Well, that’s a wrap on the 2016 Baltimore Ravens season (with one more game to go). Baltimore fell 31-27 to their arch rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in dramatic fashion. The Ravens showed heart in their last meaningful game of 2016. They also showed, as John Harbaugh stated after the game, that they are indeed close to being a great team.
It is always disappointing for a season to end without a post-season appearance. But, the reality is, not every team can make it every year. Baltimore was a much better team in 2016 than it was in 2015. It was hard to see any optimism for this team after Week Nine last year. This year, the team started off 4-0 in AFC North games, beat the Cincinnati Bengals for the first time in five games, and were in contention for a division crown until Christmas. It wasn’t the season most fans hoped for, but it was much better than 2015.
Now it is up to the Front Office to build even more on that improvement in 2017. Here are my thoughts on the Raven’s loss to the Steelers.
What I Liked
- Fought Hard Against The Odds. Not many NFL analysts picked Baltimore to win this game, but they gave Pittsburgh hell anyway. Who knew they would’ve led 20-10 early in the 4th quarter, with 2 interceptions, and a chance to sweep Pittsburgh for the second straight year? This game is already being seen as the best game of 2016. The tide turned after a 3-and-out from Joe Flacco’s offense along with two straight touchdown drives from the Steelers. After losing their 10-point lead, Baltimore answered with a 14-play, 75-yard, 5:58 second touchdown drive to take the lead back with 1:18 seconds to go. Of course, the defense faltered and could not hold the lead, but no one can say Baltimore didn’t fight hard.
- Using Juszczyk On The Final Drive. Baltimore took back their lead late in the 4th quarter with a long touchdown drive that was capped off by a 10-yard Juszczyk run. Both of the first-time Pro Bowler’s rushes and receptions came on that final drive, totaling 25 yards. Juszczyk is one of the last fullbacks left in the league, and he deserves a spot on this Baltimore offense.
- Linebackers Getting Interceptions. Both inside linebackers (C.J. Mosley and Zachary Orr) recorded interceptions in the second half on Sunday. That makes 4 for Mosley, and 3 for Orr on the year. Their 7 interceptions total more than the entire defense recorded in 2015 (6). Mosley’s biggest knock the past few years has been his pass coverage, but next to Orr, it has improved. Look for this linebacking duo to wreck havoc on opposing QBs for years to come.
What I Didn’t Like
The 4th Quarter Collapse. Giving up 3 touchdowns in the 4th quarter is unacceptable. Even more so because they held the Steelers to 10 points in the first three. Why was there such a monumental collapse? Many factors contributed to it.
First, Baltimore’s use of prevent defense has come back to haunt them yet again. The defense played so well under its normal scheme in both games against Pittsburgh this season. Once they had a lead in the 4th quarter, they switched to a prevent defense, and allowed Pittsburgh to gain momentum both times. In the two meetings this year, Pittsburgh scored 5 touchdowns in the 4th quarter, while Baltimore primarily used its prevent packages. While the prevent defense was much to blame on defense, the offense also faltered in the 4th quarter.
The two biggest drives, to me, that paved the way for Pittsburgh’s comeback came from Flacco’s offense. Mosley’s interception gave Flacco the ball on Pittsburgh’s 11-yard line up 17-10 with a chance to go up by 14. Baltimore couldn’t capitalize (Darren Waller was unable to hold on to an endzone reception) and settled for a field goal. Pittsburgh scored a touchdown on its next drive, and Baltimore responded with a 3-and-out. Pittsburgh scored again and suddenly this was their game to lose, leading 24-20 with 7 minutes to go.
That type of inefficiency in the offense loses games, and I have written multiple times this year that it would not fly in the final 4 games of 2016. Baltimore’s Achilles Heel this season has been its inconsistency on offense, for many reasons.
Flacco and Steve Smith Sr. missed much of the offseason coming off serious injuries. New skill position players were introduced like Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman, Kenneth Dixon, and Benjamin Watson (for a short period). Starting running back Justin Forsett was cut and OC Marc Trestman was fired, both midseason. And finally, the offensive line struggled with injuries for much of the year and were shuffled around often. The offense did have some high points throughout the year, and most often came when they were consistent with their players/play-calling. If Baltimore can get over the injury bug, and pair that with an offensive coordinator that has a set identity, the offense can build on the potential it showed at times this year.
- This was a gut-wrenching loss for Baltimore. A season with promise ended against their bitter rivals, in an environment they have won in before, and with a game they felt they should have won. The offense played well for much of the game, but dealt with inefficiencies on two late, critical drives. The defense had no answers in the 4th quarter, and gave up two separate leads. Baltimore preaches playing for 60 minutes every game under John Harbaugh, and this game was the perfect example for what can happen if you don’t. Baltimore improved from 2015, and can now focus on how to make more improvement in 2017.
Week Seventeen Preview
- Baltimore may have nothing to play for in the final week of the regular season, but there is still one major reason to watch. Steve Smith Sr. will be playing the final game of his 16-year career, which will most likely end in the Hall of Fame. Smith Sr. is the most passionate player on the field during each game, and will leave a void in leadership for Baltimore’s 2017 squad. His 2016 stat line going into this final game is 67 receptions, 765 yards, and 5 touchdowns. Not bad for an old man.