Ravens vs. Steelers: 5 Reasons Why Baltimore Couldn't Win in Pittsburgh

Todd McGregor@@mcgregor_toddCorrespondent IJanuary 16, 2011

Ravens vs. Steelers: 5 Reasons Why Baltimore Couldn't Win in Pittsburgh

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    The AFC divisional round of the playoffs between the Baltimore Ravens (13-5) and Pittsburgh Steelers (13-4) ended up being a twisted, high-scoring affair that not even the most seasoned analyst could’ve foreseen.

    The Steelers, aided by three Baltimore turnovers in the span of one quarter, shut the door on the Ravens' hopes of returning to the Super Bowl 10 years from their first appearance at the end of the 2000 NFL season.

    Pittsburgh’s 31-24 victory wasn’t indicative of a great offensive performance by any means, but rather, their ability to capitalize off of several lethal Baltimore mistakes which came at the most inopportune moments.

    Let’s examine what went so terribly wrong for the Ravens, on a night when Baltimore looked like they could run away with the contest and advance to the AFC Championship.


    Todd McGregor is a Baltimore Ravens Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.

    Follow Todd's work on Twitter!  Twitter.com/ravens023

The Ravens Completely Gave Up on the Run

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    It was clear from the beginning of the game that Baltimore’s game plan was to set up the run using the pass.  Not a bad idea, considering the Steelers first-ranked run defense only allowed an average of 63 yards per game.

    The Ravens plan appeared to be making headway as QB Joe Flacco marched the offense down the field on a 10-play, 68-yard drive, which ended on a Ray Rice rushing touchdown.  Pittsburgh’s defense was caught off guard, as Rice effortlessly ran into the end zone to tie the game at seven apiece.

    The 14 yards Rice managed on Baltimore’s first touchdown accounted for nearly half of his production all game, and the Ravens were quick to abandon the run after Rice’s fumble in the third quarter.

    RB Willis McGahee wasn’t even a factor in Baltimore’s two-headed rushing attack, as the team continued to focus on short to intermediate passes.

    It’s important to note that Rice was suffering from a stomach virus the day before the game, but by all accounts, he was feeling fine come game time.

Joe Flacco Couldn't Reach the Next Level

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    Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco had his worst outing of the 2010 season against the Pittsburgh Steelers Saturday afternoon.  Flacco was sacked five times and threw an ill-advised pass into double coverage, which was intercepted.

    Flacco also missed on an exchange from center Matt Birk, which resulted in a fumble recovery for the Steelers.

    Flacco never really got any help from his receiving corps, however.  WR Anquan Boldin had a key drop in the end zone late in the game, so Baltimore had to settle for three points instead.

    Even more disastrous was a drop by the normally sure-handed T.J. Houshmandzadeh on Baltimore’s final drive of the game.  Houshmandzadeh was visibly upset at himself on the Ravens bench as the game ended.

    Houshmandzadeh was the most outspoken of all Baltimore receivers throughout the regular season, complaining about not getting enough touches in the Ravens offense.

    In the end, when the game was on the line, all of Houshmandzadeh’s complaining wasn’t enough to reel in an easily catchable ball from Flacco on 4th-and-long.

    With all of the dropped balls and mishandled snaps aside, Flacco still failed to put on the performance he needed to propel him, and his team to the next level.

Special Teams Play Wasn't Adequate

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    The ability of the Baltimore Ravens to pin opponents deep inside their own territory was something the team excelled at all year.  However, in Saturday’s matchup with the Steelers, several factors prevented Baltimore from gaining the upper hand in the battle for field position.

    One glaring factor was the wind and perhaps the fact Baltimore was playing at Heinz Field, where it’s tough to kick in the first place.  On the evening of the game, wind speed was sustained over 20 miles per hour as a snowstorm was approaching.  So it’s possible wind did affect the trajectory of punts and kicks for the visiting Ravens.

    In addition to punts that went for touchbacks and kicks not reaching the end zone, Baltimore’s coverage on kick returns was just average.  On several occasions, Steelers WR Antonio Brown reached the second level in the Ravens coverage, helping Pittsburgh to decent field position.

    Nevertheless, it wasn’t the Ravens kick coverage that killed their Super Bowl aspirations on Saturday.

