Nobody expected the Baltimore Ravens to keep this game close after 23 of their players were placed on the COVID-19/reserve list. Both sides of the ball had key players missing and the Steelers receivers were making defenses look foolish on a weekly basis, so I thought to myself: there’s no way this game will be close. But then a funny thing happened, the Ravens defense answered the call and kept the Pittsburgh Steelers high powered offense at bay for the majority of the game. It was then in the hands of QB Robert Griffin III to try and keep up.
To the shock of many around the NFL community, this game stood at 12-7 at the half and the score remained that way headed into the final quarter. The story of the first quarter was simple: a turnover fest. The Ravens kicked things off when RG3 fumbled a hand off with Gus Edwards and LB Vince Williams fell on top of the loose ball. Unfortunately, the Steelers couldn’t take advantage of an early gift from Baltimore and gave the ball right back 6 plays later. On 4th and goal at the 1 yard line, QB Ben Roethlisberger was pressured up the middle and threw an ill advised pass right into the waiting arms of LB Tyus Bowser. While I love the aggressiveness of going for it on the 1 yard line, the play call and execution were not great.
The Ravens decided to get into the holiday spirit on the next drive and this time it did lead to points. On 3rd and 4, RG3 tried to fire a quick pass intended for WR James Proche II but CB Joe Hayden stepped in front of the ill fated pass and returned 14 yards for 6. The score remained 6-0, when kicker Chris Boswell missed the extra point. The Steelers forced a quick 3 and out on the next drive, but then it was the Steelers turn to get in the giving spirit…again. WR Ray Ray McCloud was stripped of the ball on the punt return and suddenly Baltimore had life deep in Steelers territory. Four plays and 21 yards later, Gus Edwards punched the ball in from the 1 yard line and put the Ravens up 7-6.
The Steelers were able to answer that drive with back to back field goals with drives that lasted a combined 10 minutes and 31 seconds, but the Ravens stood tall. RG3 then was left with 4:27 on the clock before half and took his team on a 11 play, 69 yard drive that stalled inside the 10. In what would be a dramatic final seconds, RB Justice Hill broke loose for a 19 yard run and then a 3 yard run leaving the clocking running with Baltimore out of time outs. The Steelers defense tackled Hill at the 1 and kept him pinned down to waste time, forcing the Ravens to scramble to get a play off before the half. The Ravens snapped the ball with just three seconds left and RG3 floated the ball into the back of the end zone to TE Luke Willson but safety Minkah Fitzpatrick knocked away that pass attempt at the buzzer and the score remained 12-7. Some may argue that the Steelers should have been called for delay of game for holding down Hill, but the better question is why did the Ravens waste their earlier timeouts. Bad clock management and lack of execution cost them points.
Nobody scored in the 3rd quarter but the biggest play of that quarter came from the Ravens defense, who faced a 4th and 2 at the Baltimore 37 yard line. The Steelers decided to go for it and Big Ben fired a pass into tight coverage, where CB Marcus Peters knocked the ball away and gave the ball back to his dormant offense. Three straight punts ensued and the Steelers were given the ball back and that’s when the offense finally delivered.
In what was their best offensive drive of the game, Big Ben led his team down the field on a 12 play, 61 yard drive, eating up nearly 5 minutes and taking the game into the 4th quarter. WR JuJu Smith-Schuster took over on the two of the final three plays, first catching a quick pass and using a nasty stiff arm on CB Tramon Williams for 8 yards. Following a 3 yard rush by RB Benny Snell, Big Ben looked Smith-Schuster’s way again and fired a 1 yard TD strike just getting the ball by Tramon Williams to extend the lead to 19-7.
It took until the 13:20 mark of the 4th quarter for the Steelers to score their first touchdown. You have to tip your hat to the Ravens defense for keeping this game close. The forced 1 interception and 14 other incompletions. They used a variety of pressure packages and tight coverages to make life uncomfortable for Ben Roethlisberger all night, but at the end of the day they couldn’t overcome their offense only scoring 14 points. That became even more evident when the Steelers used an 8 play 42 yard drive, where they converted 3 first downs to run out the final 2 minutes and 58 seconds to move to 11-0. The final play they got the first down by half an inch but hey a win is a win no matter how ugly.
