Win is crucial, but it masks lack of progress
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.