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The Breakdown: Five Thoughts on Loss to Steelers

S Kyle Hamilton
S Kyle Hamilton

The Ravens fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 16-13, at M&T Bank Stadium on "Sunday Night Football."

The Steelers' win keeps them alive in the playoff chase. With the Ravens' playoff ticket already punched, the loss doesn't change a whole lot for them, except they no longer control their own fate in the race for the AFC North title.

If the Bengals beat the Bills on "Monday Night Football," Cincinnati wins the division crown and a higher seed. If not, the Ravens and Bengals will have a winner-take-all game in Week 18 in Cincinnati.

Here are five thoughts on Sunday's game:

The Steelers flipped the script, cracked Baltimore's run defense.

When these two teams met just three weeks ago, Baltimore mauled the Steelers on the ground to the tune of 215 rushing yards. Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin probably seared that game tape into his players' heads, challenging them to punch back.

This time, the Steelers piled up 198 rushing yards and held Baltimore to 120. As Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said afterwards, "they flipped the script."

Steelers running back Najee Harris became the first player to run for 100 yards this season against the Ravens. It came against a Baltimore defense that entered the game allowing just 87.5 rushing yards per game, the third-best mark in the league.

There's no doubt that the Ravens felt the absence of Calais Campbell, who missed his second straight game due to a knee injury. He seemed close to playing after a pregame workout but couldn't. The run defense also just got worn down by an onslaught of 41 runs, Harris' physical style, and the fact that two straight fourth-quarter three-and-outs by the offense put them right back on the field.

It's not time to sound the alarm on the Ravens' run defense, but this was a gut check this unit won't forget. The locker room was as quiet and frustrated as any this season.

Asked to describe his emotions, linebacker Patrick Queen said, "Pissed off."

"We got our (expletive) whupped," he said. "We didn't play good football. We didn't communicate enough. We weren't physical enough. We just got whupped."

The Ravens' offense didn't run the game out.

The Ravens were no slouches running the ball either. J.K. Dobbins nearly hit 100 yards again. But the Ravens never got their 1-2 punch going with him and Gus Edwards, and the most frustrating part was they didn't run it effectively when it mattered most.

With a 13-9 lead, the Ravens went three-and-out on back-to-back fourth-quarter drives. Following a 56-yard Justice Hill kickoff return, they just needed a few yards to probably get points. Instead, Dobbins was hit for a 2-yard loss and the drive finished in the negative. On the second three-and-out Dobbins and the line was stuffed on third-and-2.

The way the Ravens have been running the ball recently, it seemed like they could run against anyone, anytime. The Steelers, who entered the game with one of the best run defenses, showed they were up to the task. They put an extra defensive lineman in the game and crashed their outside linebackers off the edges – seemingly unafraid of much else beating them.

"We should have done a better job of attacking that for sure," Harbaugh said. "We let them do what they want; it wasn't good." 

Considering the state of the Ravens' passing attack right now, Baltimore cannot afford to stub its toe – even if only in some key situations – and expect to win. The defense can't keep the opponent out of the end zone every week.

Mark Andrews got cranked up, but the wide receivers not so much.

Mark Andrews isn't a different player this year than last, and his competitiveness seems to be at an all-time high.

But there's no denying that part of the Ravens' offensive troubles has been missed connections with its Pro Bowl tight end. Andrews is such a major part of the offense, and he hadn't topped 63 receiving yards in any of his past eight games.

That changed Sunday night, as Andrews logged 100 receiving yards on nine catches. He caught every pass that came his way, as the Ravens leaned on him in critical situations.

A monster wide receiver isn't walking through the doors for the playoff run. If the Ravens' passing attack is going to heat up, it's going to need more games like this from Andrews.

The Ravens are also going to need more from the existing wide receivers. Baltimore's wideouts (Demarcus Robinson and DeSean Jackson) totaled just two catches for 18 yards on five targets.

Asked who he was looking for on the game-ending interception, Tyler Huntley said, "Just somebody. [I was] looking for somebody to try and just make a play."

Kenny Pickett could be a headache for years to come.

Ben Roethlisberger dealt the Ravens more than enough headaches over the years. Kenny Pickett is far from being in the same class as Roethlisberger yet, but it was clear Sunday night that the rookie quarterback has comparable moxie and is capable of ripping his rival's heart out.

The Ravens had Pickett running for his life on numerous occasions, but he often found an open receiver to avoid trouble. No throw was prettier than his game-winner, as he flung a perfectly-placed 10-yard touchdown to Harris as he scrambled to his left.

Pickett finished 15-of-27 for 168 yards and one touchdown. He didn't turn the ball over. Those aren't sparkling numbers, but he got a win in rocking M&T Bank Stadium on primetime TV. That's one that will stick with him for a long time, and could be an inflection point in the next chapters of this storied rivalry.

Extra Points

  • While the run defense clearly missed Campbell, the Ravens secondary deserves kudos for the way it stepped up for a second-straight game without Marcus Peters (calf). The Steelers' top three targets of wide receivers Diontae Johnson, George Pickens and tight end Pat Freiermuth combined for eight catches for 105 yards. Brandon Stephens made an excellent play breaking up a goal-line fade to Pickens on the Steelers' first drive to force a field goal. Chuck Clark and others also had strong days in coverage.
  • The Ravens' red-zone woes continued on offense. They could have gone 0-for-2 had Cam Heyward not bailed them out with a foolish unnecessary roughness penalty that gave Baltimore new life. Credit Tyler Huntley and rookie tight end Isaiah Likely for capitalizing with a pretty touchdown pass with seven seconds left, but it still has to be better overall. For a second-straight week, the Ravens did not hand the ball off to a running back while in the red zone.
  • Dobbins continues to look better with each game. He's averaging 99.3 yards per game in the four games since returning from his midseason surgery. Dobbins has faced the Steelers three times in his young career. He's run for 113 yards, 120 yards, and 93 yards.
  • Baltimore's defense didn't force a turnover and had a tipped pass flutter to the turf between multiple defenders late in the game. As good as the Ravens' defense is, turnovers have been the difference in games won and lost.
  • Ravens-Steelers games have been decided by three or fewer points in four straight matchups and 18 of 30 since 2008. Usually, it's a handful of plays that make the difference and this was no different.
  • The Ravens could have knocked the Steelers out of the playoff hunt and guaranteed their first losing season under Tomlin. Now, to make the playoffs, the Steelers need to just win their season finale at home against the Browns, the Jets to beat the Dolphins (who may be down to their third-string quarterback), and the Bills to beat the Patriots.
  • With Baltimore's loss and the Los Angeles Chargers' win, the Ravens now sit in the No. 6 seed of the AFC playoffs. If they don't win the division and the Chargers defeat the Broncos in Week 18, the Ravens will face the Chiefs, Bills or Bengals in the Wild-Card round. Baltimore really wants a chance to win the AFC North next week. "We're rooting for the Bills [on Monday night] for sure," Dobbins said.

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