The Baltimore Ravens came away from Heinz Field with a win – a valuable and hard-fought one – against a rival Steelers team down to its third-string quarterback. Kicker Justin Tucker’s in-swinging field goal took advantage of cornerback Marlon Humphrey’s fumble-making fist and subsequent recovery in an overtime where Pittsburgh Coach Mike Tomlin elected to kick away possession after winning the toss.
The best thing about this win is that Pittsburgh now sit at 1-4 and while not out of the hunt, it’s not a good spot to be in. Especially as it looks like quarterback Mason Rudolph will miss some time, having left the field following a massive collision with safety Earl Thomas.
Let’s be clear: after a bright start for the Ravens, this was not a good performance. There are a lot of things to be concerned about for Ravens fans right now. After a bright start to the season for Lamar Jackson, the quarterback doesn’t look like the passing threat he was opening the season, against what has turned out to be some of the NFL’s worst defenses in Miami and Arizona. Jackson had three interceptions on Sunday and threw for only 161 yards on 28 attempts, taking five sacks for his troubles.
Jackson’s decision making was the real concern here. He sometimes appears to have too many options on what to do next; should he go to primary or secondary read, scramble to throw or just scramble to pick up yardage? It must be difficult to have so many options through being such a naturally gifted runner and still developing as a passing threat. Get it right and you are looking at Seahawks’ Russell Wilson-type play, racking up points and yardage, clinically dissecting defenses; get it wrong and you’re left looking more like Bills quarterback Josh Allen on a bad day, with interceptions, fumbles and struggling to move the ball.
What certainly didn’t help against the Steelers was the offensive line’s struggles, which also impacted the Ravens’ running game – a bright spot all year. Baltimore’s running backs were all held to under 3.5 yards per carry, which is a concern. The team rushed for 138 yards but quarterback Jackson accounted for 70 yards of this.
The O-line was overmatched throughout and could provide little to no platform for the running game or passing game in the face of pressure from Pittsburgh’s dangerous defensive line. Mike Tomlin, the Steelers HC, showed exactly what threat the Ravens’ offense posed, as in overtime, he opted to kick on winning the toss, an extremely rare decision for any team.
A positive for the Ravens from this game might just be receiver Marquise Brown. He got the sole touchdown on the day, going upstairs to show a red-zone threat to his game, as opposed to the usual deep threat we have seen so far this season. If he continues to round out his game to make catches like that, he could become a true number 1 receiver in the vein of Cleveland’s Odell Beckham Jr, a speedster with great hands that can make contested catches, a truly dangerous weapon for any offence.
Here’s hoping that this progression continues, as Jackson needs reliable targets alongside his tight ends. In this game, Brown caught three of five targets, so he needs to improve his reliability as a pass-catcher to become a top receiving threat. His stats on the day are a microcosm of his season as “Hollywood” has 21 catches on 39 targets (54% catch rate).
The Ravens defense continues to not play to last season’s level, so is it now time to accept this is an offensive-led team? As already mentioned, there are plenty of offensive struggles so we are now left with a Baltimore team in search of an identity.
The Ravens D recorded one sack on the day and gave up 269 total yards to a Pittsburgh team down to its third-choice QB for one-and-a-half quarters and OT. What you can cling to is that this defense did just enough to win. The big play of cornerback Marlon Humphrey in punching the ball out of Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster’s grip showed there are playmakers on the defense who can step up when it matters.
Although it must be said this was Humphrey’s second attempt; he tried a similar tactic, which resulted in Smith-Schuster’s TD in the first half. Another positive would be that with defensive end Brandon Williams back on the field, Baltimore kept the Steelers’ running game down to just 77 yards – a massive improvement from the Browns game where running back Nick Chubb ran wild, rushing for three touchdowns and 165 yards.
Ravens have a get-right game against the Bengals next Sunday, and look like they really need it. Lamar Jackson needs the Bengals game to pump up his yards and regain some confidence and decisiveness before the sterner tests – in the shape of the Seahawks and the Patriots – that lay ahead.
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