By Christina Rivers
Thursday night, prime time viewing and one of the most-heated rivalries in the modern National Football League matched up. The match between the Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0) and Baltimore Ravens (0-1) was hyped to be one of the best games of the season and will not even come close to the best game of the week. Nearly every aspect of the Steelers’ play was flat and the communication that head coach Mike Tomlin stressed nearly non-existent. After receiving a first-game grade of generosity for their play against the Browns last week, the Steelers did little to earn the respect of anyone, including themselves in week two.
Quarterback and Coaching
If Dick LeBeau, Todd Haley and Mike Tomlin haven’t heard cries for their removal from the Steelers coaching staff before, they’re likely to hear a lot of it this week, deservedly or not. LeBeau’s legendary defensive schemes were not only absent for most of the game but out of sync. Haley couldn’t seem to get plays in to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger that were effective. Typically, Tomlin isn’t away from the sideline giving an ear-full to players sitting on the bench, either. Yet, that picture sums up the entirety of the 16-6 thrumming the Steelers got from the Ravens.
Roethlisberger took an early hit in the sternum, but the damage to his heart was most likely caused by the total inability to find his wide receivers or running backs in proper formations. His head was constantly on the swivel due to a lackluster performance by the offensive line to protect him. By the third quarter, Roethlisberger looked desperate and took chances with the ball that in the end resulted in Haloti Ngata grabbing a tipped ball for an interception. Roethlisberger completed 22-of-37 passes for 217 yards and no touchdowns.
Receiver Antonio Brown looked to be ready for a big game until he took a shot in the head from the shoulder of Ravens safety Matt Elam. Brown was evaluated for a concussion and passed the tests, only to come back in the second quarter and play a part in the frustrated Steelers offense that put zero points on the board. The drive looked good until receiver Justin Brown fumbled the ball, turning it over to Baltimore who converted it into seven points of their own.
Marcus Gilbert was a sieve on the offensive line, allowing Roethlisberger to be disrupted according to plan by the Ravens. Surprisingly, even with poor offensive line help, Le’Veon Bell managed 59 yards on 11 carries and 38 yards on four catches. For the season, Bell has 294 yards from scrimmage and is on a better pace than his rookie season. Unfortunately, the effort was wasted by poor performance by the offense, outscored 40-9 over their last six quarters of play. The catch-and-fumble by Heath Miller in the fourth quarter took all air out of the stadium for Pittsburgh.
Outside of an exceptional effort by Troy Polamalu to leap over the line to block a field goal late in the game, the defense was ineffectual, flat-footed, positionally outmatched and winded. Lawrence Timmons was getting ill on the sidelines early in the game only to return and tie for the lead in tackles with rookie Ryan Shazier (11 each). At one point Timmons went down, but returned to the game to give Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco a significant hit that couldn’t save the game, but probably felt good to give.
The Steelers defense did not impose their will on Baltimore and when they weren’t allowing Flacco to carve them up in the air, they were being called for penalties against Ravens receivers. The Ravens outperformed on the ground and via the pass against a Pittsburgh defense that looked gassed, and probably were, due to the fact that they spent the majority of the time on the field due to a lack of offense. Mike Mitchell may have played angry, but it did little to help the team when he drew multiple penalties. Cortez Allen had an opportunity for an interception but didn’t have soft enough hands to hang onto the ball. A deep pass-interference call against Allen also illustrated that the Steelers have yet to come up with a solution to a weak defensive backfield.
It would be a bit unfair to nit-pick the play of the special teams unit as a whole seeing as it was the only unit in Steelers uniforms that actually was successful. Kicker Shaun Suisham was solid with a perfect two-for-two on field goals. There was very little to speak of in kick/punt returns or punting duties.
Realistically, this is a Steelers team that is no longer in transition – it’s completely distracted. Pittsburgh has ten days to figure out their personnel issues and player placements before they head to Carolina to take on the Panthers in a Sunday game. Their days of receiving generous grades are past. As are their days of looking for answers. If the Steelers can’t get on track, they will see little success in the AFC North, let alone the rest of the league. Even Baltimore’s senior veteran Steve Smith looked like a gazelle compared to the sleepy Steelers. Mike Tomlin needs to put the hammer down and wake someone up from the coma they just received from Baltimore.
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Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a reporter and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied exercise physiology and sports psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. Her work can be found on