The Ravens added a fourth win to their record this week at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers, good enough to put them in first place in the AFC North. Wins are always satisfying in the NFL when any team can win any given Sunday. Wins are just better against Pittsburgh. Especially in the fashion that Baltimore won yesterday.
The defense put on its most dominant performance of the season in a game where the offense made enough plays to win. The final score was 21-14, but the game wasn’t nearly that close. Baltimore led the entire game, starting off with the longest play in franchise history thanks to a former Steeler.
The Ravens find themselves exactly where they wanted after their first game following the Bye Week. Their hold on the division isn’t as strong as they would like it to be, but they are still in first place. Here are my main points on yesterday’s game.
What I Liked
- Winning At Home. Baltimore has been known for protecting its house in the past. But not so much lately. Since the beginning of last season, the Ravens were 4-7 at home going into yesterday’s matchup against the Steelers. The fear that opponents had coming to Baltimore was gone during the 2015 season. That continued this year after losses to the Redskins and Raiders in consecutive weeks. Yesterday’s suffocating defense dominated against one of the explosive offenses in the NFL that seems to be struggling this year. Pittsburgh’s offense is ranked an uncharacteristic 17th in the league.
- The Entire Defense. This defense welcomed back injured players Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley with open arms Sunday. The unit swarmed Ben Roethlisberger, confused him consistently, and never allowed him to settle in and look comfortable until late in the game. The defenders all made great open field tackles throughout the game, something they had gotten away from during their losing streak. The Steelers only gained 277 yards total (only 36 on the ground), and were 4-16 on 3rd down conversions. Much of their production, and both of their touchdowns, were scored late in the game after Baltimore built a 21-0 lead. Pittsburgh’s offense did not run one play in Baltimore territory until the fourth quarter, and Roethlisberger had 54 passing yards in the first three quarters. The game could’ve been decided earlier had the defense hold on to four potential interceptions throughout the game. This defensive squad is the reason Baltimore is now leading the AFC North.
- Return Of Injured Players. I’ve written multiple times about how the Ravens needed their key injured players back to start winning again. Steve Smith Sr., C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs, Ronnie Stanley, and Marshal Yanda returned yesterday and snapped a four-game losing streak. The offensive line had its five starters for the first time since Week Three, and Ronnie Stanley is now 4-0 in his first four NFL games. Mosley was the highest ranked defensive player per Pro Football Focus in his first game back from injury. Smith Sr. made an impact in his first game back with four receptions for 47 yards, including a 30-yard play. The offensive line looked impressive with the starters back healthy. Ricky Wagner and Alex Lewis were the two highest rated offensive players per Pro Football Focus.
- Offensive Balance. The offense still needs to find better ways to score. Aside from Mike Wallace’s 95-yard catch-and-score, the Ravens only put up two Justin Tucker field goals and 179 yards. But, the run-pass balance was exactly what the Ravens needed. The offense ran 59 plays, with 30 passes and 29 rushes. Joe Flacco isn’t successful when he passes 45+ times a game. The run game only gained 50 yards, but it provided a much-needed balance and took pressure off Flacco throughout the contest. With more rushes, it becomes less likely for Flacco turn the ball over and keeps the ball in Baltimore’s hands. The Ravens need to keep this balance going forward, but need to be more productive with the ball.
- Special Teams. Rookie Wide Receiver Chris Moore scored his second touchdown in as many games yesterday, but it didn’t come on offense. It came after scooping up a blocked punt and returning it for six points. Against the Jets two weeks ago, Moore scored the only touchdown for Baltimore. This week his touchdown, along with a 2-point conversion, gave Baltimore a 21-0 lead that ultimately was enough to win. Justin Tucker improved to 20/20 on field goals this season. He is one of, if not the, best kicker in the league. You won’t find Tucker embarrassing himself the way Chris Boswell did yesterday on that onside attempt.
- Divisional Win. The AFC North is having an off season, and that is fine for Baltimore. A team with as much turnover that Baltimore had this offseason needs time to gel. And when injuries happen- time to get healthy. Until yesterday Baltimore hadn’t won a game since September, yet they find themselves atop the division. The losing streak may have made Baltimore fans feel glum, but the other teams in the division haven’t fared much better. Winning divisional games is the most important goal for the rest of the season after starting 2-0 vs the North.
What I Didn’t Like
- Weak Offensive Production. As stated earlier, the offensive balance was great, and it kept the ball in Joe Flacco’s hands. But Flacco’s offense needs to gain more yards and score more points. Touchdowns have been hard to come by this year, and this offense is too good to be held out of the endzone. When the starting offensive line plays, the run game is weak. In Baltimore’s four wins with a healthy line, they only average 74.25 yards per game. The pass protection is great with the starters, but the run blocking is below average. Early in the season, the team employed a committee backfield, but switched to a feature back system with the emergence of Terrance West. Hopefully, in a few games with the starting line, West can continue his breakout season behind them.
