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Not Enough – Defense Lets Down Late; Dixon’s Critical Mistake Dooms Steelers 20-17

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In the end, it was a game effort, but the Steelers simply could not find enough to overcome a critical overtime interception in falling to the Ravens in Baltimore 20-17. The team held a 17-14 lead and the Ravens had a fourth down with just over three minutes left, but Joe Flacco hit Ray Rice for a 44-yard gain to put the Ravens in field goal range.

The field goal was good, and the teams went to overtime tied at 17. The Steelers couldn’t get more than a first down after getting the ball first, and then they held on defense to force the Ravens to have to kick from their own 10. The Steelers got the ball at the their 45, but on third down Dennis Dixon looked for Santonio Holmes, and the pass was picked off by the Ravens Paul Kruger, who took it to the Steelers 28.

Four Ray Rice runs and a Joe Flacco basic kneel down later, Billy Cundiff was good from 29 yards out, sending the Steelers to their third straight loss to drop them to 6-5 on the season. Dixon, who was a surprise starter after the team decided to sit Ben Roethlisberger on Saturday, was 12-for-26 for 145 yards with a touchdown and a pick. He also ran for 27 yards, including a 24-yard score that put the team up 17-14 with 6:24 left.

The defense though could not shut the door, as again they blew a fourth quarter lead. The Ravens game-tying drive was 10 plays and 84 yards, and ended with the chip shot Cundiff field goal from 24 yards out to tie the game. The Steelers tried to throw on their final regulation drive, but went three-and-out as Dixon was not able to complete a pass.

The team was able to put up 298 yards of offense, and while the defense was able to get two turnovers on fumbles and five sacks, they also gave up too many big plays, including the 44-yard play to Ray Rice with the Ravens down to one timeout with 3:31 left on their own 46 with a 4th-and-5. Overall Baltimore had 393 yards of offense.

Rashard Mendenhall ran for 95 yards on 24 carries, and Holmes had a score and 6 catches for 74 yards. Hines Ward had three grabs for 47 yards. The game could have been theirs, but again, the defense cannot hold a lead in the fourth quarter, a difference between a championship season of a year ago and a season now that seems to be lost.

The Steelers should be able to finally get back on track as they welcome the 3-8 Oakland Raiders on Sunday at 1pm at Heniz Field.

Matt Loede has been in the sports media for over 16 years, with experience covering the MLB, NBA, and NFL. On Sunday’s during football season, you can hear Matt on national networks like Fox Sports Radio, Associated Press, and others. Born and raised in Cleveland Ohio, Matt studies and talks football inside and out, and is anxious to share his thoughts and comments with readers on a daily basis.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Ronnie

    November 30, 2009 at 12:03 am

    Enough is enough! Special Teams is ONCE AGAIN awful. Every team looks like they have an all pro returning punts and kicks against us. I’m tired of seeing our returns go to the 25 yard line. They kept Logan solely for his returning ability. He hasn’t done anything and it’s time to look else where and free up that roster spot. He has shown nothing like pre season. Why is the special teams coach still there? Talk about accountability!
    Whatever happened to utilizing each players strengths? It was obvious Dixon was struggling with the zone defense. Roll him out and give him and option to pass or run. He was killing them with it each time. Dropping him back on 3rd and 5 is a huge risk. They were blitzing constantly and that leaves one on one coverage and freedom to run. Bad job totally Arians, Terrible!!!!!!!!!!

  2. larry

    November 30, 2009 at 1:19 am

    I actually thought the offense did better than expected and special teams did not cost them the game. It was the play of the defense that was at fault for another come from behind loss. Dixon and the offense put them ahead all the defense had to do was make a tackle, which they have had a hard time doing lately. Maybe instead of getting rid of Logan we should let Gay go because he couldn’t make a tackle if his life depended on it. Can we please stop putting it on other aspects of the team when the defense has been torn apart by mediocre offenses.

