Sunday, December 14, 2008

Postgame Report Card: Steelers 13, Ravens 9

The word of the game is... incompetent. The officials and the Ravens offense. Is there any other way to describe it? The officials don’t know the rules and certainly not how to enforce them, and the Ravens offense, well… I believe they were the definition of incompetence today. Joe Flacco couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn for most of the afternoon, and when he did put the ball on the spot receivers couldn’t hang on or were out of position to make the play. The passing game was never in rhythm, Willis McGahee looks like a shell of his former self, and were it not for the superb individual effort of Le’Ron McClain the Ravens might not have put up any points at all.

That being said, the incompetence of the officials is inexcusable. Unlike most of these offensive players, the referees have been in the National Football League for an awful long time. The penalty calls were horribly inconsistent on both sides. The use of replay was an absolute joke, on both the controversial touchdown and the Ravens challenge of a Pittsburgh first down. In the case of the touchdown the replays clearly showed that the ball was outside of the endzone even though his feet were in it, and yet the call was overturned to be a touchdown. And the other: third and one from the 29, no part of the ball carrier or the football gets near the thirty yard line, and every angle confirmed that. And yet, the play stood as called. It could be called highway robbery, but out of respect to the Steelers, I’ll just call it incompetence.

Offense - Overall Grade: F
Quarterbacks: F

Oooh. Ouch. I don’t like saying this about Joe Flacco, but I can’t lie, Joe played very poorly. The coaches did a disgraceful job of getting him in rhythm, as all of his early throws were deep and contested. Running some quick hitting routes could have helped him a good deal. But at the end of the day, Joe Flacco was slow in reading coverage, could not deliver an accurate ball, and for the first time in awhile really did not look confident. Arguably Joe’s worst game as a Raven – is he hitting the proverbial rookie wall? We’ll see.
Running Backs: C-
This might be a mite high considering the poor play of Willis McGahee and the inexcusable dropped passes, but Le’Ron McClain’s tough running was the only offense this group mustered. He didn’t get help from Flacco and got very little from his lineman. Le’Ron continues to be an outstanding workhorse for this team.
Wide Receivers: D+
A poor day all around, aside from a couple of good plays by Mark Clayton. It’s hard to tell from a television viewer’s perspective, but I have to think that the receivers could have done a better job getting open given how long Joe was hanging onto the football. And consider this: if Mason properly times his jump and catches the touchdown pass in the first half, are we even talking about these controversies?
Tight Ends: B
Count me as one who was very impressed by Todd Heap today, both in a blocking and receiving capacity. His work on the weak side of the unbalanced line has been the key to the success of that formation.
Offensive Line: D
The pass protection was pretty good, and Gaither and Terry both had solid games. The two false starts were killers, and this group absolutely has to do a better job run blocking. McClain found his yards on his own, the line did very little to help.

Defense - Overall Grade: A
Defensive Line: A

How can I grade them poorly? They controlled the line of scrimmage for most of the game, shutting down the Pittsburgh running game and forcing Ben out of the pocket. Trevor Pryce and Haloti Ngata both came up big today.
Linebackers: A
Again, how can I grade them poorly? This group was absolutely brilliant in all phases of the game. They wrapped up on Ben Roethlisberger when given the opportunity, and they were disciplined in pass coverage. The Ravens’ ‘backers showed off not only their physical skill, but their mental discipline today.
Defensive Backs: B+
Fabian Washington played an outstanding game today, and for three and a half quarters this group was brilliant. However, the coverage breakdowns on Pittsburgh’s final drive were killer.

Special Teams - Overall Grade: A+
Kicker: A+
Stover was the Ravens’ offense, and he was perfect on his tries. Equally important was the play of Hauschka on kickoffs, as he put all but one kickoff in the endzone.
Punter: A
Sam Koch was his usual self today, getting good location and distance on his punts. This was a battle of field position and Koch helped the Ravens win the battle for most of the game.
Returners: A-
Jim Leonhard’s 43-yard punt return was fantastic, albeit somewhat ill-advised. Yamon Figurs started to look like his old self on kickoff returns, but one his second half kickoff returns could have broken for a big gainer if he had seen the correct hole.
Coverage: A+
If the Ravens won this game, the special teams would have been the decider. This unit was outstanding both in blocking and in coverage, downing two punts within the ten yard line. Pittsburgh’s long return off of the muff was an absolute joke, and I do not penalize the coverage unit for officiating incompetence.

Coaching - Overall Grade: B-
Offensive: D+

Yes, the players on the field were not executing correctly, but that’s no excuse for the end result. Cam needed to mix up the game plan somewhat, throw in some gadget plays to get something going. No, I’m not normally a big fan of them in big games, but with the offense running as it was I believe that gadget plays were necessary to loosen things up. The passing routes were altogether too long in developing, and there was little compensation for the blitz. If you want to know how to counter the blitz, just watch Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward in the two minute drill. Cam’s been an outstanding coordinator this year, just not in this game.
Defensive: B
Were it not for that last drive, and probably if the referees had gotten the call right and the Ravens ultimately kept the Steelers out of the endzone, this grade would probably be an A if not an A+. However, the breakdowns in that final drive were horrendous, and the decision to rush three and drop eight on every play was terrible. Why change your game plan when it matters the most?

And for my MVP/LVP...
MVP (Most Valuable Player) –Le’Ron McClain–
Listen, if I could give it to the entire defense I would, but if I’m only giving it to one player I’m giving it to Le’Ron. At the end of the day, if Le’Ron McClain isn’t on this team I have serious doubts as to whether or not the Ravens would manage even one score this game.
LVP (Least Valuable Player) –Joe Flacco– Oh, it hurts my heart to say it, but Joe looked awful today. He needs to make faster reads and his accuracy was sorely lacking today. The defense nearly carried him to a win, but even this defense needs a little more from the offense.

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