While it was anything but pretty, particularly the Steelers’ throwback uniforms, it was effective as the Baltimore Ravens left Heinz Field last night with a commanding 2 game lead in the AFC North.
The game had a familiar look and feel despite missing several marquee players including Ray Lewis, Lardarius Webb, Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu. Style points in this rivalry don’t count – only the W’s.
“We won by taking a safe sack,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said in the locker room after the game.
That alone suggests the Ravens, despite all of the investment in the offense, really aren’t much different when it comes to playing the Pittsburgh Steelers. They took a sack to keep the clock running. Imagine that! Taking offense back to the stone ages.
A team that calls for an intentional (safe) sack on third down when a first down would have won the game tells you all you need to know about the team’s confidence in the offense. Wow!
The score is really a bit deceiving. The Ravens offense produced only 3 points on its own and the defense was aided greatly by a very inept performance by Byron Leftwich. He left no less than 2 big plays on the field short-hopping wide-open receivers.
But as they say, there are no style points in the NFL.
Just wins and losses baby!
THE GOOD: Anquan Boldin showcased those strong mitts throughout the contest, pulling in 8 catches for 79 yards despite tight coverage…Ray Rice was solid in the passing game and chipped in with 53 yards on 5 catches…Paul Kruger was menacing, contributing a sack, a QB hurry and a forced fumble. The sack came at a good time, with the Steelers facing a third and 10 from their own 45…Haloti Ngata had his usual solid game against the Steelers chipping in with 5 tackles and a big sack that dropped Leftwich for a loss of 10 when the Steelers were knocking on the door (3rd and 9 from the Ravens 46)…
Corey Graham made sure that no one missed Jimmy Smith. He had a big INT to go with 3 passes defended, two of them in the end zone…Bernard Pollard had a big hit on Jerricho Cotchery to jar the ball loose. Without the incompletion the Steelers could have closed in on FG territory and the tying score or worse late in the game. The Ravens secondary did a nice job of controlling Mike Wallace (4 catches for 26 yards) and Heath Miller (2 for 22). James Indehigbo had a huge sack of Leftwich on a third and 11 from the Ravens 43…
The rushing defense improved. Other than the longest run of Leftwich’s career that likely still has him gasping for air, the front 7 and Pollard limited the hefty Steelers’ backs to 103 yards on 26 carries…Special Teams were very good and for all intents and purposes the difference in the game. Sam Koch netted 42.5 yards on 8 punts and his punt teammates limited the Steelers return game to 12 net yards on 3 returns. The kick coverage team was also solid limiting the Steelers to 36 yards on 2 returns. Clearly Antonio Brown was missed…After the 42-yard P.I. penalty against Cary Williams (a very ticky-tacky call) on the game’s opening play from scrimmage, the Ravens played a tight game, only being penalized another 26 yards the rest of the way.
THE BAD: Joe Flacco is limited by Cam Cameron’s outright refusal to work the middle of the field when the Ravens are on the road. They always force the ball to the perimeter and the Steelers DB’s cheated that way and for the most part they eliminated potential passing windows. That said, Flacco just forces too many passes into double coverage when there’s next to no opportunity for success. He’s fortunate that he wasn’t picked off multiple times…
Ed Reed’s hit to the helmet of Emmanuel Sanders after a 20 yard pick up put the ball at the Ravens 12 yard line. Reed also gambled earlier in the game and left Graham out to dry on a 36 yard connection from Leftwich to Sanders. Al Michaels had a rather telling quote about Reed: “At what point does the reputation exceed the ability on the field?”
THE UGLY: The Ravens had 64 yards of offense in the second half; they were 3 of 14 on third down conversions and 1 of 6 in the second half; 12 first downs in total, 4 in the second half to go with a second half time of possession of 10:38. Following the Wallace fumble the Ravens had a first and 10 from the Steelers 12. Three plays later they netted -1 yards on the “drive”.
THE MEGAN FOX: Jacoby Jones’ 63-yard punt return for a score was THE difference in the game. He also helped provide the Ravens with good field position, something that was understated given the Ravens’ offensive ineptitude.