Five thoughts on the Ravens' 26-9 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:
Ravens Built Roster to Beat Steelers, But Still Came up Short
During the week, quarterback Joe Flacco made the comment that the Ravens "built our team to play the Pittsburgh Steelers." That's a point of fact. The Ravens bulked up their defense during the offseason with the idea of slowing Pittsburgh's bevy of playmakers. They recommitted to the running game in hopes of getting more physical with their main division rival. It all sounded good in theory, but Sunday's reality was a different animal. The offense barely moved the ball until Pittsburgh had a 19-point lead. The defense didn't allow any big plays, but Le'Veon Bell dominated the game, rushing for 144 yards on 35 carries. The Steelers hadn't prevailed in Baltimore since before the Ravens won the Super Bowl, but with first place in the AFC North at stake, they won this one relatively easily. The Ravens have now been outscored, 70-16, in their past two games. Whatever they were built to do in 2017, they need to pick it up.
Plenty of Blame to Go Around on Offense
Early in the third quarter, with the Ravens down, 19-3, running back Alex Collins broke a 50-yard run that awakened the offense. Flacco tossed a touchdown pass and the offense found a nice rhythm and began moving the chains. The rally eventually fizzled, but you can't help wondering where that energy was before Collins' run. Until then, the Ravens had just four first downs, the downfield passing game was nonexistent and nothing was happening. Who shoulders the blame? I'm not going to put it all on the line, even though Flacco was sacked four times. He had enough time to throw on many dropbacks. He didn't throw downfield because the Steelers "just sat back in a zone," he said, but he missed some open targets and there were drops, including a big one by Mike Wallace. Collins' big run was nice, but he also fumbled for the second time in three games and Head Coach John Harbaugh put him on notice after the game. "The leash will be short" for a back who fumbles, Harbaugh said. Bottom line, there was plenty of blame to go around. Flacco, to his credit, said it all started with him. "I sucked," he said.
Steelers Didn't Need Two of Their Big Offensive Stars to Win
Antonio Brown didn't beat the Ravens. The Steelers' star receiver caught just four passes for 34 yards. Ben Roethlisberger didn't beat the Ravens, either. The Steelers' quarterback generated a modest 79.3 rating on 30 attempts. But Roethlisberger and Brown didn't have to beat the Ravens because the Steelers had all the advantage they needed inside. The Ravens were without tackle Brandon Williams, the centerpiece of their defensive interior, who has a foot injury, and they're also without end Brent Urban, who is out for the year. The Steelers were content just to pound away with Bell and then dink and dunk when they did go to the air. In some respects, it was the same game plan the Ravens used to beat Cincinnati in Week 1, only this time they were on the receiving end. I was ready after the game to give the run defense some credit because it battled and Bell averaged just 4.1 yards per carry, but Harbaugh wasn't in a generous mood. "We got beat by a counter play way too often," he said.
Hard to Win If Flacco's Interceptions Continue
A day before the game, I predicted in print that the Ravens would win if Flacco snapped his streak of consecutive games with an interception, which stood at nine. He didn't have a pick in the first three quarters as the Ravens fell 19 points behind and then started to rally. Just when the rally was picking up steam, though, with the Ravens down by 10 points and driving near midfield, Flacco rolled wide and underthrew a pass intended for tight end Benjamin Watson. Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier picked it off. A few minutes later, Flacco threw another pick when the Ravens went for it on fourth down in Pittsburgh territory. But the throw he most regretted wasn't a pick. After the Ravens intercepted Roethlisberger to give them possession in the red zone early in the third quarter, Breshad Perriman was open for a touchdown and Flacco overthrew him. The drive ended with a field goal. "I wasn't good enough to get us back in the game," Flacco said.
Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley was huge in defeat with a team-high 10 unassisted tackles and a forced fumble … After forcing 10 turnovers in the first two games, the Ravens have forced just one in the past two games … Danny Woodhead, out since suffering an injury on the Ravens' first series of the season, has more catches in 2017 than Perriman … The Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars both elected not to take their bye after playing in London the week before, becoming just the second and third teams in a decade to do so. Both teams lost Sunday, which makes it appear they gambled and lost, but I'm thinking a travel hangover is low on the list of reasons the Ravens lost Sunday.
Check out the best photos from M&T Bank Stadium as the Ravens host the rival Steelers.