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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Thursday night

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Thursday night

Posted on 11 September 2014 by Luke Jones

All eyes will be on Baltimore as the Ravens welcome the hated Pittsburgh Steelers to M&T Bank Stadium on Thursday night.

However, few outside Baltimore and Pittsburgh are thinking about the game itself as the Ravens continue to deal with the fallout stemming from the release of the second Ray Rice video and the subsequent decision to terminate the running back’s contract Monday afternoon. This meeting is normally regarded as one of the best rivalries in the NFL, but you’d have to think long and hard to find another example of a Ravens-Steelers game with so little buzz surrounding the actual play on the field.

But that doesn’t make it any less important for the Ravens as they try to avoid what would be a very disheartening 0-2 start in the AFC North. According to NFL Network research, no team in NFL history has ever made the postseason after dropping two straight divisional home games to begin a season, making Thursday’s game as close to a “must-win” affair as you can have in Week 2.

Head coach John Harbaugh has earned a reputation for rallying his teams to play at their best when dealing with adversity, but the Ravens have never dealt with a situation quite like this, making you wonder how mentally and emotionally fresh they’ll be on what was already a short week.

Thursday marks the 37th time these AFC North rivals have met in the regular season with Pittsburgh holding a 20-16 advantage. The Ravens are 9-9 against the Steelers in Baltimore and have won two of the last three played at M&T Bank Stadium.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to even their record at 1-1 and bounce back from their disappointing season-opening loss to Cincinnati …

1. Running back Bernard Pierce will lead the Ravens in carries and pick up 70 yards with a touchdown. It was easy for Harbaugh to send a message to Pierce after his fumble late in the second quarter last week when he was still working under the assumption that Rice would be returning for Week 3, but the Ravens now need Pierce to be a large part of what they do with their running game all season. Veteran Justin Forsett and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro will get their opportunities — the former was very good in pass protection last week in addition to running for 70 yards — as Harbaugh says he will go with the hot hand moving forward, but Pierce still gives the Ravens the best chance to have a successful running game in the short-term future and is a good fit on paper for Gary Kubiak’s one-cut zone stretch scheme.

2. Outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil will take turns exploiting the tackles on the Pittsburgh line to record a combined three sacks. Suggs may have provided more of an impact than the completely-invisible Dumervil did against the Bengals, but neither were able to disrupt the timing of Andy Dalton, something that can’t be repeated against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. As always, the pass rush needs to be careful not to simply chase Roethlisberger from the pocket where he’s at his best improvising down the field, but more help needs to be provided to a secondary that should have cornerback Lardarius Webb available. Steelers tackles Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert are weak links on the offensive line, giving Suggs and Dumervil no excuse not to feast on Thursday night.

3. Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell will pick up where Cincinnati’s Giovani Bernard left off, registering 120 total yards and a touchdown while giving the Ravens problems as a receiver out of the backfield. Though much bigger than the shifty Bernard, Bell caught 45 passes for 399 yards out of the backfield in 13 games as a rookie and added six receptions for 88 yards against the Browns in Week 1. The Ravens struggled against screens and underneath throws while protecting against the deep ball last week, so Pittsburgh will test them again with those types of plays until Baltimore shows it can stop them. And with Pittsburgh being another team that likes using the no-huddle offense, you do wonder if a bigger back like Bell will start to wear down an old front seven as the game progresses.

4. The Ravens will use more up-tempo offense and quarterback Joe Flacco will go to tight ends Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels early in this one. Just as the Steelers undoubtedly saw how the Ravens defense struggled to defend screens and other underneath throws, Kubiak had to take notice of the Browns’ success using the no-huddle attack against Pittsburgh in the second half and should use that to his advantage in hopes of getting Flacco going early. You’d never know it from the final numbers when he targeted Pitta and Daniels a combined 20 times, but Flacco threw to the tight-end duo only once before the final drive of the first half. Ravens wide receivers cannot have a case of the drops like they did last week, but look for Flacco to throw more short stuff to Pitta, Daniels, and Kyle Juszczyk to get into an earlier rhythm before taking some longer shots down the field.

5. It will be close with Pittsburgh as it always is, but the home-field edge gives the Ravens just enough to pull out a 24-21 win that they really need. Only four of the 14 Ravens-Steelers games in the Harbaugh era have been decided by more than three points and the last five meetings have all been determined by three or fewer. The Ravens have dealt with plenty of distractions away from the field this week, but they know they cannot afford to fall to 0-2 with both games against AFC North foes. The best teams are able to rise to the occasion and come together under trying circumstances like these while lesser teams fold and begin looking for excuses. You get the sense that Thursday night will tell us a lot about who the Ravens are as a football team in 2014 — good or bad.

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game: Ravens/Steelers

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game: Ravens/Steelers

Posted on 03 December 2013 by Glenn Clark

Following every Baltimore Ravens game this season, Ryan Chell and I will take to the airwaves Tuesdays on “The Reality Check” on AM1570 WNST.net with a segment known as “The Five Plays That Determined The Game.”

