The difference between a jubilant Baltimore and one that now wants to run defensive coordinator Dean Pees out of town. (Don’t worry, he’s a month away from retirement).
Albeit a dramatic, emotional game, typical of those played for nearly two decades between these two teams, it hardly resembled the old slobber-knocker slugfests that once characterized this rivalry. Long gone are the 13-9 games when the two teams COMBINED for 513 yards. Nowadays, Ben Roethlisberger alone, throws for 506.
The loss drops the Ravens to (7-6) and kills any remote chance of winning the AFC North. They are now tied with the Bills and Chargers at (7-6) and for the moment the Ravens are on the outside looking as the 7th-seed in the conference based upon a strength of victory that is slightly weaker than Buffalo (.404 to the Ravens .381).
The Ravens are in an advantageous position with the Browns (0-13), the Colts (3-10) and the Bengals (5-8) left on their schedule. But given this wretched defensive performance at Heinz Field that dropped Pees’ unit from the 7th-ranked defense to 14, nothing is guaranteed.
At times Joe Flacco was effective and finished the night with 269 yards passing, a couple of TDs and a passer rating of 88.9. But an inexplicable throw that ended the Ravens opening drive (interception by Sean Davis) cost the team an obviously valuable 3 points. Plus, some poor execution during crunch time when he went 1-for-5 during the team’s last two possessions proved costly and spelled opportunity for his more accomplished counterpart – Roethlisberger…Buck Allen did a fine job in relief of Alex Collins. He had 25 yards on 6 carries and added 2 catches for 32 more yards to go with two rushing TDs…Mike Wallace had 72 yards on 3 catches and made a couple of solid, veteran plays deflecting two bad Flacco passes that may have been intercepted, although one would have been overturned given a PI on Artie Burns…Chris Moore showed some signs of life with 3 very nice catches for 48 yards and a score. Hopefully he can bounce back from his hip injury.
Marlon Humphrey knew that he would be targeted given the absence of Jimmy Smith and he more than stepped up to the challenge against a dangerous offense. His technique was cleaner than it was a week ago and he was quick to diagnose bubble screens, even contributing a tackle-for-loss…Terrell Suggs was strong along the edge and contributed 3 pressures and ½ sack when it was needed most at the game’s 2:25 mark…Tyus Bowser was effective in limited work contributing a sack and 2 other pressures…The front-7 was strong containing Le’Veon Bell who was limited to 48 yards on 13 carries…Special teams helped to tilt the field in the Ravens favor. Seven of Pittsburgh’s drives started inside the 20-yard line.
Ronnie Stanley and Austin Howard had subpar games on the edge forcing Flacco to unload prematurely. T.J. Watt embarrassed Stanley a couple of times…Patrick Onwuasor was effective as a run-blitzer but in coverage he lacks instincts and covers like he’s playing “pin the tail on the donkey”…Tony Jefferson missed a couple of tackles and his skillset can be exposed in wide open games when the opponent spreads out a defense. He failed to effectively cover fullback Roosevelt Nix (who is as nimble as your friendly neighborhood fire hydrant) on a 1-yard TD pass and he was trucked by Bell on a 1-yard TD run…Brandon Carr was beaten regularly like a big bass drum by Antonio Brown down the right sideline, giving up three long passes of 28, 43 and 34 yards, including the completion that set up the game winning field goal.
Jeremy Maclin is a stiff. He doesn’t make plays, quits on other plays and is as reliable as Charlie Sheen’s fidelity. For a veteran receiver who allegedly was a smooth route runner, he looks completely uninterested. Unless he catches fire down the stretch, he’s a one-and-done player. Declining his option in 2018 represents a $5M cap savings…C.J. Mosley continues to fail to make impact plays. Yes, you will see 14 tackles next to his name but those tackles ON AVERAGE were made 9.4 yards downfield. Steelers tight ends had a field day in large part due to the former No. 1 pick’s shortcomings in coverage. Jesse James and Vance McDonald combined for 14 catches and 149 yards…The Steelers were 12 of 18 on third down, ran 85 plays and controlled the clock (33:50 v. 26:10)…The Ravens blew a 31-20 lead and couldn’t stop the Steelers at all late in the game. It was deja vu all over again.
It’s beginning to look a lot like last Christmas…
— Tony Lombardi (@RSRLombardi) December 11, 2017
The biggest difference in the game came down to coaching. Marty Mornhinweg did a nice job exposing the Steelers weaknesses in the secondary and along the perimeter in run support. But unlike his counterpart Todd Haley who kept attacking Carr and Mosley, Mornhinweg didn’t keep going to the well, and force the Steelers to answer. Coty Sensabaugh, much like Mosley and Onwuasor, can’t cover a corpse with a blanket. How often have you seen Ravens receivers so wide open? When they targeted Sensabaugh it was like shooting fish in a barrel, particularly in favorable down-and-distance situations? It just doesn’t happen that often in the Ravens offense, yet Mornhinweg looked the gift horse in the mouth and redirected his attack as if to say, “thanks, I’ve had plenty.” And that pass option call to Maclin on the third-and-3 at the 2:38 mark of the 4th when clinging to a 38-36 lead? THAT was ridiculous. After Maclin’s body of work last night, why would they think they could count on him. Whip the horse that got you there – No. 34!
But Marty’s play calling was nowhere near as bad as that of Dean Pees who THANKFULLY is retiring at the end of the season. His inability to adjust in game is mind boggling. It’s as if he went into vapor lock. He did little to dial up pressure in the A-gap or any other deceptive blitzes and the opponent’s QB dropped back 68 TIMES!!! He failed to scheme and regularly bracket the game’s best receiver. Given the success that Humphrey had in press coverage against Antonio Brown, why not have him track AB all over the field? Why not use Jefferson and Levine to cover the tight ends and get the struggling Onwuasor and Mosley off the field? Why not try Kamalei Correa? Something…anything had to be better than doing the same things that have failed over and over and over again.
I’ve defended Pees at times in the past because his players speak glowingly of him. Maybe they just see him as their grandfather and who doesn’t love their grandfather? In one horrific game, the Ravens dropped from the NFL’s 7th best defense (smoke and mirrors) to the 14th best. With the money, talent and picks they’ve invested in that defense, the front office should be horrified with the results Pees & Company have produced. Hopefully Chuck Pagano has a nice dinner with John Harbaugh when he visits Baltimore in a couple of weeks and is convinced to continue his coaching career as Harbs’ DC in 2018.
THE MEGAN FOX AWARD
He has quickly become the heart and soul of the Ravens offense. He never gives up on a play, shows great vision and change of direction skills, fights like nobody’s business for an extra yard and seems to regularly make something out of nothing. Last night against the Steelers he ran for 120 yards on just 18 carries (6.7 YPC) and added another 46 yards on 2 catches, AND as he has all season, he gains so many yards after initial contact. On his 20 touches, he AVERAGED 5.3 yards after contact. That’s a special player, giving an uncommon effort.