I haven't watched any reaction or sought any feedback regarding Monday night's loss in San Francisco. Not because I'm avoiding it because I'm overly crushed. Disappointed, to be sure, but this outcome was largely an expected one. I try to avoid live blogging Steelers games at KSK mostly because I'd like to focus on watching my favorite team play rather than moderating comments from a thousand readers at a time. Also, since KSK readers know I'm a Steelers, a lot of get off on being trolling dicks whenever I write about them, even though I've taken great pains to strip my writing there of the homerism that I've been guilty of in the past. If anything, I've actually been pretty hard on Pittsburgh over there recently to combat that perception. Nevertheless...
The point here is I expected the Steelers to lose, so what the hell. The most discouraging thing is that my biggest reason for assuming that was Roethlisberger's limited mobility. And, yeah, the guy was very clearly hobbling last night, but as the game wore on, you could tell that the hitch was leaving his gait and Ben was moving pretty fluidly. It was shoddy decision making on his part that was largely to blame for the Steelers' loss. I tend to rail at the "drama queen" trash talk that Ravens fans especially use to smear Roethlisberger as a player. They want to believe he milks injuries, when the guy actually just gets hit a lot and tends to play through pain, usually well. That's in keeping with the usual empty tough-ass facade of Baltimore sports fans, though. I will say you know that if Ben is ever guilty of the drama queen stuff, it's when he goes overboard trying to be the hero. Last night, it wasn't enough that he was playing through injury. Toughing out pain isn't enough; you have to make impossible throws while doing it. There were a lot of times he ignored open shorter routes because he wanted to jam it in to a tight space for a big gain. Now, obviously some of his inaccuracy can be put on having an injured ankle support your plant leg. Knowing that's the case, maybe Ben shouldn't be trying to force post patterns to Mike Wallace in triple coverage on the opening drive. Just a thought.
Going forward, with so much of the offense based ar0und Roethlisberger's ability to scramble, it's imperative the guy gets healthy. But as you always see this time of year, two weeks to get rusty is just the kind of thing that leads to flat playoff performances. So I can't say I advocate not giving Ben any play time over the next two weeks. I would argue that he should sit against the Rams in favor of Dennis Dixon, of course. I'm not confident that Batch at this point is a safe bet to pull off the win against lowly St. Louis. Let Ben close out the season in Cleveland, yes, against the team that hurt him last week. Better that than a QB trying the field, likely in Denver where building a lead early is important, but being rusty with several weeks of inactivity.
The health concerns with Ben are paramount, but the sluggish pace at which LaMarr Woodley is recouping is really troubling. Granted, just having him play more than a drive for the first time in more than a month should be welcome news. But the guy showed barely any drive at all last night. Woodley had one decent drive that drew a stupid holding penalty, but that was about it. The absence of James Harrison felt all the more pronounced. But would it really have mattered that much if Harrison played, given how LeBeau reverted to the old "death by a thousand dinks and dunks" strategy that gives receivers 10 yards of cushion off the line of scrimmage? It's like the win against New England never happened. Why be afraid to play press coverage? Are the Niners' receivers really worthy of that much respect? Not when Alex Smith missed badly on every deep pass.
Last night felt like the Steelers reverting to all their worst habits. Ben trying to force big plays when moderate gains are there for the taking. The defense playing back on its heels. I know it's still technically possible for the Steelers to win out and have Baltimore lose in the season finale in Cincinnati, but not only would I not count on it, but I don't think the team really deserves it at this point. Yes, Pittsburgh was severely handicapped by injuries and a suspension last night, but hell, the Niners were without Patrick Willis. If you want to look for him on a list of slouches, you're gonna be scanning for a while. There was bad gameplanning and bad execution. It was hard coming away from last night's game saying that this team is one that deserves a playoff bye. We've seen them play at their best and hopefully can again before the season gets away from them, but it may be a few weeks on autopilot before we can even get the opportunity to see one way or the other.
Worth filing away for the next time you hear the trite cries of officiating bias for the Steelers were the two huge egregious calls last night. The first wrongly wiped out a possibly momentum-swinging fumbled punt (when the game was still only 6-0) deep in San Francisco territory. Replay showed hit a San Francisco player first but couldn't be challenged. Instead, the Niners got a 15-yard gain out of it. Then there's that bizarre leaping call on Lawrence Timmons that set the Niners up for an extra four insurance points late in the game. The Steelers played poorly throughout and even if those calls were made correctly, there's still a good chance Pittsburgh loses anyway. Still, for a team that's supposedly protected as the Steelers are by the refs, those were two painful oversights in a big game.
Anyway, on to the Rams. Can't lose to 'em or you get kicked out of the league.