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Old 01-16-2011, 08:44 AM   #1
mesaSteeler
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Default Steelers 31, Ravens 24: Ten things we learned

Steelers 31, Ravens 24: Ten things we learned
Cold, Hard Football Facts for January 15, 2011
http://www.coldhardfootballfacts.com...e_learned.html
By Jeff Goldberg
Cold, Hard Football Facts comeback kid

Seven of the past eight meetings between the Steelers and Ravens were decided by a touchdown or less, and Saturday was no exception … or was it? We all expected a game dominated by defense, and it many ways, that’s exactly what this AFC divisional playoff was all about. But 31-24? Especially after Baltimore took a lightning-fast 14-point lead in the first half?

In January (and now February), it’s no longer about the journey. It’s all about the destination. And that’s all that mattered for the Steelers, who looked lost going into halftime, only to play like world-beaters in the second half, riding a wave of momentum into the AFC championship game.

The Ravens only beat themselves, making mistake after mistake to let the Steelers off the hook. Their destination is a summer of discontent.

1. The Big Play’s the thing. The Steelers entered Saturday’s game ranked second in the league in the Big Play Index, with a +28 rating. But at the half, it was the eighth-ranked Ravens (+12) that were dominating the statistic with three defensive big plays, returning one fumble for a touchdown (a double-whammy in BPI), then forcing a second fumble deep in Pittsburgh territory and converting it for their third touchdown of the half, propelling the Ravens to 21 points, their third-highest total in 33 first-halves against the Steelers since 1996.

But that all changed in dramatic fashion in the second half. First a Ray Rice fumble, then a Joe Flacco interception, then another fumble by Flacco and the Steelers had 17 unanswered points and a 24-21 lead.

But it was the only offensive Big Play of the game for either team that decided it, with Ben Roethlisberger hitting rookie Antonio Brown for a 58-yard strike on a 3rd-and-19 with two minutes left to set up the winning score.

2. Roethlisberger got his nose dirty. Big Ben spent Saturday under siege. His offensive linemen were dropping like flies, some by illness, some by friendly fire. He was sacked six times by the opportunistic Ravens defense, including a sack/fumble/touchdown that started the Steelers creeping toward the abyss in the first half.

All the sacks, pressures and hurries led Roethlisberger to an un-Ben-like 5.05 YPA (38 attempts,192 yards), a good 3 yards under his career average. But when the Steelers needed their leader, he delivered, converting a pair of turnovers early in the third quarter into touchdown passes, then cashing in on the bomb to Brown on a 3rd-and-19, one play after being swallowed up for sack No. 6.

3. It’s a Hog eat Hog world. The only sure thing going into this game, as we noted on CHFF TV and in our real and spectacular picks, was that Baltimore would go nowhere on the ground. The Steelers entered the game as the No. 1 Defensive Hogs in the game, while the Ravens were a pedestrians No. 22 on our Offensive Hog Index.

And, sure enough, the Steelers defensive line turned Ray Rice into Rice Krispies. The Ravens ran the ball just 18 times, mainly because they couldn’t go anywhere but through the air. Those 18 rushes netted a whopping 35 yards. Rice got 14 of them on one play in the first half, a touchdown run after Pittsburgh’s second turnover deep in their own territory had the Steelers reeling.

The defensive domination was never more pronounced than in the third quarter, when the Steelers channeled their inner-Super Bowl IX and held the Ravens to -4 yards total. (Nice analogy. I remember that game. - mesa)

The Defensive Hog Index, meanwhile, is now 27-11 picking playoff winners since we introduced the indicator in 2007. (And if the Packers hold on to beat Atlanta, which it looks like they will, the DHI will be 28-11.)

4. One fumble can ruin your whole season. It had been 404 carries since Ray Rice had left the ball on the carpet. Maybe when you go that long without fumbling, you forget how you got that far. Like, you forget to tuck the football when you’re running with it in open space. Carry No. 405 is the one Rice will never forget. His team leading 21-7 and in total control early in the third quarter, Rice left the ball exposed after catching a short pass on his own 23-yard line and Ryan Clark, who played a terrific game, popped the ball out for a momentum-shifting turnover. Rice was never the same after that play, and neither was the game.

5. Hines Ward isn’t what he used to be, but it was enough Saturday. He is the lion in winter, with more bark than bite these days. The 34-year-old wide receiver/stud had 59 receptions in 2010, his lowest total after a decade of dominance, and he had just three receptions Saturday. But the final two were among the biggest plays of the Steelers’ comeback, pulling in an 8-yard touchdown to tie the score at 21-21 late in the third quarter, then converting a 3rd-and-10 from his own 35 with a 12-yard reception with just over three minutes left to keep the winning drive alive.

6. Baltimore’s big offseason acquisitions came up small. They were the two players who were supposed to be the final pieces in a Ravens championship puzzle. They had the defense, they had the running back and they had the quarterback in Joe Flacco. What they needed were wide receivers for Flacco to throw to, so they traded for Anquan Boldin and signed T.J. Houshmandzadeh and hoped for the best.

The Ravens should have studied their Cold, Hard Football Facts. Instead of coming through for Baltimore, Boldin and Houshmandzadeh provided yet another triumph among many this year for the Cold, Hard Football Fact shiny hood ornament theory.

In the only game that mattered, what the Ravens got was far less than the best from either of them. Boldin, their $28 million man, had one catch Saturday for a grand total of -2 yards. Even worse, Boldin let what might have been a game-winning, 6-yard touchdown pass bounce harmlessly off his chest with four minutes left with the Ravens trailing 24-21, forcing the Ravens to kick a game-tying field goal instead.

Houshmandzadeh was only slightly better, with three receptions for 38 yards. But he, too, had a catchable ball bounce off his chest, and this one came on fourth down with a minute to play, effectively ending Baltimore’s season.

7. You always play to the whistle (and not after it). This was not the best day in Steelers guard Chris Kemoeatu’s career. A little heads-up here and a little arms-down there and both of the game-changing turnovers in the first half might have been avoided. (When are we ever going to draft a competent guard? - mesa)

After Terrell Suggs forced Roethlisberger to fumble deep in his own end – and despite a lack of any whistles – Kemoeatu turned his back on the ball resting live on the Steelers’ 13-yard line. Cory Redding had the presence of mind to pick it up and run it in, and like that, the Ravens led 14-7.

Two possessions later, in virtually the same spot in the field, Kemoeatu accidentally knocked the ball out of Rashard Mendenhall’s hand with his forearm and the Ravens had another recovery, which Joe Flacco promptly turned into a touchdown, turning the game on its ear at 21-7.

And if that wasn’t enough damage for one day, Kemoeatu made it a trifecta by needlessly plowing into the pile after Mendenhall’s go-ahead score with 1:33 left, drawing a 15-yard penalty that allowed the Ravens to take over on the Steelers’ 48-yard line after the ensuing kickoff came from Pittsburgh’s 15.

8. Twice in the first half, Polamalu could not make plays against Rice that he probably does if he’s healthy. The first one resulted in a touchdown, with Rice breaking a Polamalu tackle on his way into the endzone on his 14-yard TD run. The second, on a 3rd-and-7 from the Steelers’ 13-yard line after the Mendenhall fumble, resulted in a first down that led to Todd Heap’s touchdown reception and a 21-7 lead. Polamalu was limited in practice this week with his injured Achilles and ankle. He made just two tackles Saturday.

9. Can you play offensive line? Contact Kevin Colbert immediately. The Steelers’ offensive line has been an issue all season, with Pittsburgh lugging a No. 14-ranked Offensive Hog Index into Saturday’s game. That was before tackles Flozell Adams left with an undisclosed illness and Jonathan Scott went down late in the third quarter, leaving the Steelers down to their fourth-stringer to protect a battered Roethlisberger. If the Steelers cannot get healthy bodies on the line by next Sunday, this will have been a Pyrrhic victory.
(We may have won the battle but lost the war. - mesa)
10. The Steelers are praying for the Jets Sunday. The last thing the Steelers want to do is head to Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots will be 9-0 this year if they beat the Jets in Sunday’s other AFC divisional game.

The Patriots lead the league in Scoreability, Offensive Hog Index and Big Play Index, and none of that spells success for the Steelers, who got torched by Tom Brady at Heinz Field in November, a 39-26 New England win.
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