuned into this game largely for entertainment purposes'. Or at least my thoughts were something along those lines. The gist was that we were playing so bad, and showing so little signs of being able to identify and correct the problem that I felt I might be flushing away three hours of my time for the second week in the row.  Finally, It should be noted though that Roethlisberger was able to elude several would-be sacks in the second half, something he's had less success at this year than last. If he doesn't escape a defender's grasp in one or two of those situations, we may be singing a different tune here.

* Did any of you guys catch Mike Tomlin's celebratory reaction to Jeff Reed's game-winner? You think that man's not doing his damndest to try to win football games for the Rooneys and Steelers fans far and wide? Plenty left to learn as a coach? Yes. Doubts about his desire to be great and help lead this organization to another championship? Absolutely not.

* While we're on the subject of Tomlin, and you can file this one under the 'second-guess' category, but I don't think I liked the decision to kick the FG from the 2 yard line with a four point lead. Apparently I'm in the minority here, as the MNF broadcast crew made it seem as if it were a no-brainer. Of course, the Ravens did get the TD to tie it after our FG, and that TD would have theoretically given them the lead had we gone for it on 4th and goal from the 2, but I'm not sure at all that they embark oin a 98 yard scoring drive if we failed to punch it in. We'll never know, but I think I'm become convinced that this team is going to have to take some opportunistic chances on offense if they're to win close games against the league's better teams.

* However, the decision would never had to have been made if we fared better in the red zone. I didn't like the middle runs to Mewelde Moore on 2nd and 3rd downs. We haven't been in the red zone much lately the past two weeks so perhaps we just need more practice :)

* And one final thing on Tomlin. For all the perpetual haters, who will never warm up to the man, what can I say? Sucks to be you, I guess. Because he's not going anywhere anytime soon.

* Let me just throw out the disclaimer now that we're not going to go into the defense's play extensively in this post. Things will just get too long. That said, it'd be criminal to not at least throw the names James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley out there for congratulations. 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 defensive TD between the two of them. Both were indefatigable monsters all night long. Our defense was pretty darn good last year with Clark Haggans in Woodley's place. Swap those two and you're already improving upon an already very good unit.

* Those two get the headlines but what a job by our defensive line tonight. Aaron Smith, perhaps the most irreplacable player on our D, anchored it all, but even though we went with just 5 DL this week (Smith, Eason, Kirschke, Hoke, and Roye?), we more than held our own. We gave up a few more rushing yards than we're accustomed to when Casey Hampton's in there, but considering how much and how succesfully Baltimore runs the ball, I think we did a fine job limiting the Ravens to just 103 yards on the ground.

* Anybody else not clinging to their seat when we're covering kicks in special teams like last year? I don't think we win if our special teams were as sloppy as they were last year. Ravens KR Yamon Figurs is no joke, yet we kept him under 24 yards per return on kickoffs and less than 2 yards per punt return. Not bad, huh?

* Somewhere in one of our game threads, I casually and half-jokingly stated that Roethlisberger should just QB sneak it for 3 yards or so if teams are going to continue blitzing like that. That's kinda sad and pathetic, and I made the comment somewhat out of jest because of how poorly things were going. But lo and behold, Big Ben did just that in the second half. And yes, it did only pick up a handful of yards. But you know what? Those yards told me that perhaps in fact we were actually going to try to get things on track offensively. There should be no ego and pride involved in this. Just constant, unrelenting tinkering and experimenting with new ways to keep teams off balanced in an effort to curb their pass rush. If Arians won't do it, then hopefully Roethlisberger will at the line of scrimmage or in his no-huddle package.

* Following our preseason game against the Bills, in which I thought I observed Ben looking comfortable throwing to Mewelde Moore, I wrote:

4) Big Ben and Santonio are really clicking. Another impressive TD connection between the two of them. I also noticed that Ben and Mewelde Moore seem to have a good rapport on the field. Roethlisberger gave him an enthused high-five when Moore helped keep a scoring drive alive with a tough run after the catch on 3rd and long. I think Ben is going to become very comfortable checking down to him in the future.

I guess I still think that. I just now hope that Bruce Arians realizes that he has a viable pass-catching threat in the backfield to utilize. This guy isn't going to be the answer for us as a ball-carrier, but he still should be one of our more valuable offensive weapons moving forward in my opinion. Think about it. We don't throw to the tight end very much, and we have trouble running consistently against stout defenses. What does that leave you with? Hoping Santonio Holmes and HInes Ward, and to a lesser extent Nate Washington, shred a defense all by themselves? Not likely whatsoever, especially when plays have to materialize quickly due to the lack of sustained pass protection. So, instead, we need to deploy another option in our passing game - either quick stuff to Heath Miller (like maybe just a short curl or stop route to Heath instead of all these drag and crossing patterns) or more dumpoffs and/or screens to Moore.

Lots of folks deserve credit for this great win, but Mewelde Moore is near or at the top of the list. The stats don't tell the whole story. He even did a great job in pass protection, taking on guys 100 pounds heavier than him simply because he had no other choice - we were down to our last RB. Major, major props to him for protecting the ball, making plays, and doing whatever it took to help this offense do -just- enough to squeak by.

* Bryant McFadden better be inking that extension soon. It's really becoming a treat to watch him play football.

* Goodness, Jeff Reed's so automatic. There's nothing else to write about him. The guy just wakes up, (usually) puts his pants on one leg at a time, goes to work, and makes FGs. Rinse, repeat.  We have to deal with plenty of peaks and valleys cheering for the team the past couple of years. Think about if we had to live with the highs and lows associated with inconsistent FG kicking in big moments.

* Darnell Stapleton, baby! Welcome to the starting lineup! It's tough for me to be overly joyous because Kendall Simmoons suffered a serious injury that's tough to come back from. We may not appreciate the finer points of Simmons' play the past two years, but he's a draftee of ours, a good family man and teamate, and he just had a serious bump in the road of his career. Simmons is going to have to make the decision to rehab 110% and come back better than ever, or he'll essentially fall off the radar, at least as a Pittsburgh Steeler. Sometimes setbacks can lead poeple to really push themselves to unchartered heighths. Best of luck to Mr. Simmons in his recovery. 

Anyway, this isn't Simmons anymore. He isn't coming back this year (he's on IR and out for the season) so let's instead keep the focus on 2nd year man Darnell Stapleton, who I wrote about just Friday, asking why we didn't put him in just to see what might happen. I had no idea his extensive playing time Monday would be the result of an injury, but once inserted, the Steelers proceeded to yield no more sacks.  It would be disingenous to say the running game suddenly started to click, but I think we can all agree that the offense had better flow in the second half and that started with more stable play along the line. It should be noted that we went to the no-huddle in the second half when Stapleton was playing. What's that mean? He's familiar with the ins and outs of our various offensive packages, that's what, and that we won't have to alter our game plan one bit to account for his inexperience with the system. 

All eyes will be on him this coming week against Jacksonville. Like we've said before, you never know how one minor change can alter everything. It's not likely this will be the case with Stapleton in the lineup, but it's a possibility, and for that reason alone, we can be excited.

That's it for now. What an exhausting game to watch. From the frustratoin laden first half to the exuberance at the end, that was one of the reasons it's fun to follow the NFL. The game and your team will knock you down, kick you in the mouth, then pick you back up triumphantly just when you think things couldn't get any worse. A rare treat for us fans, even if it was ugly.

Bottom line? 3-1. 1st place, AFC North.

GO Steelers.