The Steelers didn’t get the memo that the preseason ended. The Ravens pounded the Steelers in all three phases and until today, the Steelers were never so physically dominated on both sides of the ball ever in the Mike Tomlin era.
The shocking part wasn’t that the Steelers lost in Baltimore but just how they took such a beating and showed no emotion defensively. However, more shocking wasn’t the enept play from the defense, but the performance from the offense that was clicking on all cylinders in the preseason, and just had no continuity on Sunday afternoon.
To no surprise, there is a panic from Steelers fans and NFL pundits are clamoring on the Steelers age factor.
The good news for the Steelers is that they get Seattle at home next week, followed by Kerry Collins and the Indianapolis Colts in week 3 before a week 4 matchup in Houston. After Houston, the Steelers host Tennessee and Jacksonville in consecutive weeks. There is plenty of time to get back on track before a tough three game stretch in weeks 7-9, where they travel to Arizona in week 7 and get New England (week 8) and Baltimore (week 9) at home.
Under Mike Tomlin, this is the first type of thrashing the Steelers took in the first couple weeks of a particular season but as a franchise, the Steelers always seem to bounce back after getting the type of pounding early in the season that they got today. A trip down memory lane:
In 1997, the Steelers were blown out the Dallas Cowboys, 37-7 in week 1. The Steelers went on to finish 11-5 and advance to the AFC Championship game.
In 2001, Pittsburgh lost to Jacksonville, 21-3 in week 1. The Steelers went 13-3 that season and lost in the AFC Championship game to New England.
In 2002, the Steelers had five turnovers in a 30-14 season opener loss to the New England Patriots. The end score was closer than the game really was as New England led 30-7 after three quarters. Pittsburgh went on to a 10-5-1 season (1st place), losing to Tennessee 34-31 in a controversial overtime loss in the divisional round playoffs.
In 2004, the Steelers were thumped by the Ravens in week 2, trailing 20-0 after three quarters and going on to lose 30-14. Baltimore forced three turnovers in what would be Ben Roethlisberger’s first career game and the start of the Roethlisberger era. Roethlisberger went on to lead the Steelers to a 15-1 regular season and No. 1 seed in the AFC. Pittsburgh lost to New England in the AFC Title game.
Although there is no reason to panic as the schedule sets up very favorable for the Steelers in their next handful of games, there are some red flags coming out of today’s 35-7.
Here is what we learned:
*–The Ravens used a New England type of game plan against the Steelers, exploiting the Steelers with crossing routes, quick screens, while getting their tight ends involved through the vertical passing game. The difference between Tom Brady beating the Steelers with this type of game plan, is today was the first time I’ve seen that type of precision from a non elite quarterback against the Steelers. That is somewhat worrisome as Dick LeBeau is not the type of defensive coordinator who makes true adjustments away from his scheme.
*–The Steelers defense is dictated by the success of their front seven. It was non-existent today and there’s been some redflags dating back to the preseason opener against Washington, with the Steelers d-line getting blown back off the line of scrimmage on a consistent basis. Aaron Smith was a major non-factor, as was Brett Keisel. The linebackers as a whole from Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley to James Harrison had a nightmare game but the linebackers are eventually going to get there, at least Timmons and Woodley are. With Smith, Keisel and even Hampton, you just don’t know. One positive is that there’s a wave of youth with the likes of Ziggy Hood, if things continue on a downward spiral for the d-line.
*–Ravens LT Bryant McKinnie manhandled James Harrison in the first half and fullback Vontae Leach ate Harrison up on running plays to the left side. There continues to be a belief inside the Steelers organization that Harrison will eventually get back into form and he likely will, but the team should have spelled Harrison more often with Jason Worilds. The only time they did when the game still mattered was in the first half, when Harrison pulled himself late in the second quarter due to being gassed. Today’s loss showed it could be several weeks before Harrison is back up to par.
*– There’s a reason that Doug Legursky didn’t hold onto the starting right guard last season. He’s a center not a guard. The Steelers try to tell themselves that Legursky is a guard but the game tape continues to show he’s not. Legursky is regarded by the coaching staff as having the best football sense among all of the team’s offensive linemen, including Maurkice Pouncey. Most surprising about his lackluster play today was his horrific reads and looking lost against the blitz. One argument is that Legursky deserves time but another argument is that the Steelers botched the right guard position in camp. The coaching staff had to have an inkling that they were going to go in Legursky’s direction, yet he took most reps at center and left guard. He didn’t start at right guard until the final preseason game when the first team offense didn’t even play.
*A storyline going into this week is Larry Foote getting playing time over James Farrior. A reason for the move is believed to be because the Steelers feel Foote is better to combat running backs with speed like Ray Rice in the open field.
*The Steelers opted to go with Ike Taylor getting the primary matchup against Lee Evans not Boldin. Evans was held without a catch but his ability to stretch the field did lead to things opening up underneath, as Evans got safety help.
*Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown showed excellent chemistry in the preseason but Roethlisberger, Brown were off on Sunday. Brown was targeted 9 times and had just 2 receptions.