Takeaways From Ravens vs. Steelers
Resting starters? No problem.
The Ravens had already solidified one of the best seasons in team history, and they confirmed that on Sunday. In sloppy conditions, Baltimore dominated in a 12th straight win, and a franchise-best 14-2 record to cap off the regular season.
There won't be any awards handed out, but the Ravens have plenty of reasons to be optimistic moving forward. They're the No. 1 seed in the AFC, have a first-round bye, and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
They'll host either the No. 4 Houston Texans, No. 5 Buffalo Bills, or No. 6 Tennessee Titans in the divisional round on January 11th, with eyes on hoisting a Lombardi Trophy in Miami.
"There were already plenty of reasons to believe this was the best team in Ravens history, but now it's official," NBC Sports Ryan Wormeli wrote.
Here are pundits' takeaways from the win:
Ravens Cap Off 'Revolutionary' Offensive Season
Remember the concerns and skepticisms about the Ravens building a "revolutionary" offense? Fast forward to the end of the regular season, and that's exactly what we saw.
"Harbaugh said over the offseason he thought his team's offense could change the NFL, could produce results unprecedented in a 100-year old league," Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz wrote. "It was easy to pass off as bravado emanating from a confident and innovative coach.
"Turned out he was right."
As Kasinitz noted, there's a uniqueness to how the Ravens did it. In a league that continues to trend towards the passing game, Baltimore set the single-season team rushing record on Sunday. The Ravens also became the first team in NFL history to average 200 passing yards and 200 rushing yards per game in a season.
Lamar Jackson and Mark Ingram II both rushed for more than 1,000 yards, all while the Ravens' offense still saw plenty of success in the passing game. Jackson finished the season with 3,127 passing yards and a league-leading 36 touchdown passes.
As for Head Coach John Harbaugh saying to "bet the over" on Jackson surpassing Cam Newton's career-high 139 rushing attempts in a season, Jackson rushed 176 times.
Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman has been at the forefront of the success. It's a testament to how well the offense has performed top-to-bottom. Backup quarterback Robert Griffin III led a successful attack that put up 19 points against one of the league's top defenses.
There's a reason why Roman has been discussed as a top candidate for a head coaching gig this offseason.
There shouldn't be any questions about an offensive revolution anymore. It's here, and it's here to stay.
"Maybe other teams will follow Baltimore's path in future seasons, maybe Harbaugh's 2019 team will go down as one that left a significant imprint on the history of the league," Kasinitz wrote. "... What's certain is that the Ravens compiled accomplishment this season that no team in NFL history has matched. Neither Super Bowl success nor playoff heartbreak can erase that."
Backups Shine Against Steelers Starters
Sunday's game didn't mean anything for the Ravens in the standings, but there was still plenty to play for.
There was a chance to set a franchise regular-season record in wins. More importantly, there was a chance to make sure their division rivals didn't make the playoffs.
"There was a source of pride among the team in their effort to reach 14 wins," Wormeli wrote. "Nobody wants to be a part of the first loss in three months. The Ravens offense, in particular, played without many key contributors on Sunday.
"They still managed to score more than 20 points, making it every game this season that they passed the mark."
"Any time you strap on the pads, and you go out there and take the field, you've got to approach it with everything you've got," safety Chuck Clark said. "It wasn't that we weren't going out there with nothing to play for; we definitely were trying to knock them out of the playoffs."
Despite seven starters inactive and others on limited snap counts, the Ravens still dominated on both sides of the ball.
"The sense was that the Ravens might ease into the playoffs with a more casual approach," Press Box's Bo Smolka wrote. "There was nothing casual, though, about the way Gus Edwards barreled over Steelers defenders, or the way Marlon Humphrey and Matthew Judon competed on every play, or the way a blitzing Brandon Carr roared off the edge time and again."
The Ravens outgained the Steelers 304-168 on two fewer drives. They almost doubled Pittsburgh's time of possession and forced two turnovers, including a fumble recovery for a touchdown and a safety.
"Beating a division rival is impressive no matter how you slice it," Ravens Wire's Matthew Stevens wrote. "But to have done it in spite of not playing most of the offensive starters, and several defensive starters as well, makes it even better."
Sunday was far from a meaningless game for the Steelers either. Pittsburgh needed a win (and help) to keep its playoff hopes alive.
The Steelers came in fourth in total defense, 10th against the run, led by Defensive Player of the Year candidates T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Even without both of their 1,000-yard rushers, the Ravens still rushed for 223 yards.
