For the first time since 2015, the Baltimore Ravens left Heinz Field victorious. The valiant effort led by an explosive offense and stout defense upended Pittsburgh’s hopes of turning their bad start around. The loss drops Pittsburgh’s record to 1-2-1, the tie coming from the week one matchup with the Cleveland Browns. The Ravens got to beat up on their chief rival while improving their record to 3-1. With such a complete team and near-perfect start to the season, the Ravens have caught the eye of the nation. Many now believe that the Ravens are the best team in the entire American Football Conference, and some even see a Super Bowl appearance in their future. Without jumping on the bandwagon too quickly, the Ravens deserve the recognition, especially for the solid victory over the Steelers.
The Baltimore Ravens beat the Steelers by simply outplaying and outcoaching them. The Ravens won the day’s yardage total, including the passing and rushing tallies. The Ravens won the time of possession game, the turnover battle, and even outdid the Steelers when it came to third down conversion rate. Joe Flacco played better than Ben Roethlisberger. Alex Collins and Javorius “Buck” Allen played better than James Conner. John Brown played better than Antonio Brown. Terrell Suggs and company played better than T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree. Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr played better than Joe Haden and Artie Burns. C.J. Mosley played better than Jon Bostic. Eric Weddle played better than Sean Davis, and Justin Tucker played better than Chris Boswell. In short, the Ravens won nearly every matchup.
The offense took advantage of its superiority early in the game. Baltimore started the first quarter with two touchdowns. One came from a perfect pass downfield from Flacco to a wide-open John Brown. The other score came from Alex Collins, who caught a quick pass from Flacco for a touchdown. The 14-0 early lead gave the Ravens a major confidence boost, and although the team did not score another touchdown, the Ravens offense continued to produce. Utilizing the ever-steady leg of Justin Tucker, the Ravens scored on all four field goal attempts, each coming in the second half.
While much of the offensive success can be attributed to talent and the capability of offensive players, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg called perhaps his best game ever in his tenure in Baltimore. The mix of plays, the balancing of the passing and rushing attack, and the incorporation of Lamar Jackson all blended perfectly to create a perfect harmony of an offense. Mornhinweg even dialed up a trick play where Maxx Williams lined up pretending to be a guard. He went out on a route and was located by Flacco, wide open, for a 22 yard gain. Mornhinweg this season has steadily increased his play calling caliber. The game against Pittsburgh was the realization of the process.
But Mornhinweg was not the only coordinator calling a great game on the field Sunday night. Don “Wink” Martindale, Baltimore’s first-year defensive coordinator, has found success where his predecessor did not. A common complaint about Baltimore’s defense under Dean Pees was that the unit always seemed to give up late-game drives to opponents, effectively preventing the Ravens from winning. Martindale, who saw the recent fiascos in Pittsburgh and against Cincinnati as the linebackers coach under Pees, knew all too well that this could afflict his defense. In order to prevent such deflating defeats, Martindale has taken Pee’s conservative prevent defense, scrapped it, and replaced it with a more aggressive approach.
As the former linebackers coach, Martindale knows what pressure can do to an opposing offense. Not just pressure on the quarterback from pass rushers, but from tight coverage pressure in the secondary. This effectively chokes the opposing offense and makes it very difficult to move the ball down the field. This style of pressure was on full display on Sunday night. The Ravens only recorded one sack against the Steelers, but constantly assaulted Roethlisberger with attacks from the defensive line and linebackers. Terrell Suggs consistently found himself near Big Ben, but never able to take him down. The only sack of the game came in the late fourth quarter, achieved by Tim Williams.
The more prevalent form of pressure came in the secondary. Tight coverage made it nearly impossible for Big Ben to thread the needle to his deadly receivers. JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown only found success in the second quarter. After that, the defense was able to clamp down on them and prevent any more damage from being inflicted. The entire secondary played well throughout the night, but Brandon Carr, in particular, stood out. Carr defended well and recorded two pass deflections. The other starting outside cornerback, Marlon Humphrey, played well but did give up a crucial play for the Steelers. He allowed Antonio Brown to score a touchdown on what should have been a pass deflection or interception. If the pass had either been deflected or intercepted, the Ravens would have held Pittsburgh to just field goals. But the point is moot, as, in the end, he regained his composure, and the Ravens came out on top.
The Ravens were not expected to go into Pittsburgh and steal a win from the Steelers. Most, including myself, expected the Steelers to get back on track for the season by dropping Baltimore to .500. However, this was not the case. The Ravens were able to secure a victory that all but solidifies them as contenders. While it may be too early to talk about the playoffs, the 3-1 start for the Ravens simply cannot be ignored. The Ravens are clicking on all cylinders. The offense is supercharged and is performing at a much higher level than last year’s unit. The defense is finally able to hold opposing offenses at the end of games, and special teams is, as always, the best unit in the National Football League. This year’s Ravens look different, and if this game is an example of what they can do, no team should want to face them.