It’s a simple concept. We’ll select five plays from each game that determined the outcome. These five plays will best represent why the Ravens won or lost each game.

This will be our final analysis of the previous game before switching gears towards the next game on the schedule.

Here are the five plays that determined the Ravens’ 22-20 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers Thanksgiving night at M&T Bank Stadium…

(Note: not all pictures are always of actual play)

Glenn Clark’s Plays…

5. Shaun Suisham tackled for 12 yard loss on aborted/fake field goal (2nd quarter)

The only “turnover” of the game. Went from three points one way to a short field (and three points) the other way.

4. Heath Miller ruled down at 1 yard line via replay after 20 yard catch from Ben Roethlisberger (4th quarter)

The Steelers were ultimately forced to run more clock and use a timeout after Miller was ruled to have not gotten in.

3. Torrey Smith 7 yard TD catch from Joe Flacco (1st quarter)

The Ravens’ only TD of the game came in a big early spot after a sack.

2. Torrey Smith 54 yard catch from Joe Flacco (1st quarter)

The Ravens didn’t go back to it much, but it was a huge statement early.

1. Chykie Brown defends Ben Roethlisberger pass intended for Emmanuel Sanders on two point conversion (4th quarter)

It wasn’t over until.

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Thursday night

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Thursday night

Posted on 28 November 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

Though each team carries an underwhelming 5-6 record, playoff ramifications are high on Thanksgiving as the Ravens and Steelers meet for the 36th time in the regular season but the first time ever on a Thursday night.

A win pushes the Ravens closer toward the No. 6 spot in the AFC while a loss all but ends their season as they would likely need to win their remaining four games to have any chance of advancing to the postseason for the sixth straight time under head coach John Harbaugh.

The Ravens are healthier than they’ve been at any point this season as defensive end Chris Canty was the only starter on the injury report — listed as probable — while the Steelers will be without starting nose tackle Steve McLendon and are unlikely to have outside linebacker and sack leader LaMarr Woodley, who is doubtful with a calf injury. However, it appears Baltimore will likely need to wait at least one more week for the return of tight end Dennis Pitta.

It’s time to go on the record as the Steelers look for their first season sweep over Baltimore since the 2008 season and hold the 20-15 edge all-time in the regular season while also owning a 3-0 advantage in the postseason. The Ravens are 8-9 against Pittsburgh in Baltimore and have lost two of the last three played at M&T Bank Stadium. The last four meetings and nine of the last 11 regular-season contests between the Ravens and Steelers have each been decided by just three points.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens look to move to the .500 mark for the first time since mid-October …

1. Tyrod Taylor will see a few offensive snaps but will not line up under center as the wildcat discussion will calm considerably. Should the Ravens continue using the gimmick offense after Joe Flacco said Tuesday that he didn’t expect to see it much moving forward, the doubts of whether the quarterback and the coaching staff are on the same page will only get stronger. The truth is the wildcat attack isn’t going to be the difference-maker the Ravens need as opponents see it more and more, but there’s no reason Taylor can’t be used lining up as a wide receiver or even at running back on occasion. If the Steelers were forced to even spend as much as 20 or 30 minutes in a short week preparing for the possibility of the Ravens using the novelty offense, I suppose that’s an advantage for Baltimore, but it won’t dramatically alter the outcome of the game.

2. Neither team will run for more than 80 yards as Le’Veon Bell won’t duplicate his strong Week 7 performance. Pittsburgh used its own version of the wildcat in the first meeting of the season, which led to a season-high 141 yards on the ground for the league’s 30th-ranked running game. Meanwhile, the Ravens haven’t run effectively against anyone except Miami in Week 5 and the Bears two weeks ago, so it’s difficult to expect them to do much against even the Steelers’ 23rd-ranked run defense. After years of these rivals thriving on dominating defense and the running game, it’s clear that the 2013 versions of the Ravens and Steelers simply do not fit that profile. You’re much more likely to see 300-yard performances from either of the starting quarterbacks than to see a 100-yard day from either Bell or Ray Rice as the defenses will control the line of scrimmage.

3. Justin Tucker will miss his first field goal since Week 2. Anyone recall when the second-year kicker missed two tries in the home opener against Cleveland and was outperformed by former Raven Billy Cundiff? So much for any concerns of a sophomore slump as Tucker hasn’t missed a kick since, earning AFC Special Teams Player of the Month for November and also the weekly honor after booting four field goals in last Sunday’s win over the Jets. Tucker’s streak of 22 consecutive field goals is tied for the second-longest streak in franchise history — Matt Stover’s 36 straight is the record mark — and he has been the Ravens’ most reliable player this season. Now, after heaping all that praise on the unflappable 24-year-old, Thursday seems like the time when he’ll finally miss a kick while booting two others successfully.