Baltimore's Inability To Get Pittsburgh's Offense off the Field

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    During Saturday’s matchup, the Baltimore defense had a great degree of difficulty keeping the Steelers offense to three and out.  Three of Pittsburgh’s 13 drives went for a total of 50 yards or more, including the first drive of the game, which went for 80 yards and resulted in a touchdown.

    Equally as damaging for the Ravens defense was their success rate of stopping Pittsburgh on third down.  The Steelers offense converted 50 percent of third-down plays (7/14), which undoubtedly resulted in Baltimore’s defense over-fatiguing in key situations.

    The Ravens secondary gave a solid effort on Saturday, but one instance of missed coverage blew the game wide open for Pittsburgh and their offense.

    The play came on the final drive of the game for the Steelers offense, when QB Ben Roethlisberger found WR Antonio Brown streaking past both Baltimore safeties.  Brown caught the ball with the aid of his helmet and ran out of bounds at the Baltimore 4-yard line.

    Unfortunately, for the Ravens, this play occurred on a Pittsburgh 3rd-and-19.  This major conversion for the Steelers offense is just another example of the Baltimore defense continuously getting beat on third down.

    Moreover, one must ask how a single receiver runs past a defense playing two deep safeties.

    This particular play might have blown the game wide open for Pittsburgh, but it wasn’t the big reason why the Steelers came out victorious.

The Ravens Offense Suffered a Massive Implosion

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    For the Ravens, many things contributed to Pittsburgh’s momentous swing from 14 points down, to ultimately winning the game, 31-24.

    Sure, dropped balls and unimaginative play-calling didn’t help, especially when you’re facing the league’s No. 2 defense, but this wasn’t the reason for Baltimore’s humiliating defeat.

    Turnovers, and an outright awful third quarter performance on the part of the Ravens offense was the main reason why this team didn’t live to see another day—well, at least for the remainder of this season.

    Baltimore’s three turnovers, all which occurred inside of their own territory in the third quarter, directly led to 14 points for the Steelers and a tie game going into the final quarter of play.

    In a game that was decided by one touchdown, it’s impossible for a team like the Ravens to expect miracles, when they can’t even secure the football.

    All of the Baltimore miscues that took place in the third quarter were unfortunately all too familiar for so many fans.  We all wondered deep in our hearts when the next major meltdown would occur, and it just so happened to take place in one of the biggest contests of the year, in front of millions of viewers.

    Credit must be given to the Steelers when and where it’s due.  Sadly, for the Ravens, they can’t be considered a viable contender until they are able to overcome obstacles like the ones that presented themselves on Saturday.

    Some final thoughts on Saturday’s game and the Ravens season, next.

Final Thoughts

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    As was said earlier, credit must be given to the Steelers for capitalizing on Baltimore’s mistakes and making a few more plays than the Ravens did over the course of Saturday’s AFC divisional playoff game.  That’s why Pittsburgh won the game.

    Overall, the quality of officiating was terrible—possibly the worst in several years of playoff history, and both teams benefited from calls and non-calls on the field.

    As Shannon Sharpe said during the CBS Postgame Report, “The refs should’ve let the players play football, but congratulations to the Pittsburgh Steelers.” 

    This was Sharpe’s last comment about the game during the CBS Postgame Report segment, and it was a fair assessment of the game itself.  Take it as you may.

    Today, many fans in Baltimore are second-guessing Joe Flacco’s ability to lead a team to the only game that matters, the Super Bowl.  While some discussion is necessary in evaluating Flacco’s progress over his three-year career, there’s no doubt this young player will grow into a superstar, leading the Ravens to the big dance in the near future.

    It’s worthwhile to note that Joe Flacco will join Dan Marino and Bernie Kosar as the only quarterbacks since the 1970 NFL merger to make a playoff start in three consecutive postseasons to start a career.

    Still, Flacco has yet to prove himself in games that matter the most.  Flacco has failed to throw for more than 200 yards in six playoff appearances.  This is perhaps the most bothersome stat for the Ravens and their respective fans.  It’s something the team will have to figure out as they work with Flacco in his development.

    In the end, the Ravens lost to a Steelers team that’s likely to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.  Next season, however, Baltimore must figure out how to clear this perpetual hurdle called, the Pittsburgh Steelers.


    Todd McGregor is a Baltimore Ravens Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.

    Follow Todd's work on Twitter!  Twitter.com/ravens023