DAY AFTER: STEELERS - RAVENS FALLOUT
A busy off-day of news for the Steelers on Monday. Byron Leftwich is out with two fractured ribs and a minor shoulder injury.....Charlie Batch will be the third Steelers quarterback to start in three weeks.....The team is likely to sign WR Plaxico Burress who is meeting with Steelers officials tonight and if he passes a physical Tuesday morning and his workout goes well, expectations are he will be signed and could be the Steelers No. 3 receiver vs the Browns as Jerricho Cotchery could be headed to IR.
Now onto some thoughts out of last night's game:
It has now been revealed that Byron Leftwich played with two fractured ribs last night and a sore shoulder but the way I sum up his performance last night is that he teased for most of the night. Leftwich would flash with an impressive pass then struggle to put three to four plays together, killing drives. "We just couldn't put two, three, four, five or six plays together," Leftwich said. "We would make a big play, but then we were right back and third-and-nine. It's too hard to play a team like that when you don't do much on first or second down and leave yourself with third-and-long.''
Leftwich night was highlighted by his 31 yard TD run where he appeared to injured his shoulder and in the passing department he was 18-for-39 for 201 yards with three sacks, one interception and a 51.3 quarterback rating.
Leftwich struggled with his accuracy at times and he was plagued by uncharacteristic mistakes for an established veteran, wasting two timeouts and struggling to read the defense. When the Steelers coaching staff looks at the tape this week, they should be alarmed at Leftwich's in-ability to read the defense, including at pre-snap. One reason we hear the coaching staff feels Leftwich is the much better option than Charlie Batch is that they feel Leftwich reads defenses at a starters level and Batch does not. Maybe it was rust in barely playing since 2009, but Leftwich should have been more crisp in reading the Ravens defense, regardless of whether he was banged up or not.
"We just came in, and we didn't make enough plays,'' Leftwich said. "We had opportunities (that) we didn't take advantage of, and we just didn't make enough plays. ... We just couldn't get our rhythm. There was a lot of third-and-evens, a lot of third-and-longs.
Did Leftwich get enough help around him? To a point he didn't. The O-line didn't protect well against outside pressure as Leftwich was hurried nearly 33% of the time, receivers didn't come up with some key catches, while Todd Haley called an odd game, appearing at times to out-think himself, throwing the ball 39 times and Haley went away from the running game way too much in 3rd and short situations. A great example of that is on what ended up being Pittsburgh's final redzone drive of the game, late in the third quarter when Jonathan Dwyer gained 8 yards on 2nd and 10, setting up 3rd and 2 at the Ravens 4 yard line. Dwyer had 26 rushing yards on 3 carries to that point on the drive with runs of 7, 11, and 8 yards and Haley calls a high risk fade pass that results in an incompletion when Mike Wallace couldn't get his feet in bounds in the endzone on what really was a great pass from Leftwich.
Wallace was one of those players last night who didn't give Leftwich the type of help he needed. That particular play, a great receiver gets his feet in there and then in the 4th quarter what seems to be a weekly occurance, Wallace is seen not giving full effort when he gives little effort to come up with a low pass from Leftwich on 2nd and 11 at the Ravens 43 yard line that would have put the Steelers around the Ravens 34, 35 yard line and in field good position. It wasn't a good pass from Leftwich but Wallace didn't make a great attempt to get under it and the next play, Leftwich gets crushed and is sacked on 3rd and 11 for a seven yard loss.
*Give the Ravens credit. They have holes and on the surface don't look like a Super Bowl team but they just find ways to win that's likely going to give them at least one home playoff game and possibly a first round bye. With how tough they are at a home, they will be a tough out again in the post-season. They get turnovers defensively and get big plays in the return game, which makes up for holes on defense and inconsistencies from Joe Flacco. The Ravens might not be a better team than the Steelers but Baltimore doesn't lose games they shouldn't and Pittsburgh's bad losses to Oakland and Tennessee are now going to haunt them. The consolation prize for a wildcard team this year could be going to New England or Denver if Houston and Baltimore keep a hold on the No. 1 and No. 2 spots the rest of the way. New England is emerging as the best team in the AFC and Denver is a team nobody is going to want to play. If the playoffs started today, Pittsburgh would be going to Foxboro in the wildcard round and I wouldn't give them much of a chance to be able to match the Patriots in points even with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger.
*A lot of positive signs continued to emerge for the Steelers on defense. Keenan Lewis and Ike Taylor continue to play extremely well on the corners, Lawrence Timmons remains a force inside, LaMarr Woodley is starting to turn up his game and James Harrison took baby steps last night in actually being a factor a few times when rushing the passer. With Harrison, the Steelers will take anything they can get right now. The D-line was a strength last night and the coaching staff is insane not to go to Cam Heyward as the starter at LDE vs Cleveland, regardless of Ziggy Hood's health. Heyward added size and power that the Steelers don't get with Ziggy Hood and a four year player at Ohio State now in his second NFL season, Heyward should be seeing more playing time than he's been getting and this could be a start.
*With Rashard Mendenhall coming off an achilles injury and barely playing this season, I had no problem with Todd Haley working all of his running backs in but Haley had no rythmn with his rotation and that can't continue. The potential is there for a very good 1-2 punch in Mendenhall and Dwyer.
*Has the culture among the Steelers - Ravens rivalry changed? There's not the type of hatred among the players that there use to be during the Joey Porter and Hines Ward days. There's word that after chilling in the Ravens locker room last night about forty minutes after the game, Ryan Clark is now setting up a poker game with Ravens players inside the Ravens locker room immediately after Steelers - Ravens contest on Dec 2nd.