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Steelers Hang Tough, Make Just Enough Plays on Both Sides of Ball to Topple Baltimore

What did you expect? An offensive oriented affair between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens? Silly you if so. That's just not what happens when these two modern rivals meet. Sunday night in Baltimore was certainly no different. By game's end on Sunday night, the Steelers found themselves in first place atop the AFC North standings after overcoming a seven point halftime deficit.

Me and the rest of the BTSC writing contingent has lots in store this week, but a few thoughts from to get the celebratory conversation going.

Games like tonight are why Ben Roethlisberger possesses a $100 million dollar contract and is given far more slack than the rest of his teammates when it comes to conducting himself off the field. Don't get me wrong, I think Roethlisberger is likely on his 'last chance' in Pittsburgh when it comes to seriously damning off-field allegations. But just like in other walks of life, the same rules don't always apply to the top performers. And Roethlisberger's gutty performance against the Ravens was a reminder of why he's unquestionably one of the top five quarterbacks in the league and still in the black and gold quarterbacking the Steelers. More on him soon.

* A quick note to the Baltimore Ravens fans out there that might be reading this. You have a tremendous football team. In my estimation, a team entirely capable of winning the Super Bowl. You can win with your defense, you can with through the air, and against the right matchup at least, you can run the ball consistently. There really are no weaknesses on the Baltimore Ravens' squad.That's all you can ask for as a fan - to cheer for a team that legitimately has a chance to win each and every time out, and in a variety of different ways depending on the circumstances. Baltimore and Pittsburgh both qualify as those types of teams. As upset as you may be, don't lash out like short-sighted buffoons and forget how you're fans of one of the most consistent teams in professional football since your new head coach took the reigns back in 2008.

* With the Steelers trailing 7-0 in the 2nd quarter, I said to my company - my girlfriend, and the BTSC reader we met up with for the first time to watch Sunday night's game with - 'the Steelers are going to win this game.' I felt confident we'd win despite not doing much of anything offensively in the first half for one simple reason: our defense was playing lights out in the first 30 minutes of the game. If you just looked at the halftime statistics, you likely wouldn't come to that conclusion. Really though, the Ravens had nothing going for them offensively in the first half. Had it not been for that one deep long ball to Anquan Boldin on a 3rd and long deep inside their own territory, the Ravens would have been looking at 0 points and likely fewer than 125 yards of total offense in quarters one and two. Instead, Joe Flacco hit Boldin on a very nicely thrown ball that ultimately led to 7 points. Still, to me at least, it was clear the defense had come to play. And not just in their usual above average type of way; but rather, one of those games where you just know they're going to give the offense every opportunity in the world to get it done at the end.

*104 to 145. That was the total yards disparity in the first half. On first glance, it seemed like Baltimore had a fairly productive first half, at least compared with what the Steelers were able to muster. Looks can be deceiving though. If you take away the Ravens two long passing plays in the first half, they really didn't do anything. On their first six offensive plays, the Ravens went nine yards backwards. Two plays and another negative two yards later, the Ravens faced 3rd and 12 from their own six yard line. Dick LeBeau had Troy Polamalu near the line of scrimmage, with the Steelers clearly hoping to force a costly Flacco turnover, or maybe even register a safety. Credit Flacco and Anquan Boldin for their nifty 61 yard completion.

But I like the decision by Dick LeBeau to move Polamalu up near the line of scrimmage more often and more aggressively throughout the game. Seems to me like this was the first time, perhaps all season even, that No. 43 was back patrolling the line of scrimmage like he had in previous years. Lawrence Timmons still played a nice game, but it was a welcomed sight seeing Polmalau in his old familiar self as a playmaker near or around the trenches.

More on this subject this week, but I think we're about to see the Steelers' defense kick it into high gear this next month. Tonight was an outstanding performance by them, and I really think that LeBeau might have had a mini-epiphany about how to maximize his talent out there. Not that Coach Dad doesn't understand every last nuance of every last scenario relating to his personnel and strategy. I just think tonight was a particularly telling example of how risk-vs-reward manifests itself in today's NFL.

Here's why. The Ravens ran 57 offensive plays and finished with 269 total yards, good for only a 4.7 yards per play average. You can win with those kind of numbers, but only if they're spread out over several scoring drives. Here's the deal though for the Ravens on Sunday Of those 269 yards, 168 came on two long passing plays. The Ravens barely amassed 100 yards on their other 55 offensive plays. Let that sink in my friends. Nasty.

*I've read some vitriolic comments about Bryant McFadden for allowing a few deep balls to get behind him. First of all, B-Mac deserves a Steeler Nation salute for even playing. He was dealing with a nagging hamstring injury all week, but gave it a go because of the magnitude of the game. Not to mention how disadvantaged the Steelers would be lining up Anthony Madison (5-7") or an inexperienced DB against any one of the Ravens' trio of competent WR's - Boldin, T,J. Houshamandzadeh, or Derrick Mason.

Seriously, McFadden played a great game and I'll defend that to the grave. Re-watch the tape and look at how he did making sure tackles in the short passing game. Remember, 128 of those 269 yards came on two plays - two plays where Troy Polamalu was blitzing, leaving B-Mac, Ryan Clark and the rest of the Steelers secondary alone.

Turns out the pressure wasn't good enough on a few of the Ravens first half plays. Flacco found Boldin for 61 yards in the first quarter, then Donte Stallworth for 67 yards in the second quarter. Following the first long ball to Boldin, the Ravens capitalized with a TD strike to guess who, Boldin once more. Steelers fans were frustrated with B-Mac for allowing both plays, but what can you do. Flacco had all day to throw on the TD pass. In fact, Cris Collinsworth made a point of counting out the time Flacco had before thrwoing the ball with his telestrator. Over 4.5 seconds if I recall correctly. Obviously Boldin's going to be able to find a soft spot to sit down in, and with Flacco's solid arm strength, of course he's going to be able to get it there before the dfeense can play catch up. There's a reason Hines Ward has some of the numbers he does - Big Ben finds him when he has protection or once's broken contain. Flacco did the same with Boldin after having nearly five seconds to let things materialize. Don't blame B-Mac there. Ain't his fault the Ravens' offensive line held up that play and Flacco made a nice play throwing after the pocket had broken down. Anyway, the bigger story from this game was how Troy Polamalu was used - more aggressively. And as a consequence, there were a few opportunities to be had deep down the field against the Steelers defense. Worth the risk if you ask me.


* Let's just make this clear - Richard LeBeau is a genius. Nobody is perfect, but this man has been a player or coach in the NFL for over 50 years, and tonight reminded me of why this man is the best in the business. Without having re-watched the game, sure seemed like Polamalu was deployed more of on Sunday Night than in any other game this season. I have no idea if he was waiting for this game to shake things back up, or not. But I sure loved seeing Polamalu almost in the type of role that Timmons has been in for much of this year. More on this soon.

* Sean Suisham continues to pay early dividends. With Daniel Sepulveda out with a knee injury (seriously, no roughing the punter call on a play where Sepulveda injures his knee seriously??), Suisham handled both the kicking and punting duties. And he did so with aplomb. Several of his punts would have pinned the Ravens deep inside their own 10, only to be called back due to penalties. Regardless, Suisham could have easily cost the Steelers a chance to win had he not played the way he did.

* Good to see Brett Keisel back. Can't say I love looking at him and his beard through the face mask of a helmet, but we may be getting him back at a great time in the season when everyone else is far less fresh than he promises to be this month.

* Uh oh, down goes another offensive lineman. This time it was Flozell Adams, who left with a high ankle sprain. Adams has been dealing with ankle issues all year, so this one must have really hurt the veteran behemoth. No word yet I don't believe on how long he'll be out, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's at least two weeks.

* In one of my preview posts last week, I wrote that somebody not named Heath or Hines would need to step up and make plays for the Steelers in the passing game. Well, I thought Ward and Miller would do more than they did on Sunday night (2 catches, 29 yards combined), but the Steelers most certainly needed big contributions from their other playmakers. Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, David Johnson and Antonio Brown caught a combined 14 balls for 186 yards. Then of course there was Isaac Redman and his two huge catches - the first good for first down yardage, and the second that won the game for Pittsburgh on a 3rd and goal play from the 9. Outstanding productivity from the Steelers' secondary cast of characters.

* I won't even comment on the officiating last night. Atrocious once more, the most egregious call being the no-flag thrown on the play where Heath Miller was concussed. All I'll say is iron sharpens iron, and the Steelers are definitely being tested and toughened by the lack of calls they're getting.

* Enough for now before it gets any later, but much, much more soon. on the Steelers HUGE win over the rival Ravens, and what it means for their playoff chances and the remainder of the 2010 season.