A look at the top five Ravens moments in the Ravens/Steelers rivalry

When the Pittsburgh Steelers notched their first win of the season on Monday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it officially became Steelers week in Baltimore.

In what is arguably the greatest rivalry in the NFL, the Ravens and Steelers will write their 49th chapter on Sunday night in the Steel City. Unfortunately, the Steelers lead the all-time series 27-21 and Baltimore will head into this game looking to snap a three-game losing streak in the series.

Ahead of this week’s game, let’s take a walk down memory lane and look at the greatest Ravens moments in the Ravens/Steelers rivalry.

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TJ Houshmanzadeh burns Bryant McFadden for the game winner. Image Credit: Getty Images

5) October 3,2010-TJ Houshmandzadeh wins it for Baltimore

In what was the Steelers fourth game without star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (who was serving the final game of a four game suspension for violating the NFL’S personal conduct policy), the Ravens found themselves trailing 14-10 with 1:08 left to play and no timeouts.

That’s when Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense took over at the Pittsburgh 40-yard line. Flacco connected with Anquan Boldin for back-to-back gains of nine and three yards to advance the ball to the Steelers 28-yard line. Next was 10-yard strike to T.J. Houshmandzadeh to get the ball into the red zone at the Pittsburgh 18.

On the next play, Flacco took the snap and pump-faked Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden out of his jock strap, allowing Houshmandzadeh to sneak behind him for the go-ahead 18-yard touchdown pass.

Ray Lewis and the defense put it away by intercepting Charlie Batch on the first pass of the subsequent Steelers drive giving the Ravens a 17-14 win over their arch rivals.

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4) November 26, 2006-Bart Scott rocks Ben Roethlisberger in Ravens Sack Fest

In what was the best regular season in Ravens franchise history, the best moment of that year may have come against the Steelers. The Ravens were leading 14-0 at the 3:30 mark of the second quarter and were in search of their ninth win of the season in week 12.

On a second-and-eight from their own 14-yard line, Roethlisberger dropped back to pass looking to get the Steelers back in the contest. Bart Scott came off the left side of the defensive front untouched and leveled Roethlisberger clean notching the Ravens third sack of the day.

Roethlisberger stayed down on the field for several minutes trying to collect his thoughts after the bone-jarring hit from Scott. It was one of nine sacks on the day for the Ravens defense en route to a 27-0 home victory. The game is one of only three shutouts in the history of the rivalry.

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Ray Rice Plunges into the endzone to give the Ravens a 14-0 lead. Image Credit: Getty Images

3) September 11, 2011- Ravens throttle Steelers in season opener

The Ravens and Steelers rivalry was fresh off of a 31-24 Steelers triumph in the 2010 AFC divisional playoffs. That was a game that saw the Ravens blow a 21-7 halftime lead with three turnovers in the third quarter to help the Steelers complete the comeback.

The Ravens didn’t have to wait long to see their rivals as they welcomed the Super Bowl runner-ups to town for the 2011 season opener looking to avenge that loss. The Ravens once again jumped out to a 21-7 lead on the strength of two Flacco first half touchdown passes.

As they sat in the locker room, Ray Lewis spoke loudly after his teammates compared the two games.”They were saying, ‘We’ve been here before,” Lewis said. “No, we haven’t been here before. This is a whole new year.”

The Ravens responded well this time when Haloti Ngata forced a Rashard Mendenhall fumble on the first possession of the second half. Flacco found Ed Dickson on the next play for an 18-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 27-7 and the Ravens picked up the two-point conversion when Sam Koch rushed it in.

The Ravens would pick up a season-opening 35-7 win over the Steelers in what remains the Ravens’ most lopsided victory in the rivalry.

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Joe Flacco celebrates with Crockett Gilmore after extending the Ravens lead to 30-15. Image Credit: Getty Images

2) January 3, 2015- Ravens pick up first playoff win over Steelers

To this point in the rivalry, the Ravens were 0-3 against the Steelers in the playoffs. The Ravens caught a huge break in the game with Le’Veon Bell missing the contest due to a hyperextended right knee.

Flacco and the offense got off to a good start in the game taking their second possession 80 yards over eight plays and capping it off with a Bernard Pierce touchdown to give the Ravens a 7-3 lead. The teams alternated field goals on the next three possessions giving the Ravens a 10-9 halftime lead.

After a Justin Tucker field goal on the opening drive of the third quarter, the Ravens notched a Torrey Smith touchdown after the Steelers were forced to punt to extend the lead to 20-9.

