Another close game against the Ravens, but this time we come out on the losing side of the deal. It could have been different – Suisham mis-timed a field goal attempt in the first half (it looked like a ridiculously bad fake attempt on first view), even though it was a 50 yarder, and then Emmanuel Sanders couldn’t hold on to Ben’s pass for the 2 point conversion after Heath had taken us to the 1 and Jerricho had brought us back to within 2 of our great rival. I say great, but man do I hate the Ravens. I know I’m not from Pittsburgh and I don’t have the same perspective as those of you who are or are long-tenured fans, but there is just something so despicable about them.
I don’t like the Bengals, but the decade in which I’ve really been following the Steelers (thanks in part to my buddy Doug from WashPA, but thanks also to the t-shirt I had as an 8 year old in Edinburgh, Scotland) they’ve just been kinda crappy. I can’t really feel much except sympathy for the Browns. They really do suck. But the Ravens…dude…I just hate them.
Anyway, the game started slowly from an offensive perspective and our special teams let us down on more than one occasion, but we really got going in the second half. Ben is still, for my money, one of the top 5 quarterbacks in the league – and I don’t mean a fantasy QB, I mean a real QB who you want on your side when the game comes down to the crucial stages – and he really showed it with drive after drive.
Leveon Bell was pretty good as well. He should have had 2 TDs except for a dumb “no helmet” call that brought us back to the 1 yard line – the play that was eventually finished by Cotchery. I know these rules are in place to protect players from themselves (and each other) but Bell dived, got clattered by a helmet-to-helmet hit, his helmet came off MID-DIVE, then he scored…and was knocked out. What exactly could Bell do to protect himself on that play? The rules need to have a bit more room for interpretation here.
The crucial aspect of this situation was that after Cotchery caught the TD pass it immediately ruled him out as the target for the 2 point conversion. He is perhaps our safest pair of hands at the moment. I’d listen to an argument for Heath, or indeed Bell (concussed out of contention for the play, of course). Sanders is lightning fast but not our most reliable receiver – much as I love a Sanders being on the Steelers, I have to admit that. Brown is our spectacular play guy, but I think we really wanted to be looking to Heath or Cotchery on a 2 point conversion. Sanders wasn’t far away of course, but “wasn’t far away” doesn’t win games against the Ravens. Or tie them. But you know what I mean.
So, 5-7. It’s not horrible, but it puts us back on the edge of a horrible situation: mediocrity. Say what you will about 0-16 but it brings you a number 1 overall pick. Equally, 9-7 probably brings you a wild card spot. To reach 9-7 now we’re going to have to win in Green Bay, probably against Aaron Rodgers. The Packers looked HORRIBLE against Detroit, who we, of course, played very well against. The difference between Matt Flynn and Aaron Rodgers is huge. I think we can get to Rodgers, but his decision making is so superior to Flynn’s that we will need to make sure we cover ourselves.
Of course, we still have the Dolphins and the Bengals to get through first. I look forward to seeing what Ike Taylor, hopelessly overmatched by Smith last night, can do against his old buddy Mike Wallace.
What is perhaps more likely, at this point, is something in between. Like 7-9. Which does nothing for you. It’s already too late to tank for a higher draft pick. The Houston Texans, probably the worst team in the NFL at the moment (who would have predicted that a few months ago?), look to have the worst record in their sights. What we can perhaps seriously think about is trading some of our excess baggage to move up in the draft. I’ve already suggested that we could survive without Maurkice Pouncey, so I’m now going to add LaMarr Woodley to the mix. Jason Worilds was really good yesterday, just as he was the week before. If we can somehow come up with an offer to keep Worilds (who will undoubtedly be drawing admiring glances from teams with cap space) this summer, then LaMarr is surplus to requirements. Indeed, as our fourth highest paid player, I would suggest that Woodley could be surplus to requirements in any case.
There is so much to be happy about as a Steelers fan at the moment, but also great cause for concern, particularly when you look to the future. Some big decisions have to be made…and soon.