If that really was the last home game Steelers vs. Ravens showdown of QB Ben Roethlisberger's legendary career, he treated all of his faithful fanbase to another classic Big Ben performance at Heinz Field. For what felt like maybe the first time this season, the Steelers benefited from an apparent home field advantage. There was an electricity permeating through the boisterous, Terrible Towel twirling crowd; especially during the impressive second half comeback mounted by Ben and company.
It was the type of scene that has become commonplace in the best rivalry in the AFC North, games where legends are born, and memories made. In a contest that the Steelers couldn't afford to lose, with any hope of a playoff berth hanging by a thread, the Steelers did something that they failed to do last week in their embarrassing loss to the Cincinnati Bengals; an all-out effort on both sides of the ball. It definitely wasn't always pretty, but their intensity and effort was evident throughout. That's all anyone could ask for.
Steelers Stock Trending Up: Ben Roethlisberger
A week removed from their worst loss of the season, the Steelers had numerous contributors experience above the line performances. Names like Ben Roethlisberger, Diontae Johnson, T.J. Watt, and Minkah Fitzpatrick were to be expected; while a career practice squad journeyman offensive lineman named John Leglue was the definition of a pleasant surprise.
The afternoon didn't have the look of a breakout performance in the rivalry for Diontae Johnson in the first half, more like a nightmare scenario that the emerging wideout would rather forget. I jinxed Johnson bigtime, as I talked at length to my family about how proud I was of all the hard work that he had put in during the off season, and how it was paying off this season. He promptly dropped a perfect TD pass from Roethlisberger on the next play. I felt horrible, but he rebounded bigtime in the second half, catching a pair of touchdowns from Roethlisberger. The type of game changing plays one would expect from a WR1.
Although plenty of opposing defenses have enjoyed success against the Ravens with overload blitzes this season, exposing an unusually suspect Ravens offensive line, that type of ultra aggressive mentality is no longer in the Steelers comfort zone. Whatever the reasoning, the Steelers limited their aggression to predominantly an increase of slot blitzes.
The Steelers defenders were still able to get consistent pressure on Lamar Jackson throughout the game, chasing and harassing him into multiple mistakes. They sacked him 7 times on the day, lead by T.J. Watt's 3.5 sacks, one of which was a strip sack. His in your face pressure resulted in a huge red zone interception of Jackson by Minkah Fitzpatrick in the early portion of the game.
The aforementioned John Leglue made his NFL debut after being forced into the game when starting LG B.J. Finney was lost due to a back injury after the Steelers first offensive series. My focus was consistently drawn to the young man, probably because I was fully aware of the enormous task at hand and his importance to the Steelers potential for success. The Ravens are stout up the middle, and are well equipped to exploit mismatches. Much to my surprise, any potential mismatches never came to fruition, thanks in no small part to Leglue's outstanding performance.
He didn't just survive the experience, he thrived under the pressure. His hands, punch, footwork, and anchor were all above the line. I was shocked at how effectively he was able to quickly gain leverage and turn the Ravens powerful interior lineman to create running lanes. He was the biggest reason the Steelers were able to reestablish the interior running game that had been missing in action with Kevin Dotson on IR. LT Dan Moore Jr. appeared inspired by Leglue's presence, playing easily the best performance of his rookie campaign.
The reason I have chosen Ben Roethlisberger as the selection for stock trending up is because of the circumstances surrounding another legendary performance, in a HOF career filled with them. Ben led yet another game winning drive during a dominant fourth quarter, one which saw him post a perfect passer rating. It was his 10th game winning drive against the Ravens, the most ever by a QB against a single opponent. He passed Tom Brady for third place on the all time list for game winning drives. All this from a QB who was accused of holding his team back earlier in the week by a former teammate.
I am still trying to figure out what team that Ryan Clark has been watching this season. While it's true that Roethlisberger can no longer carry the team like he did in his younger years, he is still more than capable of being successful with a competent supporting cast. The Steelers offense has struggled at times this season due to inexperience and injuries, but Ben can still show the occasional glimpse of his past greatness when all the Steelers offensive components are operating adequately. Although his arthritic knees have stolen his mobility, he can still sling the rock effectively all around the field when supported by a solid offensive line and running game. It's a still ongoing process, but Sunday's huge victory over the Ravens was a step in the right direction. An enlightening reminder of how much we all have to miss once Ben Roethlisberger finally hangs up the cleats. I am so thankful for yet another memory, all the memories actually.
Steelers Stock Trending Down: Officiating
This was by far the largest section of last week's Stock Report article because there was precious little that appeared to be trending in a positive direction for the Steelers. What a difference a week can make. While the Steelers were far from perfect against the Ravens, their overall team effort was much improved. The Steelers inside linebackers continue to struggle with consistency, and to provide physicality on defense. They still appear dazed and confused far too often in coverage, especially on crossers. Changes on the defensive line and in the secondary paid off in a big way on Sunday. Makes you wonder how much longer that the Steelers can stick with the Schobert/Bush tandem.
In what has become a familiar refrain this season, the officiating in the game was nothing short of atrocious. Countless missed holding calls have sadly become the norm, while holding calls against the Steelers defensive line have suddenly become an issue in recent weeks. Seemingly lost in the whole Ray Ray McCloud overturned catch fiasco was the fact that the Ravens corner had grasped McCloud's arm for the final 10 to 20 yards of his route. They changed the on the field call without any visual evidence to the contrary. Maybe McCloud would have cradled the catch more securely if he wasn't being forced to make a one handed reception as he was being interfered with. No flag, but Minkah Fitzpatrick was flagged later in the game for 41 yards after Jackson's heave and a prayer came up woefully short. Total bailout penalty.
Even worse, every flag thrown seems to result in an extended meeting of the minds, complete with plenty of earnest discussion, often over a rather meaningless and highly debatable altercation. It directly impacts the fluidity and integrity of the game.