  3. mark

    November 30, 2009 at 8:04 am

    Well fans, its time to embrace the horror. Let me start by saying that Dixon played about as well as he could given the circumstance. I do NOT blame him for that loss, I do NOT blame him for the pick at the end either. Shame on Arians for not utilizing Dixons strengths. Squandering mid-field in overtime by not giving the kid a chance to run with the ball. Asking him to throw when he was obviously a bit nervous? Terrible play calling. Mike Tomlin needs to be more vocal on these decisions. If he had any input and allowed this type of play calling to go on, then shame on him too.
    Lets get to the defense for a second now. Sure they had some sacks, but it was feast or famine last night. A sack or a big play. They tackled like they the Ravens had Vaseline on the bodies! Willie Gay continues to get picked-on, and guess what everyone? Gay is not holding down the fort. He cant tackle, his cushions are causing easy completions,and its forcing the team to slide Clark over to protect more. Clark is my next target. When did he forget to watch the receivers eyes when he came over on the deep pass? He was in perfect position to at least knock the ball away and he whiffed. Clark played a bad game last night. Now, Ike Taylor. Last night we saw why Taylor has not been to the pro bowl even though many believe he deserves it. Thats all I’m going to say. The Special Teams continues to be Not so- Special. It starts with the firing of this coach. Thats the bottom line.
    The defense let too many big plays happen, could not hold a lead and lost. AGAIN! The offensive line played well. Mendy and Parker played well. Dennis Dixon showed why he will be the #2 around here next year. The Steelers lost another game they could have and maybe should have won. This one is on the coaching staff for not utilizing Dixons strength enough and not seeing that their are players on this team that are just not starters.(GAY). It is what it is and the team desperately needs a win.
    Lets see who shows up against the horrible Raiders on Sunday. Anything less than a championship team performance will answer all the questions the fans have about the 2009 Steelers. I expect that performance, but this team has not been dependable this year.

  4. DrGeorge

    November 30, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    Gentlemen, sadly, your comments are all correct. For months, we have identified and discussed the weaknesses of the Steelers in all three phases of the game. For loyal and concerned fans, it has been wrenching to watch them self-destruct these past few games. But we saw it coming.

    Defense. The Chiefs and Ravens showed the NFL how easy it is to run against the best rush defense in the league. The lofty statistics are, as usual, misleading. Teams simply don’t run much against the Steelers because the pass defense is so porous. However, when the defensive line needs to stop the run, it can’t. Age and injuries have taken their toll. On pass defense, the team is simply inept, especially in short zone coverage. Our corners are below standard: William Gay is hopelessly lost at times, and Ike Taylor, our best corner, would not start for most NFL teams; Farrior is too slow to cover backs and crossing receivers; Clark and Carter are overly-aggressive and often out of position. Easy interceptions are muffed. The tackling is simply terrible. In 5 of the last 6 games, the defense could not hold leads in the 4th quarter. The return of Polamalu will help, but there are no quick solutions for these problems.

    Offense. Dennis Dixon deserves credit for a gallant effort, despite his late and decisive interception. He played better than expected. As Mark notes, Arians’ play calling shackled him. Admittedly, Dixon is not the QB of the future; but he could have been utilized far more effectively on roll out passes, bootleg runs, and fake reverses. Dixon is fast, and I’m amazed he hasn’t been used before now in the same backfield with Ben to stretch defenses. To his credit, Arians did try to run the ball against the Ravens; the O-line (essentially a collection of backups) was not up to it, especially at the guards. Even so, the running game was marginally effective. But at crucial moments, Arians reverted to form and called an inappropriate pass — like the play that resulted in Dixon’s interception and the several near misses before that one. Arians is simply unwilling to commit to the run, even when it offers our best chance of winning. The need for a power back is obvious.

    Special Teams. Over all, kick coverages have improved, but at the expense of bringing in two new veterans and risking first line defensive players like J. Harrison. As with the defensive backfield, special teams tackling is not good. There are frequent lapses when players fail to maintain their lanes or get off their blocks properly.

    The Playoffs. To make the playoffs as a wild card, the Steelers need to win their next five games in a row against the Raiders, Browns, Packers, Ravens, and Dolphins. If Ben and Polamolu return, it could happen. But the odds are strongly against it, given the weaknesses of the normally dependable defense. And if, by some miracle, the team becomes a wild card contender, it will not survive the first playoff game. The Steelers have fallen that far.

    The Future. Tomlin has his hands full. There is already unrest in the lockerroom. The Steelers will likely finish the year 9-7. Arians and his line coach, Zierlein, should be released, and the spread offense should be scrapped or adapted to a power running game. We will lose a large number of key veterans at the end of this season who must be replaced. The offensive and defensive lines need to be upgraded. The QB play must be more disciplined and balanced. We need a quality QB to backup Ben, two veteran corners on defense, and a quicker ILB to replace Farrior on passing downs. We don’t know if the labor agreement with the players will be extended or renewed, or the fate of the present salary cap. Chances are, the needed improvements can’t all be accomplished in one year. Which means the Steelers won’t become a serious contender again until 2012 at the earliest. I hate to say it — but that’s how I read the tea leaves. Save those Steelers Super Bowl T-shirts. I may be years before we see one again.

