The Baltimore Ravens fell the Pittsburgh Steelers in an inexcusable 17-10 loss on Sunday to drop to 3-2 while helping their AFC North rivals improve to 3-2 and move into first place in the division standings. There were several disappointing performances by players in all three phases despite being the healthiest they’ve been since start of the season.
Here are a few noteworthy performances from the team’s Week 5 defeat that warrant some spicy yet reasonably conceivable takes:
Lamar Jackson could’ve had another MVP performance
If there was ever a final box score that was in no way indicative of how impressive a losing quarterback’s passing performance was, Lamar Jackson’s tape for the Ravens’ Week 5 loss would be a prime example. The two-time Pro Bowler has been playing at an even higher level than he did the year he was unanimously voted MVP of the league in 2019 and Sunday would’ve been yet another stellar feather in his cap had his pass catchers not literally dropped the ball on numerous occasions where he delivered perfectly placed passes.
Lamar Jackson had the most impressive 0 TD/1 INT performance I've ever seen pic.twitter.com/FIm8PhEhA3— James Foster (@NoFlagsFilm) October 9, 2023
There were at least three touchdown passes that either bounced off the hands or slipped through the fingers of their intended targets and several other bad drops that would’ve resulted in drive-extending first downs. As a result, Jackson finished 22-of-38 for 236 passing yards and no touchdowns, an interception on his only ill-advised throw of the game, a quarterback rating of 49.7, and a passer rating of 65.2.
While his final state line fails to tell the full story of how impressive Jackson truly was in spite of his pass catchers letting him down time after time, his Pro Football Focus grade of 94.6 was much more reflective of that fact. It wasn’t just his highest mark of the season thus far but it was the best of any quarterback in Week 5 despite seven of his passes being dropped.
It was a tough day for the Ravens offense vs the Steelers, but Lamar Jackson had a stellar day— PFF BAL Ravens (@PFF_Ravens) October 9, 2023
His 94.6 PFF Grade was a season-high and first among all QBs in Week 5 pic.twitter.com/jmO50TrJ80
The only team that can beat the Ravens are the Ravens themselves
Excessive amounts of self-inflicted wounds have allowed a pair of inferior and outmatched opponents to pull off stunning upsets over the Ravens in games they were favored to win and should’ve won comfortably over in the past three weeks. Had they taken care of business early on Sunday, they would be 3-0 against the AFC North having swept all three of their division rivals on the road. Had they done the same against the Indianapolis Colts at home in Week 3, they would be the only undefeated team in the entire AFC conference with an unblemished 5-0 overall record.
Through the first five games of the 2023 season the biggest threat to the Ravens week in and week out is the Ravens themselves. Coming into Week 5, their red zone offense was the best in the league by a wide margin having converted 80 percent of their drives in that area of the field for touchdowns including nine straight. That streak was painfully snapped after back-to-back drops by wide receiver Rashod Bateman and three-time Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews caused them to settle for a short Justin Tucker field goal on their third possession of the game.
Prior to that impressive streak coming to an end, another was snapped on the first drive of the game when standout first-round rookie wide receiver Zay Flowers failed to secure a well-thrown pass from Jackson before trying to turn upfield. The costly drop came on third-and-long from the Pittsburgh 41-yard line and instead of moving the ball into the red zone or at least getting into field goal range, the Ravens had to punt.
Ball security has also been a glaring issue for both Jackson and the Ravens’ ball carriers in the open field. In both of their losses the Ravens lost a pair of fumbles, one by their star quarterback from inside the pocket and one by a running back who had the ball punched out of his grasp from behind after a gain of 10 or more yards.
In both instances, the fumbles by the two running backs in particular were especially damaging as they not only killed promising drive for the offense but they began a cascade of mistakes that seemed to snowball and compound the last. Each instance gave their underdog opponent confidence and kept the game unnecessarily close in the process.
The common thread in almost all of the Ravens worst losses over the past five years, since they were the top-seed in the AFC playoffs the year Jackson won league MVP but were upset by the Tennessee Titans in the divisional round, has been the same. A number of mostly unforced errors at the most inopportune and pivotal moments that prevented them from taking over early or clawing their way back late in those games.
Ironically, the Titans are their next opponent and even though they are once again being viewed as favorites to come out on top, they’re going up against a well-coached Mike Vrabel team that is just as gritty as the Steelers. They won’t hesitate to seize the opportunities presented to them to keep the game close and as they look to be the next team to upset the Ravens.
