ReFo: Ravens @ Steelers, Week 11

While the scoreline suggests a typically dour defensive battle, Sam Monson explains this one was more about poor QB play.

| 5 years ago

While the scoreline suggests a typically dour defensive battle, Sam Monson explains this one was more about poor QB play.

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

Tough Cookie

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.

Shutdown Corners

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.

Game Notes

– 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

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN and NBCSports.

  • Evan

    I don’t have a huge problem with Flacco’s performance here. It seemed like the game plan was basically to not turn the ball over (no one knows better than Flacco what happens when you turn the ball over against the Steelers in Pittsburgh). Seemed like if he didn’t love the throw, he either put it somewhere safe (a little too safe at times maybe) or took the sack. I think you would have seen him do some things differently if Ben was playing and PIT was able to score 17-20.

    You’re right, not an elite performance, but I think it was fine. I wouldn’t call it unacceptable. He didn’t do much except get them in position to kick FGs and not turn it over. Sunday, that was enough to win.

  • Alex Bradley

    Can you guys stop with the absolutely relentless criticism of Flacco? Its getting tiring. Every single article you bring up his offseason “claim” of how he’s the best in the league, long after everyone else has dropped it. This is even more ridiculous when you consider that he was talking about the mentality you have to have to succeed in the league and was answering a direct question. What the fuck is he going to say? That he think’s he’s 9th best or 12th best or wherever the fuck someone has him ranked?

    As far as elite QB’s not having “these” games…Rivers is having 2 of “these” seasons. Eli’s got plenty of “these games.” Tom’s got a few, Matt Ryan just had one. I don’t know how many Peyton’s had over the past few years, but he’s Peyton fucking Manning. I don’t have coaches tape but I’d assume the receivers struggled with finding separation, especially with some of the calls I saw. 3rd and 2? 25 yard pass. 2nd and 7, lining up in the gun for an obvious HB draw. If I can call the plays in a bar after 4 or 5 drinks I’m damn sure Dick LeBeau can figure out what’s going on. Do you just not care about inept coaching? Execution only? What?

    • Harris

      Agreed. It’s pretty clear that for the last few seasons now, Cam Cameron has been hindering the offense’s success.

    • izach

      now while i agree QBs have bad games it usally goes with making plays too, flacco didnt, thats the point every body has bad plays some worse than others but they usually make up for those with good plays, flacco doesnt do that,(niether does phillip rivers and thats why he isnt elite either). also the coaching was fine, the steelrs shut down ray rice and thats the ravens whole offense because flacco isnt good enough to win games (punt returners are tho).

      • Alex Bradley

        Flacco’s not good enough to win games…

        except for the game winning drives he’s lead in his 2 previous regular season meetings at Heinz Field.

        The coaching was awful. I don’t know if you watched the same game as I did, but it was just as bad as just about every game. No, Flacco didn’t make a lot of plays he should have. I’m not defending his play for this game, I’m arguing that the amount of blame the author is claiming is on his shoulders is egregious. Rice was awful, even if he was undersused. Why isn’t he at fault? 2 WR sets for most of the game, even after the better of the two TEs left with concussions-like symptoms? 2 WRs to be doubled all game (as they even pointed out in the “shutdown corner” section). Ridiculously predictable run-run-pass playcalling.

        It wasn’t anything close to “fine.”

  • Gabe

    So you criticize Flacco for not making plays, then praise the Steelers CBs for shutting down the Ravens WRs. Cant have it both ways. It seems to me that the real culprit here is Cam Cameron for a lack of creative play-calling to get his receivers open.

    I dont think Flacvo played great, but he kept his team in it and didnt make costly mistskes like his counterpart.

    • izach

      the WRs were open flacco just couldnt hit, i saw a few times WRs open but bad ball thrown their way. i have no problem with flaccos proformance when the ravens score on D or have the run game, but they had no run game and with out that punt return for a TD, almost every ravens fan is mad at flacco for the loss instead they praise him for not turning it over.

  • Dude

    This hatred towards Flacco is unreal. Why continue to bring up his claims? He was talking about his mentality. I respect that, why would he say he is less than any other QB? He went from Elite-Garbage pile of crap within a week for you guys. Jesus.

    • izach

      if flacco said it, doesnt matter why he said it, he better back it up, dont see peyton or brees saying hey im the best, they just are, and even if they did say it you cant really argue against them, eli said he was elite and then proves it by winning his 2nd superbowl and out performing brady twice in the same season.

  • izach

    wow lots of ravens fans LMAO, there were almost 3 INTs in the first quarter alone, taylor lewis and clark or the other guy are not ball hawks and could not capitalize. thats probably why cameron dumbed down the offense in the 2nd half. flacco can be great with a run game and defense like he has had the every year but take away those things and try to win with just him and its hard, i mean flacco wasnt horrible and didnt turn it over but he didnt make the plays that he is supposed to make.

    • Alex Bradley

      So hard to win with him that the Ravens are 8-2, with one of the worst defenses in the league and Ray Rice going 5 straight games with less then 100 yards rushing, 3 of them having fewer then 20 rush attempts.

      • bdub85

        The Flacco hate on this site is ridiculous. Yeah, Flacco is garbage which is why they are 3-0 in Pittsburgh the past 3 years. Two of those wins were last minute TD passes by Flacco.