- Letting Pittsburgh Back In. The Ravens took a 21-0 lead with 13 minutes left in the fourth quarter, yet the final score was 21-14. Roethlisberger led two touchdown drives and the game came down to a botched onside kick attempt. The Ravens must like playing games close, because this game could’ve been put away at that point. The offense became non-existent after the 21-point lead, and the defense couldn’t stop Roethlisberger after dominating for 3+ quarters. This defense is playing like a championship quality defense. They are firing on all cylinders and all levels of the field. The offense needs to explode during the second half of the season if Baltimore wants to win the division.
- Flacco’s Lack Of Fundamentals. Flacco has thrown off his back-foot way too often this season. It has led to inaccurate passes and interceptions consistently in each game. Flacco is coming off his first major injury in the NFL, so he could still be regaining his pre-injury form. Knee injuries are tough to bounce back from for QBs, and the offensive carousel this season hasn’t helped Flacco gain any confidence.
- The team used its Bye Week to get healthy and it paid huge dividends. Sitting 4-4 atop the division and beating Pittsburgh make the offensive problems not sting as hard. Flacco is having an off season, but there’s no reason to doubt he can gather momentum and finish the year strong. Making Pittsburgh’s high-flying offense look confused and searching for answers shows this defense is legit. If the offense keeps up its below average performances, this team will only go as far as the defense carries them.
Week Ten Preview
- The Cleveland Browns come to M&T Bank Stadium on a short week for their second match-up of the season. The Browns look hopeless, coming to Baltimore on a nine-game losing streak. In the Week Two match-up, the Browns started hot with a 20-0 lead in the first quarter. Baltimore battled back with 25 unanswered points and sealed the victory with an interception by C.J. Mosley. The Ravens have momentum and health on their side, and a home-field advantage this week against Cleveland. With a win on Thursday, Baltimore can begin to build more cushion on their division lead.
Ravens’ Alex Collins Arrested
Baltimore Ravens running back Alex Collins was arrested early on Friday morning following a car crash about a mile from the Ravens’ team facility, according to a report from the Baltimore Sun.
Per the report: Officers responded to a report of a car that had crashed into a tree on the 10000 block of Dolfield Road at about 6:48 a.m. Friday morning, Baltimore County police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Peach said.
Collins, 24, was arrested, however charges were not made public at the time of this writing.
Ravens vice president of public relations Chad Steele told The Baltimore Sun that the team has spoken with law enforcement and is aware of the situation involving Collins.
Collins is coming off a down year with Baltimore after a breakout campaign in 2017. Collins managed only 411 yards rushing in 2018 and was placed on injured reserve back in December, ending his season early.
Ray Rice Says He Is Done With Football
Former NFL running back Ray Rice, who had been working to try and get a second chance in the NFL over the past couple of years, is no longer pursuing a comeback.
“I’ll be the first one to say it; I don’t have to retire to tell you I’m done with football” Rice said, during an interview on CBS This Morning.
“The pressure I was under of being a star, that was the person I hated the most.”
Rice was suspended indefinitely back in 2014 when a video surfaces showing Rice punching his then-fiancee, now wife, Janay Rice while the two were alone in an elevator.
Rice was never picked up by another team following the conclusion of his suspension, and his release from the Baltimore Ravens.
Rice said that he sees “similarities” between his situation and the one of former Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt, who was recently cut loose by the team when a video surfaced showing him pushing and kicking a woman in a hallway.
“Somewhere down the line everybody who’s sayin’, ‘Does he deserve a second chance for football?’ And this that and the other— I actually got my second chance” Rice said of Hunt, who cleared waivers and is now a free agent.
“During my darkest moments, and I used to ask myself, ‘How could she even be—want to support me?’ … That’s understandable. But I think what’s misunderstood about us is that the friends we were before the incident. That’s why, like I said, when I look at Kareem Hunt, I wanna know what his life was like. I want to know what happened in life. I know Kareem has apologized, and has expressed remorse for survivors of domestic violence.”
Ravens Trying To Entice Fans With Lower Concession Prices
The Baltimore Ravens are attempting to win back fans and their latest plan is making a big step toward doing just that as the team announced on Tuesday that they will reduce concession prices at M&T Bank Stadium in 2018.
The Ravens have been on a mission to bring back fans who were angered by some players’ national anthem protests coupled with their 3-year playoff drought.
A series of moves have demonstrated their efforts. The team invited fans to ask questions at a media pre-draft news conference held a question-and-answer session with fans at the team facility with owner Steve Bisciotti, coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome, and also have had team president Dick Cass meet and talk to fan clubs.
While the team has sold out every game during their 20-year history at M&T Bank Stadium, empty seats grew in numbers as the 2017 season wore on, and the no-shows are very obvious.
The organization is taking this initiative very seriously.
“It’s something I would really like to take a hard look at, and at least, come up with select items that we can do,” Bisciotti said back in February of this year.
“If it means us … I can’t make Aramark do that with me, but I can make them go along as long as it’s my share of the profits that I’m waiving. Yeah, I’d like to take a look at that. I think we could probably do that.”
There is an official news conference scheduled for Thursday where the Ravens will officially announce price reductions on concessions.
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