Five thoughts on the Ravens' 26-6 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium:
Give Ravens Credit For Channeling Difficulty In Productive Way
Before the game, my thought was it was either going to be a very good or very bad night to play the Ravens. Either the dizzying swirl of scandal would prove too much to overcome, or the Ravens would adopt a bunker mentality, band together and take out their frustrations on the Steelers. The latter scenario played out. From the outset through the final whistle, the Ravens played with more focus and intensity. It showed that they had more to play for, needing a win because, well, the franchise really needed some good news, and also because starting the season with a pair of home losses in the division wasn't a good idea. The Ravens dominated the line of scrimmage, controlled the ball, forced turnovers and had their way. Give the coaches credit for setting the right tone during the week, cutting through the external chatter and keeping the players' eyes on the prize. And give the players credit for channeling the emotion of a difficult week in a productive way. They would never want to experience another week as wrenching as this, but they'll certainly take the performance it produced.
Signature Balanced Kubiak Game Plan
After Joe Flacco threw 62 passes in the Ravens' season-opening loss, Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak needed to make sure his run-pass balance was back to normal in Game 2. Sure enough, the Ravens ran the ball on eight of 12 plays on their first possession, which produced an 85-yard touchdown drive. The running game started somewhat slowly, but Kubiak stuck with it and backs Bernard Pierce and Justin Forsett were increasingly effective as the game unfolded, ending with a combined 152 yards on the ground. That production enabled Flacco to make the most of the play-action-based passing game, hitting tight ends for eight catches and wide receivers for seven. Bottom line, this was exactly the offense the Ravens expected to see when they hired Kubiak – an offense that dominates possession, mixes up sets, puts points on the board and lets the defense rest. "That was a signature Kubiak game plan that we executed pretty well," said tight end Owen Daniels, who played under Kubiak for eight years in Houston.
Defense Big Despite Thin Secondary
The biggest surprise of the night had to be that the Ravens defense didn't allow Pittsburgh into the end zone despite playing shorthanded in the secondary. Two of their top three cornerbacks were out early, Lardarius Webb with the same back injury that has kept him out all year (he was scratched before kickoff) and Asa Jackson with a concussion in the second quarter. You would think Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, a longtime Baltimore nemesis, would take advantage, but the Ravens trumped him. Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees gambled that he could generate enough pressure and sustain the edges of the pocket with a four-man pass rush, enabling seven men to flood the passing zones. The gamble worked. The heavy coverage, with safety Matt Elam playing nickel back, kept Pittsburgh's receivers from getting open downfield. The rush kept Roethlisberger under duress and unable to scramble. "Give credit to Pees with his scheme," said linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who had two sacks.
Secret To Overcoming Controversy
I'm guessing a lot of fans across the country will see the final score and wonder how the Ravens won so easily with so much controversy swirling around them. But here's a dirty, little secret: They weren't really paying attention. OK, maybe that's a stretch. It was their teammate who got cut Monday in stunning fashion and has become the center of a storm. But while the rest of the sports world followed the Ray Rice saga, the Ravens were in meetings, on the practice field, preparing to play a game. They're professionals. Their job is to play. "We weren't too involved in any of the other stuff. We're really isolated from all that. We've been in that football cocoon," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. Honestly, listening to them after the game, they were more concerned about getting back onto the field and rebounding from their season-opening loss. "We've been through a lot together," Flacco said. Quick Takes
The Ravens' top two tacklers were their two most recent first-round draft picks, Matt Elam and C.J. Mosley … Is Flacco happy with his new receivers? Do the Ravens wear purple? Fifteen of his 21 pass completions went to players who weren't on the Ravens squad in 2013 … The biggest play of the night? It might have been the red-zone fumble by Pittsburgh receiver Justin Brown that ended the Steelers' first possession. Just when it appeared the Steelers were getting ready to score, the Ravens' Daryl Smith knocked the ball loose and DeAngelo Tyson fell on it. The Ravens then drove 85 yards to a touchdown and never trailed … The Ravens struggled in the red zone later in the game, but delivered early with an effective ruse. They set up in a three-tight end jumbo package on second-and-goal at the 2, appearing set to try to ram it in. But Flacco faked the handoff and tossed to Daniels, who was wide open. Good stuff.