The Steelers cut it to 20-15 at the 11:01 mark of the fourth quarter but that was as close as they would get and the Ravens triumphed 30-17 for their first postseason win against the Steelers.

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Image Credit: USA Today

1) November 6, 2011- Flacco’s finest drive leads Ravens over Steelers

Ravens trail 20-16. 2:24 left to play. Flacco and the offense take over at their own eight-yard line.

No words can do this drive justice. Enjoy:

The win put the Ravens in a first place tie with the Bengals atop the AFC North. This drive is the best drive I have ever seen from a Ravens quarterback. This win also completed a season sweep of the Steelers which helped the Ravens with the AFC North and secure a home playoff game.

As Steelers week is upon us what are your favorite memories from the rivalry?

Image Credit: WNST

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Five thoughts following the Ravens 34-23 loss in Cincinnati

The Ravens entered Cincinnati on Thursday night trying to keep their success rolling after a blowout win over Buffalo just four days prior. As expected, the Bengals proved to be a much tougher opponent and the Ravens looked unprepared early on.

Baltimore managed to erase most of the Bengals early 21-0 lead and make it a one possession game in the second half. However, in the end the Bengals would come out with a 34-23 win thanks to a pair of Ravens turnovers late in the game.

1. A tale of two halves

The Cincinnati Bengals came out strong in Thursday night’s game and took an early 21-0 lead thanks to a strong offensive attack and some Ravens struggles. A.J. Green presented a huge challenge for the Ravens secondary and they failed to answer the call as the Bengals No. 1 receiver hauled in the teams first three touchdowns and finished the night with five receptions for 69 yards.

To make things worse, the Ravens offense was sleep walking in the early goings and could not match Cincinnati’s start. Joe Flacco and company managed to get some momentum going before the half and cut the Bengals lead to 14 but the first half was certainly controlled by the home team.

The second half was a different story. The Bengals opened up with the ball but this time the Ravens defense had an answer. The Baltimore defense forced the Bengals to punt on their first four possessions of the second half. This gave the offense a chance to slowly crawl back into the game with a 55-yard field goal by Justin Tucker and an 87-yard drive, capped off by a beautiful 21-yard touchdown pass to John Brown.

The Ravens defense would end up surrendering just two field goals in the second half, giving Flacco and the offense a legitimate chance to come back. However, some costly turnovers would end up being to difference maker as Flacco threw a second interception and later fumbled with under three minutes to play in the game.

2. C.J Mosley injury

The Ravens defense took a huge hit in the first quarter when C.J. Mosley went down with a knee injury. The middle linebacker had to be carted off after tweaking his knee and everyone in the Ravens fan base collectively held their breath. The injury is currently being reported as a bone bruise which is significantly less detrimental than what many feared when they saw Mosley being carted into the locker room.

The injury did leave the Ravens shorthanded on defense for the majority of Thursdays game. Rookie Kenny Young had to step into a starting role alongside Patrick Onwuasor and performed pretty well after being forced into the spotlight. His presence was best felt while stopping the run but he did have issues cover some of the Bengals tight ends.

The timetable for Mosley is unknown right now but it might be safe to say that Young is going to be called upon to start in the coming weeks. The Ravens were shorthanded at the middle linebacker position coming into the season and losing Mosley is a worst case scenario.

3. Life without Jimmy Smith

Losing Mosley is rough on its own, but it makes things even worse for the next two weeks as the Ravens continue to wait for Jimmy Smith’s suspension to end. Smith’s presence could have certainly been used on Thursday as A.J. Green dominated the first half and helped put the Bengals up 21-0.

Green has given the Ravens plenty of trouble in the past, even with Smith on the field, but everyone knows that the defense fares much better when Smith is able to cover the opponents No. 1 receiver.

Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr and Tavon Young all struggled to stop Green. They will have no time to rest though with the Broncos and Steelers on the horizon. Both Denver’s Demaryius Thomas and Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown will pose a similar threat to the Ravens as Green. Don Martindale hasn’t been dealt the best hand with this Smith suspension and now the Mosley injury, but he will have to figure something out quickly if the Ravens want to avoid another outing like this one.

4. Offensive play calling

The Ravens had to dig themselves out of a hole after the Bengals hot start but after they made it a close game in the second half, the offensive play calling was still unbalanced. Marty Mornhinweg continued to call passing plays and ignore the run game despite both Alex Collins finding some success on the ground. Collins was only given nine carries but dazzled in a handful of them by breaking tackles and fighting for extra yards. I know the Ravens want to mix things up with Collins and Buck Allen but your starting running back needs to carry the ball more than nine times, even if he is involved with the pass game.

