The score: Pittsburgh 19, Baltimore 16
The headline: RUSH HOUR: New-look offense carries Steelers past Ravens
The bottom line: Wildcat? Shovel pass? Unbalanced line? Linemen holding their blocks? After looking so inept at running the football over the first four games of the season, Pittsburgh’s offensive line and the 1-2-3 punch of Le’Veon Bell, Felix Jones and Jon Dwyer have put up six solid quarters in two wins, with much-maligned Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley mixing in some creative sets Sunday that kept Baltimore off balance for the first 20 minutes of the game. All of it set up a vintage Ben Roethlisberger game-winning drive which highlighted the nimble-feet of emerging No. 1 a receiver Antonio Brown. When the smoke cleared, it was likely still too soon to say the Steelers are back, but they’re certainly playing good enough football in a very mediocre AFC to get back into it.
It was over when: We noted before the season started that it’s almost impossible to fathom that Shaun Suisham was once a journeyman kicker known mostly for his big-moment misses. Well now we’re 14-for-14 later and there’s no doubt Suisham has supplanted Gary Anderson as the best kicker in Steelers history. John Harbaugh didn’t even bother to try and ice Suisham, who calmly drilled the game-winner from 42 yards out as time expired.
Plays of the day:
+ While Emmanuel Sanders’ kickoff return turned out not to be the 107 yarder that became a Pittsburgh legend, it still set the Steelers up in great field position to launch the game-winning drive. It’s probably even money that game has a different result if that final possession starts at the 20.
+ It’s not often the two key plays of an NFL game occur on kickoffs, but a close second in this one was the tag-team recovery by Stevenson Sylvester and Vince Williams of a Ravens’ onside kick early in the fourth quarter that led to Pittsburgh’s third field goal of the afternoon. And for good measure, had the Steelers lost that game, Will Johnson’s failure to recover a fumble that fell right into his lap on a kickoff deep in Ravens territory would have been the key play of the game.
+ Wow, those were NOT your father’s Ravens. Soft, some might say, but certainly not very physical, to be kind. Haloti Ngata appears to be out of shape and/or playing hurt. Their offensive line played on its heels. Ray Rice was good, not great. Even Terrell Suggs didn’t seem to have the same fire. It’ll be very interesting to see if that’s the same team Pittsburgh sees on Thanksgiving Night in Charm City. If it is, they’ll be 4-7 at that time.
+ The absence of Ngata’s usual game in the middle tempers somewhat the job the Steelers patchwork offensive line did, but it’s still a huge improvement. Fernando Velasco and David DeCastro were especially impressive. Guy Whimper was surprisingly effective at right tackle and, most importantly, the CBS broadcast team doing the game did not mention Kelvin Beachum’s name once after the introductions.
+ Unsung heroes in the game were members of the Steelers secondary, who blanketed Torrey Smith, applied some pressure from the corners, broke up several potential touchdown plays and tackled solidly. Of note, rookie Shamarko Thomas made his presence felt throughout the game.
+ It was the best of time, it was the worst of times for Rochester product and Penn State grad Derek Moye, who skied high in the first half to make a key circus catch on third down deep in Raven’s territory that lead to a field goal. In the second half, though, Moye let a potential game-clinching touchdown pass go through his fingers (and it would have been a much easier catch than the one he made).
+ Wow, let’s hope that was Le’Veon Bell’s NFL coming out party. The rookie looked so sharp in patiently waiting for holes to develop then getting through them decisively and securing the ball. The Eddie George comparisons that have followed Bell for a few years looked a lot more accurate on Sunday. Beyond that, Felix Jones did exactly what a change-of-pace back should and don’t overlook the importance of Jon Dwyer’s single third-and-short bull rush. Remember last year when the Steelers had a third-down specialist who couldn’t get a yard on third down?
+ Zoltan Mesko continues to underachieve with Pittsburgh, even when he only punts one. In that “effort,” he “underkicked” his coverage by 10 yards, a 36-yard line drive that was returned 14 yards, partially because two Steelers defenders were already beyond the punt returner. If the Steelers do somehow get back in the playoff hunt, Mesko’s shortcomings will be amplified.
+ LaMarr Woodley had another strong game and quietly picked up his fifth sack of the year, putting him on pace for 12, which is exactly how many you expect from a guy making the money Woodley makes.
+ Bill Leavy’s crew lived up to their hands-off reputation in the first half of the game, calling only four penalties. And then … the second half feature 12 flags, including four penalties on the Ravens on consecutive plays in the third quarter.
+ Leavy got the spot just right on the only challenge of the game, taking a first down away from the Ravens, which they earned right back two plays later, which brings us to...
+ That was a very risky challenge on the spot by Mike Tomlin on two levels. First, you’re risking a timeout arguing about the most subjective thing in the game. And second, you’re challenging on third (not fourth) down, meaning even if you win, the opponent gets one (and possible two) more chances to make a yard. That’s exactly what happened, of course, but the Steelers defense forced a field goal on the next set of downs, making the point moot.
In the booth: We said in our pregame blog that Dan Fouts and can be hit or miss and he was a huge miss on Sunday, butchering names (Thomas Shamarko, anyone?) and fouling up phrases (saying once the Steelers had the Ravens on their toes, when he meant heels).
Sweet tweet: “@arobinson_Trib: Casey Hampton would’ve had to come out if he’d have walked from one end to the other twice in 14 seconds.” Blogger’s note: True statement.
Next week: The Steelers make a dreaded trip to Oakland, where they’ve lost the last two times they’ve played with Ben Roethlisberger at QB (2006 and 2012). The Raiders will be coming off a bye and are quarterbacked, of course, by none other than Western Pennsylvania prep legend Terrelle Pryor, whose thrown for 1,061 yards, five TDs and five INTs so are in 2013.