Going into the game Thursday night against the 0-3 Baltimore Ravens, the biggest questions about the Steelers revolved around whether Mike Vick could manage the game enough for the Steelers to send the former Cleveland Browns to 0-4 for the first time since their move. The answer to those questions is clearly yes. While his numbers didn’t stand out, Mike Vick was 19-26 for 124 yards and a touchdown pass that almost went through Darius Heyward-Bey. He did everything he was asked to do and didn’t turn the ball over, and also got out on the perimeter to throw a nice block that helped get Le’Veon Bell into the end zone. Considering he only had a few days to prepare for his start last night, Mike Vick acquitted himself adequately and played well enough to get the win. He and Bell put the Steelers in position to extend their three point lead to six points with just under two minutes left in the game. This was after the defense stuffed Joe Flacco on fourth and about a yard. The offense came through when it mattered most and so did the defense. Everyone except Josh Scobee.
There are those who have chosen to blame Mike Tomlin for his lack of game management skills. There are those who have chosen to blame Todd Haley for his apparent lack of play calling skills. There are those usual suspects, who just hate Mike Vick, who blame Vick for everything, including dollar devaluation and the unemployment rate. The bottom line is, the Steelers had a three point lead, with the chance to up it to six and to put the game away. If Scobee hits that field goal, the talk is that the Steelers played pretty well considering that Vick and Haley only had a couple of days to put a game plan together. That the defense stepped up again with major stops on fourth down and is getting better, and that Le’Veon Bell has returned to beast mode. All of that is true, except that Scobee failed to do his job when it mattered most….TWICE. Scobee’s continued failures took away Tomlin’s faith in him, and rightly so. That left him with what he felt were his only options in overtime, to punt or go for it. Should he have given it to Bell on both occasions are just questions to ask that distract from the real issue — Scobee choked when it mattered most…..twice.
The Steelers brought in undrafted kicker Chris Boswell, who spent last year with the Giants and Texans, but never got in a game. With the injury to Ben Roethlisberger and all the question marks on defense, who would have thought that the biggest concern facing this team, one that cost us one game, maybe two, would be the kicker. Hopefully Boswell will be solid enough until Shaun Suisham can return. The loss of “Suish” has shown just how much we take him for granted, even with as much as we appreciate him. What were the odds at the beginning of training camp that we would be actively paying for the services of four kickers this season — with Suisham, Hartley, Scobee and now Boswell.
The defense may have played their best game of the season Thursday night, despite the number of rushing yards given up. While the defense is young, and tends to lose focus and get sloppy at times, they come up big in big moments. On one fourth down, Sean Spence knifed through the line and blew up a fake punt attempt, and on another fourth and short, the defense stuffed Joe Flacco at the Steelers 35 yard line. Despite the defense’s penchant for giving up the big run on occasion, the unit in its entirety, is playing pretty well, limiting opponents to 18.75 points per game. As the defensive line adjusts to the switch to a one gap system, where the emphasis is on getting pressure upfield, from a two gap system that focuses on stuffing the run, there will be an improvement in the run defense. The secondary is also playing better than expected, which continued against Baltimore. Antwon Blake and Mike Mitchell provided solid coverage and big hits that ended a number of Baltimore drives, while Ross Cockrell came up with a big interception and a fumble recovery that gave momentum to the Steelers and led to points.
Despite the absence of Ben Roethlisberger, Ryan Shazier, and the epic failure of Josh Scobee that led to the 23-20 loss to Baltimore, the Steelers showed that they are the better team. Baltimore and their fans know it as well. Mike Vick played well enough for the Steelers to win, and was supported by Le’Veon Bell and his 129 yards and a touchdown. The Steelers need to at least break even while Ben is out, to stay in the hunt for the playoffs. They can’t afford to miss any opportunity to put points on the board, and with Scobee, they directly missed out on six points and a win.