4. Flacco will throw for 230 yards and a touchdown, but the Ravens’ red-zone struggles will carry over from last week. What was lost through all the comments Flacco made about the wildcat and his disdain for lining up at the wide receiver position was the fact that the sixth-year quarterback played his best game since before the bye week this past Sunday. The Ravens will have a tougher time against Pittsburgh’s 10th-ranked pass defense than they did against the Jets’ vulnerable secondary, but the most encouraging development from their Week 12 win was the vertical connections to Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones. Flacco will need to make big plays with his arm to best Ben Roethlisberger, and he will have a strong performance as he typically does in big games. However, the Ravens’ lack of consistent weapons will once again hurt in the red zone despite a touchdown to Smith.

5. The same movie will play out once again as the Ravens come up short in a big game against Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers in a 17-13 final. Baltimore has the advantage at home playing on a short week, but the Ravens have always failed against Pittsburgh when the stakes are high, and Thursday certainly qualifies in that regard. The Ravens are arguably playing their best football of the year after winning two of their last three games, but Pittsburgh has been even better in winning five of seven and Roethlisberger has outplayed Flacco over the last six weeks of the season. The Ravens hold the edge defensively over Pittsburgh’s aging defense, but the Steelers offense is markedly better than Baltimore’s, which will be the difference in this one. It will be a close game as it typically is between these AFC North rivals, but a late drive culminating with a Roethlisberger touchdown pass to Antonio Brown will be the difference as the Ravens’ playoff hopes are dealt a fatal blow.

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Roethlisberger standing in Ravens’ way once again

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Roethlisberger standing in Ravens’ way once again

Posted on 27 November 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — What needs to be said that hasn’t already been uttered to describe one of the NFL’s best rivalries of the last 15 years?

When the Ravens meet the Steelers at least twice per season, we use terms such as old school, throwback, and bloodbath to describe a series in which 11 of the 13 meetings between these AFC North teams in the John Harbaugh have been decided by one score or less, with points often at a premium in low-scoring defensive struggles.

Thursday’s meeting is the first since 1999 in which both the Ravens and Steelers sport losing records, but the stakes are much higher than respective 5-6 records normally indicate as the two are tied with four other teams for the sixth-best record in the AFC. The winner of Thursday’s game will be in prime position to grab the final wild-card spot in the conference while the loser will face the prospects of needing to run the table over the final quarter of the season for any hope of playing in January.

“If you aren’t ready for this game, then you have no business on either one of the two teams,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “I have a feeling both teams are preparing. We’re both getting ready, and we’ll you see you guys out there Thursday night.”

After winning their second Super Bowl title in the last 13 seasons and the first of the Harbaugh era last February, the Ravens hardly need validation for what they’ve accomplished — particularly since the start of the 2008 season — but they’ll also stare across the line of scrimmage at their toughest adversary as a red-hot Ben Roethlisberger once again stands in the way of their potential postseason path. Named AFC Offensive Player of the Month for November, the 10th-year quarterback has dug Pittsburgh out of an 0-4 hole and has put them right back in the playoff picture.

The Ravens do appear to have the upper hand in hosting the Thanksgiving night game while the Steelers are playing their second road game in a five-day span, but the home team faces the harsh reality of knowing it’s never beaten Roethlisberger in a game when the stakes are at their highest.

Of course, Pittsburgh knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs in the 2008 and 2010 seasons. An early-December home loss to the Steelers in 2010 crushed the Ravens’ hopes of a division title and first-round bye and ultimately led to them playing at Heinz Field instead of M&T Bank Stadium a month later in the divisional round. December losses to the Steelers in 2008 and 2009 temporarily compromised the Ravens’ playoff standing before they recovered to earn a wild-card spot each time.

And while quarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens exorcised some demons with a last-second comeback win at Heinz Field in 2011 to complete a season sweep, that early-November tilt didn’t exactly carry the weight of knowing their season was essentially over if they didn’t win like Thursday night’s game does.

History isn’t on the Ravens’ side when facing Roethlisberger in a big game, and the 31-year-old quarterback has thrown 14 touchdowns and five interceptions over the last seven games to lead the Steelers to five wins, leading many to believe Pittsburgh is the favorite among the six 5-6 teams to grab the No. 6 seed in the AFC.

“You can sing Ben’s praises,” Harbaugh said. “We’ve seen it firsthand. Any Baltimore fan understands what he can do. He can throw on time, he can get out of the pocket and run, he can get out of the pocket and extend plays downfield, and they build their offense around his skills. He’s been a great quarterback for many years.”

Roethlisberger’s relationship with Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley has been strained as there were even rumors earlier this month about the quarterback potentially parting ways with the organization, but a three-game winning streak has calmed that discussion. Of course, an improved effort from Pittsburgh’s offensive line has helped as Roethlisberger has been sacked only once in his last two games.

That coupled with the Steelers successfully running a no-huddle offense will pose a challenge to the Ravens’ pass rush that is tied for the NFL lead with 37 sacks in 11 games. It’s one thing to put heat on the 241-pound quarterback in the pocket, but allowing him to escape pressure often leads to problems downfield as wide receivers such as Antonio Brown — who leads the NFL with 80 catches and the conference with 1,044 receiving yards — are trained to break off routes to take advantage of the veteran’s ability to improvise.

