With the rain falling in Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field, Monday night’s game between the Ravens and the Steelers was reduced to a version of old-time football — wait for your opponent to make a mistake and make them pay.
Unfortunately, the Steelers did just that to win while all of the problems that doomed the Ravens prior to the bye week — turnovers, penalties and lack of offensive success — re-took residence at the Owings Mills facility this week and reared their ugly heads in the 38-7 loss.
A belated Halloween nightmare with the Steelers in the appropriately garish yellow and black throwback uniforms unfolded with three first-quarter turnovers that led to 21 Steelers points and a sense of deja vu for Ravens fans back to the season-opening loss at Cincinnati.
All of these problems were being worked on and corrected during the bye week, according to coaches and players, but the truth of an NFL season is that there is not a lot that changes during that week off. Coaches can watch more film, scheme a little differently and add some pages to the playbook. Teams can self-scout to see what they are doing right and wrong. Players can take some time to get over their bumps, bruises and injuries — but the personnel and how they perform in general does not change between games.
Coming into the six-game stretch after the bye, the Ravens could go no worse than 3-3 and in reality 4-2 — to have a realistic chance of making the AFC playoffs. With upcoming games against Cincinnati and Cleveland before a murderous gauntlet of San Diego, New England and Indianapolis, Baltimore’s playoff hopes are in real trouble. Cincy and the Browns already own a win over the Ravens, the Pats and the Colts are head-and-shoulders above everyone in the AFC, including the Steelers. San Diego is a run-first team that could be smothered by a motivated run defense.
The Ravens dominance of the Steelers last season was washed away with the rain in the game’s first 30 minutes as Ben Roethlisberger shredded Baltimore in the first half with five touchdown passes — all with a short field to work with and four of those came after Baltimore turnovers.
The Ravens were missing both starting cornerbacks, so a usually aggressive defense had to kick it up a notch so that they could cover for a weakened secondary — the same formula the Saints used last season to get to the NFC title game before they were exposed by the Bears. But, Roethlisberger slipped out of the pass rush, got to the outside and made the throws to seemingly wide-open receivers in slippery conditions.
What is slippery for the Ravens right now is the slope they find themselves on. A 4-4 record and not a gimme game in the bunch over the next five weeks. A 0-3 division record an a 1-4 AFC record that makes any tiebreaker possibilities seem remote for the current #8 seed if the season ended today.
The bottom line is that the Ravens are a middle-of-the-road team with an above-average defense (except for this game) and a below-average offense. Such teams usually wind up around the .500 mark. The Ravens are not a 10-win club right now and certainly not the 13-win team of a year ago.
General managers will tell you that the window to keep key components together and contend for a Super Bowl title is short because of the salary cap. The reality is that, for this current group of Ravens, the window is shutting fast and will be closed tight when January rolls around.