Ravens vs. Steelers: Takeaways from Baltimore's 19-16 Loss to Pittsburgh
For the Baltimore Ravens, the loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers was about much more than pride. Falling to your most hated rival certainly stings, but there are other things to be concerned about—namely, the problems that are showing no signs of improvement.
After starting the year so well, the rushing defense has abandoned the Ravens—they've given up over 140 yards on the ground in three of their last four games. Their own running backs haven't had nearly the same type of success and, once again, struggled.
Furthermore, there is no sense of urgency about the team, as they started slowly and didn't get the offense rolling until the fourth quarter.
While a loss to the Steelers hurts the Ravens' playoff chances, all of their still-glaring flaws are the biggest obstacles in their path back to the postseason.
Here are the most important things to take away from a disappointing game at Heinz Field.
Pittsburgh Ran the Ball Easily
Entering the game, both teams were uncharacteristically struggling to run the ball. After Week 7, that had changed—for one team.
The Steelers had 82 rushing yards at the end of the first half. They had only been averaging around 60 yards per game before that.
As the season has progressed, the Ravens have repeatedly struggled to stop the run. Through the first three games of the year, they were giving up only 74 rushing yards per game.
Since that point, Baltimore is allowing 127 yards per game, and that's including Week 5 when they gave up 22 yards to a terrible Miami Dolphins rushing attack.
This loss was disappointing, but it is a serious concern that the Ravens have fared so terribly against the run. They have the bye week to figure it out and a favorable matchup against the Trent Richardson-less Cleveland Browns in Week 9.
Baltimore Is Having Problems Running in Short-Yardage Situations
This just in: The Ravens can't run the ball.
They haven't been able to run the ball all year, but the last two games have shown that they can't even run in short-yardage situations.
Last week, they tried to punch it into the end zone four times from less than five yards out, and they failed on each occasion.
This week, they got stuffed on a couple 3rd-and-1 situations including the play pictured above. On the first play, they settled for a field goal. On the second, they went for it on fourth down, and Joe Flacco picked up the necessary yardage on a sneak.
Regardless of the outcome, it doesn't bode well for the offense that they can't even pick up a yard on the ground when they need it.
Better Performance on Early Downs
Baltimore did a much better job of getting in manageable third-down situations against the Steelers, and it showed with a 50 percent conversion rate.
The average distance of the Ravens' 14 first downs was 4.71 yards. It was a welcome sight for offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell who didn't have to consistently search through his playbook for plays to run on 3rd-and-long.
Despite the improved performance, the offense still sputtered and didn't come alive until the fourth quarter.
It's a good sign that they were able to pick up positive yardage on first downs, but there is much more work that needs to be done.
Ray Rice Has His Explosiveness Back
The numbers don't show it, but Ray Rice looked a little more like himself.
He only picked up three yards per carry for a total of 45 yards, but there were a number of plays where he hit the holes hard and showed his typical burst.
After suffering an injury to his hip flexor in Week 2, there had been questions regarding his health. He still may not be completely healthy (he's an NFL running back after all), but he looked much better than he has all year.
Now, all that remains to be fixed is that pesky offensive line and their inability to block anything in the running game.
More Aggressive Coaching Decisions
Head coach John Harbaugh drew some criticism last week for a number of questionable decisions. Harbaugh, according to The Baltimore Sun, said he stood by the aggressive decisions, and he would continue to make those calls.
Indeed, they cropped up, once again, in Pittsburgh.
The first one paid off, when he chose to go for it on fourth down on the Pittsburgh 19-yard line. It gave the Ravens the chance to get a touchdown, but they didn't capitalize and had to settle for a field goal.
Right after that, Harbaugh chose to go for an onside kick which was terribly executed. The result of it was the Steelers starting on the Baltimore 38-yard line, practically in field-goal range.
The reasoning behind it was the ease with which the Steelers were moving the football and taking time off the clock. While the logic is understandable, it was a risky move with over nine minutes left in the game.
Pittsburgh did indeed kick a field goal, and with the game decided by only three points, it was yet another week where we are left wondering whether Harbaugh's decision cost the Ravens a win.
In such a close game, penalties were always going to be an important factor in determining the victor.
The Ravens were the more undisciplined team, committing nine penalties which gave the Steelers 67 extra yards.
Pittsburgh finished the game with 286 total yards—one yard less than Baltimore.
Crucial penalties were the difference, and Baltimore's sloppy play needs to be resolved. They're averaging seven penalties per game and making a habit of shooting themselves in the foot.
Elvis Dumervil was the worst offender, but it's an issue that the entire team needs to avoid.
No-Huddle Offense Looked Good
Whenever the offense did look good, it was usually the result of the no-huddle offense.
Joe Flacco has long been a proponent of incorporating more no-huddle into the offense, and you can't argue with the results. He looked in control and had a great deal of success against the Steelers.
Baltimore's last drive was predominantly without a huddle, and it resulted in a 16-play drive that picked up 73 yards and a touchdown.
With the struggles of the running game, the Ravens need to let Flacco run more no-huddle and spread opposing defenses out with more three-wideout formations.
The Road to the Playoffs Got Much More Difficult
The AFC North is firmly in the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals right now. Their Week 7 win propelled them to a 5-2 record, while the Ravens are stuck at 3-4.
Two games back, Baltimore still hasn't played the Bengals this year, so it is certainly not all doom and gloom in "Charm City," but this loss makes Baltimore's path back to the playoffs even more complicated.
One wild-card spot seems all but locked up by the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs. This leaves only one other spot for the Ravens if they are unable to win the division.
There is still a lot of football left to be played, but this loss almost makes the two divisional games coming up on the calendar must-win contests.
At the very least, the Ravens cannot afford to lose to Cincinnati in Week 10.