Roethlisberger’s ability to extend plays has frustrated the Ravens time after time in the past, including earlier this season when he directed a last-minute drive for a field goal in a 19-16 win at Heinz Field. In all, the Ravens are 5-8 against Pittsburgh in the Harbaugh-Flacco era, but that record falls to just 2-7 when Roethlisberger has started.

“He’s just great at loose plays, really,” defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. “I think you guys see it all the time when he plays. He’s just hard to tackle, and then he’s just able to find some receivers and throw the ball. He’s just a great quarterback that way. We’ve just got to do a great job at trying to plaster those guys that are leaking out and get him down when we have the chance.”

It’s easier said than done as the Ravens will try to avoid the same movie playing once again as they hope to keep their playoff hopes alive. A loss to the Steelers would not only drop Baltimore a game behind in the quest for the No. 6 seed but would give Pittsburgh a tiebreaker advantage by way of a season sweep.

The great equalizer to Roethlisberger could be Suggs, who has gone three straight games without a sack after collecting at least one in seven of his first eight games this season. The 2011 Defensive Player of the Year has sacked the Steelers signal-caller a staggering 16 1/2 times in the regular season and playoffs combined, and the Ravens will undoubtedly be looking at him and fellow edge rusher Elvis Dumervil to put more heat on Roethlisberger than they did last month when they combined for only 1 1/2 sacks and two quarterback hits in the narrow defeat.

With the pass-rushing duo and the homefield advantage, the Ravens will try to do what they’ve never been able to do before — get the best of Roethlisberger when the chips are down late in the season.

Harbaugh and Flacco haven’t been able to do it.

Suggs and Ngata have come up empty every time as well.

Even future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed could never top the Steelers quarterback when they really needed to.

And the Steelers quarterback is in the midst of a hot streak with something to play for, making him even more dangerous than he was when the Ravens saw him six weeks ago.

“He has looked like he is getting back to being Ben,” Suggs said, “shaking guys off and making plays just when you think the play has broken down. I think that’s when he’s at his best — when he’s most comfortable.”

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Flacco puts target on back by bashing wildcat offense

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Flacco puts target on back by bashing wildcat offense

Posted on 26 November 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — What began as a brief statement open for interpretation after Sunday’s win over the New York Jets transformed into a loud declaration from Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco two days later.

He’s no supporter of the wildcat offense. In fact, the sixth-year quarterback and Super Bowl XLVII went as far as saying the gadget offense that includes backup Tyrod Taylor under center and Flacco lined up as a wide receiver makes the Ravens look like amateurs.

“I would say it’s probably not taking too much out of context,” said Flacco when asked to clarify his post-game comments from Sunday. “It is what it is. I don’t like that stuff. I think it makes you look like a high school offense. That’s just my opinion.”

Whether you agree with his outspokenness or not, Flacco firmly placed a target on his back Tuesday similar to the manner in which he proclaimed himself to be the best quarterback in the NFL in the spring of 2012. And it sent a clear message that he wants the Ravens’ fate to be on his shoulders as they approach Thursday’s meeting with the Pittsburgh Steelers and beyond.

Entering Week 13 with a career-low 76.8 passer rating and a career-high 14 interceptions, Flacco hasn’t been at his best this year while dealing with the losses of Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta, inconsistent pass protection, and an abysmal running game. In fact, the decision to use Taylor for 12 offensive snaps — five at quarterback and seven at wide receiver — was a bigger indictment of the Ravens’ rushing attack and its expected difficulties against New York’s top-ranked run defense than anything directly related to Flacco.

But the quarterback believes novelties and gimmicks aren’t going to help the Ravens improve enough down the stretch to advance to the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season. Of course, a 4-6 record entering last Sunday’s game made a fair argument for a need to try something different.

The pressure is now on Flacco to put his money where his mouth is in a way not dissimilar from his historic playoff performance last season that not only brought the Ravens their second NFL championship but earned him a lucrative payday.

“I don’t look at it as a slap in the face to me. It is what it is,” Flacco said. “I want as many chances as I can get behind [center]. I just don’t like that stuff in general. Me and Tyrod talk about it. It’s just interesting to me.

“I’m all for us doing things to get better, but we’re not going to be good if we just can’t get good at the basics of what we do 90 percent of the time. We’ve got to get good at those things or we’re not going to be good, no matter what. And I just want to make sure we’re focusing on getting good at those things.”

Flacco’s points are fair as there is plenty of evidence to support the Wildcat attack not being successful beyond a play here or there as Taylor’s 17-yard run provided a brief spark before the backup quarterback ultimately finished with seven yards on four carries. The dozen plays in which Taylor was involved didn’t appear to loosen up the Jets defense very much as the Ravens finished the day averaging 2.2 yards per carry on 31 rushes.

