Well, that sucked.
And by sucked, I mean heartbreaking. Devastating. Crushing. Agonizing. Heart-rending. Disturbing.
I could go on, but the feeling of disgust and harrow (two more) was felt among us all after the Pittsburgh Steelers lost to the Baltimore Ravens. A loss against the Ravens is usually nothing to be ashamed of. The Steelers and Ravens would trade blows every season, often splitting the season series one apiece with both games being slug fests. It appears as if the Steelers wanted to resurrect the rivalry of old, employing a rush-first attack that seemed to ignite the offense early on, but failed to pick up a key first down which gave the Ravens life.
The only issue with this gameplan was that no one told the Ravens it was a rivalry game of old.
Quarterback Ryan Mallett (Ryan. Mallett.) in his first game as a starter under center for the Ravens completed 28 of 41 passes for 278 yards and a touchdown. 41 passes. Ben Roethlisberger had 9 pass attempts in the first half, save for the last drive which resulted in a total net gain of five yards before punting it back to Ryan Montana. Sorry, check that, Ryan Mallett.
The Steelers lost a game they should have dominated. These games happen to every team every season. The New England Patriots lost to the New York Jets, an organization they have dominated for over a decade. The undefeated Carolina Panthers were defeated by the hapless Atlanta Falcons, a team that started out 5-0 and proceeded to lose seven of their next nine games. The Seattle Seahawks lost to the St. Louis Rams, ending the lava-hot streak they were on.
My point is, games like this happen. Unfortunately for the Steelers, because of the rash of injuries and poor play, they could not afford a game like this to happen at this point in the season. The Steelers came out mentally unprepared and were outcoached in a game they should have dominated from start to finish. The offensive gameplan was one of the worst I’ve ever seen employed in a football game and the proper adjustments just were not made.
Why am I bringing up these hurtful memories? This game against the Cleveland Browns has all of the same markers as the Ravens game did. It raises just as many red flags and has the potential to be the same kind of pitfall for the Steelers.
MATCH-UPS TO WATCH FOR
Ben Roethlisberger vs. Ben Roethlisberger
This is the most important match-up this week. Roethlisberger did not look like the quarterback we had all become accustomed to seeing this season. Roethlisberger, when at the top of his game, was the best quarterback in football. Against the Ravens, Roethlisberger just looked completely lost. He was unable to read the field with any consistency and missed wide open receivers on multiple occasions, but notably missed an opportunity to get Antonio Brown a long touchdown reception. Roethlisberger’s inability to properly read the field and get his receivers the ball with consistency killed the offense in the second half. That, combined with 9 passing attempts heading into the final drive of the first half, seemed to be the death knell on Sunday.
Roethlisberger just needs to stop beating himself.
Uncharacteristically, interceptions have been an issue for Roethlisberger all season but notably have been an issue on the road. Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: this week, Roethlisberger takes on a Browns secondary that is ripe for the picking and is easily overmatched by the talent the Steelers have at receiver.
Brown and Martavis Bryant should cause mayhem on the boundary for a Browns secondary that is down its best defensive back and lacking the proper talent to slow down the speed and ability the Steelers possess all over the field. Sadly, this was also the case against the Ravens, but the gameplan that day was to institute a power run scheme and play directly into the strength of the Ravens defense, but I digress.
Look, the Steelers need to ditch the idea that running the ball is an integral part of their offensive game. Balance is great, but they did not average almost 500 yards per game while scoring 30 points in six consecutive games by making the running game a priority. This is a team that is unmatched in their ability to air the ball out. The running game is set up by the passing game. Running back DeAngelo Williams is going to get his touches, but Bryant needs to have more than two catches. When Bryant has as many catches of the football as running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, there’s an issue with the gameplan.
The offensive line, the strength of this team, was deplorable on Sunday. The Ravens boast some young talent on the interior of the defensive line, but guards David DeCastro and Ramon Foster should never be put on skates by Timmy Jernigan. Linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Elvis Dumervil were able to apply consistent pressure off the edges, another uncharacteristic issue of this usually-stout offensive line.
I could go on for hours and thousands of words as to exactly why the Steelers should rip this defense, and this team, apart, but instead I’ll just say this: Austin Davis is likely to start at QB on Sunday for the Browns.
Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt vs. Austin Pasztor and Cam Erving
Cameron Heyward was absolutely invisible against the Ravens. The same Ravens team, mind you, that is currently boasting one of the leagues most injured and least talented offensive lines. Heyward has had an exceptional season, but he did not have an exceptional game against a team in which he should have feasted for sixty minutes. Defensive end Stephon Tuitt suffered a similar fate. While flashing in the run game, Tuitt produced little-to-no consistent pressure up the middle against the Ravens.
This cannot continue against another inferior opponent.
The Steelers lack a true edge rusher right now. There is hope for outside linebacker Bud Dupree, but he has shown to still be raw and lack the required bend and pass rush arsenal to be counted on for a regular basis. Jarvis Jones has proven to be a younger, less explosive Arthur Moats to this point and James Harrison is playing on borrowed time. This is a spot on the defense that is not talked about, but needs to once again be a point of emphasis for the Steelers in the draft. This team needs an edge presence.
The secondary is still bad but it was once horrendous, so it has shown signs of steady improvement. Cornerback Brandon Boykin should continue to see an increase in defensive snaps this week. Antwon Blake is still battling a back injury, but this is a secondary that improves when he does not see significant snaps. William Gay has played adequately in his starting role on the boundary, and Ross Cockrell continues to be the best defensive back on the team. This is a Browns team that lacks any offensive talent and thus shutting them out of this game should not be overtly difficult. In fact, with Davis likely to start at quarterback, this should be the easiest game this secondary has all season.
This defense should pitch close to a shutout this game. The Browns are a colossal disaster as a team right now and are likely to lose both their head coach and general manager on “Black Monday”.
SCORE PREDICTION AND PARTING SHOTS
The only thing the Browns have to play for is to prevent the Steelers from making the playoffs. Assuming the offensive gameplan isn’t a dumpster fire again, the Steelers should skate through this game with relative ease. This isn’t to say the effort shouldn’t be there. Quite the opposite, actually. The Steelers should draw blood early and often. In an ideal world, Landry Jones plays almost the entirety of the second half.
I don’t believe this happens, however, and the Steelers squeak a win out against a bad opponent.
Steelers 27 – Browns 17
• Go Bills. Nothing else needs to be said.