By Christina Rivers
The Pittsburgh Steelers needed the win over the Baltimore Ravens to stay in the wild card hunt in the AFC. The Steelers wanted the win because morale has been challenged and it’s never a good feeling when you are swept in a series against your division rivals. With a late drive in the fourth quarter, quarterback Charlie Batch led the offense down the field and set up great field position for kicker Shaun Suisham to put the finishing touches on an emotional and hard-fought win for Pittsburgh. With Ben Roethlisberger nervous on the sidelines, he was the first person Batch went to after the game and hugged with tears of joy and relief in his eyes.
The Steelers’ offense was productive against a stalwart Ravens’ defense that was determined to prevent any sort of momentum Pittsburgh might be able to muster. Although the Steelers got off to a slow start offensively, the Ravens did as well. Batch remained poised despite behind hurried, sacked twice and then being the target of a late hit. He finished the night 25-of-36 in passing for 276 yards and one 43-yard touchdown pass to tight end Heath Miller who was able to stretch out along the sidelines and put the football on the pylon before his foot went down out of bounds. The second touchdown of the night for Pittsburgh came on a Jonathan Dwyer rush that looked like it would go nowhere until he was able to bounce outside and get into the end zone. Dwyer had 49 yards on 16 rushing plays. Isaac Redman also saw time on the field and it was apparent that the backs were determined to keep the ball securely in their hands Sunday. Receivers Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace were used evenly, each receiving a pass five times. Sanders did lose the ball after a catch while trying to move the ball in his arms to protect it and then watching the Ravens grab it off the turf. Frustrated, he returned and was able recover from the error. With a nice balance of run-to-pass, the Steelers were able to keep the tempo upbeat from the second through fourth quarters.
Offense Grade: B+
There aren’t many flaws in the Steelers’ defense. Pittsburgh lost starting cornerback Ike Taylor early in the game to an ankle injury, but Cortez Allen came in and played decent coverage in Taylor’s place, nearly getting an interception at one point. Although he has still to return to full strength, James Harrison had a fantastic night. Harrison logged seven tackles, one sack and forced a fumble while hitting Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco again that Ziggy Hood was able to recover. Brett Keisel nearly got to Flacco as well. Under pressure, Flacco threw the ball away to Ryan Clark for the interception. Hood also logged a sack on Flacco as did Larry Foote. The Steelers were able to hold the Ravens to just 3-of-11 third-down conversions and 288 net yards. Ray Rice was only able to get 78 yards on 12 rushes and one reception for five yards and a touchdown. It was great to see safety Troy Polamalu back on the field for Pittsburgh, although he appeared to be less disruptive and more of a roving pass defender.
Defense Grade: A
The special teams unit stepped up this week and contained Jacoby Jones. Jones received three kickoffs for a return average of 24 yards and had zero punt returns. It was Jones who won the game for the Ravens in these two teams’ last meeting on November 18 by stretching a return the length of the field for a touchdown. Although Brown saw five punt return opportunities, he was held to short yardage. Chris Rainey handled two kickoff returns, his longest went for 42 yards. Once again, kicker Suisham was solid and able to seal the win with a field goal. Suisham made 3-of-3 field goals and 2-of-2 PAT, making it yet another perfect night with his leg. Rookie punter Drew Butler was effective in punting, doing so four times for a 38.5 yards-per-punt average as he was often punting for short distance.
Special Teams Grade: A
Communication between coaching staff and players was evident this week. Coach Tomlin even tried helping officials make calls at times. Todd Haley did a great job tweaking the offense a bit to help Batch have more options on offense. One play that was not a good call by Haley was a gadget handoff to receiver Brown that appeared to be an end-around that resulted in Brown throwing the ball back across the field to Dwyer. Dwyer was too short to get above Ed Reed who easily made the interception. Dick LeBeau had the Steelers’ defense primed in what everyone knew would not be an offensive shootout but a defensive showdown between these two teams.
Coaching Grade: A-
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Christina Rivers is freelance journalist and photographer with a life-long love of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Credentialed with the organization, Christina provides a unique perspective gained through her knowledge and understanding of Steelers history, the Rooney family and relationships with past and present players. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.