If the Ravens are impressed with Taylor’s speed and athleticism and want to see him involved with the offense, there are other ways to use him at wide receiver and even running back without moving the $120 million quarterback to the wide receiver position where offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell is either risking injury or essentially playing with a man disadvantage before the ball is even snapped.

Whether Flacco’s comments come across as selfish or not are up to the individual, but the Ravens aren’t going to the playoffs by running gadget plays week in and week out. With their many deficiencies on the offensive side of the ball, they will sink or swim on Flacco’s arm.

And his comments Tuesday served as an indirect reminder of that.

“It’s definitely understandable, because Joe’s a great quarterback,” tight end Ed Dickson said. “It might take a little bit away from what he does well. Everybody’s not going to like it, but I can see both sides. I’m going to block if Joe’s out there and I’m going to block if Tyrod’s out there. I’m ready for both of them.”

It remains to be seen how much we’ll see Taylor involved in the offense moving forward as Flacco made it clear that he’s shared his thoughts with the coaching staff and said he doesn’t think we’ll see much of that approach in the future.

If it truly was a one-time shot against a tough run defense, the controversy will be forgotten as early as Thursday night, but a continued use of the gimmick offense could signal a bigger problem of Flacco and the coaching staff not being on the same page as the Ravens approach the final quarter of the season. Players in the locker room took the diplomatic approach when asked about Flacco’s defiant comments, taking what he said in stride.

“It’s not our everyday offense,” running back Ray Rice said. “It’s just something that gives teams a little bit something to prepare for and know that we have it in our arsenal. Look at what Pittsburgh did to us last game.”

Of course, it’s interesting to recall Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sharing his own thoughts about lining up at wide receiver for a handful of plays in the 19-16 win over the Ravens on Oct. 20, and he didn’t come across as a big fan of it.

Perhaps it’s a simple peek into the psyche of a franchise quarterback and a preference not to disrupt normal rhythm under center. Or, maybe established signal callers with Super Bowl rings are simply willing and able to voice their opinion when they feel something isn’t going to work.

“I’m not doing a single thing,” said Flacco when asked about his responsibilities when he lines up at wide receiver with Taylor at quarterback. “I’m not getting it. I’m not blocking. I’m not doing anything.”

Flacco drew a clear line in the sand on Tuesday by calling out the coaching staff and proclaiming he wasn’t OK with being anything but the man under center. His words were honest and bold, but they leave him wide open for criticism should he falter and the Ravens never find their stride in their quest to advance to the playoffs.

And while he has been far from the offense’s biggest problem during the 2013 season, the Ravens need to see more of what they got from Flacco on Sunday when he threw for 273 yards and turned in his best performance in several weeks.

“I’m the quarterback, I want to be behind the line of scrimmage, and I want to be taking the snaps,” Flacco said. “That’s really the only thing. And I don’t necessarily take it personally either in terms of our offense trying to get better. I just think it makes us look not like an NFL team.”

The Ravens need the 2012 playoff version of Flacco to emerge to avoid any urge to use such “high school” tactics in the offensive game plan and — more importantly — give them their best chance in their five remaining games.

And that assessment is as honest as Flacco was on Tuesday.

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game: Ravens/Steelers

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game: Ravens/Steelers

Posted on 22 October 2013 by Glenn Clark

Following every Baltimore Ravens game this season, Ryan Chell and I will take to the airwaves Tuesdays on “The Reality Check” on AM1570 WNST.net with a segment known as “The Five Plays That Determined The Game.”

It’s a simple concept. We’ll select five plays from each game that determined the outcome. These five plays will best represent why the Ravens won or lost each game.

This will be our final analysis of the previous game before switching gears towards the next game on the schedule.

Here are the five plays that determined the Ravens’ 19-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday at Heinz Field…

(Note: not all pictures are always of actual play)

Glenn Clark’s Plays…

5. Bernard Pierce tackled by Lawrence Timmons and Steve McLendon for one yard loss on 3rd & 1 (1st quarter)

You cannot start a 3rd & 1 run five yards behind the line of scrimmage. Oy.

4. Lamar Woodley sacks Joe Flacco for 10 yard loss on 3rd & 8 from Pittsburgh 34 (2nd quarter)

It would have been a long field goal attempt, but I’d rather that than a punt.

3. William Gay breaks up Joe Flacco pass intended for Jacoby Jones on 3rd & 12 (3rd quarter)

Man did that one really bother me watching the film again Monday. Very close to six.

2. Elvis Dumervil called for unnecessary roughness after Jerricho Cotchery 7 yard catch from Ben Roethlisberger (3rd quarter)

From 2nd & 17 to an eight minute drive.

1. Vince Williams recovers Justin Tucker onside kick attempt, Tucker flagged for illegal touching (4th quarter)

The decision was questionable. The execution was putrid.

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Suggs sums it up well with his “emergency” commentary

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Suggs sums it up well with his “emergency” commentary

Posted on 21 October 2013 by Drew Forrester

Terrell Suggs called it a “state of emergency”.

