Podcast Episode 46: Breaking down the good, the bad, and the ugly of what we’ve seen so far from the Orioles

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Ravens: Five things we learned following 26-14 win over Steelers

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.


Quick Hits:

Image Credit: Baltimore Sun

Three things to watch for as the Ravens head to Pittsburgh for Sunday Night Football

PITTSBURGH, PA — The Baltimore Ravens will depart for Pittsburgh this week to take on their AFC North Rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, on Sunday Night Football at Heinz Field.

If it feels like the Ravens have played a night game in Pittsburgh every year for the last ten years or so, it’s because they nearly have:

It would be nice to see some balancing of the schedule, but the Ravens can’t spend too much time sulking. The Steelers will be coming into the game at 1-1-1, coming off their 30-27 road win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday night. The Ravens will be looking for back-to-back wins after defeating the Denver Broncos last Sunday 27-14 in Baltimore.

Here are three things to watch for ahead of this pivotal AFC North matchup.

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James Hurst and Ronnie Stanley were sharp last week in containing Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. Image Credit: Baltimore Sun

1) Does the offensive line put back-to-back good performances together?

Heading into last week’s contest, the biggest concern for the Ravens was how they were going to deal with the pass rush of Broncos linebackers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb.

Joe Flacco was sacked just twice in the contest, with Chubb recording one of them and Miller being shut out entirely. It was a bounce-back week for an offensive line that really struggled with Bengals esteemed pass rushers Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins two weeks ago.

The Steelers are currently tied for second in the NFL with 11 sacks to-date. Their pass-rushing group is led by second-year linebacker T.J. Watt who has recorded three sacks on the season. Watt also recorded seven sacks in his rookie year including one against the Ravens in the Steelers 39-38 win in Pittsburgh last year.

Fourth-year linebacker Bud Dupree also has a pair of sacks on the season and two career sacks against the Ravens.

If the Ravens’ offensive line can protect Flacco it could be a long night for the much-maligned Steelers pass defense that has given up 10 passing touchdowns in three games.

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John Brown will be looking to continue his strong start to the 2018 season. Image Credit: USA Today

2) Can the Ravens take advantage of the Steelers’ pass defense?

Speaking of that pass defense, which ranks fifth worst in the NFL surrendering 288 yards per game, if the Ravens are able to keep Flacco upright he could be in for another huge day.

The Steelers are coming off a performance in which they surrendered 411 yards and three touchdowns to Buccaneers journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. They are also two weeks removed from second-year sensation Patrick Mahomes lighting them up for 326 yards and six touchdowns.

Starting cornerback -the aptly named- Artie Burns was benched for a portion of the Bucs game and his replacement Coty Sensabaugh didn’t perform much better.

Joe Haden is on the other side of the defensive backfield for the Steelers and he has been dealing with a hamstring injury. Flacco and the Ravens have often went after Haden going back to his days in Cleveland but Haden has arguably gotten the better of that exchange with five career interceptions against the Ravens.

The Ravens would be better served to target whomever of their new three-headed monster in the receiving game is matched up with Burns or Sensabaugh. This will be one of the key match ups for the Ravens to exploit this week if they want to down their most hated rival.

The pass coverage struggles extend to the Steelers linebacking group that hasn’t been the same since the loss of Ryan Shazier. Opposing tight ends have caught 20 passes for 240 yards and three touchdowns as well.

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Terrell Suggs will be hoping to spend a lot of time in the backfield with Big Ben on Sunday. Image Credit: WNST

3) Does the Ravens’ pass rush disrupt the flow of the Steelers offense and will it matter?

If you are a regular reader of three things to watch for and I hope that you are, this point will seem like a broken record.

It is however more important this week than in the past few that the Ravens pass rushing group of Terrell Suggs, Matt Judon, Tim Williams, and Za’Darius Smith live in the backfield on Sunday night.

The Steelers have arguably the best wide receiver tandem in the NFL in Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Brown has gotten off to a slow start by his standards with 24 catches for 210 yards and two touchdowns so far this season. Smith-Schuster is off to a red hot start with 27 catches for 356 yards and a touchdown. With Jimmy Smith missing his fourth and final game due to suspension Sunday night, the Ravens can’t afford a repeat of Brown’s 11-catch, 213-yard week 14 performance from last season when the Ravens were without Smith.

Jesse James and Vance McDonald have given the Steelers’ pass-catching tight end threats as well, combining for 16 catches, 343 yards, and two touchdowns. Rookie Kenny Young, who performed well in pass coverage last week, will need to be sharp again.

In his last seven games against the Ravens in Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger is 6-1, averaging 295 yards per game, throwing for 15 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also boasts a completion percentage of 63% and a passer rating of 97.6. He has been sacked 17 times in those match-ups which begs the question if getting to Roethlisberger will be enough anyways.

The Ravens would be best served to hound Big Ben all game, even if it has proven to have varying success rates in the past few meetings.

This match-up may decide the outcome of Sunday night’s game.

Prediction: Steelers 33 Ravens 27

These two teams rarely play in a blowout game and I think that trend continues on Sunday night. The Ravens defense hasn’t proven to be able to stop elite level quarterbacks the past few years and until they do, it is hard for me to pick the Ravens when they are going up against one. Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense will be too much for the Ravens in this one.

The Details:

Image Credit: USA Today