November 29, 2013 in Observations
In a thriller of a game, the Baltimore Ravens defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 22-20 on Thanksgiving night. Entering the game, both teams were 5-6 so the win brings the Ravens to 6-6 and the loss drops the Steelers to 5-7.
A typical Ravens-Steelers game, this was physical throughout and went down to the wire. Nine out of the last ten games have been decided by three points or less now including five straight.
Just 90 seconds into the game, the first fight broke out and there were three total in the first quarter alone. Eventually things settled down, but a few minor scrums still broke out.
The Ravens struck first with a touchdown pass to Torrey Smith six minutes into the game and carried a 10-0 lead into halftime. The Steelers came alive in the second half for three touchdowns including one with one minute left in the game. In order to tie the game, the Steelers needed a two-point conversion, but wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders dropped the pass.
Under head coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens are now 8-1 at home on national television and they are now 12-4 when scoring first against the Steelers.
Leading the Ravens to victory was Flacco, the much maligned quarterback. After weeks of sub-par play, Flacco produced arguably his best performance of the season.
He went 24-of-25 for 251 yards, one touchdown, zero interceptions (neither team had a turnover) and had a quarterback rating of 98.6.
Known for having a strong arm, Flacco has excelled at throwing deep passes in his career. These deep passes helped key the Ravens Super Bowl run last season. However, he had struggled with these passes this year.
Against the Steelers, he started off the game with an under thrown deep pass to Jacoby Jones on the first offensive play for the Ravens. After this though, Flacco was on target for the rest of the game and threw his best deep passes of the season.
Later in the Ravens' opening drive, he hit Smith deep for a gain of 54 yards putting the ball at the Steelers' one-yard line. On this pass, Flacco hit Smith right in stride. Three plays later, Flacco threw a perfect pass to Smith in the end zone for a touchdown to give the Ravens a lead that they would never surrender — though the game was close throughout.
Most of the passes that Flacco threw looked sharp and were on target for the most part. This is something that he has struggled with all season.
Earlier this week, he talked about how he didn't like the Wildcat offense where backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor came in that the Ravens ran against the New York Jets last week for a few plays. This sent him out to wide receiver where he just stood there. Unsurprisingly, there was none of this against the Steelers and Flacco performance was enough so that it wasn't needed.
Channelling his inner Taylor, Flacco scrambled for a gain of nine on third and eight. This kept a drive alive and moved the ball to the Steelers' 16-yard line and led to a field goal for the Ravens.
Totaling 93 yards, Smith caught six passes on 10 targets.
Starting with the good, he got the Ravens going early in the game with a 54-yard catch on the Ravens' opening drive. On this play, Smith ran a post route and split the cornerback and safety to get open. He was tackled at the one-yard line. A few plays later, he caught a slant on third and goal from the seven-yard line and scored the Ravens' only touchdown of the game. Taylor shaded Smith to the outside knowing that he had help to the inside in the form of a defensive lineman. Smith created separation from Taylor at the line-of-srimmage and Flacco's pass was just passed the outstretched arms of the defensive lineman, giving the Ravens a touchdown.
Only one catch (a four yard screen pass) didn't go for a first down or touchdown. The other two first downs both came on third and eight where he ran shallow crossing routes — one for a gain of eight and the other for 10.
He also drew a 26-yard pass interference call on Taylor giving the Ravens the ball at the Steelers' 27-yard line.
On to the bad, Smith dropped two easy passes. The first was an out route that would have gone for a gain of about eight yards. The other drop came on a crossing route inside the Steelers' five-yard line. He tried to make a sliding catch, but couldn't haul it in. Both times, Flacco's pass his Smith right in the hands.
For the second game in a row, he was called for a false start. This can't happen to wide receivers — especially at home. In fact, the Ravens had a total of five false starts.
Now that Jones is fully healthy after spraining his MCL in week one, he is providing a constant big play presence for the Ravens like he did last year.
Early in the game, he left with a knee injury, but he quickly returned.
On offense, he caught four passes for 53 yards on seven targets and two of these catches went for first downs. The first was a gain of 10 on a curl route and the second was a gain of 34 on a crossing route. On the latter play, Flacco had all day to throw the ball as the offensive line provided great protection. Jones started out running a crossing route, but once he reached the middle of the field, he reversed to head back to the sideline to try and get open when he saw that Flacco was still looking to throw the ball.
An excellent return man, Jones' big play came on a kickoff return. The kick was near the far sideline and he took it up this sideline and received good blocking. Importantly, this kickoff was from the Steelers' first touchdown so he made sure the Ravens — not the Steelers — have the momentum. He was caught from behind at the Steelers' 27-yard line and this field position led to a 38-yard field goal.
