Football Outsiders
Innovative Statistics, Intelligent Analysis

2009 AFC Championship Preview

by Bill Barnwell

The difference between the Steelers and the Ravens this season is a total of about two feet. That's 20 inches inside an upright on Jeff Reed's game-winning field goal in Week 4, and four more inches on Santonio Holmes' graze of the goal line in their Week 15 tilt. Even saying that there's a difference of seven points between them in those two games combined is far overstating how close the outcomes were to swinging the other way.

Much like the Eagles and the Giants from a week ago, this week's matchup is one that pits teams with similar styles, if not necessarily talent or performance levels. Each team features a first-round quarterback known for his big arm who also struggles with blitz recognition. Each employs a pair of running backs led by an overrated "star," with a third rookie back injured and unavailable. Each has a veteran wide receiver who's great as a possession receiver and blocker, across from a talented deep threat who has underproduced. Each has a patchwork offensive line that's managed to get the job done. Each team even has a tricky offensive scheme it has implemented better than anyone else in the league. Both teams use the 3-4 with a set of dynamite linebackers and a future Hall of Famer at safety.

A total of 35 games contested by the two teams has resulted in a weighted DVOA difference of one-tenth of one percentage point. This reminds us of another game between two division rivals who were nearly tied in DVOA: the 1997 Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs. Those teams were one-two in total regular-season DVOA, and like the Ravens and Steelers, these rivals had similar styles of play -- although they were offense-first and this year's models are defense-first.

The biggest difference between that matchup and this one were how the first two games between the rivals played out. In 1997, the Broncos dominated the Chiefs in Week 1 en route to a 19-3 victory. The Chiefs got their revenge in Week 12, winning at home even though new starting quarterback Rich Gannon threw for only 98 yards. A Pete Stoyanovich field goal from 54 yards out gave the Chiefs the win as time expired.

The third game was just as close as the second game, with the Broncos prevailing 14-10. Stoyanovich had a successful kick nullified by penalty, the Broncos snuffed out a fake field goal, and then the Chiefs couldn't convert fourth-and-2 from the Broncos 20-yard line with 19 seconds left. Former Chiefs end Neil Smith had two sacks for the Broncos.

Cut-and-paste the relevant names and teams into that paragraph and you could easily manufacture a likely preview of how Sunday's game will go. Although we "predicted" that the Ravens would beat the Titans last week, they won despite being outplayed by the Titans. The Ravens played well enough to stay in the game and picked up a couple of serendipitous breaks at the right time. The AFC's representative in the Super Bowl will be determined by who gets those breaks on Sunday.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the Football Outsiders stats, they are explained at the bottom of the page. Scroll down or click this link. This year, we're going back to the old school for our in-game discussions. You can use these preview threads to discuss things before and then during each game. Just remember to switch over from NFC to AFC when the NFC game is over.

If you have FO Premium, you can click here to see all the DVOA splits for this matchup.

WHEN THE RAVENS HAVE THE BALL

Ravens on Offense
BAL OFF PIT DEF
DVOA 5.6% (18) -26.4% (1)
WEI DVOA 6.5% (16) -27.6% (1)
PASS 5.3% (19) -29.7% (1)
RUSH 5.9% (9) -22.4% (2)
RED ZONE 3.6% (16) -47.1% (3)

The Ravens' biggest concern against Pittsburgh will be protecting Joe Flacco from the Steelers' pass rush. I mentioned last week how the Titans were a good matchup for Flacco because of their lack of blitzes, and while Flacco was rushed from the pocket a couple of times, he wasn't sacked once. The polar opposite matchup for Flacco would be his own defense, or perhaps Philadelphia's -- a team that uses big overload blitzes to confuse the quarterback and prevent him from accurately implementing the proper protection scheme. Pittsburgh is somewhere in-between, as a defense which will mix things up with zone blitzes (a Dick LeBeau trademark) and attack from all angles, but it primarily relies on the abilities of its playmakers, namely outside linebacker James Harrison and safety Troy Polamalu.

In the first game between the two teams, Harrison was a force of nature. He sacked Flacco twice, knocked him down a third time after a pass, and hurried him twice. He abused tight end Todd Heap, left tackle Jared Gaither, and whoever else happened to get in his way.

