It was ugly—and never pretty.
The Ravens lost to their arch rival last Sunday night and discovered this week that cornerback Jimmy Smith is lost for the season. Yet, they still have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs if they can hold serve at home and win one or two games on the road. The final home game against the much-improved Browns could be a big one.
The Ravens started fast with a touchdown that reminded fans of the 2011 Joe Flacco-to-Torrey Smith strike that beat Pittsburgh in the waning moments. In the first quarter, we controlled the line of scrimmage and dominated the Steelers. Early in the second, rookie running back Lorenzo Taliaferro fumbled the ball and this turnover ignited the Steelers. The Ravens never recovered.
Ben Roethlisberger torched a depleted secondary for six touchdowns. Whenever he had time to throw, he came up with either a big gain or a touchdown. The Ravens sacked him on three successive plays but the Steelers adjusted and we never got to him again.
The Ravens offensive line didn’t fare as well. Sacked four times, Joe Flacco was pursued by his old nemesis James Harrison who dropped him twice and got inside his head. Flacco is a player who relies on rhythm and comfort level and he looked rattled from the second quarter on. Joe shriveled up–he seemed small and indecisive out there. After the Steelers tied the game at 7, he threw an interception to Jason Worilds. There were open receivers on the play—but Joe had no time to get the ball there. He spent most of the night running for his life.
Our defense, exhibiting conduct reminiscent of the Billick years, became unhinged and lost their cool. You think back to comments made last year about leadership in the locker room and it makes you wonder about a vacuum. Listening to Ed Reed this week on “Inside the NFL,” whose commentary is better than anyone’s in the room, suggested that there is no one in the secondary committed to putting in the extra time studying looks and tendencies.
The Ravens are pretty much what you would expect two years removed from a Super Bowl victory. They only have 8 players remaining from that squad. They got off to a fast start at 5-2 but the early match-ups with the Bengals and the Steelers found them trying to find themselves.
The watered down, flag-frenzied 2014 NFL is schizophrenic from week to week and we will see improvement and consistency from the Ravens before years’ end. This is one of Harbaugh’s strengths. He will put in the time to get the most out of his players.