Baltimore Ravens: 3 Up 3 Down After Week 13 Loss To Pittsburgh Steelers
It was another typical slugfest between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday in Baltimore. However, unlike when these teams met two weeks in Pittsburgh, it was the Steelers doling out the final blow as they left Baltimore with a 23-20 last-second victory. The loss spoiled a chance to clinch the AFC North, and also ended a couple of very impressive streaks. The loss ended the Ravens’ 16-game home winning streak and 12-game division winning streak. The loss also was the first since the Ravens’ Week 8 bye week, ending the current four-game winning streak. With Charlie Batch and the Steelers’ offense coming off a nightmarish eight turnover effort in the previous game, and the Ravens returning home where they have been unbeatable, it seemed as if this game would be little more than a formality despite the nasty rivalry. Throw in the fact that the Steelers had never beaten the Ravens without Ben Roethlisberger in five tries, and it seemed this game would the coronation for Ravens to take another step towards wrapping up the division. Through the first half, it appeared that the Ravens would again roll by a Roethlisberger-less Steelers team, as the Ravens held a seven-point halftime lead. Batch had done virtually nothing in the first half, and the Ravens were able to move the ball pretty easily. However, once the second half commenced, it was all Steelers. The Ravens only points of the second half came on a great individual effort from Ray Rice, as he ran for a 34-yard touchdown after being originally stuffed behind the line of scrimmage. Besides that Rice play, the Ravens spun their tires on offense, while Batch and the Steelers found their offensive stride. Batch led three drives that ended in points in the second half, as Jonathan Dwyer ran for a touchdown, while Heath Miller also made an acrobatic leap for the pylon for another touchdown. The Miller touchdown came with just over seven minutes remaining in the game and set the stage for the Steelers’ final drive. After another worthless second half drive by the Ravens, Batch and the Steelers got the ball on their own 15 yard line with 6:14 left in the fourth quarter. Batch proceeded to engineer a drive that would take up the entire 6:14, as the drive setup the 42-yard game winning field goal from Shaun Suisham as time expired. So in a game that the Ravens were hefty favorites, they were outplayed on both sides of the ball. The following aspects for the Ravens are the positives and negatives to take away from their loss to the Steelers.
Up: Anquan Boldin
The veteran possession receiver lives for physical match-ups like this one against the Steelers, and he did not disappoint. Boldin had his most productive game since Week 6, with 81 yards. Boldin also finally reeled in his second touchdown of the season, as he had gone 10 games since his only touchdown of the season on opening night. While Torrey Smith tends to shy away from physical match-ups, Boldin thrives in them, and Joe Flacco knows that. Thus, Boldin was targeted 12 times, which tied a season-high. Boldin’s five catches were good for tied for his third-highest total of the season as well. Boldin’s touchdown grab was a thing of beauty as he made his way down the sideline and reeled in Flacco’s best pass of the day just inside the front pylon for the score. Boldin was also busy two weeks ago against the Steelers, as he reeled in eight of his 12 targets for 79 yards. With the nastiness of the playoffs approaching, Boldin will need to continue to play his best in physical match-ups like this if the Ravens are to get their passing game going in the playoffs. Receivers like Smith and Jacoby Jones are speedy and athletic, but receivers like Boldin are the ones that tend to succeed in the playoffs.
Despite both the offense and defense being outplayed by the Steelers, that definitely was not the case in the special teams department. Leading the way was the seven-year veteran punter Sam Koch. Koch had his second-best game of the season as he boomed five punts for an average of 50.6 yards per punt. Koch put two of his five punts inside the 20 as he made the Steelers drive long distances for their scores. Koch is on pace for the best season of his career, as his current average of 47.3 yards per punt would set a career-high. Tucker meanwhile has been about as steady as a rookie kicker can be. Tucker went 2-for-2 on field goals, including a 45-yarder. Tucker is now 24-for-26, and has only missed one field goal since Week 5. Tucker’s range and consistency have been extremely important, as the Ravens’ offense has had a propensity to stall. Despite those inconsistencies from Flacco and the offense, the play of Koch and Tucker have helped to mask the shortcomings of the Ravens’ offense, which ranks in the bottom half of the league.
