Ravens 13, Stillers 10 ���.Nov. 4th, 2001 ����Game #7
Stillers-Ravens Postgame Analysis and Grades
24 hours after the Pitt Panthers had resoundingly whipped highly-ranked Virginia Tech at Heinz Field, the Stillers took the same field and gave a similar whipping to the defending champion Ravens. Problem was, unlike Pitt, which put 38 points on the board and buried the Hokies before they could even dream of coming back, the Stillers played Billy Ball and frittered away one scoring opportunity after another, mustering just 10 points. The result was a horrifying 13-10 loss in a game that the Stillers had every right to win, but lost. This one reminded me of 4 losses in recent seasons -- the '98 loss at Detroit on T-giving; the '99 and '00 losses to Cleveland, and the '00 loss to Philly. In all of these games, the Stillers generally outplayed their opponent, only to play fiddle faddle near the red zone and settle for FG tries, rather than going for dagger-sticking touchdowns.
1. After the Stillers take a 3-0 lead, Jermaine Lewis returns the ensuing KO 53 yards, setting up an easy TD drive for the Ravens.
2. Joey Porter sacks Cuuningham on the Raven 3-yard line, causing the Ravens to punt from deep in their own end zone late in the 1st half. That ensuing punt was poor, giving the Stillers the ball at the Raven 32 and setting up�
3. �Stewart's 21-yard TD to Burress, who went up high and plucked the lofted toss, and came down with both feet in the EZ.
4. After a 14-play drive to open the 2nd half, Kris Bown's 33-yard FG is blocked, and Brown is hurt on the play.
5. Edwards, fighting for first-down yardage, is stripped of the ball and the Ravens recover at the Balt. 35. Balt. then drove and got the tying FG.
6. En route to that tying FG, Balt. gets a reprieve after an inc. 3rd down pass, with Aaron Smith getting a 15-yard flag for roughing the passer.
7. Sharpe gains 26-yards on a flag route, setting up the go-ahead FG late in the 4th qtr.
8. Brown misses a game-tying 35-yard FG with 0:14 remaining.
QB: Stewart had another strong outing, showing poise, pocket presence, fairly good accuracy, and overall just pretty good quarterbacking. Stew completed a respectable 22 of 37 for 236 yards. Stew's stats would have been better, but he was victimized by drops by Edwards, Shaw, and Fu. There were a few spotty plays and forced throws, but there were also some gems, such as the pretty, high-arching lob to Plex for the TD, and the crisp out-pass to Ward early in the 3Q. In all, this was a more than acceptable QB effort for a team seeking to make the playoffs. A.
RB: Bettis faced a lot of penetration and limited holes today, but did a solid job of fighting for yardage and slipping thru some small crevices. He did reel off 2 nice runs -- one for 25 and the other for 13. He also caught 1 screen pass for 8 yards, after which he was walloped with a devastating hit by Ray Lewis. Of course, when the game was on the line and the Stillers needed to score late in the 4th quarter, Bettis was relegated to the bench, due to his inability to do anything of value in the passing game. Fu filled in for Amoz as the 3rd down back -- he dropped a tough try earlier in the game, but then had a good power-run on a 3rd & 3 in the 4th qtr, and made a sterling grab on a high throw and gained good RAC yards on the final drive of the game. Unfortunately, Fu lost his shoe on a futile draw the next play, and then had to run with the ball on a screen pass on the next play, which lost a yard. Of course, with the way the Ravens swarmed all over that screen, it's doubtful that having the shoe would have made much of a difference. B+.
FB: Witman played exclusively at FB, if I'm not mistaken, while Kreider sat on the bench. Wit had his usual struggles against the rugged Raven defense, stumbling about and getting little push and opening few holes. Witman caught the rediscovered 1-yard out -- long a staple of the Kevin Gaypride offense -- and gained a whopping 2 yards before easily being toppled by McAlister. C.