  5. mark

    November 30, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    DrGeorge, again, I agree with you. Tomlin has his hands full. I believe last night was the proof positive that things have gone sour and there is no “quick-fix” in sight. Dixon played well, but Arians did NOT play call to his strengths and sooner or later, the shoe will drop for a young Qb. Too bad our defense failed to hold a lead…. again. If they had, the Dixon story would have had a very nice 1st chapter. The unrest in the locker room has validity. Ward calling out Ben, the champs losing their grip on the season, needs NOT being addressed. etc… It is going to be an interesting off season no matter what the rest of the season holds in store. I have said before that Farrior is slipping a bit. (still a very good 3-4 Lb), Gay is terrible, Taylor is good but their are many better CB’s(just not playing for us. The D-line is showing wear, the O-line is mediocre but not about to change much after the $$ investments recently. I almost can imagine Ben putting up nice stats for a few more years but the team itself not being able to match it and therefor seasons of 8-8,9-7 loom. I am amazed that with names like: Ben,Holmes,Ward,Woodley,Harrison, Timmons,Polamalu and Miller along with emerging play-makers like Wallace and Mendenhall, the future can seem so bleak! I can understand this 3 game slump as being just that, a slump. But the entire season has showed glaring holes even in games that we have won. DrGeorge made very valid points on what is wrong. Lets see if the franchise agrees.

  6. Mike

    December 1, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    I think the Steelers are going to go 10-6 and make the playoffs. I have been as negative as I have ever been about this team the last 6 weeks or so but for some reason, that negativity is lifting. Maybe because we have a favorable schedule the rest of the year. or maybe because it is my hope this team will realize how badly they are underachieving. I am a firm believer that if the Steelers don’t turn the ball over, start covering kicks and play good solid run defense, no one in this league can beat them. We have lost 5 games by a grand total of 18 points. 4 losses by 3 points, 2 in overtime. Teams are not lining up and beating us. No one has put a beat down on us like the Saints did to the Pats last night. If this team starts to cover kicks well and stops being careless with the football, the rest of the NFL better watch out. This team, when focused and properly motivated, will not be denied.

  7. mark

    December 1, 2009 at 7:24 pm

    Mike, you are probably right but at this point in the season are the Steelers capable of making these necessary adjustments? Kick coverage has been a problem for 10 weeks now, underneath pass coverage has been terrible and as far as a favorable schedule is concerned, this team lost to the Chiefs for God’s sake! Our Steelers have not been dependable this year no matter how we look at it. A loss is a loss no matter the score. True, they have not been dominated or “beat-up” this season, but they have not figured out how to fix the problems we all know exist either. 10-6 seems fair, but will it be enough? 10-6 isn’t a bad record, but would 10-6 be enough to scare the top tiered teams in either the AFC or the NFC? Right now the Steelers are not scaring anyone and time is running out.

  8. Ravens Blogger

    December 1, 2009 at 8:39 pm

    I must admit that both the Ravens and the Steelers are no way near the tough physical teams that they were last year. It was good however to finally win a close one with the Steelers. The Steelers now know how the Ravens felt last year when we lost the close ones.

  9. mark

    December 2, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    Hey Ravens blogger. Can you blog on your own site. No offense, but us Steeler fans aren’t very warm towards you Ravens fans and the last thing we want to hear is anything from a gloating Raven. Besides, we do play 1 more time and this time its in Pittsburgh.

  10. jay

    December 2, 2009 at 8:17 pm

    LOL! Funny, Mark! I was about to say the same thing then I read your response blog. It’s like when Eagles fans talk shit around here and I’m kinda sayin, “Okay, win maybe one super bowl and we’ll talk…” Anyway, I was, I was, I so was on the Steelers D bandwagon all year (hell, all my life for that matter!), but not that I’m jumping off, I am becoming concerned that Farrior seems to be playing on his name alone, Timmons, although explosive, is not a great tackler and we simply can’t cover the underneath stuff. Our corners are suck in the form of Gay on one side and no hands in the form of Taylor on the other. I am still having a tough time getting by the idea of Tomlin playing Troy on a FG block in week one!?! Can’t, even though I know it’s long over and irrational to hold onto something like that for so long, get over it! That is two less losses right there if Tomlin simply says five simple words, “Troy, get off the field!” IF, if, BIG IF we somehow manage to either FIRE ARIANS or convince him to go back to a more balanced attack, then I’m not too disappointed with the O-line. I believe a running game is what they’re geared for and I believe it can only enhance their pass protection schemes. If, however, we stay with Arians and pass happy bullshit, I pine for an O-lineman in round 1. Otherwise a corner or safety or ILB. Yes, I’m talking about the draft in December which is indicative of where this season has gone. I do know, from past experience to never underestimate the Steelers in December and January but based on what I’ve seen so far……

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