The Pittsburgh Steelers had the opportunity Sunday night to really make the AFC North race interesting, but wasted a great performance from their defense in a 13-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
It was a typical Pittsburgh-Baltimore slugfest won by the Ravens for the third consecutive time. It was also the third consecutive regular season game that Baltimore has won at Heinz Field.
In the loss, there were plenty of breakdowns along the way which led to the tough defeat. With that being said, let’s take a look how each position graded out in my weekly report card.
Quarterback: No Ben Roethlisberger means big problems for the Steelers. Coming into the game, we knew two things. One of them was that Byron Leftwich would not lose the Steelers this game and he didn’t. The other was that Leftwich wouldn’t be able to make enough plays to win the game and he didn’t. In his first start since 2009, Leftwich finished 18-for-38 for 204 yards and had a rushing touchdown. But he had major problems on third down, converting only 5-of-16, including 1-of-8 in the first half. That should make you appreciate Roethlisberger even more as he is the best in the league on third down. The massive support for Charlie Batch is laughable. It was a tough spot for Leftwich to be in and nothing about Batch’s career would suggest he would have done much better. Grade: D+
Running Backs: Leftwich needed a huge game from the rushing attack to have any success and didn’t get it and when the ground game did start to have success, Todd Haley went away from it. The backs combined to rush for 96 yards on 25 carries, only a 3.8 yards per carry average. Rashard Mendenhall’s return had no impact on the game and while Jonathan Dwyer had some success, he didn’t get enough opportunities. The rotating backs are something that likely won’t work. Grade: C-
Wide Receivers: Antonio Brown’s absence was felt again. Emmanuel Sanders had a big play in each half, but that’s about it for the receiving core. Mike Wallace had a costly fumble and continues to not be much of a factor. There were opportunities in this game for these guys to make plays, but they couldn’t hold onto the ball on a few occasions. Grade: D-
Offensive Line: It was a disappointing effort running the ball, especially against a Ravens defense that has allowed 173.5 yards on the ground the past four weeks. Leftwich was sacked three times and hit a bunch of other times. Overall not a good day. Grade: D+
Defensive Line: Overall a good performance, especially against the run as they bottled up Ray Rice pretty effectively. Brett Keisel got to Flacco early in the game, but his offsides penalty late proved costly as it cost the Steelers 40 seconds late in the game. Grade: B
Linebackers: They allowed a couple big plays in the passing game to Rice, but overall had a solid game. Even James Harrison was impactful for the first time this season, recording a late sack. Harrison, Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote all had at least seven tackles while Harrison and Woodley each had a sack. But the problem was the same problem this defense always has- they don’t force turnovers. But that is on the entire defense, not just the linebackers. Grade: B+
Secondary: It’s now been five weeks in a row that the opposing quarterback has been held under 200 yards passing. Keenan Lewis was outstanding once again and the defense kept the Ravens’ offense out of the end zone. Grade: A-
Special Teams: It’s been a while since the Steelers’ special teams have been costly in a big game, but that was the case Sunday night. One big play was the difference and that was the punt return touchdown from Jacoby Jones. On the other side, the Steelers’ return game did nothing. The kicking game was its’ usual solid self, but one big play was a huge momentum changer. Grade: D
Coaching: Dick LeBeau’s defense did its job keeping the Ravens out of the end zone. Todd Haley’s offense struggled on third down and went away from the run often. The gameplan couldn’t have been to let Leftwich chuck it over 30 times. Mike Tomlin won a coaches challenge but they couldn’t turn it into points. Poor communication cost them two timeouts as well, which they needed late in the game. Grade: C