My thoughts, for what they're worth ...

Well, that was disappointing. Do I mean the game in Baltimore or the 2006 season, you ask? Take your pick, I respond.

- The special teams coverage units performed well, at least. Or, the punt coverage teams did, at any rate; the kickoff team got the bare minimum number of opportunities. B.J. Sams' only big return came back on a penalty, and Baltimore shot themselves in the foot a couple of other times in the return game, but ultimately they averaged just 1.5 yards per punt return. That's positive. (Come on, I'm really trying, here.)

- Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward showed themselves to be real warriors out there, if anybody didn't already know that about them. (Yep, still trying.)

- Where does benching Ike Taylor fall among the list of bad decisions in history? Better or worse than the Russian front? Yes, the pass coverage has struggled much of the year. Hence, bench the best cornerback on the roster. What? For real? Deshea Townsend on Todd Heap might just be the most nightmarish match-up I could imagine. Townsend has struggled all year with physical mismatches, especially against taller receivers. At 6'5", Heap might not even have to jump to outreach Townsend's vertical max. Derrick Mason? Sure. Let one wily-but-physically-unimpressive vet cover another, but please keep him away from the big guys. There's not a DB on the roster other than Anthony Madison or maybe Tyrone Carter who I wouldn't rather see matched up against Heap.

- So as not to rag too heavily on Townsend, I will say that he defends those annoying wide receiver screens as well as anyone.

- What has happened to Bryant McFadden? When did he go from "young player about whom I'm excited" to "young player I just hope doesn't get burnt every play?" On third-and-two on Baltimore's first drive, he lined up a full ten yards off of Mason, simply conceding the first down. Yeah, I'm not nearly as critical of the corners playing off by design as many others, but count me in the camp that wishes that they gave the tactic a little more situational consideration.

- When Steve McNair let that touchdown pass to Heap fly, I thought that he'd overthrown it. The big tight end made it look easy, though, reaching those long arms into the air to pluck it from the sky. He did a decent job in his blocking assignments, too, which hasn't exactly been his strength throughout his career.

- On the other hand, Heath Miller has not been the player this year that he was as a rookie. He's no slouch, but the foremost requirement of any pass-catcher in the Pittsburgh offense, as I see it, is to make the most of whatever limited opportunities present themselves. Last season, Miller epitomized that approach, reeling in all but one catchable ball thrown in his direction. This season, just by observational accounting, he has missed at least four or five such balls. Obviously, he's still a young guy, and the team is struggling more around him than because of him, but in the long term the Steelers need that reliability back.

- As might have been expected, Pittsburgh played Jonathan Ogden much as they did Walter Jones in last year's Super Bowl. Rather than waste Joey Porter tilting windmills trying to rush the passer against Mount Friendly, they dropped him into coverage even more often than they typically do. Unfortunately, this time Porter's underneath coverage didn't pay off with an overthrown pick, probably because Taylor sat on the sideline (okay, not really … but I still can't get over that benching). Ogden at this point in his career is no Jones, but he's good enough that the approach made sense.

- I found myself surprised to read that Baltimore's offense averaged only 3.3 yards per rush, and that Jamal Lewis averaged a pedestrian 3.9 yards per carry. It sure looked like he ran better than that. Just think, if the defenders had made tackles at the point of contact instead of getting run over all the time, he might've averaged only 1.9 YPC.

- Mike Flynn may well be the worst starting center in the NFL, but a large part of Baltimore's (relative) success running came because Casey Hampton might have had his worst game of the season. Singled or doubled, Baltimore's line got some push against the typically immovable Big Hamp at times, and it created running lanes through which the not-usually-as-powerful-as-he-looks-like-he-should-be Lewis ran over the smallish inside linebackers.

- Crowd noise played an obvious and substantial role in Baltimore's ferocious pass rush, as Pittsburgh's line looked as sluggish coming off the snap as I've seen them since last regular season in Indianapolis. The noise combined with savvy blitz calls and some good ol' fashioned one-on-one match-up wins for a lethal pressure cocktail, and not even one of the league's best improvisational quarterbacks stood any chance with multiple rushers in his face after two or three steps.

- McNair, Roethlisberger's predecessor to the sack-avoidance crown, had a much better time of it, frustrating a not-incompetent Pittsburgh pass rush with quick throws, pocket awareness, scrambles, and his generally-obnoxious sturdiness.

- I prefer Dan Dierdorf to the good majority of color analysts out there, but early in the third quarter he observed that Pittsburgh was fortunate that Baltimore shot themselves in the foot with a chop block penalty against guard Chris Chester, because they'd had a nice drive going before the flag. Really? Moving the ball 13 yards in five plays constitutes a "nice drive?" I mean, the play that got called back was only a three-yard completion to Demetrius Williams on 2nd-and-12.

- Baltimore's offense made good on a couple of opportunities, but their defense did all the heavy lifting. Their scoring drives averaged just 41 yards, with all coming after the defense forced a short field punt or a turnover. If Pittsburgh's offense can get some production in the rematch, the defense should be in better position to keep the Ravens off the scoreboard.

- It's a sure sign how well Baltimore's defense is playing when they shut out a good opponent with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed playing maybe just the fifth and sixth best ball on that unit.

- Adalius Thomas, prepare to get paid.

- Okay, so Pittsburgh's "playoff" run sputtered in game three, and they've now truly got little for which to play other than pride. I wouldn't undersell the importance of pride, though; I still want to see them play games the way we all know they're capable. I want them to rediscover their own will and way to win. I want them to strive to win every remaining game, draft position be damned. I want them to show the Ravens and the Bengals — and maybe even the lowly Browns — that they may win the division crown every now and then, but they're just borrowing it from its true owner for a spell. Like nap time. 2006 is Pittsburgh's nap time. Time to wake up, boys, and realize that your little brothers wrote all over your face in indelible marker while you slept. It'll take a while to wash that stuff off no matter what you do, but before you even worry about that … go pound ‘em.


Steel City Insider Top Stories