The Ravens started the day without quarterback Lamar Jackson and finished it without backup Tyler Huntley, but earned their most important victory of the season thanks to outstanding performance from their offensive line and running backs. Nothing will be easy for the foreseeable future, but they prove they can win hard.
Here are five things we learned from Sunday’s 16-14 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The win, the Ravens’ biggest to date, revealed a team that won’t go easy.
Was there a less cheerful 8-4 team fan base last week? With the Ravens’ offense on life support and franchise quarterback Lamar Jackson temporarily out of the picture, we wondered if they were ready for a tailspin like the one we saw around this time. last year. Would it start with another close defeat against their black and gold antagonists? How many of us would have picked the Ravens if we knew third-string quarterback Anthony Brown would have to drive them home on a gray afternoon in Pittsburgh?
They did not respond to these doubts with a no fault. Never. They missed too many tackles in the second half. Two of their best defensemen in recent weeks, cornerback Marlon Humphrey and safety Kyle Hamilton, lost cover as the Steelers scored a fourth-quarter touchdown in just 49 seconds. They completed 11 passes for 104 yards that day and converted just four of 13 third downs.
What should they do to transcend these shortcomings? Take the ball off Steelers quarterback Mitch Trubisky and kick it in the gut when the Pittsburgh defense knew exactly what was coming. And they did, battling to win a typically fierce Ravens-Steelers showdown with three interceptions and 215 rushing yards.
Those failures on the third try? Well, the game came down to just such a play, with the Ravens up front by two and needing three yards to earn themselves a series of knees in victory formation. Each of Pittsburgh’s 11 defensemen knew another run was coming. But Greg Roman called one of his bread-and-butter games, with Brown faking transfer wide receiver Devin Duvernay and Gus Edwards advancing behind a block from left guard Ben Powers. Six brutal yards later, they had the game.
It was a day to celebrate offensive linemen and freshly activated stars JK Dobbins and Marcus Williams. With 120 yards on 15 carries, Dobbins gave the offense just enough kick to survive Jackson’s absence. Williams, meanwhile, lined up like Willie Mays to knock out Trubisky in the third quarter, ignoring the sling he wore over the wrist he dislocated in Week 5. The tough runs and the flats takeaways were the formula, and Dobbins and Williams stirred the Ravens’ cauldron.
It seems odd, in a way, to say the Ravens have won six of their last seven because they struggle for every good moment, but the moment of this one was so important. What if Brown has to start Saturday in Cleveland because Jackson is still recovering and Tyler Huntley remains on concussion protocol after being shot in the head? Well, that possibility would have seemed dire had they lost in Pittsburgh. Instead, they built themselves a small cushion.
“I think it’s going to make us a better team, going through this adversity, just having to lock ourselves in, focus on our job and come together as a team,” tight end Mark Andrews said. “That’s what we did today.”
JK Dobbins reminded us that you don’t have to be a wide receiver to be a threat to big players.
We spend so much time wondering if the Ravens have done enough to build a passing game around Jackson that we sometimes forget they’ve been without one of their best game-breakers for most of the last two. seasons.
Dobbins worked like a maniac to come back from a terrible knee injury as soon as he could, but four games early in the season told him his body hadn’t made enough progress. So he opted for a second surgery to remove the scar tissue from the damaged knee.
The common sense of that move became evident Sunday when Dobbins exploded down the middle for a 44-yard gain in the first quarter and immediately followed by powering through contact for a 4-yard touchdown. We haven’t seen Ravens running backs turn simple plays into explosive wins in recent weeks, so Dobbins’ burst gave their comatose offense an immediate jolt. He also has the best nose for the goal line among the team’s backs.
Maybe if he was 100 percent he would have sped away from the defense to complete that 44-yard run in the end zone. “I’m still not in the shape I need because I never would have gotten caught,” Dobbins said afterward in a perfectionist quibble. But this revolutionary flash was not his last essential moment of the afternoon. He racked up 64 extra yards on 10 carries, including 29 in the fourth quarter that gave the Ravens their final three points.
We frequently lament the Ravens’ lack of home run threat. It’s a weakness when you compare them to other top teams. But Roman’s attack is designed to produce explosive plays in the racing game, and when we consider Dobbins and Edwards improving and being bettered by Jackson, the prospect of a higher-octane attack doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
The Ravens couldn’t have done better than Roquan Smith at the trade deadline.
