Five thoughts on the Ravens' 13-10 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday night at Heinz Field:
Credit Ravens Run Defense For Win
On a Pittsburgh radio show last week, I was given this riddle: "If we're talking about a Baltimore win on Monday, it is because (fill in the blank)." I replied that the Ravens' run defense held the key. That's pretty much how the game played out. It was apparent early on that the Ravens had Byron Leftwich under control, first drive notwithstanding, but the Steelers still could have dominated with their solid ground game against a Baltimore run defense that has struggled in a handful of games and was without injured Terrence Cody and Pernell McPhee Sunday. Its depth was tested, but the defensive interior held up, limiting the Steelers' backs to less than four yards a carry, with a long gain of 11. The Steelers' inability to pound the ball forced Leftwich to have to make plays, often in unfavorable down-and-distance situations. He couldn't deliver. Credit Haloti Ngata, who looked friskier after a week off, and also Arthur Jones, Ma'ake Kemoeatu and rookie DeAngelo Tyson.
Maybe Time To Rewrite Story On Defense
The downfall of the Ravens defense has been a storyline in 2012, but it might be time for a rewrite. Since halftime of the Cleveland game on Nov. 4, the unit has played noticeably better, allowing just three touchdowns in 10 quarters. What's going on? Don't underestimate the importance of Terrell Suggs' return. Although he is not piling up sacks, he is holding the edge and solidifying his side. The tackling also is noticeably better, although there is still an occasional lapse such as Bernard Pollard's whiff on Pittsburgh's lone touchdown. "My fault entirely, but otherwise, we've cleaned a lot of that up," Pollard said. Paul Kruger, a major factor Sunday night, credited the coaches. "The biggest thing has been them making the right adjustments for us to be successful," he said. "They're finding the right personnel for each situation and putting guys where they can be effective. And guys are just stepping up."
No Ben. Who Cares? No Asterisk By This Win
There's no getting around the fact that the Steelers really missed Ben Roethlisberger. It would have been a decidedly different affair with him under center, and since the game was close as it was, one can easily construct a winning scenario for the Steelers if Ben had been in one of those horrid throwback uniforms instead of on the sidelines in a sling. But in the end, that's all just conjecture, something to debate ... and totally pointless. Roethlisberger wasn't playing, but the Steelers still had plenty going for them, including their home crowd, their usual array of offensive playmakers and a defense as stout as any in the league. If the Ravens' path was so easy, why did a majority of the national talking heads pick the Steelers to win? Please, there's no asterisk by this win. The Steelers are tough, especially at home. Any win in Pittsburgh is hard to come by.
Poor Offensive Play Not Surprising
Next on the docket: Another week of trying to figure out what's wrong with the Ravens' offense. (Good luck.) The game could have been decided earlier if the offense had played even an average game, as opposed to muddling through another dismal road effort that featured no touchdowns and just three points and four first downs after halftime. The only factor that absolves the unit in this case is it was going against such a strong defense, one that seldom yields, especially at home. And that defense was determined not to let Ray Rice or Torrey Smith decide the game, so those playmakers were effectively removed from the equation. Meanwhile, Joe Flacco had accuracy issues and his receivers repeatedly ran routes short of the sticks on third down, making fourth-down punts inevitable. The lackluster performance was perhaps surprising in the wake of the team's 55-point effort the week before, but honestly, given the Heinz Field setting and the offense's track record on the road, it isn't so surprising.
Ravens No Longer 'Looking Up' To Steelers
The Steelers resorted to playing "Renegade" twice in the second half to fire up their crowd, but in the end, the fans left quietly, just as they did last year and the year before when these teams met in Pittsburgh during the regular season. For the longest time, this intense rivalry's geometry consisted of the Ravens looking up to the Steelers – "the gold standard," as Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti famously called them not so long ago. But that geometry has changed and it's about time to take note. The Ravens have won three in a row and four of the past five regular-season meetings between the teams. Pittsburgh hasn't beaten Baltimore in 22 months, since a playoff win in January 2011. Now situated two games behind the Ravens in the AFC North with six to play, the Steelers will be desperate to win the rematch in Baltimore in two weeks. A loss would mean two straight sweeps of the season series by the Ravens, leaving no doubt as to which team is now looking up at the other.