When Week 15 rolled around, though, Harrison was invisible. Using the unbalanced line, the Ravens did a great job of neutralizing Harrison with a variety of players. At different points during the game, Harrison was blocked for stretches by Gaither as well as fellow tackles Adam Terry and Willie Anderson, and ocassionally Heap. Most of the plays were one-on-one, with occasional help from fullback Lorenzo Neal and hybrid back Le'Ron McClain. After the first couple of drives, the Steelers tried taking Harrison a yard or two off the line to try and give him a bit of steam when going around the mammoth Gaither and the relatively svelte Anderson and Terry, but it was with no luck. They used his aggressiveness against him, using their strength to get a drive on him on run plays to his direction and letting him run harmlessly past Flacco on pass plays. He also stayed primarily on the outside with straight rushes, never twisting or performing an inside stunt until the final drive of the game.


Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will often motion Neal and Heap around, getting them into the best position for what he wants to do with each specific play. Here's a typical sequence from late in the second quarter: On a third-and-7 play at midfield, the Ravens put Heap in the backfield for a split backs formation. Heap helped out against Harrison, and although Lawrence Timmons was able to get pressure, Flacco scrambled and found Mark Clayton for 17 yards. On the next play, Neal came out of the backfield and lined up as a tight end next to Gaither, with the pair doubling Harrison. Flacco's pass was incomplete, but that set up the next play. Gaither let Harrison go free, and with only Neal to beat, he used his supreme athleticism to get by and ... watch Flacco throw a screen to Neal that went for 12 yards and another first down. After that, the Steelers put Harrison in coverage for the rest of the half.

The Steelers will use Polamalu in a variety of ways. Most commonly against the Ravens, they'll put him right on the strong side of the line of scrimmage and force teams to account for him, regardless of what his actual responsibilities are on the play. Unlike Ed Reed, who often starts deep and moves closer to the play as it goes on, Polamalu will actually often move away from the play as it goes along. The Ravens will counter this in a couple of ways. They like to get Heap against Polamalu in man coverage when they can, which is a mismatch in the tight end's favor. Baltimore also uses a lot of "Twin WR" sets; unlike the Tennessee game, where they motioned Mark Clayton out for end-arounds to force the backside pursuit to honor their responsibilities, they'll motion Clayton or Derrick Mason over before the snap to get a wide receiver on Polamalu's side. That often forces him off the line and into a deeper support role.


The Steelers are also a tougher defensive matchup for the Ravens because the Ravens' tendencies on offense match up with what the Steelers do best. The Ravens run play action on 28 percent of their passing plays, the most of any team; unfortunately for them, the Steelers give up 3.2 yards per play with play action, as opposed to 4.6 yards per play without. (Both numbers are the best in the league, but the gap between the Steelers and the rest of the NFL is much larger on play-action passes.) On the 21 play action passes the Ravens ran against the Steelers this year, Joe Flacco was sacked four times, hurried four more times, and was successful only four times.

There's no obvious target among the Steelers' top three corners. Ike Taylor, Bryant McFadden, and DeShea Townsend all had success rates between 54 and 57 percent while allowing 6.5, 5.5, and 5.6 yards per attempt, respectively. The Ravens love to use Flacco's arm strength on the deep out, both to pick up yardage and set up Mason and Clayton on future plays for the hitch-and-go and sluggo routes they love to employ for deeper plays. Flacco's been inconsistent on deeper throws, though, and while the league-wide completion percentage for throws of 30 yards or more this season was 27 percent, Flacco was only 6-of-28 on throws of 30 yards or more (21 percent).

One final suggestion for the Ravens: Draw play. Teams running draws against the Steelers averaged eight yards per attempt with a 48 percent success rate (compared to league averages of 5.5 yards and 41 percent success). It's a suggestion the Ravens probably won't take, as they ran only run one draw in their two games against the black and gold.

WHEN THE STEELERS HAVE THE BALL

Steelers on Offense
PIT OFF BAL DEF
DVOA 1.7% (20) -24.5% (2)
WEI DVOA 7.0% (15) -24.2% (3)
PASS 2.6% (20) -23.3% (2)
RUSH 0.7% (15) -26.0% (1)
RED ZONE 5.4% (15) -50.3% (1)

We already know that the Ravens will be able to stop the Steelers' rushing attack. Pittsburgh ran for a combined 160 yards in their two games against the Ravens this year, and over the past three seasons, Baltimore has allowed their rivals a measly 2.6 yards per carry. It would be dramatically out of character for the Steelers to field a successful ground game against the Ravens, particularly if center Justin Hartwig misses the game due to injury.

