Within the phrases of the late Corridor of Famer and former Buffalo Payments head coach Marv Levy, “The place would you moderately be than proper right here, proper now?”
I used to be reminded of that well-known Levy catchphrase watching Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin standing on the sidelines throughout pre-game introductions. The telecast caught Tomlin grinning ear to ear, apparently ecstatic with anticipation. Tomlin lives for these moments. The chance to compete on the highest stage in opposition to your largest rival.
Familiarity breeds contempt, and that’s notably true within the NFL’s largest and finest rivalry. You possibly can inform by the countenance on the faces of the opponents, whether or not they be gamers or coaches. The main target, depth, and can to win could not be larger for both aspect. These attributes create unmatched physicality, and mutual respect.
I admire each side of the Steelers/Ravens rivalry, and I’m grateful for a head coach who would not run from the heightened stress it brings, however really revels in it. At this level in his legendary tenure, Tomlin needs these moments that make him really feel most alive.
That was past apparent throughout these pre-game introductions. No place Mike Tomlin would moderately be.
Steelers Inventory Trending Up: Offensive id
One man’s trash is one other man’s treasure. To an old-school soccer purist like myself, the Steelers offensive efficiency in opposition to the Ravens on Sunday night time in prime time was a factor of magnificence. An answered prayer.
Heading right into a rebuilding season, I wished to see the Steelers solidify the general execution of the offensive line sufficient to succeed in middle-of-the-pack standing. In different phrases, be a mean offensive line.
Sunday night time’s efficiency suggests they’ve simply surpassed that moderately humble purpose. Even contending groups do not waltz into the Appeal Metropolis and dominate within the trenches in opposition to the Ravens just like the Steelers offensive line did Sunday night time.
The Ravens protection hadn’t given up a landing in over 15 quarters at residence previous to the Steelers game-winning fourth quarter rating, the longest streak in over a decade. The Ravens High 10 protection entered the competition with the third finest run protection within the NFL, and the Steelers would have completed with 200 whole yards on the bottom with out the yardage misplaced from two kneel downs.
That kind of dominance within the trenches merely would not occur in opposition to the Ravens, but it surely simply did.
It was obvious heading into the sport that one thing needed to give. The Steelers have discovered an offensive id for the reason that bye week. Run the soccer constantly sufficient to create favorable down and distance conditions, convert a excessive proportion of these conditions, and enhance their total time of possession within the course of.
This simplified strategy is something however easy really. It requires clear, virtually good execution to achieve success. Ball safety is a should, and self inflicted wounds like penalties have to be stored to the naked minimal. That could be a tall job for the youngest assortment of offensive expertise within the league, however the Steelers offensive youth motion is taking form proper earlier than our eyes, and on back-to-back weeks, on the prime time stage.
My beautiful spouse identified Sunday night time that Kenny Pickett has the 4 C’s that each potential franchise quarterback must be profitable:
Good to know she is taking note of all my Steelers rambling.
In my view, Najee Harris totally displayed, for the primary time, exactly why the Steelers utilized their first spherical choice in 2021 to accumulate his companies. That was Harris’ first alternative to run behind an above common offensive line efficiency within the NFL, and the outcomes converse for themselves. That was a breakout efficiency for Harris, hopefully simply the primary of many such alternatives.
Jaylen Warren is proving to be the perfect complimentary companion for Harris. He continues to carry out successfully and aggressively, with sufficient burst and surge to transform in essential conditions. The Steelers have unearthed one other diamond within the tough within the younger man my aforementioned spouse affectionately refers to as ‘Mighty Mouse’.
The Steelers proficient younger group of receivers weren’t focused typically, however they rose to the event when the chance offered itself, which included some efficient run blocking.
The Steelers had been in a position to impose their new offensive id on the bewildered Ravens protection Sunday night time, a actuality believed unimaginable previous to the sport. You really needed to see it to imagine it.
Steelers Inventory Trending Up: Defensive creativity
Because the BTSC neighborhood already is aware of, I used to be notably perplexed by the Steelers lack of ability, or unwillingness, to change to extra aggressive run units within the first assembly with the Ravens. Particularly after the Ravens spent the primary three quarters of motion dominating the Steelers defensive entrance seven within the trenches.
No run blitzes or heavy units to talk of. That was inexcusable, particularly after the Ravens had been pressured to play a 3rd string rookie quarterback that had by no means taken an NFL snap.
The Steelers defensive teaching employees has really proven some spectacular flexibility and creativity at numerous factors this season. Attempting to generate any semblance of a cross rush with out T.J. Watt, taking part in successful soccer in opposition to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a combination of backup secondary personnel, breaking out the three inside linebacker look in that very same contest, and the three security set seems to be late within the season.
All these examples had been good, however the creativity on show Sunday night time in opposition to the Ravens was particular, as a result of that was completely out of character for the Steelers, to the purpose I am unable to keep in mind a earlier time limit when the Steelers teaching employees totally dedicated to such innovation. I totally imagine that change in defensive philosophy caught the Ravens abruptly.
Schematic creativity is all nicely and good, but it surely’s as much as the contributors on the sector to execute the sport plan. For sure, the Steelers protection rose to the problem.
Cameron Heyward and Larry Ogunjobi gave inspiring performances, and the defensive position rotation held their very own. Watt and Alex Highsmith did a significantly better job setting the sting in opposition to the Ravens highly effective dashing assault, though the Ravens did exploit Watt’s overaggressive tendencies every so often within the first half, till Watt tightened up his lane obligations within the second half.
The largest adjustment by the Steelers was their dedication to make the most of two rookies, DeMarvin Leal and Mark Robinson, of their defensive rotations. Not solely did they use them, however each children performed at the least half of the Steelers defensive snaps. For sure, they did not disappoint.
Leal relied on his tweener traits to foil the Ravens finest laid plans. He utilized his distinctive wingspan, mobility, and attacking nature to clog working lanes, and stretch outdoors runs to the boundaries. The Ravens runners had been assembly Leal within the gap, as an alternative of defensive backs.
Mark Robinson was precisely what I believed he could be: an extremely aggressive, contact-seeking missile sure and decided to hit a shifting goal, particularly the ball service. He seemed like an inexperienced rookie at occasions, particularly when he failed to finish a few tackles after arriving with unhealthy intentions. That is to be anticipated from a rookie linebacker with a grand whole of seven defensive snaps on his resume.
With that being stated, his all the time ahead aggressive mindset is simply what the Steelers protection has been lacking on the place this season. Robinson completed the sport with 7 whole tackles, a few bodily solo tackles at or close to the road of scrimmage, and the respect of Mike Tomlin. Tomlin particularly talked about the dear contributions of each Leal and Robinson in his post-game press convention.
I might be remiss if I failed to say the game-altering performances of Robert Spillane and Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Spillane has settled properly into his management function on the place, and as soon as once more performed 100% of the defensive snaps. He snuffed out a few probably massive performs for the Ravens together with his defensive acuity.
Fitzpatrick continues to stabilize the Steelers defensive secondary, and he has additionally blossomed in his management function this season. He has made a behavior out of closing out video games late with key takeaways, together with a sport saving blocked kick. Fitzpatrick has proven clutch potential this season, his finest season so far, in my view.