If things unfolded the way the Ravens had hoped on Sunday, they would have clinched the AFC North. They only needed a win by the Chargers over the Bengals of and course they needed to take care of business against a Steelers team that played once again without Ben Roethlisberger; without the menacing LaMarr Woodley and for most of the game without their best corner, Ike Taylor.
And let’s not forget they also played against a patchwork offensive line that stonewalled the Ravens’ defensive front seven for most of the second half as they controlled the line of scrimmage and the ball for over 20 minutes after the break.
The Steelers just seemed to want it more, perhaps driven by desperation.
Now not only are the Steelers hopes alive but most observers believe (and count me among them) that the Ravens will host the Steelers in a Wild Card game during the first weekend in January.
And if that happens how many of you are confident that the Ravens can beat what promises to be a much healthier Steelers squad in early 2013?
THE GOOD: Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce both ran effectively against a tough Steelers defense averaging 5.6 yards on 20 carries. Kudos to the blocking on the right side of the line and of course to that wrecking ball wearing No. 44…Ed Reed made a clutch, spectacular interception in the fourth quarter to help the Ravens protect a 20-13 lead. Cary Williams and Corey Graham also had solid games. Credit Graham with staying home on a gadget play that he intercepted. Later he shared that he saw the Steelers running through the play during pregame warm-ups. David Reed and James Ihedigbo were very effective as gunners on the punt team and their efforts combined with the booming foot of Sam Koch (50.6 avg. on 5 punts) paved the way to an average net on punts of 48.8.
THE BAD: Michael Oher was shaky against James Harrison at times, particularly when Flacco had a 5 step or more drop. Torrey Smith dropped two long passes that No. 1 receivers have to corral. The second drop was saved by the Ray Rice touchdown run from 34 yards out…Linebackers struggled as a group with their drops and it paved the way to huge holes in the middle of the field and to 97 receiving yards for tight end Heath Miller…Tackling was an issue for the Ravens defense, particularly for Courtney Upshaw who looked like he played hurt. It was his worst game as a professional…the Pass Rush was weak and rather uninspired both in scheme and execution. Paul Kruger was the most effective of the lot, but his hustle was negated by a very costly roughing the passer penalty, placing Shaun Suisham within comfortable field goal range…Dean Pees had been on a bit of a roll but schematically was beaten badly in this game by Steelers’ OC Todd Haley.
THE UGLY: Joe Flacco threw a hideous interception into the waiting arms of Ryan Clark. He forced a pass intended for Dennis Pitta in the middle of four Steelers. It was very Kyle Boller-esque. Flacco was wild most of the night, overthrowing receivers badly on 10-yard hitches and under throwing Torrey Smith deep downfield. He lacked pocket awareness and fumbled away a lead in the fourth quarter when he once again against the Steelers held the ball too long allowing a strip by Harrison. He also failed to run the ball on at least two occasions when he could have picked up 10+ yards on either play…
Cam Cameron, a regular in this paragraph, is simply a broken and obsolete coordinator who continues to ignore his best player when he’s needed most. Ray Rice touched the ball only once (a 10-yard run) from the 5:00 mark of the third quarter on following his 34-yard score. The Ravens due to their inability to produce a first down or control the football (9:47 T.O.P. in 2nd Half) after that 10-yard scamper managed only 7 yards of offense on 9 plays. That’s pitiful and this is just getting so old and monotonous yet nothing is done about it
And therefore, John Harbaugh is equally at fault because he enables this inept play calling. And let’s not forget the insanely boneheaded challenge that cost the team a timeout.
Chykie Brown was outclassed all night regardless of who he manned up on. He also cost the team a timeout – the price paid for an injury timeout inside of 2 minutes. He ended up jogging off the field. Someone, a coach, a team captain in that situation, has to be aware of the cost and encourage Brown off the field. It might help the player to know the rule. If he can eventually jog off on his own, he could have limped off a few minutes prior and saved the timeout.
THE MEGAN FOX AWARD ~ Vonta Leach per usual was a battering ram once flattening Troy Polamalu and annihilating Casey Hampton. Leach also caught four passes for 40 yards, three of which went for first downs. In a game that had little shine to it for the Ravens, Leach was the brightest star.