When the Steelers do try and run the ball, they'll try and flood the second level with as many players as possible -- offensive linemen, tight ends, wide receivers, whoever can get there -- and get as many of the linebackers as they can, while hoping that the defensive linemen are moved to safety by whatever linemen or blocking backs stuck around to help out.


What's much more interesting to analyze and variable is how the Steelers' passing game will function. Last week, the Titans were able to do two things successfully against the Ravens because they did a good job of protecting Kerry Collins. First, they successfully isolated Chris Johnson against Bart Scott outside the hashmarks, giving them a very winnable matchup. Halfback Mewelde Moore is no Johnson, but he's fast enough to get away from Scott in space on a swing pass or a quick out.

The other thing they did was target cornerback Fabian Washington seemingly ad nauseum. Washington had respectable game charting numbers this year, with a 60 percent success rate, but he allowed 7.3 yards per attempt, significantly higher than Samari Rolle (4.1) or even backup cornerback/human target Frank Walker (a shockingly good 5.3). Washington's not as good of a cover corner as Rolle is, and if the pass rush doesn't get home, he's often the one left standing downfield. If Washington gets hurt, as he did in both the Titans-Ravens games, Walker will immediately be targeted, whether or not it's successful. The Ravens will use Corey Ivy in the slot, which is a bad matchup across from where Hines Ward usually operates. Ivy allowed three first downs and 55 yards on five attempts against the Steelers this year, including two big plays from Ward.

Key to the Ravens' pass rush is the presence of Terrell Suggs, who missed the second half of the Titans game with what's being called a sprained shoulder. Suggs led the team with eight sacks and a whopping 21 quarterback hurries, throwing in seven hits for good measure. He also had the team's only sack last week, in a game where the Titans kept Kerry Collins upright virtually all day. When the Ravens can't get pressure on the quarterback, that exposes their cornerbacks and allows receivers to run deeper routes, which is why you saw Justin Gage making a living on the 12-yard in last week. If the Ravens are in Collins' face, Gage doesn't have the time to run that route.


The Ravens can get pressure without him, but it'll require more blitzing by safety Jim Leonhard and Ivy out of the slot, which opens up opportunities for Ben Roethlisberger both short and deep. Roethlisberger's struggled all year with identifying blitzes out of the slot, with both the Ravens and the Eagles enjoying success sneaking guys into their blitzes without Roethlisberger recognizing the open receiver in their absence; expect defensive coordinator Rex Ryan to see if that's still the case.

The Steelers will continue to use their Trips Bunch sets to alleviate the pressure on Roethlisberger. Ideally, the formation should present a hot read for Roethlisberger to throw to in the case of a blitz, but the Ravens are great at identifying the obvious hot read and making sure a linebacker or a safety is at that spot. The Steelers will also run out of this formation, which usually allows Ward to do his thing against an unsuspecting outside linebacker, but they're not particularly effective using it; their success rate on run plays in trips sets is only 36 percent.

Unlike the Ravens, the Steelers should be able to use the play fake to their advantage if they choose to. The Ravens allow 9.1 yards per pass on play action and 4.6 yards per pass otherwise, yielding the third-biggest difference of any team in the league. Pittsburgh is just about average on play action, but curiously enough, our game charters (including myself) did not mark a single Steelers pass against the Ravens as a play-action pass. They ran the play action in 12 of the other 15 games they played.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Special Teams
BAL PIT
DVOA 0.2% (17) -1.1% (23)
BAL kickoff -7.0 (25) -10.3 (30)
PIT kickoff -7.4 (27) 8.2 (5)
BAL punts 20.7 (1) -9.4 (31)
PIT punts -2.8 (23) 4.4 (13)
FG/XP -2.2 (22) 0.9 (17)

The Ravens will have the advantage on special teams, primarily when punting; although the Steelers had Santonio Holmes return a punt for a touchdown last week, they've had the worst return play of any team in football this year, while the Ravens have had the best punting in the league. They've also improved to league average on kickoffs with the arrival of kickoff specialist Steven Hauschka. However, if Suggs does play, Hauschka's spot on the active roster would likely be sacrificed for an extra defensive player.

