Gene Collier: Steelers offense missing deep concept



BALTIMORE -- You might suppose there was some quantum of solace from that crazy finish, but the emphasis this morning is on "finish" right?

That the Ravens held off the Steelers, 22-20, hard by the Inner Harbor on Thanksgiving night is not under review, even if everything else was.

Let me just guess that you've had your fill of replays to go with the turkey, stuffing, etc. The Steelers appeared to score three touchdowns in the 58th minute of this typically vicious collision of AFC North Division rivals, but as we've learned to thoroughly in this football life, a touchdown is not a touchdown until the technology confirms it.

Heath Miller scored in the 58th minute, until the imagery disagreed, placing his knee some 18 inches from the end zone.

Le'Veon Bell scored in the 58th, and likely paid for it with a concussion, but the imagery disagreed, reveling that his helmet flew off with the ball the same 18 inches from the end zone, which by rule, ends the play. Funny how the helmet rule gets called in that situation, but the thunderous helmet-to-helmet hit by Courtney Upshaw on Bell, the one that caused Bell's helmet to squirt into the end zone, the one that caused every Steelers player on the field to kneel next to the fallen Bell in fear of his immediate future -- funny that that somehow does not get called.

Yeah, I'm not laughing either.

Jerricho Cotchery actually did score, pulling the Steelers to within 22-20, but the 2-point conversion attempt that started with the best Ben Roethlisberger throw of the game ended with the ball going through Emmanuel Sanders' mitts along the left boundary of the end zone.

The Steelers are thus 5-7, the Ravens 6-6, and any remaining playoffs discussion is practically moot.

For most of this one, it was so much for that Steelers-offense-hitting-its-stride theory, something that sounded good until it got the acid test, the Ravens test, and then it sounded more like crack of a shin bone against the coffee table.

It wasn't as though the scoreless first half that pitched the Steelers into a 10-point hole lacked for a worthy example of aggressiveness, because on Baltimore's first possession, Joe Flacco dropped back and cranked one down the middle 54 yards to the Steelers 1.

What an idea.

Sending your top receiver on a deep post just because, well, just because you never know when a misstep or two will put you on an end zone's doorstep.

Torrey Smith appeared to beat Cortez Allen, but it's more likely Allen didn't get the safety help he anticipated, though in either case, the Ravens had a touchdown after just eight plays.

The Steelers would get one, too, but after about two hours of flailing about with a goofy array of chuck-and-duckery, dink-and-dunkery, or as the analysts love to call it these days, "pitch and catch."

If this back-breaking loss to the Ravens were actually a game of pitch-and-catch, starting hurler Roethlisberger would have walked the bases loaded and been yanked at some point in the early innings.

Ben threw high, threw low, had his sinker working, his fastball tailing, and rarely hit anybody in stride for most of a long game that very nearly saw the end of his 25-game streak with at least one touchdown pass.

That he avoided with an 8-yard toss to Sanders that erected some false hope in the third quarter, but it just wasn't going to matter when the Steelers continue to eschew the idea of even testing Baltimore's suspect secondary in the deeper areas.

This actually started in the first meeting Oct. 20 of the two fiercest AFC North rivals at Heinz Field, where despite putting together a passer rating of 107.2 in a 19-16 victory, Roethlisberger failed to complete a single throw of more than 19 yards.

Thursday night, he didn't complete a 20-yarder until he found Heath Miller for 21 early in the third quarter.

Oh yeah, he was airing it out.

Thank God we got to see the wildcat offense again, with Ben split wide to left, then coming in motion and stopping behind the center, from where he took a conventional snap and handed the ball to Bell.

Brilliant.

Through three quarters then, Big Ben had 15 small completions totaling 115 yards, or less than 8 yards apiece, which I don't believe would match the length of my hotel room. For the record, the longest Big Ben completion was a short slant that Bell turned into a 29-gain late in the fourth quarter.

That all this was happening in the Steelers' 20th consecutive game without a 100-yard rusher only served to re-emphasize the pathology that put Mike Tomlin's team in that 0-4 hole to start the season. It had all the more clarity because Flacco continued to drive the Ravens for field goals on throws of a more swashbuckling nature -- 34 yards to Jacoby Jones on the Baltimore drive that made it 19-7, 22 yards to Ray Rice on the possession that made it 22-14.

What a concept.


Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com.

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