A 38 point outburst from the Ravens offense should have been enough to knock off Pittsburgh on Sunday night. Tailback Alex Collins provided a much needed spark early in the second quarter that allowed the team to overcome an early 14-point deficit. Joe Flacco turned in his second straight intelligent and efficient performance. And Greg Roman’s offense line continues to block better than the sum of their parts.
Unfortunately, 166 total yards from Collins and five offensive touchdowns were squandered by the Ravens defense. Ben Roethlisberger eclipsed 500 passing yards and Chris Boswell kicked a game winning field goal with 46 second left in the game. The Steelers summoned their fourth quarter mojo to secure a 39-38 division clinching victory.
This tough loss exposed the Ravens lack of speed on defense. Pittsburgh tight ends Jesse James, Vance McDonald and running back Le’Veon Bell dominated the middle of the field, combining to post 23 receptions for 227 yards. No matter the playcall, linebacker C.J. Mosley and and safety Tony Jefferson were unable to maintain adequate coverage.
Superstar wide receiver Antonio Brown also went off for 213 yards in primetime. Rookie cornerback Marlon Humphrey played exceptionally well in place of the injured Jimmy Smith. However, veteran corner Brandon Carr was abused by Brown on the opposite side, and safety Eric Weddle’s lack of range prevented him from providing the necessary support against Brown.
Baltimore’s defense played relatively well up front. The defensive line held Bell and the Steelers ground attack under four yards per carry. Brandon Williams made his presence felt with a crucial stop on a two point conversion attempt. Furthermore, Terrell Suggs and Tyus Bowser were able to apply a reasonable amount of pressure off the edge.
Nevertheless, the defense was helpless against Pittsburgh’s quick passing attack. Willie Henry, the team’s best interior penetrator, was invisible. Coordinator Dean Pees seemingly dialed up every blitz in the playbook, but the lack of coverage in the middle of the field betrayed the pass rush.
This is not the first time the Ravens highly regarded defense has let them down this season. Jacksonville tight end Marcedes Lewis roasted Mosley and Jefferson for three touchdowns in Week 3. A missed tackle from Weddle allowed Jordan Howard to scamper for 53 yards in overtime during the Week 6 loss to the Bears. And a fourth quarter completion to Delanie Walker in the seam caused the Ravens to drop a winnable Week 9 game in Tennessee.
Without question, Ravens defense has outperformed the offense in 2017. Considering all of the draft capital, free agent contracts and salary cap space devoted to that side of the ball, this disparity should be expected. At this late point of the season, it is fair to wonder if the front office’s emphasis on run defenders has created a lethal flaw.
Most are in agreement that the Ravens offseason plan should focus on adding playmakers at receiver and tight end. The loss to the Steelers shows a pass rushing defensive lineman, coverage linebacker and speedy safety should also be added to the wish list. Until then, the Ravens hopes of advancing in the playoffs rely upon improved pass coverage from Mosley and Jefferson.