Instead, the Ravens’ offense played as though they were in quicksand, the defense was gashed up the middle to a team that couldn’t run at the time, and the special teams wet the bed in a crucial situation. In addition, the Steelers used the game to resuscitate their season.
It was a lost opportunity—something that we have seen the Ravens do quite a few times this year.
Tonight’s Thanksgiving primetime showdown presents another opportunity—for both teams. It is essentially a week 13 playoff game. The winner puts itself in a good position for the final wildcard spot, while keeping pressure of the division-leading Bengals.
The Ravens cannot afford a season sweep by the Steelers for many reasons. Obviously, the biggest reason is that the Ravens cannot afford another loss, period. But, since the Steelers beat the Cleveland Browns in Cleveland, the Steelers will most likely wind up with a better division record than the Ravens. With a win today, the Steelers could potentially have a 5-1 divisional record. The Ravens are hoping for a 4-2 or 3-3 divisional record. Moreover, the Steelers have a much favorable schedule than the Ravens, ending the season with three of their last four games playing at Heinz Field. The Ravens still have Detroit, New England, and Cincinnati.
The Ravens need to limit the big-play ability of the Steelers’ defense. The Ravens’ offense needs to better capitalize on field position and finish off drives with touchdowns, not field goals. Last week’s field position wastefulness cannot happen again tonight. The Ravens need to come up big in a big moment like tonight’s spotlight showdown.
In short, the Ravens cannot afford to squander another big opportunity. Here are this week's plotlines. Happy Thanksgiving!
In the first meeting this season, the Ravens’ defense was gouged up the middle by Steelers’ rookie running back, Le’Veon Bell. According to Pro Football Focus, the Steelers had consistent success attacking the A gap. Bell averaged 6.8 yards on five carries when running between the center and right guard. Overall, the Steelers rushed for 141 yards on 29 carries, averaging 4.9 yards per carry. This was a team, at the time, struggling to run the ball.
Arthur Jones, the now-departed Marcus Spears, Courtney Upshaw, Daryl Smith, and the just-returned-from-injury Jameel McClain all had poor games. The Ravens made the great purge after that game. Since that first Steelers’ game, the defensive front seven—and the entire run defense—has been more disciplined and stout, limiting the Browns, Bengals, Bears, and Jets to 3.2 yards per carry.
Wildcat? Suggs Package? Read-Option? “The Joe Hates This Package?”
Before Joe Flacco flew off the handle about the Ravens’ use of the wildcat this week, I was expecting the Ravens to use it this week to continue to manufacture a run game. I even thought we may see some passes come from the wildcat to keep the Steelers honest. Now, I am not so sure anymore. I am hoping that Flacco’s outburst does not sway the coaching staff in abandoning the strategy.
I think this whole deal of the wildcat/read-option is all about the running game, not Flacco and the passing game. I disagree with those who say, “Flacco needs to shut-up and perform, then the wildcat will go away.” This includes Flacco. His defensive frustration was directed in the wrong area.
I think the Ravens should continue to use the wildcat and read-option packages to maximize Tyrod Taylor’s talents, to jump-start the run game, and to give the Steelers one more thing to contemplate on defense. The limited use will help Flacco and the entire offense. Who knows? Maybe it will light a fire under Flacco like it did for Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers unveiled their use of the wildcat against the Ravens in week seven, and Roethlisberger has picked up his play since that game.
Look for Taylor and the wildcat to be utilized for 10-12 plays with a couple throws sprinkled in out of the read-option.
Brown on the Outside, Miller on the Inside
Antonio Brown has quietly put together a heck of a season. He leads the NFL with 80 receptions, is second in the league with 1044 receiving yards, and is fourth in the league with 49 first down receptions.
It will be interesting to see who Brown draws in coverage—Jimmy Smith or Lardarius Webb. Over the last few games, Webb has been very aggressive in all phases of the game (especially in run support). Smith has been equally aggressive—we are seeing him more in press coverage. I do not miss the days watching him sit 7-10 yards off the line of scrimmage.
After his knee injury caused him to miss the beginning of the season, Heath Miller is rounding into form. He is Roethlisberger’s trusted safety valve down the seam, and Miller is a brute to bring down. James Ihedigbo and Matt Elam need to closely patrol the middle of field and be sound in their tackling—especially Elam. He goes low on almost every open-field tackle, I am just waiting for a player to hurdle right over him. Webb should give him some lessons on open-field tackling.
Deep Ball and Explosive Plays
Reading this statistic from Matt Vensel’s Blogger on Blogger piece was a bit surprising—the Steelers have surrendered 13 explosive plays of 40 yards or more. The Ravens have 13 explosive plays, which is second in the league.
Last week, the deep ball returned to the offense. Did the wildcat help loosen up the defense, or are the Jets just a weak pass defense? I think it was a bit of both. Either way, it appears a semblance of timing returned with Flacco and receivers Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones. I think they can both push the Steelers’ starting cornerbacks, Ike Taylor and William Gay.
Hopefully, the offensive line can perform like they did against the Steelers in the first meeting, giving Flacco and the receivers time to push the ball downfield.
Unsung Player to Watch, aka the “Corey Graham 2012 Postseason Award”
In lieu of a prediction of the score of the game, I will pick a Raven player each week that I think will have an impact on the game. I won’t pick an obvious player (like Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Terrell Suggs, etc.), but a player that flies a bit under the radar. Think of this as the “Corey Graham 2012 Postseason Award.” Who would have predicted that Graham would have been last year’s postseason-player-of-the-game in Denver?
This a pick from left field. Arthur Brown will be the unsung player of the game. I think he makes an impact play—a fumble or interception—to flip the field position battle. I am not going to lie—these picks are total guesses.