"Entering the playoffs with some rest and running the ball effectively is the recipe for a Super Bowl. It grinds down games, keeps opposing offenses off the field and ultimately opens up big passing plays when they're needed," Stevens wrote. "And if the Ravens can do it against one of the best defenses in the league with everything against them, they should be able to do it all the way to Super Bowl LIV."
One unit that got particular praise (and a game ball) was the offensive line, which was missing Pro Bowlers Ronnie Stanley and Marshal Yanda. James Hurst and Parker Ehinger stepped in as starters and rookie Ben Powers also got reps. Against one of the best defensive fronts in football, the Ravens still won the battle in the trenches.
Praise for Marcus Peters Extension
The Ravens made news over the weekend, signing cornerback Marcus Peters to a three-year extension. Peters, who was slated to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, is now in Baltimore long-term and pundits praised the move.
"That speaks well to what the Ravens currently have going on," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "With the expected league MVP at quarterback, an aggressive head coach who lets players be themselves and a winning culture where players seem to have fun and flourish, the Ravens could become a destination franchise."
Browns wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry weighed in talking some smack.
"[General Manager Eric] DeCosta is playing chess," Ebony Bird's Chris Schisler wrote. "Everything about the trade for Peters made sense and fit into what the Ravens were trying to do. Everything about his new contract made sense."
Peters will reportedly become one of the 10 highest-paid cornerbacks in the NFL. DeCosta has followed through with his promise to keep talent in Baltimore. Peters is the seventh player signed to a contract extension since last offseason.
"Heading into the Week 5 matchup against the Steelers, the Ravens were ranked near the bottom of the league in a slew of defensive categories," Zrebiec wrote. "However, they've completely changed their personnel on that side of the ball, and the Peters' addition was the biggest of them all … Since Peters has been in the lineup, the Ravens are allowing the fewest points per game in the NFL. Peters got his reward Saturday."
Since coming to Baltimore, Zrebiec said Peters has been a fit on and off the field. He brings an attitude fit for Wink Martindale's defense, and his big-play ability has provided game-changing moments for the Ravens this season.
Zrebiec also said it's time to put the narrative that the Ravens don't want "alpha males" to rest. If you haven't noticed by now, it's been a tight-knit group, led by big personalities Baltimore wants to keep around.
"[T]hose who believed in it conveniently ignored the fact that the Ravens over the years brought in 'alpha males' like Steve Smith, Mike Wallace, Weddle, Elvis Dumervil, Mark Ingram, and Earl Thomas," Zrebiec wrote. "Now, they not only traded for Peters, but they also extended him, a move that DeCosta probably wouldn't have made without Harbaugh's blessing."
Ravens Open Playoffs as Super Bowl Favorites
After a historic regular season, the Ravens are the bettor's choice heading into the postseason.
According to Caesars Casino & Sportsbook, Baltimore is the favorite to win the Super Bowl at +200 odds. The next closest are the Kansas City Chiefs (+300), San Francisco 49ers (+350), and New Orleans Saints (+350).
ESPN gave the Ravens a 53 percent chance to reach the Super Bowl. They tabbed Jackson and the high-scoring offense as the biggest reason for hope.
"No one figured out how to stop an offense centered around the unique skills of Jackson, and if anything, the Ravens got more productive over time," ESPN's Kevin Seifert wrote.
"They averaged 30 points per game during the first half of the season and 36 during the second half, not counting the Week 17 matchup against the Steelers, when they rested many starters. The closest anyone came was the 49ers in Week 13 -- and the Ravens still scored 20 points and won. If there is a blueprint for stopping them, someone is going to have to debut it in the playoffs."
ESPN also cited Ingram's calf injury as a reason for concern heading into the playoffs, and believes kicker Justin Tucker is the team's "x-factor."
- After a 6-10 season, the Cleveland Browns have fired Head Coach Freddie Kitchens.
- Following Peters' extension, Zrebiec said not to rule out a Jimmy Smith return next season. The veteran cornerback is set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. "Smith has a great relationship with a few of the organization's decision-makers, including Harbaugh. The Ravens tried to extend Smith earlier this season, but they couldn't agree to a deal. The Peters' extension doesn't mean they won't revisit it."
- After Kansas City locked up the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, talk of a rematch in the AFC Championship is already beginning to brew. "The Ravens have no reason to fear any team given what they've accomplished this season, and a Jackson-Mahomes rematch would tantalize football fans everywhere," The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker wrote. "But the Chiefs, already the greatest obstacle on the Ravens' road to Super Bowl LIV, made themselves more dangerous by leapfrogging the Patriots."