Five thoughts on the Ravens' 20-17 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:
In A Rough Season, At Least Ravens Gave Steelers Firm Kick To Gut
The Ravens won't look back fondly at much from their 2015 season, but at least they'll be able to say they rose to this late-season occasion and gave their rivals a firm kick in the gut, completing a season sweep and dealing a major blow to the Steelers' playoff hopes. Did you see this coming? The Steelers sure didn't. They needed to win, but it was the Ravens who acted as if everything was on the line in an all-encompassing effort. Their defense was superb against an opponent that had been unstoppable lately. Their offense was effective under its fourth starting quarterback in six weeks, Ryan Mallett, who may have quickly ended the debate about who is going to back up Joe Flacco going forward. Let us count the ways this Ravens performance differed from so many others in 2015. They scored first, led the whole way, won the turnover battle, converted 50 percent of their third downs into firsts and repeatedly overcame penalties that set them back. "That's the way we want to play. It's a blueprint for us going forward," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said.
Pees Had Terrific Scheme To Slow High-Flying Steelers Offense
Let's be clear: The game wasn't going to be close unless the Ravens figured out a way to keep quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense from running wild. Ravens Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees came up with a terrific scheme that worked. In exchange for giving the Steelers room to run the ball and complete all the over-the-middle passes they wanted, Pees girded up the back end with five defensive backs and concentrated on limiting the big plays for which Roethlisberger and the Steelers are known. Bingo! The Steelers ran the ball right down the field on their first drive (before being stopped on fourth-and-1), ended up averaging 5.5 yards per rush on the day and rolled up 21 first downs, but their longest passing play was just 27 yards, a pittance to them. And let's be clear about something else: Unlike some other games in which Pees devised a scheme that could work, the players executed his plan beautifully this time. The defense tackled with conviction, pressured Roethlisberger, and most importantly, gave a sound, airtight performance on the back end.
Check out the best photos from M&T Bank Stadium as the Ravens battle the Steelers!
Mallett Fits The Bill As Future Backup
I liked the idea of giving Mallett the start even though he's only been here for two weeks. The Ravens have to approach the backup quarterback job differently now that Joe Flacco has suffered a major injury. Flacco is obviously still going to be the starter as long as he is healthy, but it would be nice to have an alternative who isn't just a fill-in; someone younger, with a high upside. There aren't many candidates who fill that bill, but Mallett, 27, could be one. In completing 28 of 41 passes for 274 yards (his career high) Sunday, he exhibited the full range of talent that has tantalized scouts. He hit Chris Givens in stride for a 39-yard gain, threaded the needle on a handful of other passes over the middle, and most importantly – SO important after what has transpired this year – didn't come close to throwing an interception. It was a testament to Offensive Coordinator Marc Trestman, who devised a plan that could work, and also a testament to the rest of the offense. The ground game was effective, and an array of receivers (seven) caught at least two balls. Mostly, though, it was a testament to Mallett. "He looked like he's been here since OTAs; had total command of the offense," receiver Kamar Aiken said.
Humble Allen Ran The Ball Like He Learned A Lesson
To borrow a song title from Bob Marley, there were redemption songs playing all over the field for the Ravens. A week ago, running back Buck Allen was benched for fumbling, a humbling experience. Given his job back Sunday, he ran like a man who had learned a lesson, totaling 114 rushing and receiving yards on 23 touches. Along the same lines, after getting roasted for a week by Internet critics because of his silly late hit a week ago, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan showed why Harbaugh defended him with such conviction. Jernigan registered a sack and a quarterback hit while constantly pushing the pocket back at Roethlisberger. Finally, there was the late-game saga of linebacker Courtney Upshaw, whose neutral-zone infraction negated a 101-yard interception return that could have sealed the win for Baltimore. The Steelers quickly scored to narrow the margin to three, and you had the feeling something bad was going to happen. But Upshaw sacked Roethlisberger once and hit him again to help make sure Pittsburgh's late drive fell short.
Quick HitThe Ravens' sweep of Pittsburgh ended a run of three straight years in which the teams split their season series … The Steelers' last sweep of Baltimore was in 2008 … Just to be clear: the Steelers can still make the AFC playoff field, but they need to win and have the New York Jets lose to Buffalo. They controlled their fate until the Ravens beat them Sunday … Aiken caught all eight pass attempts Mallett threw his way … The devastating penalty on Upshaw was one of 12 the Ravens drew Sunday. That's obviously still way too many … Aside from keeping the Steelers offense in check, the Ravens defense excelled in getting off the field. Pittsburgh converted just two of eight third downs into firsts … You have to love defensive tackle Brandon Williams' assessment of Mallett: "He was killing it."