By Christina Rivers

The Pittsburgh Steelers came out as flat as a soda that has been left on a counter for two days in a game against the AFC North rival Baltimore Ravens. The Steelers offense looked sleepy through the first half of the game and barely woke up in the third. Veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was not sharp in week 16, which led to the run game being the go-to way to drive the ball.

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In a game that had playoff implications, the Steelers let the Ravens—with only four interceptions all season—add two against Pittsburgh on the day. Overall, the game was one of the poorest performances the Steelers have put together in the last five weeks at a most inopportune time in the 2015 season. The Steelers lost by three points, 17-20.

Offense Grade: D

The Steelers offense was flat the entire game this week. Nothing seemed to be working against a Ravens team that was beat up and playing deep into their depth chart. DeAngelo Williams was easily the offensive player of the game for the Steelers. Williams put together 100 yards on the ground, six catches for 53 yards and two touchdowns. Outshining the receiving trio of Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton, Williams was easily the outstanding performer this week.  Roethlisberger threw two forced balls that ended up in the Ravens’ hands, having his worst outing in four games.  Roethlisberger finished with 227 yards passing on 23 throws.

Defense Grade: D

Pittsburgh struggled the entire game on defense, making Ryan Mallet look like a Pro Bowl-calibre quarterback. They allowed Mallet to complete 28 passes to eight receivers for 274 yards and a touchdown. The Steelers hadn’t given up a rushing touchdown in weeks, but on Sunday they allowed Javoris Allen to burst into the end zone with little effort in the fourth quarter. It had to be a low point for a defense that had little spark in stopping the run or the pass in this contest.

Unlike their ability to shut out the Denver Broncos in the second half, the Steelers never quite caught on to what Baltimore drew up for a successful outing. Ineffectual pass and run defense was the story of the game.  Desperate in the fourth quarter, the defense got a stop and wound up standing along the sideline dejected as the offense used lateral after lateral, moving backwards and watched Williams get tackled for a loss of yards and the game.

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Special Teams Grade: C

It has been said several times this season, but is worth noting once again that there is little special about this squad for the Steelers. Punter Jordan Berry was guilty of a less-than-spectacular performance. The Ravens did not allow room for Pittsburgh to produce much in the return game. Placekicker Chris Boswell was one-of-one in field goals and two-of-two on extra point attempts.

Coaching Grade: C

There were several examples of poor clock management in this game. Whether it was being forced to call time outs due to the offense being unable to get the correct play set up or a wasted time out when Roethlisberger was sacked on the next play, the coaching staff has to be tearing their hair out over a lack of opportunities to use time outs to their benefit. With only a single time out left late in the game, the Steelers watched the Ravens move the ball in the fourth quarter with little chance to stop the momentum while moving the ball and trying to get the ball back to the offense.

Final Thoughts

The Steelers allowed the Ravens to stay in this game with poor execution on both sides of the ball. This week, the Steelers did not appear to make any major adjustments after halftime, unlike the completely different team that walked onto the field in a big win over the Broncos in week 15. Baltimore easily swept Pittsburgh to take the series in 2015. The game was expected to be close, but after putting up so many offensive points in three straight games, the Steelers resembled the team that started the season rather than the team that was on a hot streak.

To clinch a playoff spot, the Steelers needed the New York Jets and the Kansas City Chiefs to stumble; the Jets beat the New England Patriots in overtime and the Chiefs won, looking like the hottest team in the AFC at this point in the season. Pittsburgh’s final regular season will be in Cleveland against the Browns with the real possibility that they miss the playoffs once again. Cincinnati clenched the AFC North title.

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Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a journalist 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 as well as a published author. Her work can be found on
Examiner.com.