Pittsburgh's advantage will be on kickoffs, where they were the only team to not allow a kickoff return of 40 yards or more this year. The Ravens, ironically, were the only team who didn't have a kickoff return of 40 yards or more themselves this year. Punt returner Jim Leonhard had a fluky return against the Steelers in Week 15, picking up a bouncing ball that he'd called a fair catch on and running through three Steelers defenders en route to a huge gain.

OUTLOOK

Our prediction on this one isn't "The Ravens win" or "The Steelers win", but that the team which has the majority of the fumbles and field goals go their way wins in a squeaker. You'll read stories about Flacco being the more turnover-prone quarterback because of his fumbles against the Steelers this year, but Roethlisberger had 25 interceptions and fumbles (both kept and lost) to Flacco's 18, so that doesn't fly.

The only ways that the game ends up a blowout are if one quarterback does his Jake Delhomme impersonation or, alternately, if the Ravens' pass rush fails to show up. Unlike the Titans without Chris Johnson, the Steelers have the downfield weapons to take advantage of the average cornerbacks Baltimore runs out there. Missing Suggs would be a huge loss, and even if he gets some of Derrick Mason's shoulder painkillers, he probably will only be on the field for 15-20 snaps. That injury, concerns about where the pass rush went last week, and home field advantage combine to give the slightest edge to Pittsburgh.


STATS EXPLAINED

DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) breaks down each play of the season and compares it to the NFL average based on situation and opponent. You'll find it explained further here. Since DVOA measures ability to score, a negative DVOA indicates a better defense and worse offense, and a positive DVOA indicates a better offense and worse defense.

Each team is listed with DVOA for offense and defense, total along with rush and pass, and rank among the 32 teams in parentheses. (If the DVOA values are difficult to understand, it is easy to just look at the ranks.) We also list red zone DVOA and WEIGHTED DVOA (WEI DVOA), which is based on a formula which drops the value of games early in the season to get a better idea of how teams are playing now (explained here). These numbers are all regular season only, except for WEIGHTED DVOA which includes the playoffs.

SPECIAL TEAMS numbers are different; they represent value in points of extra field position gained compared to NFL average. Field goal rating represents points scored compared to average kicker at same distances. All special teams numbers are adjusted by weather and altitude; the total is then translated into DVOA so it can be compared to offense and defense. Those numbers are explained here.

Each team also gets two charts showing their performance this year, game-by-game, according to offensive and defensive DVOA. In addition to a line showing each game, another line shows the team's trend for the season, using a third-power polynomial trendline. That's fancy talk for "the curve shifts direction once or twice."

Comments

165 comments, Last at 19 Jan 2009, 3:03pm

1 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

I'm very surprised by Flacco's numbers throwing deep. Not the low completion percentage, but the fact that he only threw 28 times 30 yards downfield. Maybe it's just me remembering 20-29 yard throws being deeper than they really were, but it seemed like Uni-brow was going deep twice a half.

10 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

Long passes generally have long drops, sometimes as much as 15 yards if things go poorly, and often around 10. This makes even a 25 yard throw look quite impressive as it is actually traveling 35 in the air. Plus on long passes you often get a lot of YAC.

2 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

If we look at just the Pitt/Balt meetings, the DVOA's look like (estimates from eyeballing the charts, your results may vary):

Balt Off: 5, -5
Balt Def: -40, 0

Pitt Off: -20, 20
Pitt Def: -20, -35

Giving us averages of:
Balt Off: 0
Balt Def: -20

Pitt Off: 0
Pitt Def: -27.5

and trends of:
Balt Off: Negative
Balt Def: Negative

Pitt Off: Positive
Pitt Def: Positive

It looks to this Steeler fan like it will be a hard-fought Steeler win. (yea, its a stretch, but at this point I'll take what I can get.)

3 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

I don't really think Leonard's return was all that fluky. Berger kicked a low line drive punt, the Steeler coverage was poor, and Leonard picked it up and ran with it. If Berger opts against booming long punts with hang time and kicks it short, he'll get lucky plays where the ball hits a guy on the head like in the SD game, or the ball can roll to the return man.

