Leftwich Letdown: A Week 11 Analysis

Did anyone doubt that Sunday’s Pittsburgh-Baltimore game would be gritty, grueling, and ultimately heartbreaking?

I certainly didn’t. The tone and ending of the game didn’t come as one bit of a surprise as a veteran of a great many of these AFC North contests, but that doesn’t mean that the outcome stings any less.

By all accounts, the Steelers should’ve won this game. They were definitely the better team on defense and were even better offensively, outgaining the Ravens by nearly 100 yards.

The problem ultimately came down to the quarterback, like we all knew it would.

I actually believe that Leftwich played a decent game, particularly in the first half, but his rib injury very clearly hobbled him as the game progressed, which really limited the offense’s potential.

Part of what makes this offense so difficult to stop is how good it is on third downs, and with Leftwich under center, the downfield passing game just wasn’t an option anymore, particularly as it became clear that he could barely throw as the game wound down.

It was painful to watch at times, as Leftiwich was only able to complete little flips to the running backs by the fourth quarter, and while that was often surprisingly effective, he just couldn’t take advantage of the downfield threats that Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders provided.

It just makes me wonder why the coaches refused to put Charlie Batch in the second half. Leftwich was wincing after every play even in the second quarter; did they really have so little confidence in Batch that they’d rather run out a barely-functioning Leftwich? And what does that say about Batch’s chances as the starter next week in Cleveland?

It didn’t help that the team was unlucky in the turnover department either. An interception was a bit inevitable given who was under center, but the fumbles really killed the team. The Steelers fumbled three times, losing the ball twice, while the Ravens fumbled twice and recovered it both times. Sometimes you just don’t have the luck when you need it and that makes all the difference in a game as close as this.

It’s not like the defense was at fault here. Considering that 10 of the Ravens points came due to mistakes by the offense and special teams, it’s reasonable to say that the unit only really allowed three points in this one. They sacked Joe Flacco twice, both in big situations, and held Ray Rice to a paltry 40 yards on the ground.

This group hasn’t allowed a touchdown in seven quarters now, and it’s clear that if they had gotten any help from the offense at all, they could’ve won this game.

Sure, maybe you can fault them for not creating any turnovers, but it’s clear that without Troy Polamalu the defense has problems creating big plays, and with just a little more luck on those fumbles, everything is a different story.

I personally have a little more faith in Batch than the coaches do, as worrying as that might be, so I feel pretty good headed into next week, all things considered. As soon as I knew that Ben would be out, I pretty much chalked this up as a loss, so it’s not like the result shocked me.

Going into Cleveland is a tough draw for the third string QB, but Batch has been around the block a few times, and I think the defense is more than talented enough to keep the team in the game.

The Browns have been surprisingly frisky this year, nearly pulling off wins against these Ravens and the Cowboys in the last two weeks, but I’m not too worried.

That’s not to say there shouldn’t be a sense of urgency for this team; the AFC wildcard is super competitive right now, and a division title still isn’t out of the question as long as Roethlisberger can return for the second Baltimore game, as doctors have projected.

The team can take a lot of positives from this loss, and I look forward to seeing what kind of steps forward the offense can take next week.

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