(I know, a little late but I was busy catching up from Thanksgiving; but I do discuss the squeelers, so it is relevant)
Was I the only one who felt like Sunday’s game had surreal feel to it? Was it because it was Thanksgiving weekend and there were relatives around that I would not normally spend time with, and that if aliens abducted them I would probably just crack open another beer and sigh, “Oh well…”? (for the record, like most folks, it is only some, not all of my relatives) Was it because we were playing the Buccaneers, a team we rarely play? Or was it because the Big Bad Wolf is about to come knock on our door (and I do not mean Ben on a bathroom stall door) … More on that in a bit. For now:
Finally (literally and figuratively), running the ball on the last drive to get a first down to run out the clock –especially when the defense knows and expects you to run the ball. Extra especially given the O-line (from left to right) of Cousins, Grubbs, Birk, Moll and Yanda –not exactly the “bookend” tackles we were expecting at the beginning of training camp… Ray Rice. Yeah, he whiffed on a block on a particularly ugly sack on Flacco, but he more than made up for it with that one-handed grab, while being interfered with (no call and more on that in a bit) on the final drive. Ray ran with authority, set up his blocks nicely, secured the ball –essentially the Ray Rice we all know and expect.
Varied receiving weapons- Housh had an absolute phenomenal catch, Heap’s 65 five yard catch and rumble (sorry, cannot bring myself to say “catch and run”…), Mason just putting on a receiver’s clinic (although he did have one embarrassing drop; didn’t notice if he got into Flacco’s facemask after that one…), and Ray Rice’s 75-yard screen (I know, called back, but still…)
A slant! Well, Mason’s TD grab was probably more of a post than a true slant, but still, a step in the right direction. Someone needs to tell Cam there is no rule in the NFL limiting the number of slant plays called…
Pass rush. If Freeman wasn’t as slippery as a greased pig in a hurricane, we probably would have had four or five sacks. Props to Freeman. At least we did not allow him to get into a good rhythm which probably lead to more than one misfire on his part.
And of course Cundiff and Koch. These guys are playing lights out. Special teams in general, actually. We had decent coverage and decent returns. Yeah, Reed muffed once and he might have been a little lucky, but I am willing to let that *one* slide.
The defense giving up the fourth quarter TD drive. To win the SuperBowl, those are the drives we need to stop. Pure and simple. Yeah, it really did not matter in the end. But teams believe now they can move the ball against us. Not too long ago, teams would literally just want to get their offensive players out in one piece against us –much less even think about scoring. And some of that was due to reputation, I‘ll grant you. Now teams believe that if they are down against us, no worries, we can drive the length of the field… About the only good thing that can be said was that the Tampa “hurry up” drive took over four minutes –our defense obviously had something to do with drawing that out with the infamous “bend but do not break” defensive philosophy. I am beginning to think that may not be the best defensive philosophy…
Turnover differential. How can we be as negative as we are in this category and yet be plus-five in the win category, this late in the season? That has got to be record of some sort… We have got to create more turnovers and give up the ball less if we are going to win it all. Plain and simple.
First, the injuries. The bug bit us big time. Say what you want about Laundry, still not good that he went down. McClain and Oher really hurts with P-burgh coming to town. Even if they can go, are they really going to be 100%? And is that a good thing? We made it through ten games, but unlucky eleven bit us…
Second, the refs. Wow, thought I was watching pre-Harbaugh Ravens where we cannot buy a call, even with Stevie-B’s checkbook –and we were the home team-! Could you imagine if we had been on the road in Tampa? The ball-boy probably would have been flagged for a false start… To recap:
1) The Boldin “Hold” (???) on the Ray Rice screen
2) The no-call on the interference with Heap
3) The no-call on the interference with Rice during the final drive
4) Numerous no-call holds on both Ngata and Suggs –blatant, high-school obvious holds; not even trying to disguise them as holds…
And the pass interference that Housh was able to get called against his defender, that was legitimate pass interference; tight, but the kind of call I expect to get at home.
Although I didn’t make a previous post to this effect, the score was about what I thought it would be –Tampa is a well coached team that were it not for its youth (and youthful mistakes) the game may have had a slightly different outcome… I know only W’s count in the NFL, but Tampa has no reason to hang their heads in shame. They are definitely an up and coming team. They are a borderline playoff-caliber team now; with the acquisition of one or two key veteran free agents to plug some holes, they could make a serious deep playoff run next year.
And now, ladies and gentlemen and MaLoR (just kidding!), for our Main Event, bring on the Squeelers! Yes, the game we have all been waiting for, on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line (for you squeeler fans, that is the border that separates Maryland from Pennsyltucky). This game will be everything we thought it would be: the division title on the line; home for the playoffs versus fighting for a wildcard; bragging rights for being the biggest bad-a$$e$ in the NFL –let us face it, NFL teams think they physical, but nobody, and I mean nobody, is Raven-Steeler physical… Better bring multiple boxes of Kleenex as this is going to be a real snot-knocker…!