The only fluky special teams play the last meeting between these teams was when Holmes fumbled the punt return and a Steeler picked it up and ran 40 yards with it.

5 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

How much better would this contest be if the teams were exactly the same, except the Baltimore Ravens were still the Cleveland Browns?

6 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

If you look at the situaiton technically and legally, the Baltimore Ravens were an expansion franchise, and the Cleveland Browns stopped existing between 1996 and 1999. All of the old Browns' history and records carried over to the new Browns. Your question makes about as much sense as asking, "How much better would this contest be if the teams were exactly the same except the Ravens were the Colts and the Steelers were the Patriots?" Why not just say, "I wish the Browns were as good as the Ravens."

7 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

Well, Independent George is a Giants fan, no? So I doubt he's really pining for the Browns to be a good team.

Also, while the Ravens' history technically only goes back to 1996, it's not like they didn't take the Browns' players and coaches. Now, you can't say that events would have played out exactly the same, but the Ravens' management, which has proven to be very competent, would still be the Browns' management. And the current Browns' management has not been all that competent. So had the Ravens stayed in Cleveland, the Browns could very well be a consistently competitive team right now.

8 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

There's a mutual dislike between the cities of Pittsburgh and Cleveland that isn't there between Pittsburgh and Baltimore. (At Cavaliers games, if they want booing during an opposing free throw attempt, they put either the University of Michigan logo or the Steelers logo on the video board.) It has nothing to do with which franchise is which; if you flopped everything that happened between Baltimore and Cleveland since '95, so that this game was between Ray Lewis' Browns and the Steelers, the atmosphere would be several degrees more insane, which is saying something.

13 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

I always thought that the Seinfeld episode where Kramer sells his personal anecdotes to J Peterman for his autobiography was a perfect illustration of how bizarre it was that the Ravens left town while leaving their "history" behind. I agree, they should have been the Browns.

9 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

Funny nursery-rhyme rendition of Mike Tomlin's 1st and 2nd down game plan someone gave me...

Hey Diddle Diddle, run straight up the middle
Fast Willie gets dropped for a loss
We might have to punt, but we're still in the hunt
Polamalu will show them who's boss

14 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

Hmm... the Pittsburgh offensive trendline puts their offense at ~+25% right now, while the Baltimore defensive trendline puts their defense at ~-25% right now - effectively canceling each other out. The Baltimore offense and Pittsburgh defense do not cancel each other out.

15 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

Looking at this the old-fashioned way, the Ravens were very lucky to get here. Will they continue their luck?

They shouldn't.

Jacks RULE!

16 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

If the Ravens had cornerbacks, it'd be one of the greatest defenses of all time.

Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle both out and Suggs, Reed, and Bannan are banged up.

On the Hines Ward play, Leonhard took out Reed, leading to the big play.

18 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

Seriously, when did the NFL amend the rules to allow teams to hold James Harrison?

I probably shouldn't complain- if holding were enforced, Colon would be called on every other play.

20 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

Frank Walker is terrible at cornerback, bad on special teams, and is a personal foul machine.

Both QBs getting a lot of time. Part of it is that the defenses aren't sending that many.

22 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

deja vu with Tomlin and Harbaugh both challenging. That happened with Reid and Childress as well two weeks ago.

Would've been more fun had they taken Tomlin's challenge and then ruled it incomplete, costing Tomlin a challenge and timeout as well.

RE: DoubleB

Yeah, I think you're right.

23 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

Goddamn it ... that was a touchdown.

Holmes had both feet down, possession, dragged his foot, THEN went down inside the goal line, THEN the ball came out. After he was tackled.

Then the next play was borderline (at least) pass interference on Frank Walker.

This better not cost the Steelers late in the game. I can't afford a new TV.

God#$###$%*&^^&#^%.

30 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

The only issue you could possibly take with the overruling on the Holmes catch is whether he was really brought to the ground by the defender. As long as it was the defender that forced Holmes to the ground, Holmes needed to maintain possession through his contact with the ground, something he clearly didn't do.

And the next play wasn't very close to interference -- Holmes initiated the contact, and Walker knocked the ball down.

135 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

The way I understood the rule was that he only needed to maintain possession through his movement on the ground if he hit before getting both feet down.

