PITTSBURGH, PA — Two and a half weeks after losing on a primetime stage to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Baltimore Ravens rebounded on Sunday Night Football with a 26-14 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The victory marks the second straight win for the Ravens and advances their record to 3-1, which ties them with Cincinnati for the lead in the AFC North over the Steelers and Browns, who both hold records of 1-2-1.
Here are five things we learned on about the Ravens on Sunday night.
1. Without Jimmy Smith, the Ravens defense proved us wrong and held the Steelers in-check
It’s public knowledge that my top concern heading into this game was whether or not the Ravens’ defense, particularly the secondary, could limit the damage the Steelers’ passing game could do after Ben Roethlisberger threw for over 500 yards against a Jimmy Smith-less defense last December in Pittsburgh. The Ravens were without Smith again this time, and the entire unit showed that they were not going to let the Steelers run wild this time.
Despite going into halftime with the game tied, allowing drives of 69, 76, and 79 yards for 13 total points, the Ravens’ defense buckled down and shut the Steelers out in the second half, limiting their high-octane offense to just 47 yards. Roethlisberger’s pass yardage total was cut nearly in half from the last meeting at 274, with just 40 yards in the second half. Tim Williams collected the lone Ravens’ sack on Roethlisberger in garbage time, and the tandem of Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr held Antonio Brown to just 62 yards on five receptions, which was the same total as tight end Vance McDonald, who along with Brown led the Steelers in reception yards.
You couldn’t ask for a much better defensive performance than what the Ravens put together on a primetime stage against a divisional opponent who had beaten Baltimore in their three prior meetings. Brown’s name was barely mentioned all night, and the Steelers mustered just 19 rushing yards. Areas of concern such as the middle of the field being exposed still existed, but the Steelers could not sustain any consistent production from their big-name weapons.
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2. Alex Collins has a fumbling problem
Easily the most frustrating moment of the night came early in the second quarter with the Ravens in the red zone carrying a 14-3 lead. On the first play of this specific drive, Joe Flacco threw a beautiful deep ball over the middle of the field to John Brown for a gain of 71 to set up the Ravens on the Pittsburgh 13-yard line.
After the referees flagged Javon Hargrave for a defensive offside on the next play, the Ravens faced a first-and-five situation where Flacco found Maxx Williams for a gain of six yards, setting up a first-and-goal down on the Steelers’ two-yard line. The Ravens called Alex Collins‘ number on an outside run play, but Collins fumbled right before he crossed the goal line and Pittsburgh recovered, ruining the Ravens’ chances to extend their lead to 21-3.
Despite being backed up on their own one-yard line, the Steelers went 79 yards down to Baltimore’s 20-yard line where Chris Boswell booted his second field goal of the game. The Ravens punted on their next possession. Then, the Steelers would go 76 yards on five plays, with Ben throwing for gains of 11 and 33 yards, capped off by a 26-yard touchdown toss to Brown. Mike Tomlin elected to go for the two-point conversion, which was successful with Roethlisberger connecting with James Conner.
While the Ravens shut out the Steelers after the Brown touchdown, the Collins fumble completely stalled the Ravens’ momentum and allowed the Steelers to get back in the game. Had Collins held onto the ball and scored, the Ravens would have led 21-3. The Steelers would have found a way back into the game regardless, but the Ravens cannot afford mistakes like this in big games.
With Buck Allen leading the team with four red zone touchdowns this season, the Ravens not going to him in this spot was puzzling. However, after Collins fumbled, his snap count decreased for the remainder of the game, with Allen and even undrafted rookie De’Lance Turner getting their numbers called in the second half. Collins has had fumbling problems before and if this theme continues, the Ravens may need to explore other options.
3. Convincing win was great, but Ravens still need to cut down on the dumb mistakes
Along with the Collins fumble, a handful of other dumb mistakes kept the Steelers in the game when the margin should have been a lot larger. Michael Crabtree dropped what would have been a first down, stalling a second-quarter drive. Crabtree and Flacco also miss-communicated on another second quarter play that would have easily turned into a touchdown and a 21-3 lead.
