ReFo: Ravens @ Steelers, Week 11
Pittsburgh and Baltimore always throw up some interesting games, and usually strong defensive performances, but this particular low-scoring affair owed more to the quarterbacks on display than to the level of play of the defenses.
To Byron Leftwich’s credit, at least he had the excuse of a couple of broken ribs for most of the game. Joe Flacco on the other side just couldn’t find a rhythm (or a receiver for most of the game). In the end, the game finished 13-10, the same score as it entered the fourth quarter, with the Ravens taking control of the AFC North once more.
The Steelers are left to regroup with a likely start coming from third quarterback Charlie Batch next week thanks to Leftwich’s rib injury. But what else can we take from a game like this? Let’s have a look.
Baltimore – Three Performances of Note
Elite Quarterbacks Do Not Have These Games
If Joe Flacco wants to be seen as an elite quarterback in this league then he can’t have outings like this. The Steelers played pretty well on defense, but Flacco was missing receivers all night long on routine passes that simply have to be completed at this level. He finished the game with a -4.0 grade and just 164 passing yards. Only one of his incompletions can be chalked up to a drop. The worst part of his performances was how inept he was in a completely clean pocket. On plays where he felt no pressure he threw for just 4.5 yards per attempt and had a passer rating of only 72.1. The bottom line is this is an unacceptable performance for an NFL starting quarterback, and he was lucky the Ravens were able to escape with a win. If he wants to make good on that claim of elite play, he needs to kick it into high gear.
Nightmare on Elm St.
The Steelers surrendered a reasonable amount of pressure, and the worst source was on the right side of their line where rookie right tackle Mike Adams simply couldn’t block Paul Kruger, who had a pair of sacks, three hits and five additional hurries from his 29 pass rushes. Despite a couple of missed tackles in the run game that hurt his grade, Kruger still finished with a +5.1 overall mark for his day’s work. Cris Collinsworth drew attention to the source of Kruger’s success during the game — an outstanding display of hand use during his rush. He was able to consistently beat Adams on contact by swatting the big tackle’s hands to the side and turning the corner against a bigger player whose leverage had been destroyed by one quick bit of hand fighting. You hear a lot about pass rushers needing to use their hands during their rushes. Watch this game from Kruger for a master class.
Stand-ins Holding Up in Coverage
Baltimore’s once feared defense is down to the bare bones in places, but some of the stand-in players are actually playing pretty well. Corey Graham (+2.3) is essentially a special teams stud who has some experience as a sub-package player on defense, but he started this game and missed just one snap. He was thrown at 10 times by the Steelers, who were looking to test a player that wouldn’t ordinarily be playing, and he allowed just four receptions while picking a pass off and deflecting away two others — including one that saved a touchdown. Graham wasn’t alone in standing up to be counted, but he was the most impressive. Chris Johnson also did well from just seven snaps, and James Ihedigbo earned a sack and big hit on Leftwich from just three rushes.
Pittsburgh – Three Performances of Note
As if we didn’t know it from that famous Marshall game where Leftwich completed a comeback on a broken leg, needing to be carried downfield by his linemen to get to the snap, we were reminded in this game that he is one tough customer. He injured himself early on an uncharacteristic, but impressive touchdown scramble, but then fractured two ribs before playing the rest of the game in obvious pain.
Leftwich’s grade was clearly affected by the injuries, as he was just unable to get the necessarily velocity on his throws, under-throwing his intended receivers several times — none more dramatically, or critically, than on the final drive where he had a chance to hit a wide-open receiver deep once he broke away from the pocket only for the ball to bounce 5 yards short of his target. Ironically enough, his best throw came on that drive too but safety Bernard Pollard knocked the ball loose. This was far from a good performance from Leftwich, but you have to respect the toughness because he took some big hits during the game with a pair of fractured ribs.
The Steelers’ corners did a very good job, especially taking away the Ravens’ deep threats. Torrey Smith often found himself bracket covered with a man over the top and underneath, and, consequently, of the six targets thrown at Ike Taylor only one was complete for just 5 yards. Perhaps the bigger surprise was the play of Keenan Lewis on the other side. With Taylor taking the deep threat, Lewis drew Anquan Boldin for most of the game, and didn’t perform badly. He was thrown at 12 times overall and, though he gave up eight receptions they totaled 62 yards with just nine of those coming after the catch. He also notched himself a pass defense and was in good position most of the game.
Make the Switch
With Ziggy Hood a continual disappointment as a starter for the Steelers along their defensive line, he left this game injured after just a dozen snaps, opening the door for Cameron Heyward to show what he could do. Hood had actually made a couple of plays in the run game before he went out, but they both came from being blocked to the ground around the point of attack and simply clogging up the intended running lane. It was certainly an interesting tactic, and given his play in the past, might be his best bet to make an impact.
Heyward showed after he came in that it simply is not the scheme that is holding Hood back, because in the same position and role he made far more of a presence of himself. Heyward made five tackles, which is more than half of the total that Hood has for the entire season and the story is the same when it comes to pass-rushing, with a hit and two hurries exactly half of the total pressure Hood has at this point in the year. Pittsburgh has just been given the tape that justifies a switch at the position. Let’s see if they notice.
– Despite playing with a pair of broken thumbs and casts on both hands, Dannell Ellerbe made 11 tackles to lead the team and missed just one.
– Running backs from both teams combined to force two missed tackles. Byron Leftwich, known as a statue of a quarterback, forced one.
– With a game of punting, the two punters combined to punt for 729 yards.
PFF Game Ball
He may not be the most athletically gifted pass-rusher in the NFL, but Paul Kruger made up for it with a master class in technique and hand placement to rattle the Steelers all day.
Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam