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The Packers generated 15 first downs Sunday night. That's how many the Ravens averaged in their three games against Pittsburgh this season.
The Steelers possessed the ball for almost seven more minutes, produced four more first downs and gained 59 more yards than Green Bay, controlling the game's flow in many respects.
That's the way to beat the Steelers? Please.
Yes, the Packers did gain more yardage Sunday than the Ravens gained in any game against Pittsburgh this season, but if their methodology was so snap-shut brilliant, how come they found themselves in exactly the same position the Ravens are so familiar with, digging in to try to keep Ben Roethlisberger from driving down the field and breaking their hearts at the end?
I certainly expected Big Ben to come through. Like everyone in Baltimore, I've seen that act what seems like a million times: broken nose . . . special shoe . . . limping . . . bloody . . . and triumphant in the end.
He's like the bad guy in a horror movie who keeps coming back to life; you have to kill him several times or you end up dead yourself.
When his final drive sputtered and fizzled out Sunday, ending with a lame whine about a pass-interference no-call on a fourth-down incompletion, I'm sure a lot of Baltimore fans experienced conflicting emotions – pleased to see the Ravens' black-and-gold nemeses fall short, but wondering where that was all those times they came back and frustrated the Ravens?
In my mind, here's the real road map for beating Pittsburgh that came out of Sunday's game:
- Commit no turnovers and force three, including a key fumble as you're getting ready to blow the last vestige of an early 18-point lead.
- If possible, run a pick back for a score.
- Stop Ben on the final drive.
- Take what's given to you.
Honestly, the latter is the big one. In many respects, the Steelers' Sunday performance mirrored their game against the Ravens back in January. They committed nine penalties against Baltimore, six against Green Bay. They surrendered two turnovers to Baltimore, three to Green Bay. They trailed Baltimore by 14, Green Bay by 18. Why did the Packers win and the Ravens lose? The Ravens crumbled, committing just as many mistakes in blowing their advantage. The Packers sealed the deal.
The Steelers handed the Ravens the game, and the Ravens handed it back.
The Steelers handed the Packers the game, and the Packers took it and held onto it.
I'm not sure there are any great lessons for the Ravens in that other than, well, don't do it again. It's the simplest of truths, something you would tell a child. Eat your peas! When someone gives you something, take it!
Yes, one reason the Packers held on was they moved the ball more consistently than the Ravens ever did. They didn't grind to a halt after they built a lead. They kept putting up points – just enough, it turned out.
Sure, going to a spread formation might help the Ravens next time, but the story of the Packers' success is less about Xs and Os than just playing a clean game, period -- and just having a better offense, period. Green Bay ranked ninth in the league in yards this season, the Ravens 22nd.
With all due respect, after averaging just 17 points in three Pittsburgh games this season, the Ravens know they have to up their offensive wattage to change the dynamic in their frustrating rivalry. They know they have to find more speed on the outside, block better, get more plays from their young quarterback.
They didn't need to see the Packers draped in confetti to know where they went wrong.
John Eisenberg *covers the Ravens for Comcast SportsNet Baltimore. He worked in the newspaper business for 28 years as a sports columnist, with much of that time coming at the Baltimore Sun. While working for the Sun, Eisenberg spent time covering the Ravens, among other teams and events, including the Super Bowl, Final Four, World Series and Olympics. Eisenberg is also the author of seven sports-themed books.*