Again, we tend to see so much Ravens activity through the lens of what they haven’t done to pump up their offense. Why couldn’t GM Eric DeCosta use his draft capital to pick another target for Jackson when he knew there was a good chance No. 1 wide receiver Rashod Bateman would be finished for the season? Instead, DeCosta decided that no offensive player he could acquire would boost the Ravens’ Super Bowl chances as much as a proven center linebacker from the Chicago Bears.
The ultimate reward for his pick remains to be seen, but man, it’s looking good right now, with Smith giving a talented defense that little extra something almost every week. The Ravens have scored a total of 39 points in their last three wins. As we saw in Jacksonville, they have almost no room for error when their defense falters. Smith has kept them on the right side of that margin for the past two weeks.
He was the best defensive player on the field in the Ravens’ win over Denver. In his first glimpse of the Ravens-Steelers fight, he knocked Pittsburgh starting quarterback Kenny Pickett out of the game with a cleanup bag (helped by initial pressure from Patrick Queen), got in front of the tight end Pat Freiermuth for a red-zone interception and helped limit a trio of Steelers running backs to 48 yards on 17 carries. He and Queen (who tied Smith with six tackles and an interception) continue to thrive as partners.
We saw the arrival of cornerback Marcus Peters lift the Ravens’ defense as they enjoyed their epic 12-game winning streak in 2019. This team doesn’t take off like that, but Smith’s impact is everything. as deep, maybe more. the lack of corresponding offensive firepower. The Ravens will have to make a tough budget decision when he asks for a top-notch contract after the season, but he’s earned that level of reward.
The offensive line won a game ball on a day defined by brutality, not deception.
Once Huntley left, the Steelers knew the Ravens could only put the game away by running the ball. There would be no turns, only trampling one way or the other. Under those conditions, the Ravens, playing without stout right guard Kevin Zeitler, rushed for 57 yards on 13 plays and ate nearly eight minutes of the fourth quarter. Then they won the match with that third try from Edwards just before the two-minute warning.
“It’s just a testament to the offensive line,” Dobbins said. “The offensive line was blocking so well, and I can only go up to them.”
“We weren’t really looking for quarterback-oriented stuff,” coach John Harbaugh said. “It was an old-school racing game. Our offensive line, tight ends, back Pat Ricard [and] the ball carriers did a great job.
Powers was the most obvious blocking hero of Edwards’ run, but there were others throughout the day. Trystan Colon, starting guard for the first time in his NFL career, and Ben Cleveland, playing his first offensive snaps of the season, replaced Zeitler. And we can’t forget left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who missed the last two games with an ankle injury but lifted the whole unit as soon as he fell back down the field against the best defenders in the game. Pittsburgh.
“Ronnie just… when you have him there, you remember what level of player he is,” Harbaugh said. “He does everything; he passes the protection, he does it in the running game by getting off the ball, he does it by shooting. You’ll probably notice it too. He had a number of times where he stopped there. Right at the end, he pulled himself out there on those last two plays.
If the Ravens come out on the other side of this tense period as a legitimate contender, Stanley will be one of the main reasons why.
The Ravens collected points thanks to a few opportunistic moments in the first half.
We don’t always know which plays are going to weigh heavily in a close game.
Harbaugh took a smart risk early on, rushing fourth-and-first from the Ravens’ 34-yard line to extend a drive that resulted in a field goal. When fans criticize him for his late fourth down, it’s the quieter wins they forget. Three runs, allowed by a 2-yard Huntley sneak, didn’t seem much needed when the score went 10-7 before the end of the first quarter. But the Ravens wouldn’t have held on without the early field goal.
In the second quarter, wide receiver DeSean Jackson showed an impressive feel as he drifted into open space to give Huntley a target as he rolled left on third-and-seventh. Instead of delivering the ball directly to Trubisky, the Ravens pushed deep into Pittsburgh territory, ate another three minutes from the clock and added three points to their lead. At 36, Jackson won’t impact every shot, but if he gives the Ravens such a game, he’s worth showing up for.
Huntley overlooked a wide-open Andrews heading into the end zone later on the same drive. He also lost the ball on a fourth down in Pittsburgh territory when it hit Cleveland. The Ravens therefore missed crucial opportunities. But those two first-half conversions took on outsized significance as the scoreline dried up for both sides.
Ravens at Browns
Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
TV: chs. 11, 4, NFL Network
Radio: 97.9FM, 101.5FM, 1090AM
Line: Browned by 2 1/2