It was a well played, closely fought contest, particularly given the short week, which often leads to sloppy football. Perhaps the stakes, being as high as they were, helped both teams maintain focus (unless of course your name is Michael Oher).
It was a tale of two halves – the first half won by the Ravens and after the break the Steelers held the upper hand, aided in part by their answer to the Ravens boisterous 12th man, a 12th man of their own in the form of head coach Mike Tomlin.
It’s important to note that once again, when the Ravens needed the defense to step up, they failed. It has happened against Buffalo, Cleveland, Green Bay, Chicago and Pittsburgh. It almost happened again.
That said, no matter how you look at it the game was pivotal for both teams, the loser pinned to the wall and losing control of their own destiny. The win allows the Ravens to control theirs and hopes for an AFC North title remain intact.
Joe Flacco has clearly improved this season with his ability to extend plays, keep his head up and produce positive results when options appear limited. Last night he did that with his feet, once running 9 yards for a key first down and also sliding in the pocket to enable receivers to work their way free down field. He misfired on a couple of key third downs yet it’s hard to complain about a 10 for 17 performance when attempting to move the chains. Torrey Smith didn’t help with a couple of drops that could have led to more points. Penalties also forced Flacco into uphill battles. His passer rating was a crisp 98.6 connecting on 24 of 35 passes for 251 yards and 1 score.
Running Back: C-
Ray Rice sure does miss playing the Bears. He did make a couple of nice plays in the passing game but he lacks vision, explosiveness and is too often indecisive. He just looks like a MLB hitter in a slump who’s just pressing too much. His unnecessary emotional outbursts leading to a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty could have been very costly in more blustery conditions, as he forced Justin Tucker to kick a 38-yard field goal instead of a 23-yarder. He was even warned on the previous play. If Bernard Pierce was a little less injury prone, he’d be a better option as the featured back right now.
Receivers/Tight Ends: C+
Torrey Smith had a rough night after that first series ending in his 7-yard TD catch. He dropped two passes and also committed a false start, the team’s 5th of the game.
Jacoby Jones continues to get open deep and unfortunately Joe Flacco struggles to connect. Nice job by the pitch and catch tandem continuing to work the field when given all day to throw by the offensive line. It led to a 34-yard connection and a first down at the Steelers 24. Brandon Stokley in limited play was effective moving the chains. Marlon Brown showed explosiveness on the flanker screen. Dallas Clark and Ed Dickson punched the clock with 1 catch each. Dickson was decent in pass blocking support later in the game.
Offensive Line: B
If not for Michael Oher’s horrific night with 3 false starts and being beaten like a drum by Jason Worilds (10 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 FF, 3 QB Hits), the Ravens offensive front had one of its better games. Marshal Yanda looked lost on a third and goal run that went nowhere but other than those miscues, Joe Flacco’s protectorates were stout as pass blockers and they did a fine job run blocking, an effort that won’t show up on the stat sheets due to Rice’s inability to convert.
Front Seven: C
The Ravens did a nice job in the first half containing Le’Veon Bell but they failed to create any pressure rushing Ben Roethlisberger and often looked rather tired in doing so. Terrell Suggs for the fourth consecutive game was a non-factor contributing just 1 tackle. He has just 8 tackles and 0 sacks during the last four games combined. Elvis Dumervil was slowed by a slightly sprained ankle. Arthur Jones was a bit quieter than usual as was Chris Canty. On Bell’s 43-yard run on a third and 2 from their own 49 the Steelers doubled on Ngata and for some reason Josh Bynes was on the right edge. The result was a gaping hole for Bell and it led to the Steelers’ first points of the game.
Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith have played like the best corner tandem in football over the past few weeks. Last night was no exception as both covered well and supported the run, particularly Webb. Corey Graham was a different story and when Roethlisberger defined him as the weak link, Graham’s number 24 morphed into a bullseye. Once again the Ravens gave up a touchdown pass on a simple criss-cross at the goal line, this time Jerricho Cotchery cashing in. We’ve seen this in the past against the Patriots on multiple occasions, and against the Broncos. When will they get it right? Chykie Brown was embarrassing trying to cover Antonio Brown and whiffed on an attempted jam, leading to an easy 19-yard completion. James Ihedigbo played another solid game but we’re still waiting for his sidekick Matt Elam to make a splash play.
Special Teams: A
Kick coverage could improve a tad and there’s no excuse for Justin Tucker kicking off out of bounds, but given his 5 field goals and Jacoby Jones’ return capabilities, special teams in many ways won this game for the Ravens. When is the last time Sam Koch punted only once in a game? His only chance pinned the Steelers at the 15 yard line.
I will never understand why a defensive coordinator will go with a 3-man rush from inside the 10 yard line. Pees did it from the 8 and it led to the Steelers first TD. The Ravens did little to disrupt Roethlisberger in the pocket. John Harbaugh’s clock management at the end of the first half looked confused. They call a timeout at 1:04 left after a first down conversion. They then throw a 7-yard pass to Rice to their own 33 but don’t stop the clock. Then a false start by Michael Oher makes it 2nd and 8. The Ravens could have used a timeout to prevent a 10 second run off but opted not to. They then throw another short pass to Rice and then let the clock run out with 2 timeouts in their pocket. Jim Caldwell called a nice game. If the team executes in the red zone, we may be talking about a double digit Ravens win today.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
John Madden got it right (by the way where was he?) when he (allegedly) picked Jacoby Jones and Justin Tucker as co-players of the game and therefore deserving recipients of a drum stick on Thanksgiving. But I’m going with only 1 and this week it goes to Tucker who has 29 of the Ravens’ last 41 points.
GIFs c/o Gordon Dixon