Pittsburgh's Victory Raises Stakes for Sunday Night's Game
There were plenty of Ravens fans, including Head Coach John Harbaugh, who tuned into Monday Night Football, hoping to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers fall to 0-2-1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
A loss would've meant the Ravens could've created some serious distance between the two teams in the standings with a win in Pittsburgh on Sunday. Instead, the Steelers produced a 30-27 win on the road against the previously undefeated Buccaneers, handing "FitzMagic" his first setback of the season.
Now, a Pittsburgh victory this Sunday night would catapult them ahead of the Ravens in the AFC North.
"Things change quickly in the NFL. And the Steelers might have changed the course of their season," Pittsbugh Post-Gazette’s Ray Fittipaldo wrote.
There had been a lot of hopeful chatter amongst Ravens fans that the Steelers would take a nosedive this season as three-time Pro Bowl running back Le'Veon Bell holds out. Bell has still yet to appear in a game in 2018, and barring any major developments with his situation, he looks set to miss this week's game too.
The Bell-less Steelers then drew with the Browns opening week, and followed that up with a 42-37 loss at home to the Kansas City Chiefs. Those results are old news now though, as is the Steelers' running game suffering through Bell's absence, as running back James Conner's 213 rushing yards are seventh in the NFL.
"Quarterback Ben] Roethlisberger made plays, [wide receiver Antonio] Brown was back to being Brown and James Conner did just enough in the run game to almost make everyone forget about Bell,” [Sports Illustrated’s Kalyn Kahler wrote.
Roethlisberger in particular did well, completing 21-of-25 passes for 273 yards. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler wrote it was "the quarterback's best road performance in years." He had struggled in his first two games with three interceptions to just four touchdowns, but now appears to have plenty of momentum.
Still, he'll have a tough challenge this week.
"The Ravens rank fifth in the league with nine sacks," RavensWire’s Matthew Stevens wrote. "That pressure has forced quarterbacks into bad decisions, which Baltimore has turned into three interceptions and a forced fumble. But more importantly, the defense has just been consistently good at getting off the field, forcing 12 three-and-outs."
Though Pittsburgh's offense did well, its defense's performance was the difference in the game. The Steelers created four turnovers, including coercing three interceptions from Buccaneers quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Still, the Ravens offense can do well against the Steelers, particularly through the air. Pittsburgh's defense allowed 411 yards and three touchdowns to Fitzpatrick. In total, Pittsburgh's defense allowed 455 yards and 28 first downs.
With the plethora of weapons Flacco has at his disposal, there should be plenty of open pass-catchers Sunday night against the defense that has given up the fifth-most receiving yards this season.
"In the passing game alone, the Ravens are playing a pick-your-poison type of scheme where someone is usually open to keep drives chugging along," Stevens wrote. "While the run game hasn't been producing like expected, the threat has forced defenses to stay honest or risk being gouged for big gains on the ground."
Many pundits think last night's victory signals the Steelers are back. "Steelers Are Going to be Fine," was the headline for Kahler's article.
The Ravens have played well, too, though, and the Steelers will have their hands full on Sunday night.
"After Week 3, there's not a single team in the NFL that shouldn't fear the Ravens," Stevens wrote.
How the Ravens Slowed Von Miller
Whenever a team faces the Denver Broncos, its offense needs to be prepared to face outside linebacker Von Miller. After playing in six Pro Bowls, getting named a first-team All-Pro three times and being Super Bowl 50 MVP, Miller has earned the extra attention.
Despite all of Miller's ability, he was a nonfactor in Baltimore on Sunday, finishing with two tackles and no sacks. So, how exactly did the Ravens lessen Miller's impact? Russell Street Report’s Michael Crawford analyzed the game film to find out.
"They used a variety of formation, play design and blocking concepts to make Miller think about what he was seeing instead of reacting immediately," Crawford wrote.
Crawford looked at a few different plays to show the different ways the Ravens attacked Miller, with one being the beautiful 44-yard completion from quarterback Joe Flacco to wide receiver John Brown.
Brown, wide receiver Willie Snead IV and tight end Nick Boyle are aligned to Flacco's right, indicating a run play to that side. Miller is lined up on the opposite side of the line. Once the ball is snapped, Flacco fakes a handoff to running back Alex Collins, while Boyle runs from one side of the line to the other to block Miller.
