Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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» 2017 Offensive Personnel Analysis

It's a three-receiver league, but for the first time since 2010, the frequency of 11 personnel actually went down last year. Was it a blip, or sign of things to come?

16 Jan 2009

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.


Ravens on Offense
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.


Steelers on Offense
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
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.


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.


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."

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 16 Jan 2009

165 comments, Last at 19 Jan 2009, 4:03pm by Love is like a bottle of gin


by Telamon :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 3:10pm

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.

by Love is like a bottle of gin (not verified) :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 7:07pm

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.

by JMM :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 3:34pm

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.)

by jonnyblazin :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 4:55pm

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.

by Balaji (not verified) :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 5:21pm

It's easy to render James Harrison invisible - just hold him on every play.

by Independent George :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 5:24pm

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

by Billy-Boy (not verified) :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 5:59pm

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."

by Eddo :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 6:25pm

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.

by Jerry :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 6:25pm

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.

by ernie cohen (not verified) :: Sat, 01/17/2009 - 12:01am

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.

by Justin Zeth :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 6:53pm

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

by Love is like a bottle of gin (not verified) :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 7:12pm

I think Tomlin is going to prove to as good at his job than Polamalu is at his. Get off his case

by Luz (not verified) :: Fri, 01/16/2009 - 9:51pm

Hey diddle diddle, it's Rogle up the middle!

by DJ Any Reason (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:38am

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.

by Flagstaff :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 7:49pm

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!

by Sid :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 7:51pm

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.

by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 7:53pm

Huh, Reed went for the PBU and didn't make the play letting Ward behind him. That one is on Reed.

by Rocco :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 7:58pm

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.

by Bywater Brat (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 8:06pm

I think that's the NFL's anti-steroid policy

by Sid :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 8:10pm

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.

by t.d. :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 8:17pm

you know, phil simms is a cretin

by Sid :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 8:20pm

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.

by Dunbar (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 8:22pm

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.


by dmb :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 9:06pm

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.

by Britomart (not verified) :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 1:41am

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.

by roguerouge :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 8:24pm

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.

by Rocco :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 8:42pm

That TD was about 95% luck. I'll take it.

by Sid :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 8:44pm

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.

by Dunbar (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 8:46pm

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.

by bob (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 8:51pm

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.

by Sid :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 9:04pm

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.

by Sid :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 9:07pm

"no more challenges the rest of the half"

he means the rest of the game

by DME (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 9:14pm

He caught it and corrected it - you could hear it in the background. CBS apparently thought this was not important to tell us.

by Rocco :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 9:13pm

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?

by bob (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 9:15pm

I think we may have entered the "refs keeping it close" portion of the game.

by Rocco :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 9:17pm

Any idea how much money was bet on the Steelers for this game?

by Love is like a bottle of gin (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 9:23pm

That rarely gets called on the star defenders sadly. has to be a Joe Smchoe.

by Sid :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 9:15pm

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

Now it's a game.

by Rocco :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 9:15pm

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

by Dunbar (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 9:16pm

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.

by Sid :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 9:19pm

two minute warning comes at 1:51.

that's rare

by Sid :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 9:25pm

"and it's dropped for a touchdown"

by Dave Bernreuther :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 9:26pm

And the fans are booing Sweed. As well they should be.

by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 9:31pm

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

by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 9:34pm

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

by Rocco :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 9:34pm

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

by Rocco :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 9:34pm

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

by Sid :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 9:35pm

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.

by bob (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 9:52pm

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.

by Big Johnson (not verified) :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 3:33am

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.

by Sid :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 9:37pm

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.

by Dunbar (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 9:41pm

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 :)).

by B :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 9:45pm

You mean the play where Holmes clearly dropped the ball before he crossed the end zone, right?

by Dunbar (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 9:47pm

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.

by B :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 9:55pm

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.

by Dunbar (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 9:59pm

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.

by B :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 10:05pm

Apparently we're watching different games, because that is not even close to what I saw.

by Dunbar (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 10:19pm

Well, I'm obviously a Steelers homer, so I could be wrong. That's what I thought I saw on the replay, but I thought Roethlisberger scored on that QB sneak.

by Flagstaff :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:05pm

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!

by dmb :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 10:19pm

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.

by Dunbar (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:05pm

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.

by DGL :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 2:01am

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.

by Sid :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 9:44pm

Hines Ward is the Chris Johnson of this week.

by Jay (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 9:57pm

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

by chubbypuppy (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 10:40pm

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

by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 10:43pm

2 special teams plays gave them good field position (return and Berger's crappy punt) and 2 PI penalties gave them 1st and goal on those same drives.

by bob (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 10:47pm

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.

by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 10:51pm

Yeah, he got sacked for a 14-yard loss on one first down.

by Yaxley :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 10:52pm

According to the play-by-play, the Steelers have started their four second half drives with Parker runs for 2, 2, 1, and 0 yards.

It makes me want to pull my hair out.

by student (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 10:53pm

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.

by bob (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:00pm

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.

by student (not verified) :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 12:06am

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.

by Flagstaff :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:00pm

Why isn't that an incomplete pass?

Jacks RULE!

by Dunbar (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:00pm

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

by chubbypuppy (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:03pm

Clark hit him with his shoulder........

by Dave Bernreuther :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:07pm

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.

by navin :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:12pm

When I saw the hit I thought it was going to be a penalty. Helmet-to-helmet hits are a penalty, and this one was pretty vicious, even if intent to injure was not there.

by Britomart (not verified) :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 1:49am

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.

by Steve (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:03pm

He didn't, he led with his shoulder.

by TGT :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:30pm

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.

by Mikey Benny (not verified) :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 12:36am

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.

by TGT :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 1:02am

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.

by Mikey Benny (not verified) :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 10:46am

No one would have complained if those PI calls were not made. Hence, ticky-tack.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 12:53pm

I would have.

The second one is about as obvious PI as it gets.

by DGL :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 2:27am

"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%.

by RickD :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:03pm

"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?

by navin :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:05pm

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.

by Yaxley :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:11pm

I've yelled at the TV more because of Phil Simms than because of the game. He's just atrocious.

by Robo-Hochuli (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:23pm

Even for Phil Simms, this is inexcusably ridiculous.

by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:04pm

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.

by chubbypuppy (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:04pm

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

by Flagstaff :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:10pm

Why would the Steelers call TO at 2:01 when they are leading?

Jacks RULE!

by Flagstaff :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:16pm

And they had the ball.

Jacks RULE!

by TGT :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:22pm

playclock was at 0.

by Flagstaff :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 12:37am

Thank you. At least that makes sense. I had no sound when it happened and didn't notice the play clock.

Jacks RULE!

by Flagstaff :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:45pm

This wasn't a rhetorical question. Does anybody know? Phil Simms didn't even notice the strangeness.

Jacks RULE!

by Mikey Benny (not verified) :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 12:39am

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.

by Flagstaff :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 2:50am

Thank you, too.

Jacks RULE!

by Dunbar (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:11pm

Poor McGahee. Few players have had worse luck with injuries.

by RickD :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:11pm

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.

by Flagstaff :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:12pm

The Cardinals look better every minute.

Jacks RULE!

by navin :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:19pm

Where is "FireOmarTomlin?"

by snik75 (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:19pm

1) Why not challenge the McGahee "fumble"? You just lost the game if it stands.
2) If helmet to helmet is legal downfield, why? Who are they trying to hurt?
3) If illegal, it is pretty lousy for an otherwise exciting game to turn on an iffy call on an illegal hit. And that is what I will take away from the game, not matter what Phil Sims says.

by Calig23 :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:22pm

The Ravens were out of challenges.

by Calig23 :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:23pm

And, I should add, even if they hadn't been out of challenges, they only had one timeout left, which means they couldn't have challenged anyways.

by TGT :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:33pm

That's not right. If you have a challenge and timeout, then you can challenge. I think McGahee had 3 ground contacts, so it'd be doubly moot.

by DoubleB (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:22pm

I believe the Ravens were out of challenges.

by Flagstaff :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 12:40am

Another problem with the challenge/replay rules.

Jacks RULE!

by Flagstaff :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:50pm

Looking at the tape and the earlier "incomplete pass" to Holmes near the goal line, the call should have been "incomplete pass," as McGahee didn't maintain possession as he hit the ground. And the Steeler picked the ball up off the ground, not off his unconscious body.

Jacks RULE!

by navin :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 12:17am

It's actually a different rule for the Holmes catch. If the process of making the catch or a hit during the catch takes you to the ground, you must maintain control of the ball through the fall.

On the McGahee play he already had a couple feet down before being hit, making it a fumble, though I thought it should have been an illegal hit, negating the fumble. But other than that, the officials ruled it correctly.

by Flagstaff :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 12:56am

That brings up the question of what constitutes the "process of making the catch"? It looked to me as if Holmes had already passed the point of "making the catch" as well. If you watch the McGahee hit in full speed, he is hit immediately after "receiving" the ball. He did take one or two steps after the "reception," but I'd say Holmes did as well. Unfortunately, I don't have it on tape, so it's only my memory, which could be wrong.

Jacks RULE!

by Mikey Benny (not verified) :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 12:43am

1) Ravens were out of challenges (Which is why Harbaugh's challenge of that first down catch was brain dead)
2) Much as I hate Phil Simms as a commentator, he's correct: the helmet to helmet rule is only for quarterbacks while passing, and "defenseless" receivers.
3) Ravens fans should really stop squawking about the officiating. It was equal opportunity in its horrificness.

by TGT :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 1:39am

2) Much as I hate Phil Simms as a commentator, he's correct: the helmet to helmet rule is only for quarterbacks while passing, and "defenseless" receivers.

You are kind of correct technically, but also completely wrong. "Helmet to helmet" is only mentioned in the rulebook for kick/punt returners and qbs. Defenseless receivers (and any other player in a virtually defenseless posture) are treated just like quarterbacks when hit by a helmet.

Unfortunately, the term helmet to helmet is also commonly used when talking about Unnecessary Roughness:Article 8(g). This penalty can be called for "using any part of a player's helmet...to butt, spear, or ram an opponent unnecessarily or violently..." against any player. Leading with the helmet, and going helmet to helmet is when this section of the rule is normally invoked. Going helmet to helmet 5-6 feet in the air very much fits the definition.

I used the 2006 NFL rulebook, so it's possible this section has changed.

by Mikey Benny (not verified) :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 10:48am

Thanks for the clarification. It's just not uniformly enforced, hence the confusion.

by Dunbar (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:21pm

Kind of a somber note to end on. What an incredibly physical game. The crazy thing is that it's like that every time they play.

I loved Nantz saying to Simms, "You the best, my man" at the end. That was great.

by David Mazzotta :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:23pm

So I guess we get two weeks of stories about Wisenhutt's revenge.

by chubbypuppy (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:36pm

They showed a pretty clear replay from the side where Clark's shoulder was the point of impact.

This wasn't Andre Waters looking to spear someone. It was an incredibly hard hit.

by TGT :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:42pm

They showed a pretty clear replay that the head hit first. Even Simms agreed it was helmet to helmet, and he's a cretin.

I'm not saying it was an intentionally dirty hit, but when you launch yourself head first head high, nothing good is going to happen.

by Flagstaff :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:53pm

How is it possible to make that tackle without touching helmets?

Jacks RULE!

by TGT :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 12:02am

Touching Helmets = not illegal.

Leaving your feet and hitting their helmet with your helmet first = illegal.

by Flagstaff :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 12:15am

Helmets touch on tackles all the time.

Jacks RULE!

by Flagstaff :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 3:25am

"Leaving your feet and hitting their helmet with your helmet first = illegal."

Except that neither of those were the case.

Jacks RULE!

by Karen R :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 8:16am

Leaving your feet isn't illegal, which we learned on the Ryan Clark/Wes Welker hit earlier this year. They flagged him at the time but the NFL later announced it was totally legal and shouldn't have been flagged. And this was after everyone was clamouring for a big fine.

by Dunbar (not verified) :: Sun, 01/18/2009 - 11:52pm

Does it matter whether his shoulder or helmet hit first? That isn't a rhetorical question. It seemed to me like he left his feet a bit in his eagerness to hit McGahee, led with his shoulder, and happened to hit with his head at around the same time his shoulder hit McGahee's. I don't know if it counts as an illegal hit if his shoulder hit before or at the same time as the helmet, but it was certainly dangerous because of the way he left his feet. It was a stupid move whether or not it was technically a penalty, but if it was an illegal hit, the Ravens should have kept possession.

My guess is that Clark will be fined and/or suspended for the Super Bowl either way, since it seems to be borderline illegal and the media will make a controversy out of it if he isn't punished.

by Flagstaff :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 12:18am

He might miss a few games to start next season, but he won't be suspended for the Super Bowl. It has never worked that way.

Jacks RULE!

by navin :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 12:25am

I just watched a few replays of the hit on YouTube and have changed my mind. It was definitely helmet-to-helmet, but Clark did not leave his feet before making the hit, probably making it okay. The impact did cause Clark to fly into the air, but he was on the ground before the hit.

by Flagstaff :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 1:55am

I have now watched the McGahee hit many times on my own game tape. What it looks like depends on what angle the camera had. At both full speed and slo-mo from the original game angle, it looks like full speed head-to-head.

The next two CBS close-up replays (one real-time and one slo-mo) look as if Clark is trying to hit Willis in the chest with his right shoulder, and McGahee ducks his head down to brace for the impact. In doing so, he brings his helmet into line with Clark's helmet, and they appear to hit on either the face masks or the side. If I slow my tape down even more, they both still look like that.

The third CBS replay (their slo-mo) looks head-to-head, but when I slow it down more, it is pretty clear that Clark is also holding his head down to try to avoid McGahee's helmet while making the shoulder hit, and McGahee brings his down to brace for impact, and the helmets do hit.

The fourth replay in CBS "Super-Vision" is from a higher angle. It makes the impact look like they hit helmets and shoulders simultaneously, perhaps heads first. Again, if I slow it down more, it appears that both players try to duck their heads and turn their bodies, perhaps to avoid helmet contact, perhaps to avoid pain. Since the whole thing takes less than a second to happen (it all occurs while the game clock reads 3:35; from the catch at 3:35 to the hit is about one-half second, another half-second to hit the ground, and the ball is out at 3:34), it seems hard to say that Clark did anything intentional. Maybe that's irrelevant.

Anyway, IMHO, I don't think a fine or suspension is warranted. The videos are ambiguous and open to interpretation.

Jacks RULE!

by bengt (not verified) :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 6:20am

The next two CBS close-up replays (one real-time and one slo-mo) look as if Clark is trying to hit Willis in the chest with his right shoulder, and McGahee ducks his head down to brace for the impact.

My thoughts exactly. Granted, I saw the play maybe ten times during live coverage because German TV basically was showing a loop of it during the CBS commercial break, but I fail to see how this is anything but obvious.

I also don't understand why some people are still getting at other people's throats on whether Clark "left his feet" or not when Mike Perreira said (I'm paraphrasing) "It's a common misconception among viewers, but there is no rule that you must not leave your feet while tackling. They probably think of ice hockey." (He was referring to a Ryan Clark(sic) tackle of Wes Welker if you want to google it.)

Rules discussions in live threads are sooo meaningless...

by Mikey NYC (not verified) :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 12:25am

I'm nominating this one.

Anybody got one better?

by Dunbar (not verified) :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 12:45am

Every other Steelers-Ravens game. This one, terrifyingly enough, was not unique in its violence.

by morganja :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 12:29am

Clark should be suspended for the Super Bowl and a few games in addition, and the refs who somehow didn't throw a flag should be suspended and fined as well. It is a clear, textbook example of an illegal, and incredibly dangerous, hit. It also opens the door to an extremely expensive lawsuit. If I was McGahee, I would have my lawyers in court Tuesday morning. The rule is clearly in place to prevent serious injury in the workplace. The refs, by choosing not to enforce their own rule, are creating an unsafe work environment.

That useless appendage Periera will no doubt explain to us all why it wasn't technically a penalty and the refs were exactly correct. But this goes beyond his usual idiotic incompetence. Thank God they are finally getting rid of him after next season.

by Independent George :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 1:22am

Watching the replay in slow-mo, I'm certain of the following:

1. Clark leads with his shoulder, turning his head away just before impact.
2. Nevertheless, it's a clear helmet-to-helmet hit, and the helmets were the first point of contact.
3. McGahee got the worst of it because the force of the impact pushed downward on his head, with the energy compressing straight through into the neck. Clark was turned to the side, and the energy of impact was dispersed as he went down.

I don't know whether the hit merits a fine or suspension, but it seemed pretty clear to me that Clark did not lead with the helmet, and there was no intent to injure. It was definitely a helmet-to-helmet hit, though, and if the rule is that this is illegal regardless of intent, then I won't object to it.

by Flagstaff :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 2:31am

Having watched my own tape many times, I can only say I saw it differently on both points two and three. It's a good example of why eye-witness testimony is not likely to be vry accurate on details.

The helmets met side to side, not down on McGahee's head, slightly, but very slightly, after their shoulders or shoulder and chest met. If anything, the blow was more towards the top of Clark's helmet than to McGahee's. It's easier to see in double slow motion.

I agree with your final paragraph.

Jacks RULE!

by cd6 :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 12:32am

Steelers are going to the superbowl woooooooooooohooooooooo!!!

/back to your regularly scheduled, sober analysis

by morganja :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 12:45am

Pittsburgh was by far the better team on the field today and I think most of that was due to the rookie QB looking like a rookie. But the Pittsburgh defense and the pressure of the Conference game will do that to a rookie.

It was unfortunate that the game was marred by the terrible officiating again. The indefensible 15 yard roughing the kicker penalty was just outright incompetence. How can you get that wrong when there are only two people in the area and you are staring right at it. Simply amazing. If there is any question in your mind then you call the 5 yard penalty. What an idiot especially to say that the defender slid into the plant leg when in fact he clearly did not. Be sure or don't throw the flag. Very simple.

But this game had illegal helmet to helmet hits by both sides from the get-go. These refs let it go. Apparently it's not a penalty in the playoffs. They need to call it the first time they see it as a warning to not do it. But they failed to do it, both teams picked up on it, and both teams did it for the rest of the game, leading to McGahee being strapped to a stretcher possible paralyzed for life.

NFL refs have been so consistently incompetent for so long. Why do we have to suffer through another season with that embarrassing arrogant piece of crap Pereira running the crews?

Congratulations to the Steelers who played a great game. They definitely deserve to be in the Championship.

by TGT :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 12:55am

But this game had illegal helmet to helmet hits by both sides from the get-go. These refs let it go. Apparently it's not a penalty in the playoffs. They need to call it the first time they see it as a warning to not do it. But they failed to do it, both teams picked up on it, and both teams did it for the rest of the game, leading to McGahee being strapped to a stretcher possible paralyzed for life.

I disagree that it was a problem all game. There were helmet to helmet hits, but they all came 3 feet off the ground when players were trying to get low. I've never seen one of those called. 6 feet off the ground, where the only thing you'll hit is head is a different matter.

by Mikey Benny (not verified) :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 12:47am

The Ravens fans are REALLY making me laugh in their bitterness. Lose like men! Your boys played a great game and came up short. Refs made horrible calls in favor of both teams. Find one journalist outside of the Baltimore area who blames the refs for this loss! You won't find one, because those of you who think this are either (a.) in a fantasy world (b.) blinded by disappointment in the moment of losing.

by TGT :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 1:10am

I haven't seen that much blaming of the refs. Oh wait, I blamed them from changing the story from: "Defenses dominate; Steelers deservedly win hard fought game" to "refs make stupid calls."

Pittsburgh deserved to win. It was luck that the game was as close as it was. That doesn't mean the refs get a pass.

by Boss Hog (not verified) :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 12:48am

I don't think the Clark hit was illegal. Looking at the super-slo-mo, McGahee and Clark are barrelling towards each other at nearly full steam, and while Clark does launch himself forward at the ballcarrier, he also makes an evident effort to curl his body downwards and to the left, putting his shoulder out front. Certainly it was a ferocious and even somewhat personally reckless play by Clark -- he didn't ease up or break his stride or anything, even though the two guys were colliding full-steam. But in my judgement he DID make an effort to lean and turn so that his shoulder would make first contact.

As it happened, the shoulder and head hit almost simultaneously, and it was a vicious collision. But he definitely did not "lead with his head", attempt to "spear" McGahee, etc etc. His only crime was not slowing down, or veering away from the onrushing ballcarrier. As far as I can make out, that kind of hit is almost inevitable given the rules and conventions of football as it is currently played...

by TGT :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 12:51am

On a slightly different topic, did anyone find the music playing on the Pittsburgh PA a little bit off? CCR's "Down on the Corner" probably wasn't the best choice while 2 players lay on the field with head/neck injuries.

Down on the corner, out in the street,
Willy and the poorboys are playin;
Bring a nickel; tap your feet.

by Yaguar :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 2:23am

Yea, what was the deal with that?

by Robo-Pope :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 12:53am

I'm still rather confused as to why you would be suspended for a helmet-to-helmet hit after quite clearly turning to the side in an attempt to lead with the shoulder.
McGahee made an incredibly stupid move by putting his head down to lead into the impact, which is why their helmets hit.
The hit was RIDICULOUSLY hard, but Clark didn't lead with the helmet, he was turned to the side and leading with the shoulder. Bad luck led to the helmet contact.

by TGT :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 1:13am

I've seen unnecessary roughness for shoulder to the head, too. Anytime you aim 6 feet in the air, nothing good happens.

McGahee moved his helmet like 2 inches; it was going to be helmet to helmet anyway. If something is flying at your head, you duck. It's an automatic reaction, not an incredibly stupid move.

by Independent George :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 1:32am

I wouldn't blame McGahee for it; once you've squared your shoulders and run downhill at full steam, it's pretty hard to avoid leading your head.

Clark saw McGahee coming, and McGahee saw Clark in his way. They both did what they're paid to do, and wound up in a perilous situation. Stupid? Probably, but no stupider than the decision to make your living running into people at full speed.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 1:10pm

Its almost impossible to leave your feet and still lead with the shoulder,without hitting turning completely sideways.

If McGahee doesn't put his head down, clark hits him dead center of the chest with his helmet. It was a clear spear.

by Boss Hog (not verified) :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 12:54am

Also, I'm not a Steeler fan, but they did decisively outplay the Ravens today and fully deserve the victory. I don't the officials actually swayed things in any particular direction. Poor Steelers clock management at the end of the half meant that the phantom "roughing the kicker" penalty had zero effect on the outcome of the game. Aside from that one call, I think the various holding penalties, personal fouls, etc, were all pretty even. The Santonio Holmes TD was a 50-50 thing, as I saw it, but I'm a little unsure about the rules -- is it really true that a catch, followed by a many-step stumble that ultimately results in a fall and a dropped ball, is an incompletion? If so, it seems like a dumb rule. Holmes looked like he had established possession as I saw it.

by Opiegrey (not verified) :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 1:54am

I'm not picking on you specifically Boss, but as you are at the bottom of the page, so all the replies to people above you will go here as well :)

When the player is CONTACTED by the defense in the process of making a catch, that player must maintain control of the ball. Holmes was contacted before taking any steps, and went down from that contact. Since he lost the ball when he hit, it's incomplete.

McGahee caught the ball free, took 3 steps, and then was hit, jarring the ball loose (since he was all but unconscious, no surprise there) - fumble.

I am a little surprised that the FO readership is having such a collectively hard time with this very simple rule.

by Dunbar (not verified) :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 2:31am

Don't be a condescending ass. The problem is this: Holmes was contacted while making the catch, but he also had the ball firmly in his grasp, got both feet down, and dragged one foot before he started going down from the contact. Then, after the ball had broken the plane of the endzone, he and the ball hit the ground and the ground popped out. The question is whether it still counts as an incomplete pass due to the contact made even though he had both feet down with possession and dragged his foot before the lack of balance caused by the contact caused him to fall and have the ball jarred loose by the ground inside the end zone. I say no. Perhaps the rule says yes, in which case I opine that the rule is stupid. Either way, there's no reason for you to be patronizing about it.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 1:14pm

"he problem is this: Holmes was contacted while making the catch, but he also had the ball firmly in his grasp, got both feet down, and dragged one foot before he started going down from the contact"

None of that matters. The defender was touching him, so he has to maintain possesion as he goes to the ground.

This is the same as a receiver catching a ball on the sidelines, dragging his feet inbounds, and then the ball popping out as he hits the ground: incomplete pass.

You need to maintain possesion as you go to the ground if you're hit while catching the ball.

by Flagstaff :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 2:46am

Heh. The rule may seem simple, but there's no place to actually read it. The NFL rule book isn't readily available. We have to depend on the color analyst to tell us the details of the rule.

It's pretty clear the rule was changed to its current form to make it easier for the officials. Before, they had to decide if possession had been established based on their opinion and observation. Now, if it's dropped as the ground contacts the player/ball combination, it's just "incomplete." No decision or observation required.

I believe it was not reviewable before, as it was an official's "judgment," but it is reviewable now--it either comes out or doesn't.

Jacks RULE!

by morganja :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 1:15am

By your definition then, there simply is no such thing as an illegal hit from leading with the helmet, unless a tackler's head and helmet separate with the head somehow shooting off like a rocket, leaving the shoulders far behind.

It was clearly an illegal hit. He led with the helmet and made contact with the defender's helmet. Leading with the shoulder is an entirely different kettle of fish. The tackler's head goes to one side or the other of the runners torso below the shoulderpads. This hit was high, illegal, and obviously dangerous.

But I blame the officials for not calling it early in the game and consistently. Just one flag for helmet to helmet hit and both teams would have stopped doing it. Very simple.

It's not like that was the only helmet to helmet hit the entire game. It was a brutal game with at least one hit like that every drive. It was only a matter of time before someone got carted off the field.

And these same refs call a 15 yard roughing the passer penalty if someone's finger brushes the side of a QB's helmet. If McGahee is paralyzed, these refs are directly responsible and I think they know that.

by Independent George :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 1:38am

I disagree; Clark clearly turned and tried to hit McGahee with his shoulder, but wound up hitting him with the helmet. I can understand fining players for helmet hits regardless of intent - after all, injuries happen regardless of intent, and you want to make sure players stay in control of themselves. But this was not an attempt to use the helmet at a weapon; it was just rotten luck in an incredibly fast, dangerous game.

by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 4:51am

By your definition then, there simply is no such thing as an illegal hit from leading with the helmet

If you could find video of Jason Short's hit in 2004 on special teams, that's the textbook example of leading with the helmet. It's not as simple as "helmet is the first thing that hits." It can't be - the defender can't control the offensive player's movements.

It's easy enough to see - does the helmet strike significantly before any other portion of the body, and is every other portion of the body far away when the strike occurs? That's leading with the helmet.

by Upstate (not verified) :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 1:16am

Nice job by the Steelers. Polamalu's calf didn't seem to be bothering him too much, eh? Subterfuge? Roethlisberger really threaded the needle with a couple of those passes; didn't realize he could put that much zip on the ball.

by troycapitated p... :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 4:58am

I don't think it was subterfuge on Polamalu's part. I don't think it's his style. It was pretty evident that it bothered him last week, when he injured it, as he had one of his poorer games of the season. Before the game, Phil Simms said he still appeared to be bothered by it, but, as the game went along they commented that it seemed to have loosened up to the point that it was no longer giving him any trouble.

by For Your Convenience (not verified) :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 1:25am

is clearly being screwed by the refs' because . is way better than this.

by TGT :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 1:45am

The refs screwed up, but the game was likely out of hand anyway, so I don't think anyone was screwed by them.

I still think it was ignoble end to the head referee's career.

by morganja :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 2:22am

The rule for a catch isn't simple at all. It use to be simple and pretty much everyone could identify a catch when they saw one. Then Mike Periera decided that the rule should involve 'a football move' and all sorts of incomprehensible nonsense that supposedly made the refs job easier but leads to the result that obvious catches are no longer catches under the rule.

Was it a catch? I think it clearly was a catch.

Was it a catch under the current NFL rules? Under those rules it clearly was not.

I hope the next guy that is head of officiating can fix this stupid rule as well as fix the ongoing disaster that is NFL officiating.

I'll be happy when officials just make the occasional understandable mistake instead of the unending litany of complete botch jobs that they do now.

by Love is like a bottle of gin (not verified) :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 3:06am

I think that job is A LOT harder than you are realizing. Not saying improvements couldn't be made, but even at 12 and 14 year old speed you are guessing half the time, much less NFL speed.

Personally I think they should get the replay A LOT more involved to check almost every play, because it is simply impossible for men on the field to do as good of a job as the fans seem to want. This would not have slow the games down if you put commercials in those stoppages and removed most of the other commercial breaks.

by Robo-Pope :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 4:15am

I feel like the constant stoppages would make the game way too much like baseball, which is mind-numbing.

by Love is like a bottle of gin (not verified) :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 4:03pm

My whole point was that their already are constant stoppages. Commercial breaks.

by David Kelly (not verified) :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 3:31am

I was just noticing tonight that all four of the teams that played today have outstanding safety play (Wilson, Dawkins, Polamalu, Reed). Any idea if this is a legitimate connection or is it just coincidental?

by bengt (not verified) :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 6:45am

Since almost the whole thread revolves around rules and their enforcement, now for something completely the same: Why was Ray Lewis's tackle when Willie Parker fumbled not one of the 'horsecollar' variety? He grabbed his shirt at the neck and immediately started pulling him down. What am I missing?

by student (not verified) :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 10:06am

Not sure. I thought about that when I saw it. at a guess it's because it was the opposite of a traditional horse-collar. lewis was coming at him from the front-ish as opposed to the back and had both hands on him, and parker just managed to keep moving a little bit so that lewis's momentum carried him around back and pulled parker to the ground with him, even if lewis's hand did end up pulling him down by the pads. plus parker had already lost a lot of momentum from what was up to that point a legal hit by lewis, so it wasn't as much of a "bend him in half" kind of thing as happens when a safety pulls a full speed receiver down like that. i think the horse collar rule really only is going to be applied when the defender's clear goal is to tackle in an unsafe manner. if you're both colliding fair and square, and in the microseconds of that you end up holding onto the guy's pads, and you pull him down, they're never gonna call that.

by Justin Zeth :: Mon, 01/19/2009 - 9:10am

It looked like a horsecollar to me... but Parker had already fumbled the ball by the time Lewis grabbed him by the collar. Not even sure if it's callable in that case.

Ryan Clark... head, shoulder... regardless of the back-and-forth over what part of Clark's own body he led with, he was aiming for McGahee's head. And it's not some isolated incident; Ryan Clark tries to decapitate people all the time. He's notorious for aiming for the head. It's the viciousness of the particular hit on McGahee plus Clark's long history of headhunting that fully merits a long suspension.

As it stands, it won't happen. It wasn't flagged, the NFL frankly, quietly, doesn't want to deter players from making huge hits on non-quarterbacks; it gets ratings. Clark may get fined, but he certainly won't get suspended.