My main gripe is with the momentum though. In the second half the Ravens were putting together good drives with short, quick passes and some well designed runs. However, just when things started to get going, the momentum was halted by either bringing Lamar Jackson in or calling on Flacco to air it out.

I saw the team find a good amount of success by being patient and slowly chipping away at the Bengals defense. I just don’t understand why the coaching staff would call these plays in such a pivotal point in the game. It led to at least one of the second half  turnovers as Flacco got picked off while trying to go deep late in the third quarter.

5. Early standings implications

After Thursday the Bengals are the current leaders in the AFC north with a 2-0 record. With the Steelers and Browns tying in week one, the Bengals should be happy with their status this early in the year. They were pushed to the side all offseason as pundits focused on the Ravens and Steelers, but Cincinnati has the upper hand after a pair of nice wins to start their season.

The Ravens will have plenty of chances to make waves in the division standings early this season as they prepare to play road games against both Pittsburgh and Cleveland in the next three weeks.

Image credit: Sam Greene

Can the 2018 Ravens defense be trusted?

As the Ravens prepare to get their 2018 campaign underway, fans are wondering what the team will do this year. When you combine the pressure to rebound from missing the playoffs three years in a row with a tough schedule, you have a scenario with little room for error.

For many the defense is a sign of strength as the season approaches. After retaining almost everyone from last year’s squad and adding some intriguing draft picks, this feeling is justified but as much as I want to, I can’t subscribe to this mentality. The Ravens defense was far too inconsistent in 2017 and it’s going to take some convincing before I put my trust in them again this year.

In the 2017 offseason, the Ravens retooled their defense in free agency and the draft. By bringing in the likes of Brandon Carr and Tony Jefferson, the front office seemed determined to fix the depth issues that plagued the secondary in previous seasons. When the draft rolled around it became evident that they were going to neglect the offense, but it didn’t matter because the defense was about to return to the days of old when the likes of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed patrolled the field and struck fear into the hearts of every opposing team.

This excitement was only natural and honestly there was nothing wrong with it. On paper the defense had an exceptional amount of depth, especially on the defensive line and in the secondary. However, the second that excitement turned into expectations, we were only setting ourselves up for disappointment.

The brand new Ravens defense dominated in the 2017 preseason, which only raised those expectations to extreme heights. When I say dominate, I mean it. During that four-game preseason campaign, the Ravens defense held their opponents to just 7.5 points and 206 yards-per-game while also forcing six turnovers.

Even the local media started to get on the hype train. A countless amount of outlets couldn’t resist the urge to compare the 2017 defense’s potential to the historic defensive units in team history. At the time I thought it was stupid but when the regular season kicked off in Cincinnati, the defense looked nothing short of historic. They forced five turnovers, including four interceptions by Andy Dalton, a quarterback who often picked apart the Ravens in previous seasons. When the final seconds ticked off the clock, the Ravens had successfully held their division foe to zero points.

A debut like this only strengthened the argument that the 2017 defense was the real deal. Throughout the rest of the season, the Ravens defense came up with two more shutouts and led the league in turnovers. These are just two of the biggest accomplishments for last year’s defense but the Ravens still finished the season with a 9-7 record and missed out on the playoffs for the third straight year.

How could this be? How could a team with such a dominant defense finish 9-7? Ask the average Ravens fan and they will tell you the offense was to blame. Well, I’m here to tell you that the defense is just as responsible, if not more, for the way the 2017 season played out.

Lets start by acknowledging the offense’s flaws. I previously mentioned the lack of attention given to the offense during the 2017 offseason and early on that looked like a serious detriment to the team. Throw in Joe Flacco’s back injury and some unbelievably predictable play-calling by Marty Mornhinweg, and things weren’t looking too hot. However, if you erase all touchdowns scored by the defense and special teams, the Ravens offense still managed to put up at least 20 points in 12 of their 16 games. Those other four games all ended up being loses, with the offense averaging just 10.5 points in them.

It’s performances like these that make Flacco and company an easy target for blame. However, in those four loses the Ravens defense allowed 28.5 points per game, making only one (week six against Chicago) actually winnable in crunch time. A pair of special teams touchdowns helped the Ravens keep the game alive, but in overtime it was the defense that choked by allowing Mitch Trubisky and Jordan Howard to walk 71 yards down the field with ease for a game-winning field goal.