Up: Run Defense
It has been a disappointing defensive season for the Ravens, as this franchise was founded on defense. However, the defensive pedigree has not translated into success this season for the defense, as the unit ranked 24th in the league in yards allowed per game. However, the defense, especially the rushing defense, has really rounded into form since the bye week. That success against the run continued against the Steelers on Sunday, as Pittsburgh only gained 96 yards on the ground. Jonathan Dwyer did have a 16-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, but that was basically the only blemish for the run defense. If you take away Dwyer’s touchdown run that skewed his stats, he ran for a measly 33 yards on his other 15 carries. Considering how well Dwyer and the Steelers ran the ball against the Ravens two weeks ago, this effort by the defense has to be considered a success. With rushing the ball a paramount in late-season and playoff games, especially in winter weather, the turnaround for the rushing defense is a huge positive for the defense.
Down: Joe Flacco
Flacco’s season of inconsistency continued Sunday against the Steelers. He threw for less than 200 yards for the fourth time in his last six games, and he habitually missed open targets again on Sunday. Flacco’s line against the Steelers this season is very disappointing. In both meetings combined, Flacco threw for 352 yards, one touchdown and had two turnovers. More alarming is that Flacco was outplayed by both Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch in those meetings, which only hurts Flacco’s status as he continues to look more like a game manager as opposed to an “elite quarterback” that everyone wanted to label him coming into the season. Despite having a big arm, Flacco came into this game the worst completion in the NFL on passes of 11 or more yards down the field. Flacco did nothing to change that around as he again habitually missed receivers down the field. Despite Flacco’s inability to complete deeper passes, the Ravens stubborn offensive coordinator Cam Cameron kept forcing the ball down the field. Flacco’s play is the definition of inconsistent as he has had only one game in the past 10 that he didn’t either throw for over 340 yards or under 190. With such huge swings in play, it is difficult to see the Ravens finding success the rest of the way without consistent play from their quarterback.
Down: Pass Defense
With the 23rd-ranked pass defense, it has been a disappointing season for the Ravens’ defense. That disappointment continued on Sunday, as the defense allowed 276 yards passing to the fossil known as Charlie Batch. Even more disappointing was the fact that the Ravens’ defense allowed Batch to complete just under 70 percent of his passes, as the third-string quarterback carved up the Ravens. The coronation for Batch on the day was leading the Steelers’ final drive, as he led the Steelers on a 6:14 drive that led to the game-winning field goal as time expired. The Ravens’ defense allowed Batch to look like Joe Montana on the game-winning drive, as he methodically marched the Steelers down the field. The Ravens have now allowed more passing yards than they have received from their own offense in six of the last seven games, including the two games in the last three weeks against Leftwich and Batch. With match-ups against Robert Griffin III, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning and Andy Dalton the rest of the season, the pass defense needs to sure things up quickly, or they will assuredly continue to get carved up by some of the league’s best quarterbacks.
Down: Red Zone Defense
The Ravens had been on one of the better red zone defensive streaks in the league, as they had not allowed a red zone touchdown in their opponents’ last 10 red zone trips. That impressive streak came to resounding halt on Sunday, as the Steelers punched in two of their three red zone trips for touchdowns. First was the Dwyer 16-yard run, then came the impressive individual effort from Miller, as he would not be denied on the touchdown that tied the game at 20 with just over seven minutes left in the game. The Ravens’ red zone defense was a major reason why, despite the poor various rankings for the defense, the Ravens had such a good overall record. Despite the 24th-ranked defense, the Ravens points per game allowed by their defense ranked seventh in the league. The Steelers possessed the league’s top ranked defense in regards to yards per game, but were allowing only .8 points less per game than the Ravens. Thus with the red zone defense struggling, the Ravens were not able to mask their poor defensive ranks accrued over the course of the season. This game was a perfect example of how important the Ravens’ red zone defense is. If they continue to give up large sums of yards, they will eventually pay for it in the red zone and on the scoreboard. The Ravens must find a way to limit all the yardage because asking their red zone defense to habitually bail them out is unfair and unlikely, especially come playoff time. If this defense can’t control Charlie Batch in the red zone, how are they supposed to do it in the playoffs, against the likes of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and/or Matt Schaub?