Five things we learned from the Ravens’ 16-14 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers – The Denver Post


The Ravens started the day without quarterback Lamar Jackson and ended it without backup Tyler Huntley but picked up their most important victory of the season thanks to tremendous performances from their offensive line and running backs. Nothing will be easy for the foreseeable future, but they’re proving they can win tough.

Here are five things we learned from Sunday’s 16-14 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

This win, the Ravens’ most important to date, revealed a team that won’t fade away gently.

Was any fan base of an 8-4 team in a worse mood last week? With the Ravens’ offense on life support and franchise quarterback Lamar Jackson temporarily out of the picture, we wondered if they were poised for a free fall akin to the one we witnessed at this time last year. Would it begin with another close loss to 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 take them home on a gray afternoon in Pittsburgh?

They did not answer these doubts with a flawless performance. Not by any means. They missed too many tackles in the second half. Two of their best defenders from recent weeks, cornerback Marlon Humphrey and safety Kyle Hamilton, lapsed in coverage as the Steelers drove for a fourth-quarter touchdown in a mere 49 seconds. They completed 11 passes for 104 yards on the day and converted on just four of 13 third downs.

What did they have to do to transcend these shortcomings? Take the ball away against Steelers backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky and run it up the gut when the Pittsburgh defense knew exactly what was coming. And so they did, wrestling victory from a typically ferocious Ravens-Steelers showdown with three interceptions and 215 rushing yards.

Those failings on third down? Well, the game came down to such a play, with the Ravens ahead by two and needing three yards to earn themselves a set of victory-formation kneel-downs. Every one of Pittsburgh’s 11 defenders knew another run was coming. But Greg Roman called one of his bread-and-butter plays, with Brown faking the handoff to sweeping wide receiver Devin Duvernay and Gus Edwards plowing forward 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 J.K. Dobbins and Marcus Williams. With 120 yards on 15 carries, Dobbins gave the offense just enough kick to survive Jackson’s absence. Williams, meanwhile, ranged like Willie Mays to pick off Trubisky in the third quarter, ignoring the wrap he wore over the wrist he dislocated in Week 5. Tough runs and takeaways were the formula, and Dobbins and Williams stirred the Ravens’ caldron.

It feels odd, somehow, to say the Ravens have won six of their last seven, because they’re struggling for every good moment, but the timing of this one was oh-so-important. What if Brown has to start Saturday in Cleveland because Jackson is still recuperating and Tyler Huntley remains in concussion protocol after he took a gnarly shot to the head? Well, that possibility would have sounded dire if they had lost in Pittsburgh. Instead, they built themselves a little cushion.

“I think this is going to make us a better team, going through that adversity, just having to lock in, focus on your job and come together as a team,” tight end Mark Andrews said. “That’s what we did today.”

J.K. Dobbins reminded us that you don’t have to be a wide receiver to be a big-play threat.

We spend so much time wondering whether the Ravens have done enough to build a passing game around Jackson that we sometimes forget they have been without one of their top game-breakers for most of the last two seasons.

Dobbins worked like a maniac to return from a terrible knee injury as soon as he could, but four games early this season told him his body had not made enough progress. So he chose a second surgery to have scar tissue removed from the damaged knee.

The good sense in that decision became evident Sunday when Dobbins exploded up the middle for a 44-yard gain in the first quarter and immediately followed up by powering through contact for a 4-yard touchdown. We have not seen Ravens running backs turn simple plays into explosive gains in recent weeks, so Dobbins’ burst gave an immediate jolt to their comatose offense. He also has the best nose for the goal line among the team’s backs.

Perhaps if he was 100%, he would have accelerated away from the defense to finish that 44-yard carry in the end zone. “I’m still not in shape that I need to be in, because I would have never gotten caught,” Dobbins said afterward in a perfectionist’s quibble. But that breakthrough flash was hardly his last essential moment of the afternoon. He churned for another 64 yards on 10 carries, including 29 on the fourth-quarter drive that gave the Ravens their last three points.

We frequently bemoan the Ravens’ lack of a home-run receiving threat. It’s a weakness when we compare them to other top teams. But Roman’s offense is designed to produce explosive plays in the running game, and when we envision Dobbins and Edwards enhancing and being enhanced by Jackson, the prospect of a higher-octane attack does not seem so far-fetched.

The Ravens could not have done better than Roquan Smith at the trade deadline.

