ReFo: Steelers @ Ravens, Week 13
This AFC North rivalry, considered among the best in the NFL by more than a few, unfolded as many Baltimore Ravens versus Pittsburgh Steelers games play out. The animosity between these two squads was apparent on the opening kickoff when refs had to intervene, despite the play resulting in a touchback.
The reeling Steelers were already at a huge disadvantage with Ben Roethlisberger still not ready to play, but things got worse when their No. 1 cornerback Ike Taylor was injured on his second snap of the game. Despite these factors, playing in a hostile environment, and trailing 6-13 at halftime, the black and gold showed resilience in grinding out a victory with a last-second, game-winning field goal. Here are some performances that allowed Pittsburgh to keep their postseason hopes alive.
Pittsburgh – Three Performances of Note
The 37-year-old backup signal-caller (who turns 38 on December 5th) has been under fire recently, but Charlie Batch was the better QB on this day. It didn’t start out well — on their second offensive play, Batch underthrew Mike Wallace on what would have been a first-down conversion, and later missed a wide-open Wallace in the end zone. Heading into the second half, he had only completed 9 of 16 passes for 57 yards, and he wasn’t perfect in the final two quarters either (the end zone pick to Ed Reed being one example) but he ended up compiling 276 yards on the day with a TD throw. His stat line would be better if Emmanuel Sanders had not inexplicably fumbled after hauling in a 21-yard pass, and Batch showed a gritty willingness to help his squad in other ways with his heads-up downfield block on CB Cary Williams that helped Jonathan Dwyer scamper into the end zone.
Tenured Steelers Making An Impact
Due to injuries, and possibly father time, long-time Steelers James Harrison (+3.3) and Troy Polamalu (+1.6) have not contributed very much so far this season. That changed on Sunday with both being healthy enough to play. The Steelers were content to ease their Pro Bowl safety back into the lineup (50 out of 64 snaps), but he was still able to make three tackles in run defense (one of which was a stop) and got by Ray Rice to pressure Joe Flacco on the second play of the game. He was not thrown at once. Harrison’s impact was bigger though, as he had his most productive pass-rushing day of the year with a knockdown of Flacco on the first series, another QB hit later on (nullified on the stat sheet by a flag on the play), a further hurry and the strip-sack toward the end of the game. He was less successful in run defense (a missed tackle on Bernard Pierce didn’t help) but still pitched in three stops to go along with the crucial forced fumble on his sack. The play, and health, of these two going forward will play a role in determining if the Steelers still playing in January.
Lawrence Timmons Had A Bad Day
The Steelers’ defense deserves a lot of credit for this much-needed win, but Lawrence Timmons was the weakest link on this day. Aside from a penalty-free day, the LB graded negatively in all categories, especially run defense (-3.1). Though he had two stops, he had trouble getting off linemen’s blocks at the second level and was absolutely dominated on a 10-yard run by Vonta Leach (12:03, 2nd quarter). Add in a missed tackle on Pierce, no pressure on six blitzes, and allowing all three passes into his coverage to be completed (two of which led to first-down conversions) and this is by far the worst we’ve seen Timmons play all year.
Baltimore – Three Performances of Note
Home Turf Let Down
The popular notion is that Flacco plays better at home than on the road, but his performance in this contest did little to reinforce that trend as he compiled his fourth red-graded passing performance on the year (-3.2). He did deliver an accurate deep ball on the second play of the game despite Polamalu getting in his face (Taylor prevented the completion), but otherwise completed just 47.1 % of his 33 passes. A large part of that was a handful of over-and-under throws (14:02, 2nd Quarter on third down is a good example, and nearly got Torrey Smith killed). Another part of his struggles can be attested to his underwhelming play under pressure — on the 10 plays he was under duress he completed just three of seven passes for 32 yards, and an ill-advised throw that was intercepted. He also held onto the ball too long, all but gifting Ziggy Hood with a sack, and displayed poor ball security late in the game when Harrison got to him.
Leach Leads the Way
Our highest rated full back in terms of run blocking (+11.6 on the year) put on another clinic in this game. Vonta Leach soundly beat both ILBs in paving the way for his running backs, some of which were highlights like the aforementioned manhandling of Timmons. He also had a nasty, de-cleating lead block on Casey Hampton early on. He was valuable as a receiving weapon as well, catching all four passes thrown to him for 40 yards, while forcing a missed tackle and picking up three first downs. Though he did have a false start penalty, he was perfect the eight times he was called upon to pass protect and continues to prove his worth to this football team.
Many people still remember Bernard Pollard as the guy who injured several New England Patriots, but ever since joining the Ravens last season he has been a consistent contributor. That was the case in this game as well (+3.5). He was most effective around the line of scrimmage, beating Sanders (twice) and FB Will Johnson to disrupt the running game — even though he missed two tackles, both times his contact was enough to trip up and slow the back down enough to allow others to converge (4:50 in the 3rd quarter illustrates this). In coverage, he quickly swarmed Dwyer for a mere 1-yard gain, and made Sanders pay for wandering into his area with a big hit following a drop. The Ravens have some well-publicized weaknesses on defense, but Pollard has been one of the Ravens’ more consistent performers this year.
— The Steelers missed four tackles, while the Ravens missed five.
— Despite Ray Rice averaging 6.5 yards per carry, he received only 12 carries, all the more baffling since the Ravens were leading in the second half.
— In relief of Lamar Woodley, Jason Worilds could muster only a single hurry in 25 pass rushing attempts.
Charlie Batch. It wasn’t always pretty, but Batch maintained his composure (9 completions on 12 throws for 120 yards on the 14 plays he was pressured) and led his team to victory in the second half.
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