“Ugh”. I think that is the collective thought/feeling/etc. from every Ravens fan and maybe a few players after the Ravens disappointing 16-19 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. A 3-3 team and a 1-4 team going up against each other doesn’t look that great on paper, but when it’s the Steelers and Ravens, a good amount of people are going to want to watch.
As normal with a Ravens-Steelers game, let’s start with the defense. The Ravens secondary came to play while the front seven did not, quite the contrast as opposed to previous weeks, limiting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to 160 yards on 17 completions. The Ravens were able to sack Big Ben 3 times, one of which went for positive yardage because of a facemask penalty on linebacker Elvis Dumervil, but were unable to get to him much outside of that, and when they did get to him, they were unable to bring the scrambler down.
Cornerbacks Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith were able to blanket the Steelers’ best weapon, wide receiver Antonio Brown, to a season-low 50 yards on 6 catches. Webb made some nice tackles on running back Le’Veon Bell in the open field and near the line of scrimmage.
Cornerback Jimmy Smith continues to show why he earned the starting job at the number two corner spot, help limit Brown and shutdown Emmanuel Sanders to just one catch for seven yards. I said in my ‘Next Man Up’ article that Smith is playing physical like he did in college and how he like to without getting Pass Interference penalties, but it seems he learning how to lay off receivers, read them, and read the quarterback. I’m really high on Smith on how he’s progressing in his third year.
Safeties Matt Elam and James Ihedigbo are getting better and better every week, much like Smith. Elam put a nice hit on an elevating Derek Moye and recovered the fumble linebacker Daryl Smith caused right before the end of the first half that turned into a field goal.
Corey Graham is becoming the most frustrating player to watch on the Ravens defense. Between the missed arm tackle, blown coverages, and just getting flat out beat, I don’t know where to begin.
The front seven is what disappointed me the most, especially considering how much of a patchwork job the Steelers’ offensive line is. The Steelers rushed for 141 total yards on 29 tries and Le’Veon Bell averaged 4.9 yards per carry. Even though Haloti Ngata was playing with a bad elbow, it is inexcusable considering how much the Ravens invested into their defensive line in the off-season.
Daryl Smith is just flat out amazing, after being overshadowed in Jacksonville for so long it’s great to see him get the recognition he deserves. He caused the fumble right before the half that turned into a field goal and led the team in tackles. Someone on twitter suggested people start calling him “Shakespeare” because “all he does it makes plays”, while it is a joke, I’m inclined to agree.
Linebackers Arthur Brown and the now healthy Jameel McClain seemed like day and night on the field. Brown seemed overwhelmed on making the start for the injured Josh Bynes and seemed to get lit up whenever the Steelers pulled a Guard to block on a running play. McClain, on the other hand, played very well considering he’s coming off a spinal contusion that many doctors told him would be career ending. Whether in coverage or on run plays, McClain seemed to be very disruptive with his limited playing time.
Now let’s move to the offense, which I have few words for seeing as anything and everything has been said about them this season.
Quarterback Joe Flacco has been playing out of his mind this season considering the pieces around him. 215 yards and a touchdown on 34 attempts doesn’t even begin to tell the sorry. He’s using his legs to extend the play and complete passes; he looked more like Big Ben than Big Ben looked like Big Ben. That’s a lot of Bens. Flacco is the one bright spot on this struggling offense and doesn’t much blame, if any.
The offensive line and running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce looked somewhat better, which isn’t saying much. 82 yards on the ground is just pathetic and what’s even worse is that fact that fullback Vonta Leach ran the ball three times on the last drive and he looked better running the ball than the running back. I believe that just proves that it’s not all on the offensive line and the new ‘zone blocking’ scheme.
The wide receivers and tight ends played very well and they too seem to get better as the season goes on and they build chemistry with Flacco. Torrey Smith had 3 receptions for 64 yards, Tandon Doss had 2 receptions for 35 yards and took a huge hit by Troy Polamalu on a crucial third down catch. Marlon Brown continued his impressive season as an undrafted free agent with 4 catches for 22 yards and Jacoby Jones looked great coming off of injury with 4 catches for 32 yards with many of them on the late fourth quarter drive. Tight Ends Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark are also proving critics with 2 catches for 17 yards and 3 catches for 9 yards and a touchdown, respectively.
A long two weeks for the Ravens lies ahead as they try to fix a broken offense and re-tool before they rematch against the Cleveland Browns.