The Baltimore Ravens went from cruise control to out of control over the span of 60 minutes against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 5, ultimately losing the rivalry game 17-10 thanks to what can only be described as a sense of complacency and untimely miscues. The Ravens did this in Week 4 against the Cleveland Browns as well, but were able to get the win there.
The contest started out well for Baltimore. After punting on the opening drive where a drop by Zay Flowers proved to be costly, the Ravens marched down the field on their second possession for a touchdown. The defense quickly forced another punt, and then Baltimore took off nearly eight minutes of game time on a drive that led to a field goal. The Steelers got 10 plays on their next drive but had to punt.
Before we get into where things went wrong for Baltimore against Pittsburgh, it’s important to look back on Week 4. The Ravens built a 21-3 lead at halftime thanks to two touchdown drives in the second quarter. The Ravens and Browns then exchanged punts on six straight possessions before Cleveland backup Dorian Thompson-Robinson threw an interception which Baltimore turned into the final score of the game. The Ravens could’ve put the game away earlier but they likely didn’t feel any sense of urgency. It’s easy to look at your defense, look across the sideline at a struggling backup quarterback and shut off. On those three drives which ended in punts, the Ravens ran 13 combined plays for seven total yards.
In Week 5 against the Steelers, the Ravens likely felt something similar. Pittsburgh’s offense was going nowhere thanks to a combination of poor play and the Baltimore defense balling out. The Ravens were moving the ball well enough offensively to likely feel they could score whenever they wanted to and needed to. And that’s where the problems begin.
The Steelers defense, as it has done regularly this season, forced a big fumble to prevent what likely would’ve been another Baltimore scoring drive. Pittsburgh managed a field goal to cut the lead to 10-3. The Ravens, confident in their ability to move the ball, promptly marched down the field and looked to be closing in on points at the end of the half.
On the previous field goal drive, the Ravens had two drops in the endzone. Mark Andrews failed to secure a catch he makes most of the time before Rashod Bateman dropped a sitter. On this one, the Ravens faced 4th and 2 at the Pittsburgh 23 with the clock running. According to the players and head coach John Harbaugh, the plan was to run down the clock all the way and kick a field goal. However, center Tyler Linderbaum snapped the ball to Lamar Jackson, who fired an incomplete pass. If Baltimore doesn’t make those miscues, it would’ve had a 17-3 lead at the half.
Just like the Cleveland game, the Steelers and Ravens combined for six punts to start the second half. That sixth punt, though, didn’t actually result in a punt. The Steelers blocked the punt and it went out of the endzone, leading to a safety. Pittsburgh got a field goal on the ensuing possession. It’s important to note there were key drops on each of Baltimore’s drives where they punted.
The Ravens were forced to punt again, but were given a gift by the football gods when Gunner Olszewski fumbled on the return and set Baltimore up with first and goal. This is where the casual approach was on display again.
The Ravens ran the ball up the middle on first down, which is a standard procedure. The next play was a misdirection shovel pass for Andrews, who lost a yard. At this point, Baltimore wasn’t able to execute the simple stuff correctly and the offensive line wasn’t doing much to stop Pittsburgh’s front. This play made no sense but Baltimore still had third down.
Jackson had been on point for the entire game. If his receivers had held on to a few more passes, the Ravens would’ve likely been comfortably ahead. So while the next play was pure laziness from the former MVP, it’s hard to pin everything on him. Odell Bechham Jr. ran what appeared to be a fade route, creating contact with the corner. It’s hard to know whether this was intended to be a fade or a back shoulder throw, mostly because Jackson threw a bullet pass directly at cornerback Joey Porter Jr. for the interception. That’s at least three more points off the board for the Ravens and more importantly, the entire atmosphere of the game shifted.
The Steelers got a touchdown on an explosive play from George Pickens and now Baltimore actually had to get something done offensively. The Pittsburgh pass rush caused Jackson to fumble, leading to another Steelers field goal. The Ravens did get one more chance due to some clock mismanagement from Pittsburgh but it didn’t matter. Jackson’s scramble was wiped out by a holding and then T.J. Watt forced a fumble on 4th down to seal the game. What should’ve been an easy win turned into a loss, and that feeling of emptiness might spill over into future games.
The Ravens don’t have a bye until Week 13, so they’re going to have to figure this out now if they want to be considered a serious contender in the AFC. This lethargic offense can survive against Cleveland and Pittsburgh, but it’s not going to hold up against the Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills. Even the Cincinnati Bengals appear to be figuring things out. A trip to London might be just the thing the Ravens need to clear their head and focus on cleaning up their mistakes. They could’ve been 4-1 at the top of the AFC with Miami and Kansas City. Instead, they are 3-2 and in a jumble with five teams. Two of those teams hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over them.