Right before he was caught from behind, Steelers' head coach Mike Tomlin stepped in the way of Jones on the field. This subtle step from Tomlin caused Jones to move a little to the inside of the field (he was running right down the sideline) and he was then caught. (The play can be viewed here.)
An official was right there, yet he didn't flag Tomlin for interfering with the play — which he clearly did. This should be a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. Also, the officials can award a touchdown to the team that was interfered with if they feel the interference from the sideline stopped a touchdown from occurring. The NFL has already announced that they will investigate the play. It is likely that Tomlin will be fined for his actions as he looks like he intentionally did this.
Allowing two sacks, the Ravens' offensive line looked good (with one exception) last night in pass protection. Running the ball, the Ravens suffered the same problem as they gained 74 yards and averaged three yards per carry.
The one exception was right tackle Michael Oher who allowed one sack and had three false starts. His sack came on a second and nine where the Steeler beat him to the outside and slapped Oher's hands away. The hit on Flacco forced a fumble which right guard Marshal Yanda was able to recover. A few plays later the Ravens kicked a field goal so this recovery from Yanda saved three points.
Oher's three false starts at home are inexcusable. The crowd is quiet at home so the snap count is audible, yet he jumped three times. Each of these false starts came in key situations. The first was with less than a minute left in the first half. After the penalty, the Ravens ran the clock out to halftime after looking like they would try and get some points. The second game in the red zone and the third came inside the Steelers' 25-yard line.
An impending free agent, Oher isn't making a case to stay in Baltimore. Left tackle Eugene Monroe is also a free agent and the Ravens likely won't be able to pay both of them. Monroe had another solid game last night and play a more important position than Oher. Right now, it looks like the Ravens will attempt to re-sign Monroe and not Oher.
Left guard A.Q. Shipley was also called for a false start.
Going up against the Steelers backup left tackle for most of the game, you would have expected Suggs to have a big game. Especially as it was against the Steelers, a team he historically plays well against.
Heading into each game against the Steelers, he is the player who hypes the game up the most, yet he was invisible for most of the game. In the box score, he recorded one tackle and one quarterback hit. I can't remember the tackle, though I do remember the quarterback hit and it didn't force Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to throw before he wanted to.
With 15.5 career sacks of Roethlisberger, Suggs has the most of any player on Roethlisberger, but he wasn't able to take him down last night. I had him down for one pressure all night long. It did look like he was held a couple times that weren't called though.
Still, as the Ravens best pass rusher, Suggs needs to show up in these games. He should feast off a patchwork offensive line like the Steelers had last night. He now has gone four straight game without a sack.
Playing across from Suggs at the other outside linebacker position (during mostly passing downs) is Dumervil.
While he didn't play as good as he should have, he played better than Suggs — though that isn't saying much.
He had three tackles and one of these was a run stop for no gain that he shared with defensive end Arthur Jones.
Rushing the passer, Dumervil had two pressures based on my count. One of these pressures forced a bad pass from Roethlisberger which went for an incompletion.
On a third and seven, Dumervil jumped offsides which gave the Steelers a new attempt which they converted. The Steelers' drive kept going, but they were eventually forced to punt.
Going up against a weakened offensive line, he, like Suggs, should have had a better night then he did.
Of the four passes that Smith allowed to be completed against him, one went for a first down and one went for a touchdown. On the touchdown, the Ravens were in zone coverage and Roethlisberger scrambled out of the pocket to the far sideline. Smith shifted to that side in his zone, without knowing that Sanders was behind him running the other way trying to get open. Roethlisberger saw Sanders open was threw it to him for a touchdown.
Late in the third quarter, Smith had man-coverage on Steelers' running back Le'Veon Bell who ran a wheel route from the slot while the outside receiver went inside to try and get Bell open. Smith stuck with Bell the whole way and his tight coverage forced Roethlisberger to throw to far in front of Bell for an incomplete pass.
Smith's coverage has been his best attribute this season as he is one of the best middle linebackers in pass coverage according to Pro Football Focus.
In run defense, Smith hasn't been as good and he got blocked out of the way on two important runs last night. The first was a 43-yard run by Bell, the longest run the Ravens have allowed all season. Smith got caught up in the middle and was on the wrong side of the hole when Bell ran though it. On Bell's one yard touchdown run, Smith got blocked out of the way, allowing Bell to get in untouched.
Finishing with six tackles, Smith had a decent game with a few bad plays and some good ones.
Leading the Ravens with 10 tackles was Ihedigbo, the starting strong safety who has enjoyed a great season (seventh best safety according to Pro Football Focus) after not starting at all last season.
