Between the final score and losing a $100-million man for the season, Sunday was an L from every standpoint.
But there were some positives, so let’s talk about them.
Non-Ingram Running Backs
The Gus bus and the Dobbins hype train are full steam ahead. The duo dominated one of the league’s best rushing defenses from start to finish.
Pittsburgh came into the game allowing just 68.8 rushing yards per game, the second lowest in the league, but Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins topped that number in the first half. With Mark Ingram out due to a high-ankle sprain, both backs surpassed their season highs in attempts, Edwards with 16 and Dobbins 15. Dobbins eclipsed 100 yards rushing for the first time in his young career, and Gus nearly joined him with 87 and a score.
This game also showed what some may have been thinking all season long: that the Ravens run game is better without Ingram.
It’s not all Ingram, although he has looked like he’s lost a step while still leading games in attempts. It’s more so that spreading carries between three different runners doesn’t allow any of them to get into a rhythm. Now that we’ve seen Edwards and Dobbins excel as a one-two punch, especially against a top defense, it’ll be tough for Ingram to make his way back into the workload once he returns.
All four of the Ravens wide receivers had awesome games and came through when they needed to.
Willie Snead had his best game of the season on Sunday. He led pass catchers with five catches for 106 yards. He had a few nice grabs in the first half, and topped it off with a huge 32-yard catch to keep the final drive alive. The seventh-year receiver continues to have reliable hands.
Marquise Brown added a touchdown early in the fourth quarter and nearly came down with an incredible grab right before that, Miles Boykin caught his first touchdown of the season, and Devin Duvernay hauled in a nice 39-yard catch on the first play of the fourth quarter to set up the touchdown to Brown while also playing on the third highest snaps of the receivers for the first time.
It does concern me that defenses are too often taking Mark Andrews and Brown out of the game, but this was really the first time we saw the secondary receivers step up when Andrews and Brown were more or less taken out by the Steelers defense.
Jaylon Ferguson was a splendid surprise after Matthew Judon found himself taking an early trip to the locker room. The second-year linebacker does a great job of sealing the edge and has become a force in the run game, as we saw on his stuff of James Conner in the third quarter. He also finished the game with a sack and two QB hits and helped to hold the league’s 11th best rushing offense to 48 yards.
Snaps will be hard to come by for Ferguson with the addition of Yannick Ngakoue, but if he keeps playing well with the opportunity he is getting it won’t be taken away.
Poor decision-making, ill-advised throws, holding on to the ball for too long, and costly turnovers. To put it bluntly, this was a complete disaster from the MVP.
Right out of the gate, a pick-six gave the Steelers seven points before their offense stepped onto the field. Lamar Jackson bounced back well with a touchdown drive on his next go at it and he did show glimpses of being the most valuable player he was a year ago, but the bad continues to outweigh the good. Turnovers cost Baltimore this one, and Jackson committed four of them. His interceptions essentially gave Pittsburgh 14 points and his first red zone fumble took at least three points off the board (his second was on a failed fourth-down attempt, so wasn’t quite as costly, but should still be noted).
It’s not a question of whether he can make the throws or not; he can. Rather, can he become one of the league’s best decision makers at the quarterback position. That’s the next step in his development.
Last week, I asked if the week off would help a struggling passing offense. We got our answer, but it isn’t the one we hoped for. In fact, it’s gotten worse.
The common theme in most Ravens losses is that they get away from what they do so well, running the ball. Sunday was another example of that.
Edwards, Dobbins, and Jackson ran the ball down the Steelers throats in the first half. Then on the opening play of the second half, Greg Roman dials up a slow-developing pass to the sideline with two receivers no more than two yards apart and Jackson is intercepted. Right then, you felt the momentum shift and it kept Pittsburgh in the game.
Roman never really went back to the run until the second to last drive, where nine straight runs featuring an Edwards 20-yard run directly followed by a 15-yarder from Dobbins brought the offense inside the Pittsburgh ten-yard line. That drive ended with neither running back touching the ball on third or fourth down, and Jackson fumbled after failing to get a first down on an empty backfield keeper.
We saw the lack of depth in two positions highlighted on Sunday: offensive line and cornerback.
At corner, the Ravens are without Tavon Young for the year and Anthony Averett for at least a few more weeks, and Jimmy Smith was questionable all week with what was called an Achilles injury. Terrell Bonds was called up from the practice squad and figured to be the fourth corner, and the Steelers exploited that weakness in their second half comeback.
In the first half, the Steelers used more than three wide receivers just once. In the second half, they used the set 19 times, forcing the Ravens to dive into their depth and bring Bonds into the game. On those 19 snaps, Pittsburgh completed 14 of 16 passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns. Furthermore, the Ravens were called for two pass interferences (one on Bonds) as the practice squad call up played on 16 of the 19 snaps (via @Yoshi2052). Mike Tomlin and the Steelers were able to find the Ravens weakness and attacked it to complete their comeback.
The other and most obvious lack of depth is at offensive line. The depth at tackle was already an issue, but now Ronnie Stanley being out for the remainder of the season makes it even worse. Orlando Brown Jr. has looked fine at left tackle in two games now, but D.J. Fluker, signed as a guard, has come in both times at right tackle. The team currently has no backup or swing tackle on the roster or practice squad.
I won’t be surprised if a move is made to bring either a tackle or corner in ahead of Tuesday’s trade deadline.