Their running game was held in check for just 68 yards, which put a ton of pressure on the passing attack to step up. Four different receivers hauled in at least 6 catches but there were quite a few drops that took that forced punts. The game’s biggest catch came via WR James Washington, who snatched a 16 yard pass with 2:32 left in the 4th in double coverage to help ice the game. Not a bad way to complete your final pass and squash all hope for Ravens fans. If this group can eliminate the drops and get more help in the running game moving forward, they’ll be just fine. Plus if this game proves anything, they can win any type of game, whether it’s a shootout or defensive slugfest.
Defensively, the Steel Curtain defense (2020 Edition) allowed just 110 yards through the air and only made one big mistake late in the 4th. RG3 completed 7 of 12 passes for 33 yards, plus that first half interception. He also proved to his doubters (myself included) that he could still be a mobile QB, leading the team in rushing with his 7 carries for 68 yards. I was not expecting him to be that mobile and I think it caught the Ravens by surprise and he even broke off a 39 yard run on the last drive of the first half. Unfortunately, he also injured his leg and was later replaced by backup QB Trace McSorley with 7:21 left in the 4th quarter. McSorley made a few great plays with 3 rushes for 16 yards, but completed just 2 of 6 passes for 77 yards. One of those completions made Steelers Nation very anxious and probably made them lose their minds, when he found Marquise “Hollywood” Brown for a 70 yard touchdown. A missed tackle by safety Terrell Edmunds sprung him, before Brown juked Minkah Fitzpatrick around the 20 yard line and raced to paydirt. He led all Ravens pass catchers with 4 catches for 85 yards and that score. That was a great way to cap a tough night for a short handed Ravens offense.
Only two receivers caught passes all night and it’s clear this team was missing two of their most reliable receivers and starting QB Lamar Jackson. While it’s hard to tell when players on the COVID-19/reserve list will return, Ravens fans have to be encouraged by the play of their defense in this game. To hold the undefeated Steelers to just 19 points on the road, is extremely impressive and shows this team is extremely well coached. I apologize to that defense for doubting your abilities and applaud them for a solid night. With a record of 6-5 and currently competing with Las Vegas Raiders for the 8th seed, every game becomes that much more crucial from now on. It’s not a good look losing 4 out of your last 5 games, but there’s plenty of time to turn that around. The good news they face the Dallas Cowboys (3-8) next Tuesday at 8:05 pm on FOX.
The Steelers on the other hand just survived a major scare and will now play their next game in just 5 days against the Washington Football Team at 5 pm on FOX. They will need to cut back on the drops and shore up their run defense, but facing a 4-7 team might be the perfect solution to that problem. They missed having RB James Conner, center Maurkice Pouncey and DE Stephon Tuitt in this game but were still able control the line of scrimmage at key moments. All three players are key to controlling the run game on either side and both have a chance to improve in next week’s contest. Washington’s record doesn’t matter because if you don’t execute your game plan or underestimate your opponent, you’ll lose your undefeated season.
Unfortunately, the news wasn’t all good for the Steelers, as pass rusher Bud Dupree is feared to have torn his ACL. That’s a huge loss, as he finished the season with eight sacks, two forced fumbles and 26 tackles. When you have to worry about facing both him and TJ Watt racing around the edge to pressure your quarterback, that combo gives offensive coordinators nightmares. This team still is #1 in the league in both turnovers, QB pressures and sacks and I expect his teammates to adopt the next man up mentality.
I expect both teams to win next week but many questions are still to be answered. How long will RG3 and/or Trace McSorley go to have to carry the Ravens offense? How many more players will be placed on the COVID-19 reserve list? And can the Steelers go 16-0 or even 19-0? Stay tuned to find out!
What are your thoughts on this rare Wednesday afternoon AFC North defensive battle? Do you think the Steelers can complete a perfect season? Leave your thoughts below or the CruelFan Facebook page.
By: Whitney Dowds CruelFan.com