The Baltimore Ravens traveled to the Steel City and had their arch division rivals on the ropes for the first three quarters of the game but weren’t able to hold on in the end. Their AFC North bout with the Pittsburgh Steelers resulted in a decisive 20-19 defeat where there was some good, some bad, and some ugly.
Two-point conversion call: Football is a game of inches and with the game on the line after scoring what would’ve been the game-tying touchdown, Ravens’ Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman capped off a strong day of play-calling by dialing up a perfect two-point conversion play. He put the ball in hands of the Ravens’ best player to get it to their second-best player on that side of the ball.
Unfortunately with pressure in his face, Lamar Jackson overthrew tight end Mark Andrews, who was wide open and in the right flat and would’ve walked in for the go-ahead score with 12 seconds left to play. Down his best cornerback, Head Coach John Harbaugh didn’t want to take the game into overtime. Had his gamble worked out, his team would be 9-3 and he’d be getting praised for his aggressive decision.
Justin Tucker: While he didn’t finish as the team’s for the third week in a row, the All-Pro kicker was still automatic every time he trotted out on the field. Tucker converted both of his field goal attempts and his lone extra-point attempt. After the Steelers scored their first touchdown in the fourth quarter, it looked like Tucker’s ability to stay perfect would prove to be the difference following Chris Boswell’s missed extra point.
Devonta Freeman: The veteran running back maximized his second-most single-game touches by recording a season-high 97 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown. He showed juice, burst, cuts, elusiveness and acceleration as both a runner and outlet receiver out of the backfield. He led the team in carries with 14, finished second in rushing with 52 yards, tied for the lead in receptions with five, and finished third in receiving yards with 45 yards.
Wide receivers: The position accounted for 115 of Jackson’s 253 yards passing and 17 of his 37 targets. They made plays when it mattered most on what looked like the game-winning drive. They consistently got open throughout the game but just weren’t targeted enough and when they were, the passes that came their way were often errant, too low, or didn’t hit them in stride. Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown led the team with five receptions for 55 yards, Sammy Watkins recorded four catches for 39 yards and a touchdown, and Devin Duvernay caught two passes for 21 yards.
Red zone offense: The Ravens marched their way inside the Steelers’ 20 yard line five times on Sunday but only finished in the end zone twice and came away with points on just four of those trips. An area that was an area of great strength and efficiency over the last two seasons continues to be one of struggle and disappointment. Both of Tucker’s field goal attempts came from under 40 yards including a 28-yarder after they failed to punch it in from the three yard line. While they finally eclipsed 16 points and scored more than one touchdown for the first time in nearly a month, the Ravens’ inability to consistently maximize their scoring drives remains a major issue against subpar competition.
Missed turnover opportunities: The Ravens have one of the worst turnover differentials in the league and while their offense, mainly at quarterback, has played a large part in that, they also rank near the bottom of the league in forced turnovers on defense. With an offense that has struggled with consistency as much as theirs has, capitalizing on opportunities to provide their counterparts on the other side of the ball with short fields via turnovers is almost a necessity.
Against the Steelers, the Ravens had three separate occasions where they could and should have come away with the ball but failed to do so as a result of either drops or penalty. Safety Chuck Clark almost pulled a Terrell Suggs when he nearly intercepted Ben Roethlisberger on the Steelers’ opening drive of the second half. He perfectly timed his jump to get his hands on a quick pass to the right intended for Diontae Johnson but instead of corralling the ball, he let it bounce off his hands.
Cornerback Marlon Humphrey would’ve kept the Steelers off the scoreboard entirely in the first half had he corralled a pass that was tipped multiple times and bounced off his chest before hitting the turf. Instead, Pittsburgh went on to put up a field goal two plays later and the Ravens didn’t get the ball back with enough time to put up any more points of their own before halftime.
The one pass that the defense did get their hands on would’ve prevented the Steelers from mounting their game-winning drive and sealed the game for the Ravens was negated by a penalty. Patrick Queen hauled in a tipped ball and landed in bounds before rolling out on the right sideline, for what would’ve been his first interception of the season and second of his career. However, cornerback Anthony Averett — who initially tipped the pass in tight coverage of Johnson — was flagged for defensive pass interference. This resulted in an automatic first down instead of the timely turnover that they desperately needed.
Lamar Jackson’s decision-making: The ugliest and most disappointing part of this game for the Ravens was undoubtedly the decision-making of their star quarterback. Jackson’s indecisiveness in the pocket resulted in the vast majority of the seven sacks that the Steelers notched on Sunday. He held the ball for far too long on several occasions waiting for a bigger play to develop downfield instead of taking his underneath and check-down options. He actually did these things on the opening drive of the game before lofting an ill-advised pass off his backfoot trying to force the ball to Andrews in the end zone.
Jackson continues to try to force-feed or funnel the ball to Andrews as of late when opposing defenses are clearly keying in on and bracketing him. He’s no longer spreading the wealth among his best group of pass-catchers that he’s had since becoming the starter.
The Ravens’ offensive line didn’t actually play as poor as advertised and provided him with enough time to get rid of the ball or take off and run. Instead, he often opted to do neither or waited too long to decide to run the ball himself and by then the pocket had completely collapsed and he took bad coverage sacks or got tripped up on short gains. Jackson was also off-target on many of his throws, whether it was an incompletion or completion. He missed wide-open targets in key conversion situations by either over or underthrowing wide receivers and tight ends alike when there were sometimes no defenders within five yards them.
Fourth quarter defense: After forcing five punts, including a pair of three-and-outs, and allowing just one scoring drive in the first three-quarters of the game, the Ravens’ stingy defense gave up 17 points in the fourth quarter alone. The flood gates were opened following a 40-yard gain after they bit hard on a play-action pass to Chase Claypool. On the very next play, Johnson was left uncovered and strolled in for a 29-yard touchdown.
The blown coverage was a result of a miscommunication between Humphrey and Averett that saw both corners follow the same receiver to the right side of the field, leaving the left completely vacated. While the Ravens have cut down on the volume of big plays that they had allowed through the air as of late, they can’t afford to give up any given the team’s sputtering offense.
The Steelers didn’t have much success on the ground against the Ravens’ stout run defense for the majority of the game. On the game-winning drive, though, nearly half of their 14 plays were runs that accounted for 34 of their 59 yards. The well-balanced drive was capped off by Johnson’s second touchdown of the game for the go-ahead score, where he got Humphrey to commit to playing the quick slant before breakout to the left sideline for a five-yard touchdown. To literally add insult to injury, this was also the play that likely ended Humphrey’s season. He appeared to have suffered his season-ending torn pectoral injury trying to dislodge the ball as Johnson crossed the goal line.