Thoughts And Observations From Ravens – Steelers Week 13

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Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

Here’s hoping your turkey, mashed potatoes and beer went down easy and your holiday was much more fulfilling than ones shared by fans in Pittsburgh after last night’s nail biting Ravens victory that keeps their playoff hopes alive.

For the fifth consecutive game in this great rivalry, the score was decided by three points or less. A new chapter is written, one that would have been highlighted for sure had the Ravens lost when Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin wandered onto the field of play like a lost child and nearly ran over by Jacoby Jones on his 73-yard kickoff return in the third quarter.

Tomlin, who watched the play unfold on the jumbotron, sidestepped Jones at the last second before being tackled by Cortez Allen. The board operators at M&T Bank Stadium worked the crowd up showing the replay numerous times to a chorus of boos and smiles from Tomlin.

Tomlin knew his position in proximity to the field, and had the referee been in a position to see what happened, the result would have been 15 extra yards on the end of the run, but not a touchdown, according to VP of Officiating for the NFL, Mike Pereira.

Had the Ravens managed to lose this game, this would be the talk of the town on radio shows right now and not the Ravens struggling in the red zone to score points.

The Ravens five trips into the red zone would have played a much larger role as the inability to find production inside the 20 is hurting an offense that’s pretty vanilla to begin with. They were lucky to face an offense led by Ben Roethlisberger that is just as vanilla and couldn’t answer the Ravens field goals with touchdowns. But it almost happened. Against better AFC teams the rest of the way, they can’t afford to win without touchdowns.

Penalties also plague this team once they enter the red zone. Ray Rice was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty late in the third quarter on a play where Flacco called an audible into a run on third-and-six for some odd reason and three false start calls on right tackle Michael Oher. That’s 43 penalties for Oher since the 2009 season.

Elsewhere on the line, they moved well and blocked well. Gino Gradkowski held good leverage up the middle and Marshal Yanda was solid too. Steelers defensive end Jason Worilds gave the line fits and had Oher had issues with him in the 2nd half. The Ravens used Rice to chip him or double team him.

Much like how the 2000 season unfolded, the Ravens best offensive weapon is their kicker and right now Justin Tucker is that guy. Tucker booted five field goals, tying a Ravens record and has now connected on 27 consecutive field goals. He’s Mr. Consistent.

Joe Flacco moved better in the pocket last night facing a constant pressure from the Steelers defensive front. Joe showed off his arm early as the Ravens moved downfield with aggressive play calling. He found Torrey Smith on a play-action pass for 54 yards to the Pittsburgh 1-yard line, beating corner Ike Taylor and safety Will Allen who was late to the play. Two plays later, Smith beat Taylor for the only Ravens touchdown of the game.

Sometimes Flacco will still under throw receivers like he did to Jacoby Jones previously on the same drive, however the bomb to Smith was a beauty. Flacco finished 24-of-35 for 251 yards and a touchdown.

Speaking of Taylor, he’s now that guy who will jaw with you on every play because he can’t cover well anymore. Ike tried to stay with him throughout the game, but Torrey’s speed was too much to handle as he was also flagged for a pass interference that led to a Ravens field goal with about three minutes left in the half.

Despite the offense not putting the Steelers away with touchdowns, they moved the football and did some good things to stem the tide and keep the lead in their favor. On a crucial third-and-4, with 5:37 left in the fourth quarter, the Steelers blitzed and Flacco found Ray Rice on a screen in the flat for a 22-yard gain to move the chains.

I really liked the play call with 12:57 left in third quarter, using Marlon Brown on a bubble screen for a 12 yard gain. I sat next to my uncle who looked at me and said, “What the hell was that?” and I shook my head and smiled. Brown jutted back to the ball and got solid blocks from Ed Dickson, Marshal Yanda and A.Q. Shipley for the first down. No high school offense there.

Two plays later, Bernard Pierce picked up a block on a corner blitz from William Gay, Flacco moved into the pocket and found Torrey Smith for another first down. Its too bad the offense couldn’t put together a touchdown on this drive because they sputtered.

Running the football was again at a premium for Baltimore; Rice ran 12 times for 32 yards and Bernard Pierce finished with 35 yards on nine carries. Pierce in my opinion ran better than Rice, making more out of nothing and continuing to move his legs. Both guys ran hard and ticked off against the Steelers front who always seem to look for extracurricular activities after the play ends.

Ray Rice completely walloped safety Ryan Clark on a nifty move through a tiny gap, and got up yelling and pumping his fists. Credit Marshal Yanda with a nice trap block too.

The defense overall was good but didn’t force a turnover or record a sack last night. With a healthier Haloti Ngata on the field, the Ravens have to find a way to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Ngata and Art Jones played well but Roethlisberger had too much time to move around and make plays we know he’s capable of making. If the line can get consistent pressure, that will take the heat off Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil who are seeing a lot of double teams.

Heath Miller killed the Ravens last night as he usually does, linebacker Josh Bynes struggled in coverage keeping tabs on him, losing him in coverage for a score to bring the Steelers within two late in the fourth. Miller found himself the hot read late as the Ravens brought pressure and Roethlisberger dumped it off.

Daryl Smith provided solid coverage against the run, though the defense did allow their second rushing touchdown of the season and the longest run of the season, good for 43 yards by Le’Veon Bell. Smith is usually a solid coverage guy, he ran through an attempted pick to stay with Bell late in the third quarter that could have went for a huge gain, but also got caught looking the wrong way when Emmanuel Sanders caught his fourth score of the year and the Steelers scored against a tough Ravens red zone defense.

The defense had a maddening play late that set up the Steelers last score, converting a second-and-24 for 29 yards on a screen to Bell with 2:34 left where the Steelers had lineman out front blocking downfield and both Terrell Suggs and Smith missed tackles.

Watching the game on TV, its amazing how many times Ben Roethlisberger can wiggle away from pressure like Harry Houdini. He did it again last night, making Terrell Suggs or Elvis Dumervil miss contact on Big Ben. He made Dumervil miss twice on one play, converting a third-and-nine with a completion to Emmanuel Sanders for 15 yards in the second quarter.

It bought him time as he made plays down the field, but not enough to capitalize on the Ravens offensive failures of their own.

Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith and Corey Graham were solid in coverage and kept a lot of play in front of them. They were also very good in support of the run at times, notably Graham who made tackles just short of the first down marker on Bell.

Smith was very physical using his long arms on quicker receivers like Antonio Brown and he blanketed him well when he found himself one-on-one. Late into the fourth quarter, the Steelers had attempted just five throws his way, completing one pass.

Overall, I think some improvement is beginning to emerge in areas.

The Ravens have shored up their special teams unit and have focused on cutting down big returns with better coverage. The offensive game plan has stuck with committing to the run and despite it being a work in progress, will bode well with the overall flow of the offense. Jacoby Jones continues to factor in, making big plays as a receiver and also in the return game. Dennis Pitta is working hard at a return.

The defense is getting stronger – and healthier – and the secondary is playing about as well as a unit than at any point this season.

John Harbaugh had his team ready to play last night, matching the Steelers intensity. The offense was very aggressive from the gate as the Ravens played perhaps their best first half of the season.

Beating the Pittsburgh Steelers does great things mentally for the Ravens. They remain relevant in the AFC playoff picture (currently the 6th seed) and have one foot up on the Steelers with a better division record (3-2).

Its cause to be thankful as a fan this holiday weekend. This thing may not be over yet.

Matt Lund is a co-host of the BSR Podcast and regular contributor to BSR. A Towson University alum, Matt is a lifelong Baltimore sports fan and native of Charm City working in sports broadcasting.