Why does it seem like the Ravens and Steelers games are always close?
Some people will tell you it’s a matter of familiarity, others that the rivalry or the fans bring it out of the players.
I think Sunday’s game was close for a much different reason. The Ravens, facing Byron Leftwich and noticing the condition of the Steelers’ QB, decided this game would be fully in the hands of the defense.
It was Ravens football, 2008 style.
With a 10-7 lead from midway through the 1st quarter, Flacco threw a steady diet of short passes and Ray Rice continually ran off tackle without much success. The strategy was most evident on 3rd down when Flacco made no dangerous throws and, in fact, threw most of his passes short of the sticks.
• (Q1, 13:25, 3/7): Flacco threw right to Pitta for 5 yards, but he was stopped before he could turn up field by Clark and Timmons.
• (Q1, 9:07, 3/11): Flacco threw right to Rice 4 yards from the LoS, who then advanced for 1 yard.
• (Q1, 5:23, 3/3): Clark broke on the out route to Smith, who was covered by Taylor. Joe threw high to avoid Clark and the ball sailed out of bounds. On target, this would have been a 7-yard completion.
• (Q2, 14:26, 3/15): The Steelers showed a 6-man blitz and Flacco released quickly for Dickson taken down for a gain of 2 by Timmons who had dropped to coverage.
• (Q2, 9:47, 3/4): Flacco threw left for Rice a yard short of the line of scrimmage. Ray ran for 6 YAC to convert.
• (Q2, 6:48, 3/14): Flacco threw a WR screen right to Jacoby Jones 3 yards behind the LoS. He was taken down by Lewis and Timmons before he could turn up field.
• (Q2, 2:55, 3/10): Flacco throws complete to Boldin, 4yards from the LoS. Boldin broke a tackle from Timmons and ran for 10 YAC to convert.
• (Q2, 2:00, 3/7): Flacco threw right to Boldin, 3 yards from the LoS, but this time Timmons and Foote took him down for a gain of just 4.
• (Q3, 13:41, 3/1): Dickson was bulled by Woodley to blow up Rice’s run for no gain. Harrison also caved in Bajema on the opposite side, illustrating the Ravens problem of not having a TE who can block.
• (Q3, 8:23, 3/6): Flacco threw for Rice 3 yards downfield, who then made Foote miss to convert with 5 YAC.
• (Q3, 7:01, 3/4): Flacco threw for Jones who was tightly covered by Lewis by the right sideline. Joe left the ball a little to the inside where Lewis got a hand on it, but it would have been a very difficult reception for Jones were it 3 feet closer to the sideline.
• (Q4, 15:00, 3/8): Flacco pump faked to Boldin who was open in front of Timmons 4 yards from the LoS, but then takes the sack from Woodley.
• (Q4, 8:54, 3/2): Flacco threw for Jones, approximately 18 yards downfield on the right sideline. Jones was tightly covered by Lewis and the ball sailed high and out of bounds.
• (Q4, 2:00, 3/2): With a chance to seal the game, Flacco failed to find a wide open Ed Dickson between the hashes 12 yards downfield and took a slow-developing sack from Harrison.
Joe did not complete a single pass beyond the sticks on 3rd down although 3 were converted with YAC. Flacco is a much better judge of risk and reward than this game would indicate, but he was clearly expected to avoid mistakes at all costs. The field-position game proved appropriate given the Steelers inability to manufacture offense combined with the loss of Dennis Pitta. It wouldn’t work against a better offensive team, nor would the Ravens have tried it.
The Ravens had 56 snaps (excluding Flacco’s half-ending kneel):
Oher: Michael has turned in his best 2 scores the last 2 weeks. He gave ground and was beaten inside by Harrison for a sack on a play that was negated by Keisel/Woodley being offsides. The very next play, he was bulled by Harrison, held him, and Harrison got free for a slow-developing sack. Otherwise he had a shared pressure allowed when Harrison bulled him and Osemele was bulled by Woodley on the opposite side. On that play, Harrison took down Flacco very late (visible on all-22). It’s a little surprising he wasn’t flagged, but it wasn’t a vicious take down. Scoring: 50 blocks, 4 missed, 1/2 pressure, 1 sack, 43 points (.77 per play). C+. Oher is one of several Ravens who might raise their level of play down the stretch.
