The Baltimore Ravens suffered a loss on Sunday that may prove devastating. Baltimore put on an unrivaled effort, one to make themselves look like the definitive worst team in the NFL. Despite the final score, 23-16, this game was not close. The Steelers dominated in every aspect throughout the entire game. It was clear from start to finish that the Steelers were going to emerge victoriously, and leave the Ravens in the dust. While everyone saw what was happening, many still cannot wrap their heads around why it is happening. The Ravens, after starting out 3-1, just lost their third straight to a team they previously beat. What is going on, and why are the Ravens struggling this much?
While there are many problems with the Baltimore Ravens, there is one that is paramount to the others. The defense is horrible. There is no way around it. The defense that was so great in the early days of the season is now an unavoidable drag. Against Pittsburgh, Baltimore failed to apply pressure on Ben Roethlisberger, failed to create turnovers, failed to stop James Conner on the ground, and failed to stop receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown, especially over the middle of the field. The Steelers controlled the tempo on every single play. There was not a moment in the game where the defense could definitively claim dominance. The Steelers converted on 10 of 16 third-down attempts. Baltimore never forced Pittsburgh off the field. They occasionally got lucky when the Steelers dealt themselves a self-inflicted wound, but that was about the extent of the “elite” defense’s success.
While the entire defense was as productive as a chronic procrastinator, the Ravens offense was as interesting as a rock. There were so many issues with the offense, it is difficult to select a specific area to analyze first. Baltimore was so predictable on account of the one-dimensional offense that Marty Mornhinweg drew up. The Ravens offensive line was missing two key starters, left tackle Ronnie Stanley and right tackle James Hurst. Jermaine Eluemunor and Orlando Brown Jr. both filled in for Stanley and Hurst respectively. The shakeup on the offensive line was a major detriment to the offense. With both of these players missing from the lineup, the Ravens were forced to abandon the run game early, and go with passing plays. Initially, it seemed that this approach could work, but this idea was quickly dispelled.
Flacco was under siege early, and on the first drive, he was driven into the ground multiple times. It was clear that after the second hit, Flacco was injured. He walked gingerly, talked to trainers on the sideline, and stretched while not on the field. The offensive line gave him so little protection throughout the game, that he frequently was coerced into making rash decisions, and errant throws. The Ravens initially tried to keep the ball on the ground to help him out, but of course, the effort was abandoned. It is understandable that Mornhinweg could not trust the ground game without two starting tackles, but a shakey at best passing attack was not much of an upgrade. Alex Collins was even performing well. In his nine rushes, he gained 35 yards for the Ravens offense, including a one-yard touchdown run. The Steelers did not need a crystal ball to know what the Ravens would do. Once the run game was abandoned, Pittsburgh had all the cards.
Many have pointed the finger of blame at Joe Flacco for the offensive collapse against the Steelers, and while he certainly deserves his fair share of the blame, there is a group of players who are flying under the radar. The wide receivers did themselves no favor while on the field against the Steelers. Yes, there were a few impressive plays, but overall, the group underperformed. While watching the tape, it became apparent that the wide receivers had a difficult time getting open in the Steelers secondary. Whether this is just a lack of awareness or a coaching error, one cannot be certain. For the most part, the receivers were able to catch the balls thrown at them. Michael Crabtree, however, dropped a poorly thrown, but catchable, pass that should have given the Ravens a touchdown.
The Ravens could not grab a much-needed win to slow a free-falling season. While everyone saw this as a must-win game for the Ravens, the players and coaches did not seem to act on the magnitude of the situation. The Ravens are now a losing team, and with only seven games left, have a difficult path to the playoffs. It is obvious to everyone watching that the product the Ravens place on the field is nowhere near expectations, or what was seen earlier in the year. Instead of a formidable team with a fiery defense and an accelerated offense, the Ravens are now a laughable team with an exhausted defense and an incapable offense. The talk of Baltimore’s long-awaited return to the postseason has been replaced with talk of regime change. This game did nothing to help the Ravens, and all to hurt them.