I love it.

That’s why he’s a champion.

Only in Baltimore would two consecutive losses translate to an emergency situation, but that’s the scenario facing the Ravens now as they start the season 3-4 heading into their annual bye week.

I watched Suggs in the locker room after Sunday’s loss in Pittsburgh.  He really was, as he said, “disgusted” with the loss to an obviously struggling Steelers team.  It wasn’t acting.  Suggs was truly aggravated.

More players should take the Ravens-Steelers rivalry personally like he does.

Then again, there are only a handful of guys left on the roster who have served the entire Harbaugh-Flacco era and “been there, done that” with regard to the Ravens-Steelers showdowns we see twice – sometimes more – a season.  The games against Pittsburgh over the last six seasons have been wildly memorable.  Some of have ended the Ravens season.  A couple have been so improbable you wished the two teams would play every other week.

There’s nothing worse than losing to the Steelers, particularly when they’re not very good.

That, all by itself, constitutes a state of emergency, I suppose.

————————————————————–

I’m always amazed at how folks who are relatively intelligent and played sports (I assume) as a youth or adult suddenly become stupid when discussing the Ravens.

Time and time again, and it’s going to happen a lot today and this week, watch and see, folks want to pin a loss on ONE person.  They’ll take one play, one moment, one decision, one “thing” and weave that into an outrageous theme that “xxxx cost us the game”.

If you know anything at all about sports, you know that’s just not the way it works.

But, people in Baltimore will gather ’round the water-cooler today and blame Sunday’s loss on Harbaugh – as an example – for calling for an onsides kick with thirteen minutes left in the game.  They’ll conveniently forget how the Steelers previously-horrible running game gashed the Ravens defense for 141 yards.  They’ll dismiss the fact that Elvis Dumervil had two huge penalties on one drive that squarely put Pittsburgh in easy field goal range.  They’ll elect to not remember the kick-off return with 1:58 to play that set-up the game-winning field goal by Shaun Suisham.  And, of course, they won’t give any credit at all to the Steelers, who, as we know, also have players on scholarship — just like the Ravens.

People who aren’t very smart just LOVE to pick out one person and play the blame game.  They did it with Billy Cundiff a couple of years ago in the New England playoff game…when, in fact, it was Lee Evans who cost the Ravens the game with his end zone drop. (See what I did there?)

Citing one person or one play is about the dumbest thing you can do as a sports fan.

I guess the joke’s on me — I’ve been doing this radio thing for twelve “seasons” now.  You assume at some point I’d just figure out that people watch sports, know sports and love sports…but that doesn’t necessarily mean they can opine smartly about sports.

—————————————————

I hope I’m wrong on this one.

I’ll be very happy if I am.

Kelechi Osemele won’t finish the season.

His back, which he admitted after Sunday night’s game will need post-season surgery, isn’t going to hold up much longer.  A lot of national experts have talked about his poor play this season as a connector to the Ravens woeful running game.  That’s fair, I guess, since one of his strengths a year ago was run blocking.  But, his poor play is more about health than anything else.  His back is really bothering him and week by week it’s starting to show more.  The problem?  There’s no one else to throw in there right now.  So, he just keeps on playing.

I hope he’s playing in late December.

But, I don’t see how he will be.

———————————————————–

For those wondering – and it’s a VERY fair question – the game plan was for Justin Tucker to kick the ball out of play on the kick-off that led to the game-winning drive by the Steelers.

He lost his footing on the turf as he drove into the ball, just as he did on the opening kick-off, which almost went of bounds.

That sort of “event”, while unplanned, simply can’t happen in a tight game where you’re trying to pin the opposition on their own 20-yard line.

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Indianapolis, this season, now has wins over San Francisco, Seattle and Denver.

Enough said.

 

 

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Ravens: Offense and defense both get blame in 3-point loss at Pittsburgh

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Ravens: Offense and defense both get blame in 3-point loss at Pittsburgh

Posted on 20 October 2013 by Drew Forrester

Tough loss.

At the worst time.

And, like the one last week against Green Bay, it was there for the taking.

Sunday’s 19-16 loss in Pittsburgh – against a mediocre-at-best Steelers team – will sting for a lot longer than the 45-minute flight home later tonight.

The Ravens are in unfamiliar territory now, dropping two straight games heading into the bye and sitting at 3-4 as the halfway point of the season approaches.

John Harbaugh, Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs and the rest of the men in purple have their work cut out for the next ten weeks or so, that’s for certain.

Once again on Sunday, the Ravens offense failed to do anything for the first 50 minutes of the game.

Then, like last week against the Packers, they suddenly came to life with a championship-type-drive late in the 4th quarter to knot the game at 16-16.

Unfortunately, it was also “just like last week” for the defense, who surrendered a huge throw to Jermichael Finley late in the Packers game that sealed their fate and allowed 39 yards in the final two minutes of Sunday’s game at Pittsburgh to put the Steelers in position to nail the game-winning field goal.