Reid: I would speculate that Reid is now the team’s LG if he can continue to perform as he did Sunday. Jah was bulled by Keisel on the Ravens first snap and surrendered a QH (Q1, 14:12). He was party to a QH by Birk (see below), and he had a false start penalty, the only time the line was penalized. He otherwise did a workmanlike job with only 2 missed blocks. He had 4 blocks in level 2 and 2 pancakes. Scoring: 56 plays, 45 blocks, 2 missed, 0 penetrations, 1 + 1/3 QH, 1 false start, 45 points (.80 per play). With an adjustment for the quality of competition, that’s a C+.
Birk: Matt had trouble handling Casey Hampton, who is not the player he once was either. Hampton beat him to his right to take down Rice for a loss of 2 (Q1, 10:31). He was beaten on consecutive plays for a pressure, then 2/3 of a QH (beginning Q3, 8:30). First, Foote blew by him to his left on Flacco’s long incomplete to Boldin. Heyward then crossed his face through the left A gap to hit Flacco as he threw to short middle to Rice for a gain of 8. On the latter play, Reid did a poor job helping, so I charged him with 1/3. Birk had 3 blocks in level 2 and a pancake. Scoring: 56 plays, 51 blocks, 1 missed, 1 penetration, 2 pressures, 2/3 QH, 43 points (.77 per play). D with an upgrade for the quality of the Steelers ILBs.
Yanda: Marshal did not get the usual point-of-attack push on the run, but the departure of Ziggy Hood forced LeBeau to insert Cameron Heyward, who’s a better player. He did a good job in pass blocking as usual, with just a shared pressure when Foote slipped through to his left and Rice was unable to pick him up (Q2, 2:55). He made 6 blocks in level 2, but he didn’t pull at all. Scoring: 56 plays, 53 blocks, 2 missed, 1/2 pressure, 52 points (.93 per play). A.
Osemele: Kelechi has spent a lot of time on the ground the last 3 weeks when he has accumulated 26 missed blocks. He had 8 more on Sunday night, including 3 times when he either fell off his block or was shed to the ground. He twice moved to L2, but was unable to find a block. He allowed the first sack (Q4, 15:00) when Woodley raced around him to the outside and Kelechi was unable to give him a hard push to the outside. He was earlier beaten for a pressure when Woodley jammed Bajema, then rushed by him as he initially blocked inside. Osemele gets rave reviews from every broadcast team, probably because the coaches mention him in the production meetings. He’s smart, has very obvious physical talent, and a 2nd round pedigree, but this is a case where reputation precedes results. That also happened with Ben Grubbs, who would become a very good guard. There are some real similarities in the frequency the 2 have been shed or miss at the point of attack early in their careers. Scoring: 56 plays, 45 blocks, 8 missed, ½ pressure, 1 QH, 1 sack, 43 points (.64 per play). D+ with an adjustment for Woodley and Heyward.
• The failed 3rd and 2 conversion (Q4, 2:00) was controversial, because it would have immediately sealed the game. I don’t have a problem with a pass in that situation, but the Ravens were short one of their best possession options (Pitta). What play might have been more effective? The Ravens have successfully used the naked boot on at least one occasion this year to pick up a key first down. Selling it (with a dive by Leach and perhaps pulling Reid would have been key and like all plays it has a chance to fail, but the chance of a turnover would have been low and Flacco would not have been required to take a hit.
• Flacco had ATS on 17 of 34 drop backs. He completed 12 of 16 for 123 yards (120 net) with no TD/INT and 1 sack for 3 yards (7.5 YPP). The sack on the last offensive play was the first of the season Joe has taken with ATS.
• Without ATS, Joe was 8/16 for 41 yards (33 net) with 1 sack for 8 yards (1.9 YPP). Neither YPP figure was good.
• The Ravens used a standard 5-man line for every play.