Early in the game, he was blitzing often to as the Ravens played a more aggressive style of defense. In the second half of the game though, Dean Pees, the Ravens' defensive coordinator, called a much more conservative game. Most plays saw just a four man pass rush (that generated no pressure) and had the other seven defenders drop back into zone coverage. This has happened many times this season and the defense has always had more success when playing aggressive.
In pass coverage, Ihedigbo had a great game. He allowed one catch to be completed against him (a gain of four on second and two) and broke up two passes.
The first of which came on a second and 10 from the Ravens 27-yard line. Roethlisberger threw to his receiver who was open running a corner route to the near sideline. He lofted a pass up and Ihedigbo made a leaping pass deflection as Roethlisberger just under threw the pass. If Ihedigbo doesn't make that play, the Steelers' receiver walks into the end zone for a touchdown.
With the game on the line and the Steelers on the Ravens' one-yard line with a third and goal down eight points, Ihedigbo made a great play to force fourth and goal (which the Steelers scored on). The Steelers ran a short pass play to the near sideline and Ihedigbo had the fullback in coverage. Roethlisberger threw to the fullback, Will Johnson, on a quick out route and Ihedigbo hit Johnson as soon as he caught the pass, forcing an incompletion.
This performance against the Steelers by Ihedigbo is another example of the great season that he is having.
An overall good performance by the Ravens' cornerback helped slow the Steelers' offensive. The Steelers did seem to try and target the middle of the field more where the cornerbacks weren't.
Lardarius Webb allowed three catches for 23 yards and one first down. The first down that he allowed was a gain of eight on third and five.
On the play, he missed a tackle that would have brought down the receiver short of the first-down marker. Later in the game he was flagged for defensive holding in pass coverage on a play where the pass didn't go to his receiver.
As always, he was active in the run game. He recorded a run stop for a loss of two on the Steelers' second offensive play. He also had a run stop for no gain when the Steelers had first and goal from the Ravens' one-yard line with the game on the line.
Over the last few weeks, Jimmy Smith has really stepped his game up and has had great coverage and this game was no different. He allowed one pass to be completed against him and that was a wide receiver screen which he stopped for a two-yard gain.
His one pass breakup came on a back-shoulder fade — a pass that is very difficult for a cornerback to defend. Wide receiver Antonio Brown had the ball for a split-second but Smith ripped the ball out of Brown's hands as they was falling to the ground.
On the second and goal play after Webb's tackle, Smith came up in run support and tackled Bell for no gain. This play was initially ruled a touchdown, but was overturned as Bell's helmet came off before the ball was in the end zone. Both Bell and Smith left with likely concussions after this play and never returned.
Allowing the touchdown pass on fourth and goal was Corey Graham. For the game, he gave up three catches for 25 yards. Two of the catches went for first downs and the other was the aforementioned touchdown.
On the touchdown, Graham lined up against the outside receiver and Webb had the slot receiver. At the snap, the outside receiver ran a slant and the inside receiver ran a quick out the try and clear space for the slant. Seeing the route combination, Graham switched to the outside receiver and expected Webb to do the same to the inside receiver. However, Webb stuck with the inside receiver. I don't know who was to blame, but a miscommunication like his can't happen on the most important play of the game.
Other than this play, Graham had a good game. He had a nice pass breakup on a deep pass and had good coverage on another that forced an incompletion. Like Webb and Smith, Graham got involved in run defense and stopped a run for a loss of one.
Seeing a couple of snaps due to injury was the fourth cornerback, Chykie Brown. When Graham went out for a play due to a likely stinger, Roethlisberger targeted Brown on a deep pass. Brown tried to press the wide receiver at the line-of-scrimmage, but he completely whiffed and the receiver was open and picked up 19 yards.
With Smith out after the second and goal play, Brown came in to replace him. He wasn't targeted on the third and fourth down passes, but he was on the two-point conversion. Roethlisberger threw a quick fade to Sanders in the corner of the end zone and Brown had tight coverage. Sanders had the pass hit him, but he dropped the ball giving the Ravens the victory.
Already named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Month for November before the game, Tucker continued to shine as he scored 16 points for the Ravens.
Connecting on five field goals and one extra point, Tucker was perfect on the night. Adding the four field goals he had last week, he has nine field goals in this last two games.
Tucker's five field goals came from 43, 34, 38, 45 and 48 yards out. His first field goal gave him 23-straight field goals made which gave him sole possession of the second longest streak in Ravens history. Stover has the record at 36-straight.
Currently he has 27-straight field goals made which is the longest such active steak in the league.
The only negative on the night for Tucker was a kickoff out-of-bounds that helped lead to the Steelers' second touchdown.
In a game that was decided by two points, Tucker was huge for the Ravens.