With a 20-14 lead in the third quarter, the Ravens tore deep into their trickery plays and went to Lamar Jackson multiple times. Jackson finished the game with nine snaps on offense, up seven from his two-snap total in last week’s win over the Broncos. On a crucial third-and-three play on the Steelers’ 43-yard line, Jackson rushed to the right for a gain of one yard, stalling a shaky drive with the Ravens just out of field goal range. John Harbaugh and Marty Mornhinweg confidently went for it on fourth down and converted on an inside sweep by Chris Moore. The Ravens would get the ball to the Pittsburgh 31-yard line before Justin Tucker extended Baltimore’s lead to nine with a 49-yard field goal, his third of four good three-point kicks on the night.
Moore bailed the Ravens out of their cute play-calling, but yet again using Jackson as a decoy nearly costed the Ravens a chance at points. In his nine snaps, the Steelers held Jackson to 17 yards on four rushes. I’m not as upset about using Jackson early in the game just to throw defenses off-guard, but if they catch on, stop getting too cute and go to your franchise quarterback who’s averaging over eight yards-per-completion in the game.
With four minutes remaining in the game and a 23-14 lead, the Ravens once again entered field goal range. In such an important game, both for divisional purposes and for the franchise as a whole, most coaching staffs would have done whatever they could to take as much time off the clock as possible. Not the Ravens. Deep in Pittsburgh territory, the Ravens ran it on first down with Allen before Flacco threw two incomplete passes, setting up Tucker for his fourth field goal with 3:37 to play. Even if the Ravens ran three straight run plays and still came up short of the first down, they could have run the clock to almost the two-minute warning.
Given the circumstances the poor clock management here didn’t come back to bite the Ravens, but if Harbaugh continues to do this against good teams it will come back to haunt him at some point. If you have a lead above a touchdown late in the game, run the ball, milk the clock as much as you can, and take the points. If you disagree, just watch the last few minutes of the Ravens/Eagles game in 2016.
4. Joe Flacco’s postgame frustrations showed why he’s a rejuvenated quarterback
Despite winning the game and putting up 363 passing yards (the highest total a Ravens quarterback has ever put up against the Steelers), Flacco didn’t shy away from showing his frustrations for the Ravens not being as good as they could have been.
“Yeah, I’m frustrated,” Flacco said after the game. “I really am. I thought there were a couple of drives there at the end of the half where we just shot ourselves in the foot. We went into halftime and it wasn’t a big deal because we were basically still at zero-zero, but I really just felt like we could have had 28, 30, 35 points out there at halftime.”
“It just felt like we left stuff out there, for sure,” Flacco said. “With these guys and the way these guys have been throughout my time here, especially over the course of the last couple years, you just don’t want to leave points out there because you know what they’re capable of doing.”
I love the edginess from Flacco here. Flacco’s swept his emotions under the rug for much of his career, but it’s great to see him pushing the offense to be better despite the solid primetime showcase. The Collins fumble and Crabtree miscues were not on Joe, and he’s doing exactly what a franchise quarterback should be doing: letting his guys know that they still have work to do to be great.
5. Ravens may want to lock John Brown up sooner rather than later
The 71-yard strike to Brown referenced above wasn’t the only big play of the night for the former Arizona Cardinal. The Ravens’ first drive of the night ended with a 33-yard touchdown strike from Flacco to Brown, where Brown beat Cameron Sutton and Joe Haden for the score. Brown finished the game as the Ravens’ leading receiver with 116 yards on three receptions and a touchdown.
Through his first four games in Baltimore, Brown has accumulated 15 receptions for 338 yards and three touchdowns. He’s on-pace to finish with numbers similar to his 2015 career year that saw him catch 65 balls for 1,003 yards and seven touchdowns.
Brown leads Ravens receivers by a large margin. Behind Brown, Willie Snead has 198 yards and a touchdown on 18 receptions. Crabtree also owns 18 receptions for 184 yards and a score. Brown is the only one of the trio on a one-year contract. As I have mentioned several times, health is the key for Brown. If he continues to put up big numbers in the coming weeks, the Ravens need to give him an extension and prevent him from entering free agency, where his price would end up being higher than what it is now.
Image Credit: Baltimore Sun