WR: An up and down day for this crew. On the plus side, Ward led all receivers with 9 grabs for 97 yards, including some good RAC work. Ward also did a good job of blocking. And Plexico Burress finally caught his first NFL touchdown, making a sterling catch in the end zone by going up high and plucking a lob, and then coming down with both feet in-bounds. Of course, after that catch, which occurred late in a first half in which he snared 4 passes and had no drops (though he did have a pass jarred loose by Ray Lewis), Burress was literally ignored the rest of the game. Shaw and Troy had their share of problems today. Shaw had a tough chance in the 2nd quarter, on a pass that was a lil' behind him and hit his 'back' shoulder pad as he was being interfered with by Ray Lewis. I honestly felt this should have been a flag on Lewis for either illegal contact or PI. Shaw also dropped a deep slant that probably would have been a TD, but this turned out to be relatively unimportant, as Burress scored 2 plays later. To his credit, Shaw did come back and make a couple clutch grabs, including the gutty 17-yard catch just before getting drilled by Lewis on the game's final drive. Troy dropped a slightly low but very catchable slant pass on 3rd & 5, just before the missed 41 yard FG in the 2Q. He also fumbled late in the 3Q, on 3rd & 15 play in which he was fighting with 2nd and 3rd effort to garner the yardage for the first down. It's kinda tough to fault Troy for this fumble, as he was short of the sticks after a rinky-dink route, and he was doing what all of us expect of a Pittsburgh Stiller --fighting and clawing for extra yardage. What was disappointing to me on this play was the fact that Troy was clawing for several seconds against 4 Raven defenders, and throughout this lengthy scrum not one Stiller play came in to throw a block or pounce on the loose ball. Ward and Plex .. A. Shaw and Troy .. C+.
TE: Breuner was left totally neglected on the game's 2nd series, and caught a short out and rumbled for 18 yards. After that, he was unheard from the rest of the game. The blocking was adequate at times, but certainly not overpowering. B.
OL: This was a pretty solid, gritty effort against the very best front 7 in all of football. Stew was sacked only once (on what may have been a designed draw), and rarely was harried or harassed. The run blocking was decent -- given the superb front 7 of Baltimore, it's a real tough task to open up holes in the running game, but they did manage to create a few cracks for Bettis to run through. What's more remarkable with this effort is that the unit's best linemen, Wayne Gandy, missed the game with the flu & a hamstring pull. Relative nobody Oliver Ross started and did an acceptable job, especially considering how foolish this Balt. team made Marvelle Smith look in last year's season opener. Probably the primary flaw by the line today was the 3rd & 1 run by Bettis early in the 3rd qtr, which was stopped short of the marker. A.
DL: The line played toe-to-toe against the Raven offense and won that battle. Aaron Smith had another strong game, continually bull-rushing his blocker and getting harassment on the QB. Of course, a key play was the 15-yard personal foul flag on Aaron Smith for roughing the passer. This was a difficult play to find fault with Smith on, as he was merely going all-out to maul the QB, and as his hand came down from lunging at the pass, clipped Cunningham's mask. This is exactly the kind of intense, tough defensive play that I personally want from a front-7 defender, so I can't ridicule Aaron too loudly on what was a pretty ticky-tack call. Kimo, Clancy, and Hampton were quiet, but again, the running lanes were fairly few and far between. A.
LB: The LB crew had a fairly good day. Holmes led all linebackers from both teams with 7 solos and 3 helpers, and generally stuffed the Raven running game throughout the entire game. This was probably the most active Holmes has been this year, and perhaps all the talk of Lewis and Sharper got him fed up and irritated. KenBell chipped in with 5 solos, and had a couple good harassment-plays on the QB. The one dark spot was the Sharpe TD, in which one of the ILBs appeared to have failed to execute a coverage assignment on the TE, thus allowing Sharpe a wide-open, easy TD. Joey Porter had yet another stellar game in what has become a Pro Bowl-caliber season, getting 2 sacks and stuffing a couple of runs for losses. One stuff was on a play in which Porter's amazing quickness allowed him to slash inside of all-world tackle Jon Ogden. Porter's first sack was a highlight-reel variety, in which he mauled Raven FB Ayanbadejo and then reached over the FB and collared the QB. The 2nd was a key sack in which Porter's cat-like quickness allowed him to snare Cunningham before the QB could scramble away. The one flaw for Porter was allowing the 26-yard catch and RAC by Sharpe during the lone Raven TD drive. Casper Gildon had another day of relative anonymity, doing little and contributing even less, despite facing a backup RT, Sammy Williams. Somehow Jason was credited with 3 solos and 2 assists, although my clipboard showed 1 & 2. Holmes, Bell, and Porter�B+. Casper Gildon�C.
DB: This was a pretty good coverage job nearly the entire day. Quadry Ismail, who's built his entire bio-sheet with big games against the Stillers, was held in check with a modest 5 grabs for 53 yards. Taylor did little, grabbing 2 for 22. I'll have to scour the film to see who was responsible for the 26-yard play by Sharpe late in the game. The tackling was crisp and sure, limiting the RAC yardage and helping stuff the run. Lee hit well all game, and DeShea had a couple nice blitzes, both in which he persistently fought to get to the QB. Brent had an INT. Logan had a huge stop of Ayanbedejo on a 3rd & 6, hitting the FB after a short pass and holding him short of the marker. All in all, a good effort by this crew. A.
Spec teams: The spec teams have teetered on the brink of disaster all season, and they were a direct culprit in the season-opening loss to Jax. Today, they imploded with disastrous results. The first FG, which was good, was either barely blocked, or nearly touched, by a driving Woodson coming from the Stiller right flank. That bode the news of things to come, as Baltimore later blocked Brown's 3rd FG try from that same side. Mark Breuner, the supposed God of blocking, was manning that flank, and it appeared that he was the culprit. Brown was visibly hurt on this play, and his next 2 FG tries were hideously sliced to the right, finishing the day with 3 misses and 1 block. Of course, Kris wasn't the only culprit. Josh had a chance to pin down the Ravens deep in their end early in the 4th qtr, but instead landed the ball in the Ravens EZ. Chad was flagged for a 10-yard holding on a punt return. The Raven TD was set up by a long, 53-yard KO return by Lewis. The punt coverage team allowed 13 yards per attempt by Lewis, though one return was caused by Josh out-punting his coverage. The only bright spot was Hank's 20-yard punt return in the 4th qtr, aided by a great pancake block by Myron Bell. F.
OC: Mike Mularkey regressed today on the finer points of being an OC. The wasted timeout the offense had to take at 9:44 of the 2Q was grossly unacceptable. The team had just assumed possession of the ball after a punt and a TV timeout, and coming out of the TV Timeout, the offense played a long session of grab-ass before heading to the line-of-scrimmage. By that time, the playclock had run down to 0:05. This inexcusable bullshit occurred last week, and it was generally laughed off because, hey, it's no big deal, we smeared the Titans, yaddy yadda. The offense ended up squeezing in the late TD just before halftime, so the burned TO wasn't costly, but it's simply a jackassed occurrence that shouldn't occur more than once in a given season. The fumble by Troy? Let's see -- how many times this season have we hit Edwards with a pass at least 9 yards short of the sticks, and Mularkey has asked him to get the first down all by himself? 7? 8? It should therefore come as no surprise that Edwards fought futilely like a demon for a first down, despite having to gain about 9 yards after he caught the ball. Among the more egregious blunders by Mularkey was the total ignoring of Plex Burress in the 2d half. Coming off a super effort on MNF 6 days ago, and a strong 1st half in which he had 4 grabs and clutch TD grab, Plexico Burress was thrown exactly zero balls in the 2nd half. I don't want to hear any rationalization or feeble-assed, no-brained excuses �.this was flat-out, dumbassed stupidity at its worst. The offense found enough time and interest in the 2nd half to attempt passes to the likes of Mark Breuner and Jon Witman, yet couldn't even try to get the ball to their receiver who scorched the Ravens in the first half and was playing with supreme confidence and gusto. This leads into the next Mularkey blunder, which was that of playing Dink & Dump against the NFL's fastest LB trio, all the while eschewing taking stabs downfield, especially on the game's final drive. Check out the endings of these promising drives:
- 1st series of 2nd half:
1st on 18 - Bus run, 2.
2nd - Short out to Witman, 2.
3rd & 6 - designed QB draw (?) or scramble, -1. Then, missed 33-yard FG.
- 1st down on Balt. 34, about 6:00 4Q:
1st - Bus run, 1.
2nd - QB draw, 3.
3rd & 6 - 5-yard curl-out to Shaw, inc.