This leads me to one of my biggest gripes with the 2017 defense, and that is the level of competition they faced. After a mass wave of season-ending injuries plagued the NFL, the Ravens defense ended up facing five offenses led by a rookie or backup quarterback. Their 4-1 record in those games is not a surprise considering they avoided quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers and Derek Carr. I can’t tell you what the record would be if they faced healthier teams but I would be willing to bet that two of their three shutouts (Green Bay & Miami) wouldn’t have happened if that was the case.

Unfortunately that previously mentioned loss against Chicago was not an isolated incident. Even the best defenses in the league are prone to being exposed every once in a while but that was not the case for the Ravens last year.

After the bye week the offense started to turn the corner. Flacco had more chemistry with his receivers and Alex Collins emerged as a legitimate threat in the backfield. Outside of a Sunday night matchup with the Steelers, the Ravens second half schedule was softer than a pillow. A playoff berth was still very much in sight and as long as the defense maintained their high level of play down the stretch, the Ravens would surely be back in the mix come January.

As we know now, that didn’t happen. The Ravens went 5-2 in their last seven games after the bye week. That doesn’t sound bad as an isolated stat, but the fact that the two losses could be boiled down to one play makes things way worse. In Pittsburgh the defense only needed to make one stop at any point in the fourth quarter and the Ravens would have had the edge in the offensive shootout. Fast forward to week 17 and the defense failed, once again, to make the one stop necessary with the game on the line.

As we prepare to enter the 2018 season, I look at the defense and I see a depth chart that pretty much mirrors what we saw last year. So I ask you, can the 2018 Ravens defense be trusted? Don’t get me wrong, I want nothing but success for this team and if they stay healthy I think they have an opportunity to really grow as a unit.

Health is just one of many variables standing in their way. Even if the defense keeps its big play-makers on the field, the pressure to succeed is being placed on the shoulders of new defensive coordinator Don Martindale. I compiled a lot of issues in the paragraphs above, but how many of them could have been avoided without Dean Pees calling plays? A lot of people seem to think most of them, but that doesn’t change the fact that Martindale is still rather unproven as a defensive coordinator.

Need more variables? How about Jimmy Smith? The Ravens top tier cornerback will be absent for the first four weeks of the season as he serves a suspension. When it comes to Smith’s impact, the numbers pretty much speak for themselves. With Smith on the field the last two seasons, opposing quarterbacks averaged a passer raring of 76.1. When Smith was out, that average rating increased to 91.5. To make things worse, two of the Ravens’ first four games will be road tests against the Bengals and Steelers.

Guess who wasn’t on the field when the Ravens faced Pittsburgh and Cincinnati down the stretch last season? There is no way to dispute it. Smith’s presence could have easily been the difference between a win and loss in those two games.

As always the numbers make a more compelling argument. When Smith faced off against Cincinnati’s A.J Green and Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown in the first half of 2017, he allowed just two receptions and 27 yards. After being sidelined with a season-ending injury, Green and Brown brought in 13 receptions and racked up 230 yards while running wild against the rest of the Ravens secondary.

My final variable is the health and depth of the defense. At the end of the day health is a something that you don’t always have control over and that’s scary. We saw the difference in results when Smith went down, but what if another cornerstone of this defense, like Brandon Williams or Terrell Suggs, misses time? The absence of either of these players would handicap the pass rush and run defense significantly.

We don’t have to speculate because the Ravens defense has already taken a hit with a couple preseason injuries. DeShon Elliott and Stanley Jean-Baptiste were not primed to be starters but their season-ending injuries have an impact on the team’s depth which could become a bigger problem as the season progresses.

The worst defensive injury of the preseason wasn’t even a season-ending one. Rookie linebacker Kenny Young came on strong this preseason and challenged Patrick Onwuasor for the second starting middle linebacker position. Even if he didn’t get the starting role, he would have likely seen significant playing time but now there are questions surrounding his knee. The team’s depth at middle linebacker is pretty thin with or without Young, which has me concerned moving forward.

Just like last year, there is a ton of potential to be found when looking at the Ravens defense. Who knows, the offense is certainly looking more capable going into this season so the need for a lockdown defense may not be as necessary as last year. I just worry that between the variables listed above and a tough schedule, the defense will be put under extreme pressure this year.

Image credit: Patrick Semansky / AP