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Ravens vs. Steelers: 5 keys to victory

If you thought last week was an important game, Sunday could determine the fate of the 2019 Baltimore Ravens.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Kansas City Chiefs
Marlon Humphrey and Earl Thomas III have been shutting down players in coverage. Hopefully the defense follows their lead and starts to get on the same page.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Baltimore Ravens played a well below-average game defensively last week against the struggling Cleveland Browns. The Browns were beat up on both sides of the ball, and somehow the Ravens weren’t able to stop them when it mattered most. The defense specifically struggled mightily with basic fundamentals such as tackling. This is a skill that is taught in pee wee football and honestly drilled in their heads as second nature.

Laziness and lack of effort will not beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh. I don’t care if the Steelers are 1-3 with a back up quarterback. If you remember during the 2012 season, Charlie Batch beat the Ravens pretty handily in Pittsburgh. The talk of the town has been how pitiful the defense has been over the last three games and it will continue if the Ravens aren’t able to come up with a win and improve to 3-2 and 1-1 in the division.

This game has major implications as to the fate of the organization for 2019. If the Ravens do win this game, they improve to an above .500 record headed back home to face an 0-4 atrocious Cincinnati Bengals football team, a game that should, without a doubt, result in a victory and improve the team’s record to 4-2. If Baltimore is able to scrounge up a win in Pittsburgh, you’ll completely forget about the defensive woes and back on the bandwagon. But let’s look at what the Ravens must do against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field this Sunday.

1) Tackling

Last week exposed the Ravens’ defense tackling and laziness when players caught the ball or were coming out of the backfield. Matthew Judon displayed poor effort attempting to tackle Nick Chubb on his goal line touchdown and then three other Ravens were unsuccessful bringing the running back to the ground. As a player, you have to master the fundamentals of the game before you move on to recognizing coverages and knowing your role on any given play.

The Steelers are a team that is successful using the “dink and dunk” method for their young quarterback, Mason Rudolph. This throws are dumps to the flats, screen plays and crossing patterns. Essentially very high percentage throws that are smart to implement in an offense with a young inexperienced quarterback. The defense must keep the ball in front of them and TACKLE successfully. If the Ravens are able to shut these types of plays down, it will force Rudolph to try and go over the top where Earl Thomas III will be waiting patiently (hopefully).

Media members were able to catch a short glimpse of some practices this week, and they observed players working on their tackling and shedding tackles. The Ravens must be able to wrap up JuJu Smith-Schuster and company if they want to come out on top.

2) Eliminate turnovers on offense

Baltimore has only turned the ball over one time this season, and that was last week against the Browns when Mark Ingram fumbled on a crucial drive where the Ravens were pushing down the field into enemy territory. Honestly, this was a very detrimental turnover when the Ravens were trying to respond. Ingram has never been known as someone who puts the ball on the ground, and frankly the ball was high, tight and where it was supposed to be but credit to the Browns defender that put a helmet on the ball to knock it loose.

This cannot happen against a Steelers team that is thriving right now on defense. Turnovers have large implications whenever they occur, so they especially can’t happen when the defense is in panic mode. The Ravens offense needs to move the ball effectively when it has the opportunity, mainly because of the problems that the defense is currently having. Heinz field will be rocking this weekend after a big win against Cincinnati on Monday Night Football. Keep the fans out of the game as much as you can by moving the ball and not giving up drives by handing the Steelers the ball with good field position.

The Steelers defensive personnel will have a large presence in the pass-rush category. Lamar Jackson needs to continue his good pocket presence and move when he feels or sees pressure. Cameron Hayward is going to love a good shot on the quarterback’s blind side if he is given the opportunity. If the Ravens lose the turnover battle, they lose the game. Period.

3) Keep the Steelers defense on their toes

Baltimore may have the most balanced offense in the NFL right now, with 140 passes compared to 140 running plays. You may think the Ravens are passing to much, or not running enough but they are the definition of a balanced offense. With that being said, throwing the ball on first down may not be a bad idea. The Steelers are expecting the Ravens to run the ball because of their weapons at hand, but Pittsburgh has been susceptible to the run this year.

The Steelers are giving up 4.1 yards per carry through four games. While this isn’t terrible, it is their weakest point on defense. The Ravens need to get the ball to their playmakers often and early throughout the game in order to be successful against the latest “Steel Curtain.” Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown are going to need impactful plays in early down situations. Many may disagree that the Ravens need to pass on 1st and 2nd down, but this will open up the run game and possibly a deep ball or two through play actions. I am in no means telling Greg Roman not to run the rock, but I am saying Lamar Jackson should have the opportunity to expose the Steelers D through RPO’s and play-action deep balls.

If the Ravens are successfully able to keep the Steelers guessing, they will be successful on the ground and through the air. Baltimore’s defense needs to have the chance to play with a lead simply to gain confidence. Let’s see what Greg Roman thinks about all this come one o’clock game day.

4) Let Humphrey lockdown his next victim

The strategy of having Marlon Humphrey follow Odell Beckham Jr. around against Cleveland worked out beautifully. Humphrey completely took OBJ out of the game with only two catches for 20 yards. This essentially eliminates one player for the opposing offense to rely on. Next victim... JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Smith-Schuster is a already a star in this league and for good reasons, but how good will he be on “Humphrey Island”? Don “Wink” Martindale should allow Humphrey to follow Smith-Schuster wherever he goes on the field to eliminate him from Pittsburgh’s game plan. This concept will allow Earl Thomas III to fly around against other players to help when needed. Humphrey is allowing a 22.9 passer rating in coverage this year with one interception on 20 targets. Thomas, on the other hand, is allowing and 18.2 passer rating with one interception on eight targets. These two are the bright spots on defense right now. Let them shine at what they are good at.

If Humphrey takes JuJu out of the game, this is one less option that Mason Rudolph has to throw too. Maybe this will give Earl the opportunity to do what he does best.

5) Get Marquise Brown the football

Marquise Brown has been relatively quiet the last two games but not for lack of targets. . Brown has rare speed and agility that can be used in other wrinkles of the offense. Yes, he is still probably recovering from his lisfranc injury during the draft process, but he needs the football in his hands to get yards after the catch or through running plays. The Ravens need to start to get creative in ways of using “Hollywood.”

This was the reason he was the first wide receiver drafted in the 2019 NFL draft. This guy is on his way to being a playmaker and in-route of this status he needs to football consistently. Ravens fans will get an opportunity to see Hollywood’s elusiveness and top flight speed when he’s given space (see Week 1). Good things will happen when he’s given the opportunity.

The Ravens need to get the football to their playmakers on Sunday and that starts with Hollywood Brown. It seems the Ravens offense plays at it’s best when Brown is routinely getting the football with real estate in front of him.