In order to prevent another letdown for a team with legit championship aspirations and talent, they will need to avoid setting themselves up for failure by executing their plays and fundamentals, such as merely catching balls that hit receivers directly in their hands for starters.
Mark Andrews:— Kyle Phoenix (@KylePBarber) October 8, 2023
"It just felt like at times toom any things going wrong. It's almost like a sleeping giant. We need to wake up."
Justice Hill is an underutilized weapon
The fifth-year veteran has been the Ravens’ most explosive ball carrier outside of Jackson through the first five weeks of the season as he looks like a perfect and natural fit for new Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken’s scheme. Prior to his deflating fumble, Hill was off to a sensational start to the game with the way he ran and caught the ball, as well as made defenders miss in space.
Four of Hill’s first five touches before his untimely turnover either went for a first down or found the end zone. Even though he out-snapped Gus Edwards 39-30, he still got the ball one fewer time than the sixth-year veteran—12 carries to 11 total touches—despite being on the field more as the preferred pass-protecting back. He finished with 45 yards from scrimmage and had a run and a reception of over 10 yards including his 14-yard touchdown where he exploded through a hole and went untouched across the goal line.
The former fourth-rounder in 2019 has bided his time in the Ravens backfield behind some very talented players at his position including three-time Pro Bowler Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins when he has been healthy. Hill deserves to be more than just a nice change-of-pace complement to the rugged-running Edwards. He is an explosive playmaker who not only runs hard with underrated power but has the speed to get to the edge and the elusiveness to make big plays in space, as he showed on the 55-yard catch and run in Week 4 that was negated because of a penalty on an offensive linemen.
Justice Hill dogging this man in open space pic.twitter.com/ps7mfwzSAQ— JetPack Galileo (@JetPackGalileo) October 7, 2023
It remains to be seen what the backfield snap and touch distribution will look like once undrafted rookie Keaton Mitchell is activated from injured reserve. Edwards will still have a significant role regardless, especially as a physical tone-setter, short-yardage, and closing runner. Nevertheless, Hill isn’t being maximized in the way he could be and deserves to be featured more as long as he can hold onto the ball.
Arthur Maulet deserves more snaps on defense
The seven-year veteran played exceptionally well in reduced playing time on Sunday. He did everything he could within his power, on both defense and special teams, to try to help the Ravens beat his former team. Maulet sacked his former quarterback on a well-timed nickel blitz off the edge to push the Steelers out of field goal range in the second quarter.
Maulet finished with a solo tackle for a loss, a quarterback hit, and a pair of pass breakups, including one that came on a third down and forced a punt. He made a profound impact on the game despite only playing 35 percent of the Ravens total defensive snaps with just 23, which was 21 fewer than he played in Week 4.
The return of veteran free safety Marcus Williams to the lineup and the blossoming of Geno Stone as a consistent playmaker from his safety spot frees up second-year pro Kyle Hamilton to play more of the hybrid nickel role that has made him a rising star. However, Maulet’s elevated level of play should earn him more playing time moving forward even if that means not running three-safety looks nearly as often, depending on the matchup in a given week.
AFC North remains the Ravens to lose
As atrocious as Sunday’s epic collapse was, one thing that remains clear despite the defeat is that the Ravens are still by far the best team in the division. If one of Jackson’s pass catchers had come down with just one of those touchdown passes that hit them in the hands prior to the fourth quarter, they would most likely be sitting pretty at 4-1 right now.
The Steelers can not in good conscience, honestly believe that they could beat the Ravens 9-out-of-10 times playing as poorly as they did on both sides of the ball for the vast majority of that game in Week 5. The Cleveland Browns were on a bye this past week and still have their starting quarterback dealing with a shoulder injury. The Cincinnati Bengals finally managed to score over 30 points and look like a respectable offense for the first time this season but it also came against the feisty yet underwhelming Arizona Cardinals who have won just one game this season.
Although the Ravens weren’t able to sweep all three of their divisional opponents on the road in the first half of the season, going 2-1 is still solid. It also means that all three of them will have to come to Baltimore in the back half of the year when John Harbaugh-led teams are known for hitting their stride and possibly even catching fire down the stretch. It’s only fitting that their regular season finale will be at home against the Steelers, which will be a perfect opponent to notch a vindicating win over before heading into the playoffs on a high note.