Regardless, it's a stupid rule. It asks the refs to use a definition of possession that no other person would use. I think I would prefer it just to be accepted that it's a judgment call--the ref just deciding that if the player has control of the football (and he'd have to to pull it away from his body and stretch it out), then it's a catch.

24 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

I'm with you, Dunbar. If that's not a TD, then a ton of catches should be reviewed each game. You can't call it tight one play then the very next play call it loose. If it's not a catch, then it's pass interference. If it is a catch, then it's not pass interference. There's no internal consistency to these decisions.

26 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

poor tackling by the Ravens secondary on several plays.

the blitzes can't bring Roethlisberger down and he can tear apart the weak secondary, given time.

27 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

Glad you agree with me, rogue. (WoW fan, by any chance?) No one's been willing to side with the Steelers on any borderline calls since Super Bowl XL. :)

Great plays by Roethlisberger and Holmes on that touchdown--that's the sort of play that very few other quarterbacks will ever make, and it was a good, patient run by Holmes after the catch.

I smell blood after the TD and the muffed kick return, although McGahee's starting to get going.

28 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

Flacco's line: 1/8 for 2 yards and 1 INT. Announcer: We can't say he's had a shaky start, but...

Jeez, I'd hate to see shaky.

At least we don't have to live with the incredibly annoying "Joe Cool" nickname catching on.

29 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

Ravens in big trouble. That's going to be ruled a catch. Call will be upheld.

Because they took Harbaugh's challenge instead of Tomlin's, Ravens are out of challenges.

32 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

So how many gift flags are the Ravens going to get? Will the refs ever notice Ray Lewis jumping on a tackler 3 seconds after he hits the ground?

34 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

huge touchdown by the ravens after pass interference on McFadden. Steelers fans loudly cursing the call.

Now it's a game.

35 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

Frank Walker just limped into the locker room. Arians will see this as a reason to play power football.

37 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

This is some of the worst officiating I've ever seen. This game would be 17-3 if called correctly, instead it's 13-7.

43 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

This isn't a game as much as it is survival. I can't believe Ivy actually walked off the field.

44 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

That's a huge mistake by Roethlisberger there. Despite having done nothing on offense, the Ravens are only down by 6.

45 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

Since I've complained against calls going against the Steelers, I should be fair and point out that the roughing call was a gift.

46 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

Since I've complained against calls going against the Steelers, I should be fair and point out that the roughing call was a gift.

47 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

I don't want to hear complaints from Steelers fans about officiating after Super Bowl XL and that phantom roughing the kicker call that gave the Steelers a chance to get points.

53 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

So a game three years ago means people can't comment on reffing? Uh, okay. That certainly makes a great deal of sense.

After the running into the kicker penalty, though, I have concluded this crew is just bad rather than actively trying to influence the game.

151 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

It was a roughing the kicker bob. Not even a running into the kicker. If the call was running into the kicker i could understand the refs making the wrong call but not the 15 yarder. Another atrocious call by this years refs. Everyone stands by refs and i know it isnt an easy job but they get worse and worse. In the arizona game did anyone else see that kickoff that touched the guy out of bounds? Whisenhunt challenged the ruling that the ball touched the guy but arizona couldnt challenge it because it was ruled dead when the ref ruled it was out of bounds. Serioso? por que?? Aye carumba the biggest stars of this year in the nfl are the zebras shitting all over teams randomly. These guys dont deserve to get paid unless they do a good job. That would add incentive if the nfl docked part of their pay for quantity and severity of the bad calls.

48 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

that call for having Berger land on top of him when he didn't even touch him gave me flashbacks to the infamous "low block" call on Hasselbeck.

49 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

Hey, I'll complain however much I want. The roughing the kicker was a gift, but the Steelers lost a touchdown earlier because of bad refereeing, Harrison's been held every play (seriously, do you think Gaither or whoever the LT is is good enough to keep Harrison in check by himself for an entire half?), and I don't feel bad about the roughing flop because of the much more egregious flop that Douglas guy for the Ravens drew a personal foul on earlier.

At any rate... the refereeing has been atrocious on both ends. No one will argue that. But the Steelers have vastly outplayed the Ravens in this game, and it will be a shame if they end up losing (at least to me :)).

52 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

No, I mean the play where Holmes caught the ball, got both feet down, dragged his foot another step or so, then went down and then had the ball come loose after he had broken the plane. That play.

54 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

In order for it to be a catch, the receiver must maintain possession to the ground. The fact that his feet were down doesn't matter, as he lost the ball when he ground. He never maintained possession, so he never had possession, so it wasn't a catch. The refs got that call correct.

56 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

He doesn't have to maintain possession when he hits the ground if he already had possession before he was tackled. He had the ball firmly in his grasp, both feet down, and even moved a little with it, THEN got brought down. It was no different from any other play in which the ball-carrier is tackled and the ball comes out when he hits the ground.

75 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

I thought he should have been credited with a catch and TD also. This business of holding a catch all the way to the ground is stupid and arbitrary in this case. If a receiver catches the ball, runs 50 yards and trips over the five yard line and stumbles into the end zone, then falls down and loses the ball as it hits the ground, it is technically an incomplete pass, unless there is more to the rule than the talking heads have told us.

Jacks RULE!

59 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

If you honestly believe that the flop by the Raven on the Steelers' personal foul was "much more egregious" than that by Berger, then I seriously doubt your ability to look at Steelers-related refereeing in a manner that's in the same area code as "objectivity." And this is coming from someone who's rooting for the Steelers.

76 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

Sorry, that might have been confusing. Douglas's flop was, in my opinion, a much more obvious acting job, and more clearly an intentional flop (it looked to me like Berger basically slipped and the ref made a dumb call, but again, I'm not entirely rational when it comes to this game, so take it with a grain of salt). The "roughing" call was certainly much more important, as it kept a stalled drive alive that should otherwise have ended.

"Much more egregious" was rather over-the-top. I see that ... now.

140 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

1. Kemo was an idiot on that play. No one who has played in the NFL for more than, oh, two weeks should be unaware of the fact that it's always the second guy who gets called for the PF.

2. That said, Douglas had a hold of Kemo's face mask and was pushing his helmet sideways at the end of the play. So Douglas got away with Illegal Hands to the Face and got a 15-yard penalty on the Steelers out of it.

55 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

Any play that involves Flacco trying to beat Polamalu in space is probably not one you want to call...

60 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

It's pretty astonishing that the Ravens are in position to win this game without actually having a serious offense independent of penalties......

62 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

Not that surprising given the Steelers play calling. Have they done ANYTHING besides run for 2 yards or less on first down on a drive in the second half? I pity Ben R. Every single drive is 3rd and 8.

65 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

this game really is rather vicious. personal fouls. steelers going for the knee on every tackle they can. as a ravens fan, i'm continually bothered by their tendency to commit tremendously stupid personal fouls, but no team i've watched the last few years impresses me more with their tendency to take cheap hits than the steelers, and it's on full display today. i'm just glad orlando brown is gone, or he might actually rip someone's head off in a game like this.

67 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

Oh, please. Like the Raven slamming Kemoeatu in the face on the play Kemoeatu got the flag for, or the one who cheapshotted Harrison out of bounds, or Ray Lewis jumping on people who are already down?

The Steelers are trying to kill the Ravens. But the feeling is mutual and the Ravens are trying to do the exact same in reverse. There's no "clean" team in this game.

103 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

I won't try to defend some of the stupid stuff that ravens will occasionally do, but for the most part the only "unclean" stuff they do is late hits, often out of bounds, that fall much more into the realm of "incredibly stupid" rather than "vicious potential career enders." polamalu should be suspended for a season for the way he plays. he always goes for the knees. he always leads with his head. is it any surprise he's had concussion problems? i don't mind people being good, and the steelers have a number of very good players, but they've got a number of very dirty SOBs. that hit that took out mcgahee should surprise noone because it's bound to happen when a team plays with that kind of disrespect for the game.

68 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

Oh, no. Awful collision between Clark and McGahee. That's why you don't lead with your head. I hope they're okay.

77 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

He did hit him with the helmet, but I think that falls into the realm of "that's football." He led with the shoulder but the helmets still hit. Happens on tons of plays, just not with that intensity.

Looks like he's moving and smiling. Probably doesn't know his name, but he's moving.

Not a great few minutes for him though. First the knee then this.

137 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

Helmet-to-helmet hits occur constantly in football. People only notice them when somebody gets injured or it just looks really freaky, but I see very many every game. Everybody leads with their helmet to some degree, because nobody makes tackles perfectly upright. The annoying thing is that they only bother to assess fines when the commentators bother to take notice and make a big deal out of such a hit.

94 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

It's a good thing there's a rule about no personal attacks. You can be a homer, but that's crazy. That was a textbook helmet to helmet hit. 100% illegal. If McGahee hadn't ducked his head down, it would have been worse.

Clark's going to be suspended for a while. He needs to be suspended for the Super Bowl.

I'm a Raven's fan, but I could clearly see the Steelers outplayed them. It's a pity that two horrible flags (the Berger toe graze and the ejectionable noncall) are going to HAVE to be the talk of this game. Without them, the game was still in doubt, even if the doubt was largely luck.

111 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

What about your only two touchdowns coming from ticky-tack PI calls? Puh-leeze. There will be no controversy surrounding this game, because you are correct in your other point: the Steelers controlled this game beginning to end. I'm sure the Ravens will be back next year.

125 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

Ticky Tack PI? They were both exactly what PI is supposed to be: If you hit the receiver trying to make the catch before the ball gets there, then you're guilty of PI. If you run at the receiver without looking back and hit him right before the ball flies by, you're going to draw a flag 99 times out of 100.

Really, the only called penalty on both sides that I disagree with was the roughing the kicker.

That said, there were 250 holds on both offensive lines that were not called, and about 15 late hits on both sides, also not called.

143 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

"It's a pity that two horrible flags (the Berger toe graze and the ejectionable noncall) are going to HAVE to be the talk of this game. Without them, the game was still in doubt..."

If the roughing the kicker call hadn't been made, the Ravens would have had the ball first and ten at their own 7 yard line with 47 seconds left in the half and no timeouts. On their last possession (starting at 1:51), the Ravens had gained exactly two yards, and with that field position, they weren't likely to start airing it out. One shotgun draw for a few yards, then Flacco takes a knee and the half ends 13-7 anyway.

I won't argue the merits of the Clark hit, but for the moment let's stipulate that a PF was called. Baltimore keeps the ball and gains 15 yards, so they have first and ten at the Pittsburgh 47 with 3:29 left in the game. Is the game "still in doubt" at that point? Keep in mind that Baltimore has only one time out left, so they have to drive for a score (this is Heinz Field, so even if you're talking about kicking the FG first, they probably need 25 more yards), recover an onside kick, and drive for another score. So they need 85 yards of offense and an onside recovery. Is that "still in doubt"?

Mathematically, I suppose so. But considering the Ravens had 49 yards of total offense in the fourth quarter to that point (call it 60 if you assume they keep the 11 yards on McGahee's catch), I'd put their chances of picking up 85 yards in 3.5 minutes at somewhere less than 25%. (I think that's generous. In the three possessions in the second half of the fourth quarter, when they had to be more aggressive on offense, they gained a total of 46 net yards and threw two interceptions, disregarding the fumble.) And the chances of recovering an "expected" onside kick, IIRC, are somewhere between 25% and 35%, so the Ravens' total chances would have been somewhere between 6% and 9%.

71 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

"no such thing as helmet to helmet when a ball carrier is downfield" says Phil Simms.

Huh? It's ok to give a player a concussion when he's 10 yards downfield?

74 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

That comment pissed me off so much. Phil Simms is such a horrible announcer. I know it's been written about ad nauseum, but every time I hear him, he seems to say something even dumber than the game before.

Is there a Fire Phil Simms website? If not, there should be one.

72 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

I can't recall an NFL game where I've seen this much hitting. Some of it dirty, most of it clean. Just a brutal, brutal football game.

73 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

And I echo the sentiment about the players well being. Nobody likes to see this...........

113 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

Because Roethlisberger mismanaged the clock again (snapped the previous play with 4 seconds on the play clock) and they would have gotten a delay of game before the two-minute warning had he not called the timeout.

81 Re: 2009 AFC Championship Preview

Not exactly understanding how grazing a punter's toe is a 15-yard personal foul but a helmet-to-helmet tackle that could have killed Willis McGahee can lead to a change in possession.

And the "leading with the shoulder" bit just doesn't jib with the replay. The first point of contact was the helmets.

Phil Simms' comment was particularly idiotic (not that that is any kind of surprise). Apparently he thinks the penalty doesn't apply to running backs downfield.