"This run action causes Miller to hesitate for just a moment before he recognizes this is a pass play," Crawford wrote. "Once Miller knows it's a pass, he's able to shove Boyle back and work inside him towards Flacco. But Miller's momentary hesitation, caused by the play-action design, gave Flacco just enough time to get the ball out."
Crawford also highlighted an 8-yard screen pass to Collins that was effective because it used "Miller's aggressiveness against him."
On this play, fullback Patrick Ricard is lined up behind Flacco and to his right, while Collins is four yards behind the quarterback. Miller is lined up opposite right tackle James Hurst. When the ball is snapped, Flacco fakes a handoff, Hurst and right guard Marshal Yanda block to their left, while Ricard and Collins run past Miller.
"Miller is unblocked and starts to rush towards Flacco, disregarding Collins," Crawford wrote. "What looks like a free run at Flacco is actually a well-executed middle-screen to Collins. Brown and Snead run clear out routes on the right to lift the cornerbacks to that side. Ricard runs a flat route to widen the play-side linebacker. Left guard [Alex] Lewis and right tackle Hurst are able to come off their blocks and release downfield to block for Collins."
Though Crawford believed the play of the offensive line and Flacco had a lot to do with Baltimore's success against Miller, he also thinks the scheme put together by Head Coach John Harbaugh, Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, and the rest of the coaching staff played an even bigger part in that.
"Forcing any player, even a great one, to think instead of react, slows them down," Crawford wrote.
Ravens Get Clarification On Blocked Kick Ruling
Yesterday, LFW highlighted the confusion surrounding Denver's blocked field goal in Sunday's game. Broncos safety Justin Simmons ran and jumped over the offensive line, then blocked Justin Tucker's 43-yard attempt.
Harbaugh said after the game, "We didn't think you could jump over the line there." According to PennLive’s Aaron Kasinitz, "Ravens players in the locker room said officials contended that Simmons was in the defensive line area when Baltimore snapped the ball, which would classify him as stationary."
Harbaugh was asked about the play during his Monday press conference, and said he had since spoken with the league.
"I can't really speak for them. I'll let them speak for them on it, but I think what we all thought was confirmed," Harbaugh said. "There's an element of being stationary, and they weren't stationary."
The league has yet to make a public statement on the ruling. Though it looks like it was a missed call, Harbaugh isn't using it as an excuse for his special teams unit.
"The way we look at it is, we have to improve there," Harbaugh said. "That should be blocked. We should protect that 'A' gap better. We know that. It shouldn't even be an issue."
Lamar Jackson Lone First-Round Rookie Quarterback Not Starting This Week
The Cleveland Browns and Arizona Cardinals announced yesterday that rookie quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen would start this week. With the New York Jets starting Sam Darnold from Week 1, and the Buffalo Bills handing the reigns over to Josh Allen last week, four of the five quarterbacks drafted in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft are now starters.
According to ESPN’s Josh Weinfuss, it's the most rookie quarterbacks to start since Week 16 of the 2012 season. Mayfield and Rosen getting promoted also leaves Lamar Jackson as the only quarterback drafted in the first round of this year's draft that will not be starting a game this week.
Jackson being the last quarterback to start out of that quintet isn't surprising considering the Ravens are the only team in that group that had stability at the quarterback position entering this year. Meanwhile, Flacco had started in Baltimore for the previous decade prior to 2018.
Though many national pundits thought a quarterback controversy could emerge in Baltimore during the summer, the Ravens established early on that their plan was to have Flacco be the starting quarterback for the 2018 season, and have Jackson be his backup as he develops his overall game. The Ravens have stuck to their plan, and with Flacco off to a hot start, there's no need to change.
Jackson had been regularly used in the first-team offense through the first two weeks of the season, running, throwing or acting as a decoy. Though he hasn't produced any highlight reel plays he was famous for in college at Louisville, Jackson's presence has been something opposing defenses have had to focus on because of his big play capabilities.
His role was limited to just two snaps against Denver, and he never touched the ball. Still, Jackson's presence made an impact on Baltimore's first touchdown of the game.
- Two Ravens were selected to the Pro Football Focus Week 3 NFL Team of the Week: left tackle Ronnie Stanley, and kicker Justin Tucker. On Stanley, Gordon McGuinness wrote "His highlight was a block to the ground of Broncos' first-round draft pick Bradley Chubb early in the first quarter."