Win is cru­cial, but it masks lack of progress

Baltimore Sun - - RAVENS INSIDER - Mike Pre­ston mike.pre­ston@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/MikePre­stonSun

On any given Sun­day, any NFL team can play as poorly as any other, and the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers were worse than the Ravens on Sun­day.

There is a rea­son the NFL’s TV rat­ings are down this sea­son, and it was on dis­play at M&T Bank Sta­dium as the Ravens de­feated the Steel­ers, 21-14, in an AFC North matchup.

The Ravens’ of­fen­sive pro­duc­tion was poor but Pitts­burgh’s was worse. The Ravens had one big scor­ing play and the Steel­ers didn’t sniff the end zone un­til the fourth quar­ter. The Ravens had 50 rush­ing yards to 36 for the Steel­ers. The Ravens had 10 penal­ties for 94 yards while Pitts­burgh had 13 for 99.

The two teams traded ug­li­ness for nearly 31⁄ hours Sun­day, but only one re­sult mat­ters now. With the win, the Ravens are tied with the Steel­ers for first place in the di­vi­sion de­spite hav­ing lost the four pre­vi­ous games.

“We haven’t won since what, Septem­ber?” asked Ravens out­side line­backer Ter­rell Suggs. “It’s good to fi­nally, fi­nally get one, get back in the win­ning col­umn, es­pe­cially against our di­vi­sion ri­val. It’s good to win, but we’ve still got a tremen­dous amount of work to do.” Oh, have they ever. Over at the Cas­tle, there will be a lot less anx­i­ety this week, es­pe­cially with the win­less Cleve­land Browns com­ing to town for a Thurs­day night game. But even though the Ravens beat Pitts­burgh, they didn’t show much im­prove­ment after hav- ing a bye week to make cor­rec­tions.

The de­fense had al­ready staked a claim as one of the best in the NFL, es­pe­cially against the run, and on Sun­day they held one of the league’s top run­ners, Le’Veon Bell, to 32 yards on 14 car­ries.

“It was pretty pa­thetic,” Pitts­burgh guard David DeCas­tro said of his team’s per­for­mance. “That’s a credit to them. When you can’t run the ball, it’s go­ing to hurt us.”

The Ravens couldn’t run the ball, ei­ther, and that’s dis­cour­ag­ing news be­cause the Steel­ers came into the game with the No. 27-ranked de­fense.

Ravens run­ning back Ter­rance West had only 21 yards on 15 car­ries, and the Ravens av­er­aged only 1.7 yards an at­tempt. The Ravens got a 95-yard touch­down re­cep­tion from wide re­ceiver Mike Wal­lace after he caught a 9-yard slant in the first quar­ter, but quar­ter­back Joe Flacco threw for only 241 yards on 18 of 30 com­ple­tions.

He con­stantly threw be­hind or low to his re­ceivers. His lone in­ter­cep­tion halted one drive and his de­ci­sion-mak­ing on when to throw was poor. A lot of his passes just flut­tered. Right now, he is per­form­ing like one of the worst quar­ter­backs in the NFL.

Pitts­burgh quar­ter­back Ben Roeth­lis­berger was more er­ratic than Flacco for three quar­ters. In some in­stances, he wasn’t within 15 to 20 yards of a re­ceiver. Roeth­lis­berger wasn’t helped by his coach, Ravens run­ning back Ter­rance West fum­bles after be­ing hit by the Steel­ers’ Ryan Shazier. West had only 21 yards on 15 car­ries. Mike Tom­lin, who usu­ally strug­gles against the Ravens.

It was only in the fourth quar­ter that the Steel­ers went with the no-hud­dle and al­lowed Roeth­lis­berger to spray the field with passes. By then, it was too late.

As the Steel­ers mounted a come­back, the Ravens gained just two yards in the fourth quar­ter.

“There’s not a dis­ap­point­ment right now,” Flacco said of the of­fense. “They are tough foot­ball games to win. But yeah, there is a lit­tle frus­tra­tion in the fact that we’re not play­ing as well as we want right now.”

There should be more than just a lit­tle frus­tra­tion. Flacco is say­ing the same thing week after week. The Ravens have scored only one of­fen­sive touch­down in the past two games. They got a blocked-punt re­turn for a touch­down Sun­day and two field goals from Justin Tucker.

As good as the de­fense was against the Steel­ers, these aren’t the 2000 Ravens — not with this sec­ondary. Roeth­lis­berger missed sev­eral weeks be­cause of a knee in­jury, and it showed. After the game, Ravens safety Eric Wed­dle, a close friend of Roeth­lis­berger’s, said the quar­ter­back was ba­si­cally play­ing on one leg.

This team should be play­ing bet­ter than it has showed, and by the end of the sea­son the Ravens might have to find stronger-minded of­fen­sive coaches with bet­ter schemes to fit the per­son­nel.

Coach John Har­baugh’s postgame com­ments seem to fly in the face of what ev­ery­body else had seen on the field.

“I think our of­fense won­the game to­day,” Har­baugh said. “That’s the No. 1 thought. I re­ally like that Joe fig­ured out, es­pe­cially in the sec­ond half, he played the game to win the game. He re­ally didn’t try to force any balls in there. I think he un­der­stood the sit­u­a­tion of the game, and I give him credit for that.” Huh? Maybe Har­baugh was just a bit too giddy. After all, the Ravens ended a los­ing streak, and a loss would have put them in too deep a hole to dig out. But the Ravens still have many prob­lems.

This was noth­ing more than what we’ve seen in the pre­vi­ous seven games. This healthy team looked a lot like the Ravens that barely beat the Buf­falo Bills, the Browns and Jack­sonville Jaguars in the first three games.

Maybe that’s good enough for now, cer­tainly in this di­vi­sion. The AFC North is start­ing to look a lot like the AFC South did in the pre­vi­ous three or four years.

But that type of play won’t take a team far.

LLOYD FOX/BALTIMORE SUN

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