No Ray Lewis. No Lardarius Webb. No Ben Roethlisberger. No Troy Polamalu. Key players to both teams successes out with injuries in a crucial game, but true to the rivalry of the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, new faces take the place of others, while down-to-the-wire close finishes remain the same.
The Ravens outlasted the Steelers on Sunday night in Pittsburgh, 13-10 to take a two game lead in the AFC North in a battle of two defenses who refused to break and two offenses who had trouble establishing anything all night.
Much like the way the road has been for the Ravens this season, the same can be said for Joe Flacco. He was inconsistent most of the night from the pocket, but in the end, didn’t do anything to hurt the Ravens chances of winning the game either. He was erratic throwing high to receivers and behind them when the Steelers brought pressure. It was very evident Flacco was frustrated with his own play. Joe finished 20-for-32 with 164 yards passing.
Running Backs: C
It was tough sledding for Ray Rice and the run game in this one. The offensive line tried to muscle up and punish the Steelers inside with the run, but it wasn’t very effective. Cam Cameron did try a stretch play with Rice a couple times to the right side that worked to give Rice some running room, but generally there wasn’t much. The Steelers were excellent in the pursuit and staying home in their lanes.
Rice ran 20 times for just 40 yards, (there’s the magic number again – 20) but was more effective catching passes and moving the chains, catching five balls for 53 yards.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: D
Anquan Boldin played extremely well, catching eight passes for 79 yards. He also was the only receiver who got open. Torrey Smith had a tough game as he had Steelers corner back Ike Taylor draped on him throughout the game. Tight end Dennis Pitta exited the game early with a concussion and did not return.
Offensive Line: D
The offensive line blocked better in pass than it did in run. The key to the line play was that the tackles played fairly well, limiting what James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and others could do. That started to change late in the game as they turned the pressure up on the line. Matt Birk and Jah Reid were over-matched inside by mammoths Ziggy Hood and Casey Hampton.
Defensive Line: B+
Outstanding performance from this group. They didn’t allow themselves to be beaten up front by the Steelers offensive line. Haloti Ngata still isn’t completely healthy, but having him in the middle was key for the Ravens. Nothing got by him and he recorded his fourth sack of the season. Art Jones was strong in his role as the Ravens were without Terrence Cody (arm injury).
This unit did well not allowing the Steelers to get into the second level on runs, and they tried throughout the game. The Ravens set and held the edge well on the Steelers tackles.
Paul Kruger was nearly unstoppable against the Steelers. He had a motor going off the edge that hasn’t been seen often, so much so Steelers tackle Mike Adams wanted no part of him. Whether by bull rushing him or swim move, Adams had no answer for Kruger. Kruger finished with a sack, a forced fumble and a pass defended.
Courtney Upshaw’s talent is becoming more evident by the week. Being such a hybrid-type player, he has the strength to get to the QB, make tackles, but also use his speed to defend down field. He chased full back Will Johnson 20 yards down field on one throw from Byron Leftwich. Dannell Ellerbe had himself another fine game, recording 8 tackles.
Corey Graham simply put, was balling. He played even better this week, intercepting a pass down field in the 3rd quarter. He also defended three passes and outside of getting beat deep from Emmanuel Sanders on one throw, he did well with his assignments. James Ihedigbo absolutely crushed Byron Leftwich on a sack that stalled a Steelers drive late in the 4th quarter. Bernard Pollard laid some hits in this game as he usually does.
Special Teams: A
Jacoby Jones scored the Ravens lone touchdown with a 63-yard punt return, his 3rd score this season in the return game. Justin Tucker missed a field goal, luckily it didn’t cost the Ravens. Otherwise, another solid effort from him and his leg. Had long kickoffs that neutralized the Steelers return game. That was a very important part of the game even with Leftwich at QB for Pittsburgh. Another outstanding effort from this group that kept the Ravens in the game.
Defense and Special Teams came ready to play. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees adjusted well in the 2nd half, mixing up different looks and blitzes. The offense was flat but made enough plays to keep the game in Baltimore’s favor. Cam Cameron’s play-calling was confusing, a crucial 3rd-and-two late in the 4th quarter with a Pro Bowl running back and Pro Bowl full back and the Ravens throw the football.
Its not easy to play in Pittsburgh, especially with a desperate team like the Steelers trying to take the division lead. Head coach John Harbaugh is very good at getting his teams prepared and fired up for these heavyweight fights.
Last week I mentioned how this was the time to see what the Baltimore Ravens were made of, and in the first game of a tough seven game stretch, they proved they will bring it as hard as they can for 60 minutes.
This game was 100% about the defenses of the two teams. The Steelers secondary played extremely well and their linebackers started to get pressure on Flacco late in the game. Defensively, the Ravens showed up big time in this one. Taking advantage of having Byron Leftwich under center for the Steelers was one thing, but the Ravens punished him all night with hits that he became tentative when throwing because of the pressure being brought about.
You still have to feel uneasy at the fact the Ravens may have to play in the playoffs on the road this season, but being in the drivers seat at 8-2 in the AFC North and holding onto the #2 seed in the AFC, things could be a lot worse for the purple and black. Up next, a re-match from last season as the Ravens travel to sunny San Diego to visit the slumping Chargers.
Matt Lund is a contributor for BaltimoreSportsReport.com and co-host of the BSR Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @MattCLund.