For obvious reasons, it's more fun to hand our fictitious weekly game ball hardware in the aftermath of a Pittsburgh Steelers win. Unfortunately, we don't have that luxury this week, as the Steelers saw their four-game winning streak snapped by the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night. The 23-20 win at Heinz Field gave Baltimore a regular season series sweep over Pittsburgh, and vaulted the rival Ravens into sole possession of first place in the AFC North and the conference standings through nine weeks of the 2011 NFL season.
So, let's not spend too much time on the exercise, but an overview of the players worthy of consideration for our Week 9 'Game Ball.'
James Harrison: 3 sacks, 8 tackles, 1 forced fumble. Hell of a first game back for Deebo.
Antonio Brown: 5 receptions, 109 yards. Browns' second 100-plus yard game in his past three.
Ben Roethlisberger: 20-of-37, 330 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT. Outside of his telegraphed interception to Terrell Suggs inside the Ravens red zone, Big Ben was once again masterful in his first game since being named the AFC Offensive Player of the Month in October.
Larry Foote: 10 tackles (6 solo, 4 assists) for the veteran linebacker, an admirable, albeit not perfect, performance in place of the injured James Farrior.
- Steelers offensive line: 1 sack allowed.
It's hard not to give the nod to James Harrison here. I mean, how many times do even the great ones like No. 92 register three sacks in a single game, let alone when making their first appearance in over a month following surgery to repair broken bones around the eye socket. Throw in the forced fumble that William Gay recovered for just the fourth takeaway of the year for the Steelers, as well as his sound work in run support, and he's even more deserving.
All that said, I'm going with the offensive line this week. We've seen Harrison single-handedly take over a game against the Ravens; but we've never seen the offensive line keep the Ravens' physical, disruptive defense in check quite like we saw them do on Sunday night. From a short article I wrote Monday afternoon for SB Nation Pittsburgh about the play of the line in Week 9:
Maurkice Pouncey rendered Haloti Ngata relatively ineffective from his center position, Ramon Foster continued to impress at right guard, and Max Starks limited Terrell Suggs’ disruptive ways all game. Limiting a defense like Arizona to one sack, which the Steelers did in their Week 7 win in Phoenix, is one thing. Keeping Big Ben upright against the vaunted Ravens pass rush is another. In the teams’ first meeting, Roethlisberger was sacked four times. In the two matchups last year that Roethlisberger participated in, the Ravens brought down the sturdy Steelers quarterback three times in Week 13 and six more in the playoff game that the Steelers won in dramatic fashion.
The line still has room to improve, make no mistake about that. But considering the strides the unit's made since disastrous showings in Weeks 1 and 4, it's hard not to be impressed and encouraged by their collective play as we approach the meat of the season's second half. If the line can play like that on an even somewhat consistent basis, the Steelers will easily reach double-digit wins and again be back in the playoffs with an opportunity to extend their lead in the all-time Super Bowl wins department.