That’s been the story of the last two weeks, in particular, and most of the season, really.

Offense:  not very good for most of the game, comes to life late.

Defense: decent for most of the game, runs out of gas late and gives up a huge drive.

In fairness to Baltimore’s offense on Sunday, do you know how many possessions they had in 60 minutes of football?

Think about it for a second — in four quarters against the Steelers, how many offensive series’ did Flacco have at his disposal?

Ready?

SEVEN.

They had seven offensive possessions in four quarters and scored on four of them; three FG’s and a TD.

The reason they only had seven?  For starters, they gave one of them away with a third-quarter onsides kick attempt that wasn’t all that bad of an idea, honestly.  They just needed better execution, which means, basically, that Jeromy Miles can’t be offside on the play.  Even though Justin Tucker was flagged for touching the ball before it went ten yards, Miles was flagged for offsides, which would have negated the play had it been successful.

And the bigger reason why they only had seven offensive possessions?  The Ravens defense just can’t get the other team off the field without yielding a 12-play, 10-minute drive of some sort.

Pittsburgh, too, only had seven offensive series’ on Sunday, but not once did they go 3-and-out.  In fact, five of their seven offensive possessions were eight plays or more.

On the final drive, Baltimore just couldn’t get a defensive stop when they needed it.  Just like last week against Green Bay.

The back-breaker of the whole affair wasn’t even an offensive or defensive play.  After the Ravens had tied the game with 1:58 to play, Emmanuel Sanders promptly took the ball six yards deep in his end zone and ran it back out to his own 37 yard line, scampering past the Ravens’ kick-coverage contain player who was supposed to seal the sideline but failed to do so.  Starting in decent position, Ben Roethlisberger connected on three big passing plays and before you could blink, Shaun Suisham was lining up for the game-winner from 42 yards out.

In review, at the seven game mark, the biggest issue continues to be the team’s offense.  Even with the no-huddle effort on Sunday, they looked lethargic and lacking the big play explosiveness you would expect from a unit with a QB who can throw it sixty yards like you and I can throw it twenty.  They ran the ball for 82 yards, which looks like an improvement over recent weeks, but still have lots of work to do in that department between now and New Year’s.

Defensively, the Steelers penetrated the Ravens front seven time and time again with their own hard-nosed running style and Roethlisberger was his typical, scrambling self, finding receivers who had created enough separation to get the ball buzzed into them in tight quarters.

Baltimore’s defense, while decent enough “stats wise” this season, just isn’t adept enough at getting opposing offenses off the field quickly.  Case in point on Sunday:  the Steelers punted the ball one time all afternoon.

So, it’s back to the drawing board for Harbaugh and his coaching staff.  The biggest benefit for the Ravens?  They haven’t yet played the division leading Bengals, so they’ll have two swipes at them between now and their 16th game.

That said, if the offense can’t play better in the first 50 minutes and if the defense can’t play better in the final 10 minutes, those two showdowns with Cincinnati might not matter at all.

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 19 October 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

Meeting for the 38th time in the last 18 years, the Ravens and Steelers renew one of the greatest rivalries in the NFL at Heinz Field on Sunday afternoon.

The buildup of this year’s first meeting between the AFC North rivals lacks its normal buzz as this is the first time since 2002 — not counting season openers — in which the Ravens and Steelers meet with neither team sporting a winning record. However, the game could be even more critical than usual for each team as the Steelers are trying to climb out of the 0-4 hole they dug for themselves in September while the Ravens don’t want to head into their bye week with a losing record.

The cast of characters continues to change in this rivalry as the likes of Ray Lewis, Hines Ward, Ed Reed, and James Harrison are no longer present, but Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger takes on the Ravens for the first time since Nov. 6, 2011 with a now-healthy Terrell Suggs aiming for him on the edge. Meanwhile, the Ravens will attempt to win their fourth straight regular-season game in Pittsburgh, which would be a franchise best after Baltimore also won three straight on the road from 1999 through 2001.

It’s time to go on the record as the Steelers lead the regular-season series by a 19-15 margin while also owning a 3-0 advantage in postseason contests. The Ravens are 7-10 all-time in Pittsburgh but have won three of the last four games overall at Heinz Field. Of the last 10 games played in the regular season between these two rivals, eight have been decided by three points and each team has won five.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens look to put the Steelers in a 1-5 early-season hole while also earning their 14th win in their last 16 AFC North games …

1. Punters Sam Koch and Zoltan Mesko will have a very busy afternoon with a combined 15 punts.
You can feel your eyelids getting heavy just reading that first prediction, but neither team’s offense has inspired confidence this season as the Ravens rank 22nd in total yards while the Steelers are 18th. Both teams rank in the bottom six in rush offense, putting plenty of pressure on their respective quarterbacks. These teams combined for 25 punts in their two meetings last year, and I’d expect a similar story this season with points at a premium. The Ravens’ struggles on first and second down are well-documented as they rank 23rd in third-down conversion percentage while Pittsburgh is 21st in the league in third-down percentage. With strong defenses and a history of close, low-scoring games, field position will be very critical in determining the winner of this one as it often has been over the years.