Again, we tend to view so much Ravens activity through the lens of what they have not done to pump up their offense. Why couldn’t general manager Eric DeCosta use his draft capital to pick up another target for Jackson when he knew there was a good chance No. 1 wide receiver Rashod Bateman was done for the season? Instead, DeCosta decided no offensive player he could acquire would lift the Ravens’ Super Bowl chances as much as a proven middle linebacker from the Chicago Bears.

The ultimate payoff for his choice remains to be seen, but man, it’s looking good right now, with Smith giving a talented defense that extra something almost every week. The Ravens have scored a total of 39 points over their last three wins. As we saw in Jacksonville, they have almost no margin for error when their defense falters. Smith has kept them on the right side of that margin the last two weeks.

He was the best defensive player on the field in the Ravens’ win over Denver. In his first taste of Ravens-Steelers combat, he knocked Pittsburgh starting quarterback Kenny Pickett from the game with a cleanup sack (facilitated by Patrick Queen’s initial pressure), stepped in front of 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 matched Smith with six tackles and an interception) continue to thrive as partners.

We saw the arrival of cornerback Marcus Peters lift the Ravens’ defense when they went on their epic 12-game winning streak in 2019. This team is not taking off like that one did, but Smith’s impact is just as profound, perhaps more so given the lack of corresponding offensive firepower. The Ravens will have to make a difficult budget decision when he asks for a top-of-the-market contract after the season, but he has earned that level of reward.

The offensive line earned a game ball on a day defined by brutality, not deception.

Once Huntley departed, the Steelers knew the Ravens could only put the game away by running the ball. There would be no tricks, only trampling by one side or the other. Under these conditions, the Ravens, playing without stalwart right guard Kevin Zeitler, moved 57 yards over 13 plays and ate up almost eight minutes of the fourth quarter. Then, they clinched the game with that Edwards third-down carry just before the two-minute warning.

“That’s just a testament to the offensive line,” Dobbins said. “The offensive line was blocking so good, and I can only go as far as they go.”

“We weren’t really looking at quarterback-driven stuff,” coach John Harbaugh said. “That was an old-fashioned run game. Our offensive line, tight ends, fullback Pat Ricard [and] running backs did a great job.”

Powers was the most obvious blocking hero on Edwards’ run, but there were others throughout the day. Trystan Colon, starting at guard for the first time in his NFL career, and Ben Cleveland, playing his first offensive snaps of the season, stood in for Zeitler. And we can’t forget left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who missed the last two games with an ankle injury but lifted the entire unit as soon as he stepped back on the field against Pittsburgh’s top-notch edge defenders.

“Ronnie just … when you have him out there, you’re reminded of the level of player that he is,” Harbaugh said. “He does it all; he does pass protection, he does it in the run game coming off the ball, he does it pulling. You’ll probably notice that, too. He had a number of times he pulled around there. Right there at the end, he pulled around there on that last couple plays.”

If the Ravens come out the other side of this tense stretch as a legitimate contender, Stanley will be one of the leading reasons.

The Ravens banked points thanks to a few opportunistic moments in the first half.

We don’t always know which plays are going to loom large in a close game.

Harbaugh took a smart risk early, going for it on fourth-and-1 from the Ravens’ 34-yard line to extend a drive that resulted in a field goal. When fans criticize him for fourth-down tries late in games, these are the quieter payoffs they forget. Three points, afforded by a 2-yard Huntley sneak, did not seem essential when the score moved to 10-7 before the end of the first quarter. But the Ravens would not have held on without the early field goal.

In the second quarter, wide receiver DeSean Jackson showed impressive feel when he drifted into open space to give Huntley a target as he rolled left on third-and-7. Instead of handing the ball right back to Trubisky, the Ravens drove deep into Pittsburgh territory, ate up another three minutes of clock and added three points to their lead. At age 36, Jackson isn’t going to make an impact on every snap, but if he gives the Ravens one such play a game, he’s well worth having around.

Huntley overlooked a wide-open Andrews streaking toward the end zone later on the same drive. He also lost the ball on a fourth-down try in Pittsburgh territory when he ran into Cleveland. So the Ravens missed on crucial opportunities. But those two first-half conversions took on outsized importance as scoring dried up for both teams.

Week 15

Ravens at Browns

Saturday, 4:30 p.m.

TV: Chs. 11, 4, NFL Network

Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM

Line: Browns by 2 1/2



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