ReFo: Ravens @ Steelers, Wild Card Round
Playoff football returned to Pittsburgh after a four year wait last night. This was not a happy return as the Baltimore Ravens rode into town and smothered a Steelers team deprived of one of their key offensive cogs. In the absence of Le’Veon Bell Pittsburgh’s running backs averaged only 2.7 yards per carry and failed to force a single missed tackle on the ground leaving the Steelers’ offense one dimensional and unable to exploit the Ravens’ corners.
On the other side of the ball the Steelers again were unable to make the necessary plays against a depleted Ravens’ offensive line to make their homefield advantage count. Joe Flacco was able to withstand the rush to make the necessary plays with Steve Smith making decisive plays to spark a victory in his playoff debut for Baltimore.
The Ravens are on to New England for a fourth playoff visit in six seasons while the Steelers head home wondering what might have been with a healthy Le’Veon Bell in the lineup.
Baltimore Ravens – Performances of Note
Steve Smith, WR, +2.6
Breakdown: The third in a string of shrewd veteran acquisitions at wide receiver for Ozzie Newsome. Smith came up big keeping the Ravens’ passing game ticking over along with Owen Daniels making plays down the field and making defenders miss for a trio of first downs including the Ravens’ two longest plays of the game.
Signature Play: Smith may not have put the ball in the endzone but at Q3 10:53 did make a difference to the scoring by evading Vince Williams on third-and-20 to put the Ravens into field goal range with a 14-yard gain.
Haloti Ngata, DE, +3.8
Breakdown: The Ravens pass rush has been driven by the trio of Pernell McPhee, Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil all season. The return of Ngata last night from a four game suspension brought some physicality back to the inside rush. Collecting four hurries and a batted pass Ngata used a blend of agility and power collecting two of his hurries in straight one-on-one matchups while collecting another two on stunts that the Steelers’ struggled to pick him up on.
Signature Play: Collected his final pressure and his batted pass on the same play, driving through David DeCastro’s outside shoulder at Q4 1:09 to get in Ben Roethlisberger’s face to break up the third down pass.
Brandon Williams, NT, +3.2
Breakdown: Last year’s third round pick has in some senses provided the Ravens an upgrade at two positions this season and put in another strong display last night limiting the Bell-less Steelers’ ground attack. Providing a stout and active run defender at the nose tackle position Williams has allowed Ngata to return to a defensive end spot ensuring that, in spite of his suspension, the Ravens did not notice the departure of Arthur Jones.
Signature Stat: Williams had three stops in run defense last night adding to the 29 he had in the regular season, a mark bettered by only Bennie Logan (33) and Damon Harrison (31).
Pittsburgh Steelers – Performances of Note
James Harrison, OLB, +5.5
Breakdown: Harrison certainly showed last night that the Ravens’ weakness at left tackle in the absence of Eugene Monroe remains but he failed to take full advantage of it for the Steelers in spite of picking up seven hurries. Harrison had James Hurst on his heels all night with four of his five pressures against Hurst coming via bullrush but he couldn’t disengage to make the big plays against Flacco that he has in the past
Signature Stat: After missing the Steelers’ Week 2 visit to Baltimore Harrison racked up 13 pressures (2 Sk, 4 Ht, 7 Hu) in the Steelers’ two home games against the Ravens this season.
Antonio Brown, WR, +0.3
Breakdown: One big play didn’t prove to be enough for Brown and the Steelers last night, coming up just shy of the endzone on his 44-yard gain Brown setup Martavis Bryant’s score but was unable to replicate that to draw the Steelers back into the game. Brown’s work after the catch was a key factor in the Steelers’ Week 9 win but the Ravens did a much better job of limiting in terms of yards after the catch (2.9 per reception) and missed tackles (one) than in the mid-season defeat (8.5 and five).
Signature Stat: In only four games this season did Brown gain fewer yards after the catch per reception than the 2.9 he gained last night.
Steve McLendon, NT, +1.0 & Daniel McCullers, NT, +1.8
Breakdown: Though facing off with one of the Ravens remaining starters on the offensive line the Steelers’ nose tackle pairing had the measure of Jeremy Zuttah in the ground game. Zuttah struggled in both visits to Pittsburgh this season (-6.1 in Week 9) and was overpowered last night, driven back by both Steelers’ nose tackles to disrupt Justin Forsett and at times to trip Joe Flacco while he was working his way back for the handoff.
Signature Play: It was McLendon who disrupted the handoffs each time, first of all at Q1 8:27, taking Zuttah back to trip Flacco before the handoff then at Q3 14:52 Flacco was able to get the handoff away in spite of the trip but the play still resulted in a four yard loss.
PFF Game Ball
Whether it was a matter of rest or determination to make amends for his suspension Haloti Ngata came up with a big performance last night leading a Baltimore defense that stifled the Steelers at every level of the field.
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