Ravens Thoughts: Did They Let the Steelers Off the Hook?

Shock.

Disbelief.

Anger.

These are just a few words to describe last night’s loss to the Steelers.

Unfortunately it wasn’t the first time that Ravens fans have had to endure another Ben Roethlisberger rally or a late turnover by Troy Polamalu to seal a tight victory. But there was a different feeling to this loss. You lead the entire game only to see it fumbled away with a few minutes left.

In the words of Dennis Green, “WE LET’EM OFF THE HOOK!”

The Baltimore defense put together one of its most inspired efforts of the season. They battered and pressured Roethlisberger for four quarters. His performance was, at times as ugly as his broken nose but effective when it counted most.

But what led to the game winning touchdown was even more inexcusable. As the Ravens nursed a 10-6 lead with under three minutes they failed to block one of the Steelers defensive stars in Polamalu. It was easy pickings as he charged forward, sacked and stripped a blind Joe Flacco and set up the Steelers in fantastic field position.

In the end the Ravens simply couldn’t hang on and couldn’t make enough clutch plays to seal the deal and take control of their playoff fate. Once again it was the Steelers coming up clutch and the Ravens falling short.

As much as it pains me to type it the Steelers deserved every bit of this one.

When will the Ravens produce a consistent offense?

I don’t know. I preached patience at the start of the season with all the new acquisitions. These are human beings and it takes time to gel as a unit. But as we approach the final four games of the season the offense still suffers from uneven performances every week. As usual there is plenty of blame to spread around but the fact remains that in one of the biggest games of the season the offense scored ten points and put the defense in a position where it had to keep the Steelers out of the endzone on a short field. Sound familiar?

I’ll start with Cam Cameron. I’m not as harsh as some have been on his playcalling as execution has just as much to do with weather a play works or not.


But some of his calls were just plain awful. The best example would have been the Ravens First and Goal in the Second Half. Two Fades passes and then a roll-out to Flacco’s weak side so he must turn and throw across his body. Terrible. The call for a Reverse to Donte Stallworth was ill-timed and made little sense considering the Ravens lack of commitment to the run game and that fact that they were in their own territory. It basically blew up the whole series in the Fourth Quarter. Ray Rice was a non-factor. He did a great job blocking but you have to get this guy into space to be a playmaker. The last player to run for 100 yards against the Steelers? Yep, Ray Rice. So please explain why he only got nine carries last night?

He wasn’t all bad of course, the deep throw to Boldin was gutsy and the type of big play you need to beat Pittsburgh. But as has been the usual this season nothing works well consistently. The game plan seems haphazard and never seems to focus on the strengths of our players.

Speaking of the players let me focus on one in particular – Joe Flacco. He had his typical game, a very good first half and a very subpar second. Not always in that order but you get the point – he never seems to put together a full game. At times he looks fabulous as he did on the drive that led to the Boldin touchdown and others he still makes rookie mistakes. The non-recognition of Polamalu was critical. However it makes me wonder if he could have checked out of the pass play and ran a draw instead even if he wanted to. Twice yesterday the Ravens were called for Delay of Game and both times were a result of the plays not coming in timely enough. Ben Roethlisberger gimps out with his wristband and barks out orders to his offense – will we ever see that in Baltimore? It still appears that Flacco doesn’t have the full confidence of the staff for whatever reason and it has me curious as why Flacco isn’t given the same leeway as Matt Ryan for example.

How good is Joe Flacco going to be?

This question spills right over from the last answer. Having questioned all I can about the coaching it still doesn’t take away from Flacco one-hopping a sure First Down on 4th and 2. The ball wasn’t tipped. He first read and maybe second was covered and he just geeked it. But in a game like this he has to make that throw – he just has to.

Expectations for a First Round quarterback are always going to be skewed. They just are for a variety of reasons the biggest being money invested. I still believe that Flacco is a good quarterback, in fact he is a top 15 thrower in the league but I think like most fans I’m unsure what his ceiling will be.

The development process is an uneven journey and it is frustrating. There’s only so many times you can accept, “He’s only a third-year quarterback”. Fans want to see results and when you see a defensive effort wasted yet again and an offense with such talent at times struggle so mightly the blame has to start with the signal caller.

In games like last night it’s all about making clutch plays at key moments. Roethlisberger, to his credit fought and clawed to keep his team in it and when given the chance made the opposition pay. Will Flacco be that player one day? I still don’t know.

Why did the Ravens penalty woes from a year ago resurface last night?

Baltimore made a concerted effort to cut down penalties from last year and they have done an excellent job in that regard. But last night they just killed themselves with False Starts, Delays, and untimely mistakes.

The Fake Punt call was perfect and would have gained the needed yardage but Brendan Ayanbadejo’s flinch negated any such chance. The defense extended the Pittsburgh Nine minute drive in the Third Quarter twice that ended in points.

I understand the magnitude of a national game against a hated rival will bring out the worst in you sometimes. But weren’t they playing at home?

I’ll also add that the Ravens could have been flagged for two penalties but weren’t due to the physical nature of the two teams. Haloti Ngata popped Roethlisberger inside the facemask and made him look like Rocky Balboa. That easily could have been a hit to the head. Jameel McClain will no doubt be fined for his sickening hit on Heath Miller. I’m glad he walked off the field.

Should the Ravens have gone for it on 4th and 2 or attempted a Field Goal to tie?

In hindsight I’d have kicked the three. At the time I was unsure because the broadcast did a poor job of communicating where the ball was spotted and how long a try might be. It was around a 47 or 48 yd try which is in Billy Cundiff’s range.

But I accept John Harbaugh’s explanation of the wind being a factor in choosing to go for it. In fact see for yourself below. The Ravens still had to make a play and simply didn’t.

Who was the Offensive Player of the Game?

Anquan Boldin made some big catches last night and it was good to see some focus return his way. Ray Rice was busy been used more as a blocker instead of a playmaker. The Offensive Line struggled at times containing the pressure and couldn’t open any holes in the running game. Le’Ron McClain’s injury hurt due to his ability to block but why sign Jason McKie and not activate him? Todd Heap’s injury was a killer. Dickson caught a few passes but struggled mightly trying to keep James Harrison at bay. He also dropped a potential huge gain early in the contest.

Who was the Defensive Player of the game?

Terrell Suggs abused and wore out the Steelers line as did Haloti Ngata at times. At one point the Ravens rushed three and still pressured Roethlisberger. The linebacking corps was equally stellar with Ray Lewis leading the way as usual. The secondary was solid and didn’t get beat deep but unfortunately Ed Reed was quiet in this one.


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