Week 9 NFL insider notes: Steelers own AFC North as Ravens look broken, James Conner an MVP dark horse - Jason La Canfora
The dirty little secret all along was that there was no way the Ravens, 7-25 against playoff teams from 2013-17 and 1-5 against teams that would be in the playoffs right now, were going to sweep the Steelers. Pittsburgh has better talent at virtually every position group. Joe Flacco’s decline and inability to function against decent opposition is well documented, and Baltimore has not a single true explosive game-breaker on either side of the ball. This is who they have been since their last Super Bowl win, and massive changes are coming to Baltimore.
Baltimore heads to the bye licking its wounds. As I have been chronicling, they cannot defend screens, check-downs, wheel routes, seam routes that requires linebackers or safeties to defend the pass. They can’t do it. Even with a receiving group as talented as Pittsburgh’s you don’t need to take a bunch of deep shots and risk sacks and interceptions. Just throw 60-75 percent of your passes to your backs and tight ends and bleed Baltimore slowly.
After their third straight defeat, the Ravens playoff chances have fallen to 26-percent.
Baltimore Ravens lament third-down defense, red-zone offense after loss to Steelers - Aaron Kasinitz
Baltimore’s 11th-year starting quarterback deserves his share of blame, though. After Flacco didn’t see Jackson sprinting free on the Baltimore’s first possession inside the red zone, he rushed a pass to wide receiver Michael Crabtree in the second quarter.
Crabtree broke free from his defender, but Flacco’s throw was off target and the veteran wideout failed to corral the ball on a dive.
What could’ve been a 12-yard touchdown morphed into a incompletion.
“It just felt like I had to get rid of that ball,” Flacco said. “It was just one of those where I didn’t really let him get out of his break, and I didn’t hit him.”
“You can pick a couple plays out in this game where it might make a difference down in the end,” Flacco said. “There were plenty of plays that we wanted back.”
These rivalry games are usually decided by a handful of plays. Unfortunately, Flacco was unable to make them in the red zone.
Here’s the most important thing to ask before an owner fires a coach: Have the players quit on Harbaugh? And then ask are they pointing fingers and whether there is dissension in the locker room?
None of that going on with this team. Some players don’t like Harbaugh but that is true with any head coach and it’s not as if there is a mass mutiny. Back in 2007, when Bisciotti fired then-coach Brian Billick, the players believed Billick had quit on them and they wanted change.
If Bisciotti fired Harbaugh now, it would be like waving the white flag. If the owner at the top gives up, then the players feel the same way. The Ravens are 4-5, not 3-6.
At some point, results trump relationships. While it is unlikely Bisciotti would fire Harbaugh before the end of the season, that calculation could change if the Ravens record continues to spiral downward.
“[Rest] is a big part of it... It’s a long season obviously. It’s been a tough stretch, we’ve played three really good football teams the last three games. Two of the three have been really tight, good football games... we didn't do enough to win any of those games.
There are areas we need to improve upon... but when you watch the tape it’s good. That makes me feel good because I know the things we can work on are more directed, more pointed, more specific type of things.
And also schematically... as coaches [we can] try to expand what we are doing, tweak what we are doing a little bit to cause people problems going forward. And that’s one thing about the bye week - you have a chance to do. I think all three of the last teams we played, you’ve see schematically the things they were able to look at over the bye, come up with ideas.
That’s what the bye is for. Teams use [it] for that purpose. We’re going to get a chance to do that now this week, too.”