The last of our Thanksgiving games is in the books and as usual when the Steelers and Ravens face off, it was an entertaining game with plenty of bite that went down to the wire.
The Ravens jumped out to an early lead thanks to Pittsburgh’s inability to convert drives into points, and Shaun Suisham making a mess of a field goal attempt by setting off early causing an aborted attempt and a panicked run to nowhere by the kicker. The Steelers then set about pegging it back, and came within a dropped 2-point conversion from tying the game late and likely sending it to over time.
Beyond that, the game seems to have been best remembered for a couple of controversies. Mike Tomlin appeared to (possibly…) get in the way of Jacoby Jones down the sideline as he was returning a kick that forced him back infield slightly where he was tackled. It certainly looked suspiciously deliberate and it wouldn’t shock me if Tomlin heard from the league about it. Late in the game the Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell was blasted in the head as he crossed the goal line, sending his helmet flying and ending the play the instant it flew off – six inches shy of the line – and robbing him of a touchdown by rule pedantry.
But let’s take a look at some of the standout individual performances.
Pittsburgh — Three Performances of Note
Maybe He’s Just a Leftie?
Jason Worilds never looked like much playing at ROLB for the Steelers. His pass rush was usually absent and he wasn’t really making an impact in any other area on a consistent basis. In 2010 and 2011 when he saw the majority of his playing time coming from the left side, he graded positively on a regular basis, but in the dozen games in 2012 and 2013 in which he was playing ROLB he earned just one game graded in the green. Since injuries forced the Steelers to flip him again to the left side, however, he has notched games of +2.3, +4.5 and +3.1 grades overall in sequence. This game saw him notch a sack, a knockdown and a hurry as well as make a real impact in the run game, powering inside Ed Dixon in particular on a couple of occasions to stuff plays in the backfield. Coming at the right time, this is the best three-game stretch of Worilds’ career. If he can ride this momentum down the stretch then he might find an entirely different career path than had he continued to struggle on the right.
Just Needed to Warm Up
These two sides seem to just wind each other up. Early in the game the Steelers were running from under center and taking things calmly, but by the second half both sides were in shotgun all the time and running no-huddle or hurry-up regularly without the score being so out of reach to dictate that kind of change. Early in the game Ben Roethlisberger struggled a bit. He threw a few funky-looking knuckleballs towards the turf and didn’t seem to be in a great groove. As the game went on, though, he found his rhythm, and began to exploit the Baltimore defense expertly. From picking on backup defensive backs when a starter left the field for a snap with injury to hitting Heath Miller quickly on hot-reads in behind blitzes, he began to orchestrate those final drives to perfection, and got the ball through to Emmanuel Sanders in the end zone on what should have been a game-tying 2-point reception.
Tale of Two LTs
Cris Collinsworth was big on talking up Kelvin Beachum all game long at LT, pointing out that he may not be the biggest or strongest guy out there on the line, but he was by far the most athletic of the Steelers O-line (that’s a decathlon I’d pay to see). While he may be right on that, Beachum was far from great in the game (grading exactly average at 0.0 overall), but there was a clear and stark difference between what he was able to do against the Ravens’ defense and what his replacement (and the man he replaced) Mike Adams could manage when he had to fill in. Beachum played 53 snaps and allowed a hit and two hurries. Adams was only in the game for 14 snaps but almost matched that with a hit and hurry, as well as a costly facemask penalty on Suggs. Sometimes the key isn’t how good you are, but how much better you are than the next man up at your position.
Baltimore — Three Performances of Note
Flashes of Ngata
At times Haloti Ngata is a very frustrating player to watch. He laid down a marker on the very first snap of the game, swimming his way across a pair of Steelers blockers to blow up the run in the backfield. This was J.J. Watt-type stuff, but it was to be the exception not the rule for the Ravens’ lineman in this game. He regularly flashes the kind of dominance he is capable of, but has never been able to deploy it on as regular a basis as the best players in the game at his position, and such has usually been underrated by PFF compared to the general view of him. In this game Ngata could only generate a single bit of pressure on 28 pass rushing snaps, though it was a knockdown, albeit a pretty late one. He was better against the run thanks to plays like that first snap, but was still less than dominant, grading only +2.1 overall. I say only, because though that is an impressive grade, it is so much less than he is capable of, and showed he was able to achieve in flashes in this game.
Who Gets Paid?
The Ravens are going to need to commit money to one of either Eugene Monroe or Michael Oher pretty soon in the form of a contract extension. Given their cap situation, and the small country’s GDP they have tied up in Flacco for the foreseeable future, I can’t see them finding any way to pay both guys. So who gets the cash? Well, at the risk of articulating the no-brainer, it has to be Monroe, and this game just happened to nicely illustrate why. Monroe graded at a +2.3, surrendering just a single pressure and generally controlling the blindside for which Oher became so famous. On the other hand, Oher himself could only manage a -3.2 grade, allowing a sack, hit and two hurries as well as jumping early a ridiculous three times over the game. Both players were former high draft picks and only one of them has really developed into the kind of tackle teams look for.
Performances Are Not Static
One of the things people tend to do at times is assume bad players are bad players for good. They can never improve or even just enjoy a season of excellent play along the way. The reverse is true as well, but on this occasion I’m looking at a pair of players who have graded poorly in the past, but are currently enjoying something of a run of form. Jimmy Smith has now graded at a +8.4 over the past seven games, and James Ihedigbo is our seventh-ranked safety on the year with a +8.2 grade. Smith is a player that was double-digits in the negative for 2012, and the last time Ihedigbo saw significant action (2011 saw him notch 919 snaps) he was a -4.4 on the season and -8.4 in coverage. Both players seem to have turned the corner or, at the very least, are enjoying career highs in terms of form. They were targeted a combined eight times by the Steelers but surrendered just three catches for 22 yards. Each man also broke up a pair of passes and they combined to allow just four yards after the catch.
– This game featured a myriad of tackles inside the 1-yard line, with at least three touchdowns that needed review to prevent.
– The team that scores first in this game is now 28-8.
– By moving early before his aborted FG attempt, Shaun Suisham could (and should) have been flagged for a false start. As it happened, the 12-yard loss when he attempted to run it hurt far more.
PFF Game Ball
This was a tough game to assign a game ball to, with several good performances but few dominant ones. Justin Tucker hit on all five of his field goals, three of them from over 40 to continue his streak of consecutive makes.
Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam