Here are some random observations about the Steelers' 13-10 victory over the Baltimore Ravens that didn't make it into my live blogging (which you can find here and here):
- In the past two seasons, the Steelers and Ravens have each gone 2-2 against one another, and although Pittsburgh now has the inside track, they're both currently vying for the division crown. However, the two Pittsburgh losses have been with backup quarterback Dennis Dixon under center; what's more, the Steelers hung with Baltimore in those two Dixon-led losses, losing by a combined six points. Last night, Pittsburgh was victorious over the Ravens despite a medley of injuries all over the roster, most notably on their offensive and defensive lines. Granted, I'm sure Baltimore has its share of injury woes, too (although I can't imagine that list is nearly as lengthy as Pittsburgh's), and the Steelers' victories last night and in Week 16 of last season, both with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, were also by a mere six points. Even still, I just don't know how anyone could say the Ravens are the better team, at least at full strength. The Steelers simply have too much talent on the roster and are too well coached. I know that the Ravens feel like they gave the game away and I know that the Steelers have gotten lucky a few times this season - namely, against Buffalo and Miami - but after last night, the Steelers look like the best team in the division.
- Despite a lackluster performance on Sunday Night Football, running back Rashard Mendenhall topped 1,000 yards on the season, so congratulations to him. It's the third-year back's second consecutive season over the century mark. That said, I'm concerned about the effectiveness of the rushing attack. Over the last three weeks, Mendenhall has recorded a paltry 3.3 ypc, despite facing two defenses (Oakland and Buffalo) that typically struggle to defend the run. This isn't a total knock on Mendenhall, of course; the offensive line simply isn't opening lanes for him like they should. In fact, even though Mendenhall's numbers have taken a hit this year - he's averaging 3.9 ypc through twelve games, as opposed to 4.6 ypc last season - he's making strides, hitting the hole strong instead of dancing or spinning in the backfield.
- Punter Daniel Sepulveda is out for the season after tearing the ACL in his non-kicking leg. This is the third time he's experienced such a tear; the last one kept him out of the 2008 season. This is a huge loss for the Steelers, as they'll be forced to scour the waiver wire for a replacement. Hopefully you don't remember the Mitch Berger Show in 2008 - what a nightmare. For a Steelers team that's won six of its victories by eight points or less, the importance of field position cannot be overlooked. Sepulveda will finish the season with a career best 45.5-yard average on 56 punts.
- Rookie wideout Emmanuel Sanders continues to impress. He finished with three catches for 49 yards, including a 28-yarder (video) that eventually led to Pittsburgh's second field goal. He also made a fantastic, shoestring tackle on special teams, giving Baltimore the ball on their own 16 yard line with three minutes remaining. Sanders has shown promise enough this season that it wouldn't be surprising to see him step into a starting role in a couple years.
- It was great to have defensive end Brett Keisel back. He's one of the most under-appreciated ends in the league, and the Steelers were able to hold Ray Rice to just 32 yards (3.6 ypc) in his return. Oh, yeah. His beard is awesome, too: