The Baltimore Ravens suffered their second setback of the last three weeks in a sloppy road loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 5. On a day where the defense played lights out on all but one drive, some uncharacteristic but familiar mistakes by the offense led to their ultimate demise at the hands of their AFC North rivals.
Here are some of the top takeaways from the Ravens’ Week 5 defeat in which players in all three phases had inconsistent performances.
Revamped pass catching corps let their quarterback down
The Ravens devoted a lot of resources to overhauling their wide receiver depth chart this offseason. Through the first four weeks of the season, the ones that have been on the field were reliable and helped the offense thrive with explosive plays. On Sunday against the Steelers, Lamar Jackson would’ve had another career day had it not been for the litany of costly drops by several of his most trusted pass catchers.
Full Ravens drop compilation:— #BrohmSquad (@CardsAndRavens) October 8, 2023
If you blame Lamar for the loss just admit that you’re hoping for him to fail. pic.twitter.com/6JfR5lpq6G
First-round rookie standout Zay Flowers made some impressive plays but just as many bad drive-killing drops throughout the game that would’ve gone for first downs. He also fell down on a play that could’ve resulted in his first career touchdown. Third-year wideout Rashod Bateman and three-time Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews dropped touchdowns on back-to-back plays on the Ravens’ third drive of the game. That would’ve put them up 14-0 early in the second quarter.
Veteran Nelson Agholor had a brutal drop on one of Jackson’s best throws, where he delivered a perfectly placed ball right in his hands on what would’ve been a walk-in touchdown. This play, late in the third quarter, would’ve given the Ravens what seemed like an insurmountable 17-3 lead. Instead, Jackson was sacked on the next play, knocking the team out of Justin Tucker’s field goal range and their lead stayed at just one possession.
Ball security and untimely turnovers killed momentum . . . again
As was the case in Week 3 when they suffered their first loss of the season at the hands of the Indianapolis Colts, the Ravens’ offense was moving the ball at will early in the game. They held all the momentum until disaster struck in the form of a fumble by running back on an explosive passing play.
Two weeks ago it was veteran Kenyan Drake on the unit’s second drive of the game, which began the downward spiral of ultimately an upset loss in overtime. This time around it was veteran running back Justice Hill who was off to an incredibly hot start to the game. He had the ball punched out of his grasp after he had picked up 10 yards on a screen pass to move the ball near midfield.
Instead of extending what looked destined to be a third straight scoring drive, the untimely turnover gave the Steelers’ struggling offense their best field position of the game at that point. They would turn it into a 43-yard Chris Boswell field goal seven plays later for their first points of the day.
Jackson had a pair of costly turnovers late in the game that ultimately sealed the Ravens’ demise on back-to-back drives in the fourth quarter. The first was an interception in the end zone, which squandered yet another golden opportunity to put the game away. It came following the punt coverage unit coming up with a clutch fumble recovery that advanced the ball inside the Steelers’ 10-yard line. The second was on a strip sack by Steelers’ outside linebacker Alex Highsmith that he didn’t see coming from his blindside because All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley got beat around the edge.
The interception occurred on his only bad throw of the game, as he threw it too far inside on a pass intended for three-time Pro Bowl wideout Odell Beckham Jr. After holding up exceptionally well for the majority of the afternoon, the Ravens’ pass protection began to spring at the worst possible time with the game on the line. Those lapses paved the way for the Steelers to eke out an ugly win in a game they had no business being competitive in.
Defense did more than enough to win
The unit with the most to be frustrated about the inconsistency on offense is their defensive cohorts. The defense played lights out for all but two drives in the fourth quarter but they dominated enough that the Ravens had numerous opportunities to put this game away well before then.
Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald’s unit was as close to full strength as it’s been since the season opener. They forced six punts and recorded three sacks, four quarterback hits, five pass deflections, and four tackles for loss.
They didn’t give up their first touchdown in 10 quarters until there was just over a minute remaining in the game. Even that was a result of a bad gamble on their part and a perfectly executed answer to the cover zero pressure they sent on the play.
After the game, defensive captain and All-Pro inside linebacker Roquan Smith didn’t want to absolve himself or any members of the defense from the part they played in their defeat. However, his unit couldn’t have played much better outside of a handful of plays.
Unfortunately, a few leaks can sink an entire ship when half the crew isn’t pulling their weight and executing their duties. That was the case for the offense outside of Jackson on Sunday.
"We didn't do enough to get the job done." pic.twitter.com/eIFGNM4ViL— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) October 8, 2023
“We didn’t do enough to get the job done, and that’s how I look at it, and I’m sure that’s how the other defensive guys look at it at the end of the day, and that’s all we can do,” Smith said. “We just have to learn and get better from it.”
Ravens owned and will learn from costly mistakes
As gut-wrenching and almost as unfathomable as this loss is for the team, the most valuable learning experiences often occur as a result of such epic letdowns. Following the game, Jackson didn’t throw his receivers under the bus although he had every right to. He took responsibility for the part he played in the defeat, expressed his unwavering confidence in his pass catchers, and vowed to be better.
“We don’t expect our guys to drop passes,” Jackson said. “It happens in NFL football. It just happened at the wrong time. But we’re going to get better and go to practice and go to work.
One of the most head-scratching blunders, which prevented the Ravens from going up by double figures at halftime, was the fourth-and-short play late in the second quarter. It resulted in a turnover on downs instead of an automatic field goal attempt for Justin Tucker from under 50 yards. Jackson threw a ball incomplete in the direction of Flowers.
I guess Tyler Linderbaum thought Kwon Alexander (54) jumped here. But it's not really that close. pic.twitter.com/RWo7ek6V4a— Jonas Shaffer (@jonas_shaffer) October 8, 2023
After the game, second-year center Tyler Linderbaum admitted that the fault was his and that the ball never should’ve been snapped.
#Ravens C Tyler Linderbaum on the miscommunication at the end of 1st half: “Really it’s on me just understanding the situation and making sure that he gets across the ball before I snap it. That’s my fault not being aware and putting our team in a bad situation.” pic.twitter.com/MNNTv9xWS2— Jamison Hensley (@jamisonhensley) October 8, 2023
“Really it’s on me just understanding the situation and making sure that he gets across the ball before I snap it,” Linderbaum said. “That’s my fault not being aware and putting our team in a bad situation.”
Head Coach John Harbaugh concurred that the actual plan was to trot Tucker out for the short attempt but said that there as a “miscommunication – [in the] heat of battle.”
”We were planning on kicking the field goal there,” Harbaugh said. “The idea was to run the clock down and not leave them time to come the other way and then just call a timeout and kick the field goal... They jumped the neutral zone, and guys thought they were in the neutral zone and went ahead and snapped it.”
Ball security remains a nagging issue for all of the offensive skill positions and if the Ravens are going to make it as far as they envision they can go. Learning from debilitating mistakes will make players and coaches alike more prepared to overcome future adversity. Hopefully it will prevent similar mistakes from costing the team dearly moving forward.
"It's a long season... This game sucks at the end of the day, but we have to look at it as a learning experience." pic.twitter.com/amx8aiYlKZ— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) October 8, 2023
“This game, it sucks at the end of the day, [but] we just have to look at it as a learning experience,” Smith said. “[We have to] take the positives from it and build off the negatives, and that’s all we can do in this game.