5 Lessons Learned Vs. Steelers

The Ravens offense understands it must always account for game-changer Troy Polamalu.

Posted by Sarah Ellison on Monday, December 6th, 2010 at 11:56 am | Categories: 2010 Season, Sarah Ellison, Week 13 vs Steelers

The Ravens offense understands now that it must always account for Steelers game-changing safety Troy Polamalu. Did you see what set up receiver Anquan Boldin’s 61-yard catch in the first quarter? It was running back Ray Rice. He identified and blocked Polamalu on a blitz, affording Boldin time to run his route and Flacco to get a clean read and throw. Conversely, we saw what happened when the long-haired Samoan wasn’t accounted for and got to the Ravens quarterback untouched.

The Steelers brought an all-out blitz, and Rice picked up linebacker Lawrence Timmons while left tackle Michael Oher was focused on linebacker James Harrison. Polamalu came through untouched on Flacco’s blind side and the savvy veteran went for the jugular by getting both the sack and strip. Flacco said he was in a quick three-step drop and knew he quickly had to get rid of it, but was "shocked" by the fumble.

"It’s like, ‘Have we learned nothing?’ You’ve got to know who you’re playing against," said linebacker Terrell Suggs. "Nine times out of 10 that [No.] 43 is at the line, he’s coming." Oher said he didn’t exactly know what happened on the play and would need to look at the film to know for sure, but acknowledged  the Ravens have to know where Palomalu is "at all times." It’s one thing to know where he is and another to figure out how to beat him. I’d be interested in hearing the Ravens’ assessment after looking at the tape as each player already seemed to be doing a critical job. And if there’s a rematch in the playoffs, they’ll surely draw from this experience.

The Ravens are still learning how to finish games
. It was the theme of the post-game press conference. From Head Coach John Harbaugh to both offensive and defensive players, the Ravens believe they allowed a victory slip away. Said receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh:  "We gave them the game. They know it, we know it. Pretty much gift-wrapped it." In 13 games this season, Baltimore has given up six fourth-quarter leads. They still won two of those games, but all four of the Ravens’ losses have come after holding a fourth-quarter advantage. There’s no one unit to blame for those defeats, but some analysts believe the defense isn’t as dominant as it used to be, while others believe the offense becomes too conservative with the lead. Last night, a typically honest Housmandzadeh didn’t feel his unit became conservative, but he was disappointed it didn’t move the ball down the field. Whatever the reason, as linebacker Jarret Johnson said, you’ve got to play all four quarters to win; it’s not enough to play until there’s three minutes remaining.

Sunday’s performance deserves consideration as one of Suggs’ career bests
. Although he won’t admit to it because the Ravens ultimately lost to their arch rivals, Suggs’ 1.5 sacks, three tackles for loss, five quarterback hits and general pestering of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can be considered as one of the best performances of his career. He was playing out of his mind and the Steelers couldn’t find a way to stop him. Big Ben said after the game that the offense kept trying to change their blocking schemes, but Sizzle still consistently got through. He was easily the Ravens’ MVP and was the main force behind a disrupted Steelers offense. "One time after a play, I looked at him, and he was bleeding from the mouth. I was bleeding from the nose," said Roethlisberger. "That says it all about a Ravens-Steelers football game."

In fullback Le’Ron McClain’s absence, the Ravens posted their lowest rushing output of the season
. There were two questions surrounding McClain heading into Sunday’s matchup: 1) Would he play? and 2) How would the offense get along without him if he didn’t play?  We quickly learned McClain’s ankle wasn’t deemed healthy enough to go and the 43 yards of rushing suggest it would have been nice to have a recovered fullback in the lineup. It can’t be overlooked that the Steelers have the NFL’s No. 1 rush defense and the game plan may have been altered to account for that fact, but with the lead and ball with just minutes left, Baltimore didn’t have its typical power running attack to turn to. The same dilemma surfaced in the red zone. After the game, McClain tweeted that he was "pissed" he couldn’t do anything to help. The two-time Pro Bowler will be welcomed back with arms wide open if he’s ready to battle in Houston next weekend.

Quick Hit Lessons Learned
: Rookie tight end Ed Dickson didn’t quite fill the shoes of 10-year veteran Todd Heap. Dickson had a mixed performance (juggling one pass, but converting a key third down on the touchdown drive, etc.) after Heap was knocked out of the game on the first play of scrimmage. He’s no Heap yet, but has big-time upside with maturation and time. … The return game is hitting its stride after about 10 weeks of roller-coaster performances. Both Lardarius Webb and David Reed churned out big plays that helped in the field position battle. …While the Ravens struggled getting points on the board, the passing game really opened up with a franchise-first of two plays of 60 yards or more (Boldin’s 61-yarder and Donte’ Stallworth’s 67-yarder). …The Ravens’ black pants and purple jersey combination hasn’t been worn since 1998. After a suffering a heart-breaking loss while sporting the get-up, it might be good idea to wait a while before using the combo again.

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