Going into this game, the Baltimore Ravens had a chance. Joe Flacco was passing the ball well enough throughout the playoffs. He didn't have a turnover before Sunday's meeting with the Steelers. Even though Tennessee was moving the ball well against the Ravens, the Ravens were able to stay aggressive and forced turnovers against them and the Miami Dolphins.
Joe Flacco looked like a rookie in this game, making mistakes he wasn't making in previous games. The pass protection for Flacco was great considering the opponent. He stared down some of his receivers with some of his passes, one of which resulted in an interception by Troy Polamalu who returned the pick for a touchdown. That touchdown sealed the victory for the Steelers. The zone defenses ran by the Steelers confused Flacco. His statline was 13/30 for 141 yards with zero touchdowns and three interceptions. When you have a statline such as Flacco's, you will not win, especially when the quarterback is a rookie. 30 passing attempts for a rookie is atrocious play-calling. On the two drives, the Ravens passed the ball four times, one of which resulted in an interception by Deshea Townsend, while running the ball only twice. You can't do that against any defense especially with a rookie quarterback. Flacco should have throw that many times during a game. There was one drive in the first half were Willis McGahee ran for a 7 yard gain and a two yard gain. Obviously, he was short of the first down. The Ravens decided to try a quarterback sneak with the Joe Flacco. Why run a quarterback sneak when your running back just gained 9 yards total on the first two downs? On the next play, the Ravens decide to hand the ball off to Willis McGahee. The Steelers knew McGahee was getting the since the Ravens ran a QB sneak on third down. Just dumb play-calling in that instance. McGahee tip toe-ing to the line of scrimmage didn't help either. Make one cut and hit the damn hole since there is only one yard to gain. The bad play-calling didn't stop until the game was over.
Defensively, the Ravens played well given the circumstances. They only gave up 16 points. When the Steelers intercepted Flacco for the first time, the Ravens defense held the Steelers to a field goal. They shut down Willie Parker on the ground as he only rushed for 47 yards. The Ravens were able to blitz and get Rothlisberger often, but missed some sacks as players like Haruki Nakamura and Jarret Johnson didn't wrap up Rothlisberger when they applied the pressure. Rothlisberger is too big and too strong for players to just blitz and go for the big hit instead of wrapping up. He'll make players whiff more often than not. The score would've been much worse as Limas Sweed dropped a sure touchdown. On the play before, Frank Walker went out of the game with an injury and the Ravens inserted Evan Oglesby. The Steelers attacked him right away as Limas Sweed did a double move on Oglesby to get wide open. Limas Sweed simply dropped the ball and the Ravens held the Steelers to a field goal. The one big play the Ravens gave up was a Santonio Holmes touchdown. Rothlisberger scrambled out of the pocket to escape the pressure and finds Holmes on the opposite side of the field. The ball was poorly thrown but the Raven defender, Fabian Washington, slipped on the play. From that point, Holmes cuts across the field making two defenders miss enroute to a touchdown. The breaks did not go the Ravens way in this game.
The Steelers defense was great. They didn't have to commit many of their defenders to run as the front four was able to stop the Ravens game at times during the game. The #1 defense wasn't able to apply as much as pressure on Flacco as they did during the regular season. The Ravens routinely double teamed James Harrison on pass plays but that opened up things for Lamar Woodley, who had 2 sacks during the game. One of those sacks came against Lorenzo Neal because for whatever reason, the Ravens think a slow nonathletic fullback can block an emerging star pass rusher. The Steelers intercepted three passes, returning one of them for a touchdown. They were able to create turnovers and make the Ravens one-dimensional.
Ben Rothlisberger beats the Ravens again with his scrambling ability and decision-making. He avoided the pressure well. He even converted a 2nd and 24 with a 30 yard pass play to Heath Miller on the very next play. Rothlisberger's statline was 16/33 for 255 with one touchdown and zero interceptions. Rothlisberger made enough plays to get his team the victory.
The Steelers will be facing the most unlikely opponent in the Arizona Cardinals. The Steel City looks poised for another championship banner.