I was wrong to even contemplate it.
Instead, the Steelers dominated in every phase, with the Rams’ hopeless offense reduced to running out the clock while laying an egg on the scoreboard to hasten the end of their disappointing season. And some people are inclined to think Josh McDaniels deserves another head coaching job after this year?
The Steelers had no trouble against an overmatched Rams offense while getting good enough play from Charlie Batch to complement a rushing attack that picked up 6 yards per attempt. So easy were things they even found a way to manufacture catches via screens and shovel passes in an attempt to get Hines Ward to that magical 1,000 receptions figure.
Still that doesn’t mean there aren’t things to talk about so let’s look at some of them.
St Louis – Three Performances of Note
Up and Down Day for the O-line
When you go up against James Harrison & Co., you expect your offensive tackles to have a tricky time of things. Only the makeshift duo of Harvey Dahl (+2.6) and Adam Goldberg (+1.1) coped reasonably well. Instead the real problems came either up the middle with an interior offensive line that graded at -7.9 combined, and with some odd protection schemes. Any play that asks for a tight end to block James Harrison one-on-one on a four-man rush is asking for trouble, and yet the Rams felt comfortable leaving Harrison singled up against either Billy Bajema or Lance Kendricks. The end result saw Harrison pick up a pressure on Kendricks and a sack and two pressures on Bajema. Way to make things easier for Kellen Clemens.
The Bright Spot
I’ll be honest, I’ve never been a huge Steven Jackson (+2.1 rushing) fan. I always found him a bit underwhelming compared to some of the other top backs in the league. But this year there’s been less dancing outside, and more downhill running and the result is about as good a year as I’ve seen from Jackson, given the inconsistent blocking in front of him. Picking up 104 yards against the Steelers may go down as one of the highlights of his year. An always stingy defense, even more so when you don’t have to fear the pass, Jackson broke three tackles and picked up 70 of his yards after contact to punish the Steelers whenever they gave him a glimpse of daylight.
Earning a Spot on the ‘Had a Bad Day’ Team?
The annoying thing for Darian Stewart (-5.1) is that he did quite well in coverage, especially his pass break up on third down with 3:31 to go in the first half. But his work in run defense was terrible. It wasn’t just the three miss tackles but the horrible angles he took that meant he wasn’t even in position to attempt a tackle. Look at his play with 8:44 to go in the second quarter where he comes unblocked at Rashard Mendenhall with such recklessness that the Steelers RB makes a simple cut and Stewart is left on his backside on the floor. If this year was an audition for Stewart to be the Rams’ safety of the future, let’s just say I wouldn’t be halting the process just yet.
Pittsburgh – Three Performances of Note
Head and Shoulders Above the Rest
We’ve already mentioned some bad safety play, so now let’s mention some good. Troy Polamalu (+5.6) is one these players who, once he senses weakness in a player, he really starts to take over a game. That was the case here against a poor Rams offense where the Steelers safety was able to attack, and almost come away with a pick (though his coverage figures of thrown at three times, with no completions allowed and two passes broken up will provide some solace). He hasn’t always been at his best this year, but could he be coming into his top form at the exact right time?
Speaking of players who could be hitting form at an opportune moment, what about Rashard Mendenhall (+3.4)? It may have only been his second 100-yard rushing game of the year in the Steelers’ pass oriented attack, but the former first round pick continues to make the most of so-so blocking. He picked up 85 of his 116 yards after contact, constantly made sharp cuts that left Ram defenders out of position, and made the Steelers forget they were missing their franchise QB.
Getting Woodley Healthy
While others have said he’s coming into his own, I do have my concerns about whether the Steelers can cope with Jason Worilds (-2.2) playing. All signs point to Lamarr Woodley being back before a playoff run, but in what kind of shape will he be? If he’s less than 100% we could see more of Worilds, who is streaky at best as a pass rusher and far from impactful in the running game, seeing more action than he seems ready for. Against a guard playing tackle you’d think he’d have a field day, but he walked away with just the two pressures, one of which came on Steven Jackson.
– Jonathan Scott started at right tackle for Marcus Gilbert (who played two snaps, both of which were touchdowns) and gave up just three pressures.
– Kellen Clemens completed just one pass that went over 9 yards in the air.
– Ike Taylor was targeted nine times, giving up three receptions for just 12 yards.
The Rams didn’t make it too hard for him but Rashard Mendenhall ensured the Steelers didn’t slip up.