2. Jacoby Jones won’t cash in with a touchdown like he did last year in Pittsburgh, but a big play from the wide receiver and return specialist will set up a Ravens touchdown. His 63-yard punt return for a score was the difference between a win and a loss at Heinz Field last year, and the Ravens are surely glad to have Jones’ speed back on the field via special teams and the passing game. Jones provides a consistent vertical threat on the opposite side of the field to Torrey Smith that the Ravens hope will take away some of the bracketed coverage Smith has seen this season without much complementary speed on the field. Jones made his presence immediately known last week in catching a touchdown in the second half against Green Bay, and he will set the Ravens up on a short field with a long return on a day when the offenses will struggle for each team.

3. The Steelers have sported the better overall pass defense, but the Ravens’ ferocious pass rush will lead to five sacks against Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh’s secondary has played at a very high level this season in allowing only 196 passing yards per game, but the pass rush has been underwhelming with just seven sacks, ranking 31st in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Ravens rank third in the league with 22 sacks and have consistently gotten pressure on quarterbacks to help out a suspect secondary. It’s no secret that the Pittsburgh offensive line has struggled this season, but the Ravens will once again face a quarterback with the ability to escape pressure to extend plays for receivers to get open down the field. After facing Miami’s Ryan Tannehill and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers in the last two games, the Ravens will be ready to face Roethlisberger, who isn’t as elusive as he was in his younger days. That will lead to a rough day for the Pittsburgh quarterback in the pocket.

4. With the running game a non-factor for both teams, the focus will shift to the passing game with Smith and Antonio Brown shining for their respective teams. The Ravens spoke about making changes this week to energize a rush offense averaging a paltry 2.7 yards per carry and the Steelers surprisingly rank an uncharacteristic 22nd against the run, but Baltimore will need to show it to make me believe they can do anything productive on the ground. The Steelers have been almost as inept at 3.1 yards per rushing attempt as their offense depends on Roethlisberger’s arm and the passing game. Smith was the hero in Pittsburgh two years ago in catching a game-winning touchdown in the final seconds of a comeback victory and will catch a touchdown on Sunday. Brown has been the offensive star for the Steelers with 41 catches and 498 yards, and he will get behind the defense for a score as Roethlisberger scrambles out of trouble and extends a play.

5. Continuing their profile of rarely making it look pretty — or easy — this season, the Ravens squeak out a 14-13 win for their fourth straight regular-season win over the Steelers in Pittsburgh. An early lead would go a long way in providing confidence for quarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense, but there’s no reason to think Sunday will bring the breakthrough performance the unit is waiting for. That said, Flacco has come up with just enough big plays to get the job done in Pittsburgh in each of the last three regular-season meetings and he will be opportunistic against a formidable defense. Field position, limiting turnovers, and third-down efficiency are critical factors to win in any football game, but they will be even more important in this one where the offenses figure to be challenged for most of the afternoon. Neither of these teams are at their best right now, but the Ravens are the better group and will do just enough to squeak out a narrow road victory.

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The Steelers are 1-4…they’re not beating the Ravens on Sunday.

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The Steelers are 1-4…they’re not beating the Ravens on Sunday.

Posted on 18 October 2013 by Drew Forrester

This Ravens-Steelers game is impossible to pick.

Anything could happen.

As inept as both offenses have been, would it be out of the question for both of them to catch lightning in a bottle on Sunday and put up 20-something points somehow?  I can see it now;  Roethlisberger wakes up on the right side of the bed, the Steelers o-line is decent enough to keep him upright most of the afternoon, and Big Ben finds Antonio Brown twice for big gains to help give Pittsburgh two scoring drives.  Later, a punt return puts them down to the Ravens 25-yard line.  A pass interference call gives Pittsburgh first and goal and they punch it on the ground two plays later.  Add a couple of field goals and suddenly they have 27 points, somehow.

The same goes with the Ravens.  Flacco and Torrey Smith connect on a couple of 50 yard throws.  Ray Rice scampers in from six yards out.  Bernard Pierce busts in from the three yard line.  Lardarius Webb snags a ball that bounces off of someone’s shoulder pads and takes it down to the Pittsburgh 13.  On the next play, Flacco finds Marlon Brown in the end zone.  A field goal or two from Justin Tucker and you have a 24 or 27 point output.

I can see both of those scenarios.  At some point, don’t these two offenses have to produce a game that makes them look like a major league team offensively?

I think so.

But it won’t happen this Sunday.  The two defenses are too good to let that stuff happen.

Ravens win 14-9.  Pittsburgh’s 1-4 for a reason.  They stink.  And they’re not winning on Sunday.

(That said, if Baltimore loses on Sunday, all hell’s gonna break loose around here.  You can make book on that.)

 

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