What can really be said when it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ absolutely horrific loss to the Baltimore Ravens? Although the 21-14 final score might trick those who didn’t spend their afternoon watching the game into believing it wasn’t that bad, it was, in fact, even worse.
Let’s do the game’s post mortem on the loss in this week’s edition of “Three up, three down.”
Artie Burns turning the corner? — With starting cornerback William Gay out of the lineup with an injury, rookie first round pick Artie Burns made his first career start against the Ravens. Burns wasted little time making an impact, intercepting Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco in the first quarter. Burns’ interception was the first by a Steelers defensive back this season and could spark the rookie so he’ll be a big contributor the rest of the way.
James Harrison inches closer to Steelers sack record — Linebacker James Harrison came into the season needing three sacks to pass Jason Gildon for Pittsburgh’s all-time lead in sacks. After yesterday’s two-sack performance, Harrison now is on the cusp of the record. He was active throughout the game and finished with six tackles, three for loss, while making life miserable for rookie tackle Ronnie Stanley. Any hopes of the Steelers’ defense having a second-half surge will rest on the ability of guys like Harrison to make plays. With Harrison at 38 years old and with arguably the league’s best left tackle in the Dallas Cowboys’ Tyron Smith up next, it won’t be easy.
Sticking with the defense — Considering how putrid Pittsburgh’s offense was, the defense deserves a lot of credit for limiting the Ravens offense to 14 points (Baltimore also scored off a blocked punt) while holding the Ravens’ rushing attack to 50 total yards. The oft-injured linebacker Ryan Shazier was exceptional, tallying nine total tackles, 2.5 for loss, and being credited with half a sack. Rookie safety Sean Davis, who notched three tackles, made the most of his playing time while working in a rotation with starter Robert Golden.
Really, Ben? — There was plenty of talk about whether quarterback Ben Roethlisberger should have played yesterday, and, based on his downright terrible performance, it’s easy to say he shouldn’t have. Let’s just say this: If you don’t feel right physically or, as some have noted, look really off in limited practice, maybe you should tell the team you aren’t ready to go?
Sure, the decision to start Roethlisberger is also on the coaches, who could have stepped in and made the call, but Roethlisberger is a franchise quarterback and 13-year veteran, so it’s ultimately going to be up to him. His uptick in numbers late in the game can’t mask one of the worst 45 minutes of football you’ll ever see from an offense — and that rests squarely on Roethlisberger’s shoulders.
There’s plenty of blame to go around, but what is it with Roethlisberger not only on the road, but coming off injury? It’s just dreadful and, at some point, it raises the question as to what the heck is going on with this alarming recurrence of terrible performances by the Steelers’ signal caller in these scenarios.
Speaking of accountability… — Another poor road performance (and loss) means more questions about the preparation of this team under head coach Mike Tomlin and the coaching staff. Against the Ravens, there were penalties galore (many of the pre-snap variety), there was an unwillingness to move to the up-tempo game on offense and there was just a total lack of adjustments in general.
There’s no doubting that injuries are a concern, and I may differ with some on the concept of what defines “lesser” competition in the parity-driven NFL. Regardless, the coaches have to be accountable in this one, and that starts with the head coach. Tomlin must answer for his team’s consistently poor road performances and for the lack of discipline and detail (from his offense, specifically).
Injury list grows, and the next man isn’t stepping up — I’ve been accused of making excuses for Tomlin and the Steelers due to the high number of injuries, many to key players in recent seasons. Once again, the injuries have reared their ugly head, with center Maurkice Pouncey hurt (again) and wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey suffering what looks to be a severe ankle injury — both against Baltimore.
That being said, who is there to step up? The offensive line was supposed to be a strength of this team, yet the Steelers only had 36 total rushing yards, and the line couldn’t consistently protect Roethlisberger in the passing game. Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva has been particularly bad over too many stretches this season, and only an injury to Ryan Harris probably keeps Villanueva’s job safe.
The receiving group hasn’t filled in the gaps, either. Tight end Jesse James was below the line yesterday, and his early drop on a sure first down play set the tone for an offense that went TEN straight drives without a first down! Wide receiver Sammie Coates has done next to nothing outside of one game, and a healthy Markus Wheaton (wide receiver) can’t even make the active list?
This team needs to do some serious soul-searching as it prepares to host the 7-1 Dallas Cowboys this weekend. It’s time to get this team on track — both players and coaches.
Image credit: USATSI