"Joe Cool" got the better of "Big Ben" in Week 13.
Playoff hopes were on the line for the Baltimore Ravens, but even more important was the need to avoid being swept by the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens came out on top in both respects, and they're currently sitting pretty in the second AFC wild-card spot.
With so much at stake, how did the Ravens play? Here are some of the important takeaways from the Thanksgiving victory.
Torrey Smith was on the receiving end of a 54-yard bomb that was just short of a touchdown.
Baltimore’s only touchdown from last week was a long pass to Jacoby Jones, but it made a concerted effort to use the deep ball to attack the Pittsburgh Steelers defense—especially Ike Taylor.
It worked, especially in the first half, as Joe Flacco averaged 7.17 yards per attempt—his third-highest average of 2013.
Flacco set the tone early, throwing a bomb on his first play of the game. While that one was underthrown, the big plays were there for the taking all game, and the offense took advantage. There were a number of long gains, and an incomplete deep shot even drew a pass interference penalty.
The Ravens offense looks infinitely more dangerous with the threat of big plays, so it’s a good sign for Baltimore’s playoff hopes that the deep balls are making a return to the offense.
Roethlisberger extended a number of plays and created problems for the Ravens defense.
This wasn’t the first game where an opposing quarterback made plays with his feet against the Ravens, but it was very prominent in this game.
Ben Roethlisberger got out of the pocket and extended plays on many occasions, and the secondary wasn’t able to stay plastered to receivers to prevent Roethlisberger from completing passes. He also escaped pressure and picked up 11 yards on his lone scramble in the game.
On Emmanuel Sanders’ touchdown, Roethlisberger extended the play by getting out of the pocket and created different throwing lanes for himself. Daryl Smith lost Sanders working the back of the end zone, and the result was an easy touchdown.
It may end up coming back to haunt the Ravens later in the year.
The no-huddle kept the Ravens off balance.
Pittsburgh has been much more effective on offense since it started incorporating more no-huddle into its game plan. In Week 7, the pace caused some problems for the Ravens defense, and that continued to be the case on Thanksgiving night.
In the second half, Baltimore used two timeouts on defense to prevent the Steelers from hurrying up to the line of scrimmage so the Ravens could get their desired personnel on the field.
Many teams use some no-huddle in their offense, so it is concerning that Baltimore is having some trouble dealing with the tempo.
Baltimore only scored one touchdown in four red-zone trips.
Joe Flacco and company have had some difficulties punching it into the end zone once they get within an opponent’s 20-yard line.
They failed to convert any of their four red-zone trips last week into a touchdown, and they went 1-of-4 against the Steelers.
The defense is playing well enough right now that just getting points on the board is good enough, but that trend won’t continue to be the case.
Joe Flacco turned in another solid performance.
Joe Flacco has put together two consecutive good games, and he was in complete control of the offense. He was effective on deep passes and spread the ball around to eight different receivers. Flacco also completed 69 percent of his passes and converted 10 of 17 third downs.
More importantly, he didn’t turn the ball over. Suffice it to say, there was no Wildcat sprinkled into the game plan.
Flacco’s play is a refreshing sight for Ravens fans, but he needs to play at that level on the road for the Ravens to be a legitimate playoff threat.
Baltimore's playoff chances are looking good at the moment.
First, the win puts the Ravens in the playoffs, for now at least. They should stay there, regardless of who wins later in the week due to their 6-4 conference record.
The win ties the head-to-head record between the Ravens and Steelers, which could be important down the road.
The race for the second AFC wild-card spot changes every weekend, but within the division, the Ravens are only one-and-a-half games behind the Cincinnati Bengals (who play the San Diego Chargers this weekend).
Baltimore’s playoff chances are looking good right now, but it has to keep playing well and winning football games.