This is gutless, chickenshit playcalling at its worst. The lob to Plex had worked well for a TD, but apparently, because it worked once, it could not be tried again. Then there's the fiasco at the end of the game. The SG draw and the screen to Fu, on consecutive plays, were gay, homo-laden playcalls that were nothing but low-producing, timewasting efforts that ended up wasting a TO. But the team overcame that stupidity, by coming out of the TO with a clutch grab by Shaw to put the ball on the Raven 17-yard line. But exactly like The Fiasco in Cleveland last year, the offense -- emerging from a timeout -- immediately wasted a down by spiking the ball after just one play. With 22 seconds left, there's absolutely no reason for a spike in that situation, because HIGH SCHOOL teams are perfectly capable of emerging from a timeout with TWO plays called, not just one. After the spike, Mularkey again eschewed anything near the end zone or to his big 6-6" target, instead calling for a 4-yard out to Shaw and a 5-yard out to Ward, both of which were inc. These finer points, which are often casually overlooked, ignored, or sneered at, are exactly the finer points that win ballgames in the late moments of the game. C-.
DC: Lewis faced a decent offense, and rose to the occasion with a strong all-around effort. Probably the one blame Lewis gets today, was the inability to clamp down on Shannon Sharpe, who was the only man to hurt the defense all day. Also, the great defenses are made "great" with their 4th quarter play, and the defense allowed Balt. to patch together a late, 6-play drive for the wining FG. All in all, holding an opponent to 13 points -- and the lone TD drive being only 42 yards long -- is typically more than adequate enough to win in the NFL. A-.
HC: To his credit, Cowher didn't allow a sloppy let-down after the whipping of the Titans 6 days ago. But five days after waxing philosophically at a press conference and uttering, "I'd rather risk and fail than never to have risked at all", Cowher reverted to his old, vanilla self with the motto of "I'd rather play it safe and not try to risk anything and gain nothing; then try something and accomplish something big and worthwhile". The playcalling, especially on the game's final drive, surely had Cowher's inlfuence and approval, and it was classic Billy Ball playcalling that was perfectly content to settle for a FG, despite a kicker who was both hurt and struggling miserably. Cowher continually loves to claim how he "hopes to keep it close and hopefully win in the 4th quarter." That kind of Billy Ball thinking is precisely what leads to losses like this, as this offense could have buried the Ravens but instead settled for FG tries and "kept it close". "Sometimes, it wasn't available," Steelers coach Bill Cowher rationalized of the failure to get Burress the ball in the second half. "We were attempting to go for the touchdown," Cowher said, defending his team's failure to throw into the end zone. "They were back in coverage. We tried to take what they gave us." Sure, and if this were true, then explain why the short passes to Shaw and Ward just before the game's final FG try, were plays that were being smothered by Raven defenders? Either the Ravens had 13 players on the field, or Cowshit is full of shit. Exactly like the Fiasco at Cleveland last year, this is bullshit rationalization at its worst. The special teams, which have stunk here-and-there all season, were a disgrace, and Cowher -- the former special teams coach and supposed guru -- certainly deserves a good deal of that blame. C-.
Synopsis: This is the kind of loss that can either negatively stick in the craw of a team for a long time, or it can be a character-builder that the team can live & learn from. Although severely disappointed to give away a win that was there for the taking, I'm actually not as pissed off as I've been after other losses in recent seasons. Perhaps it's because I fully expected this loss. And perhaps it's because, on the whole, this team played good, solid football, and did the basics of blocking, tackling, passing, and catching pretty well. Let me also emphatically state that I don't think it's fair to place the entire blame of this loss on Kris Brown. Had the front line done their job on that 3rd FG attempt, Kris would have never been mauled on the blocked FG. And had the offense punched in a TD, instead of playing Billy Ball and settling for FGs, the hobbled Brown wouldn't have had to make the late FGs. I could easily be wrong, but I think this team has shown me more than enough moxie, grit, teamwork, leadership, and determination to fully rebound from this give-away loss. There were a lot of bright spots today --- another stellar game by Stewart; more emergence by Plex; another stout "D" effort; more pro bowl caliber play by Porter; and good line play on both sides of the ball�..all are positive building blocks that this team can build upon for the upcoming stretch run.