For all the talk over the past eight months about how the Ravens couldn’t beat the Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger on the field, they not only beat them with #7 on the field Sunday, they beat them like they stole something. Beat them like they haven’t since at least 2006, and perhaps like they never even had.
While it obviously would have been nice for the Ravens to finish a game in which they built a 21-7 halftime lead back in January like they did this time around, this result was better late than never. Let’s take a look at how it went down.
Starting Quick – with Speed and Power
Remember the Ravens’ first offensive snap of the 2010 season? Joe Flacco dropped back, the entire offensive line went to the ground, and Joe got absolutely sandwiched by two New York Jets, fumbling the ball. It was ugly.
2011 started off a little bit more positive.
Ray Rice took the handoff from Flacco and went left, behind new tackle Bryant McKinnie (who took both Jameses – Harrison and Farrior – out of the play), for a huge 36 yard gain. With that, Rice was well on his way to becoming the first opposing running back to go over 100 against Pittsburgh since he himself last did it, in 2009. On the play, Rice gave a nice stiffarm to Ryan “not a rivalry” Clark before scooting for about 15 more yards.
Joe Flacco’s first pass of the season, two snaps later, found Anquan Boldin in the end zone for a 27 yard score.
Haloti and Terrell
The Ravens absolutely dominated the Steelers’ offensive line, with Suggs and Ngata doing the most damage. On the Steelers’ second possession, already trailing 7-0, Suggs came through untouched and blew Ben up, knocking the ball loose. Ngata pounced on it, and four plays later Ray Rice punched it in from the 1 and the rout was on.
It was the first of Suggs’ three sacks and two forced fumbles (both recovered by the Ravens) on the day. The ninth-year defensive end/linebacker hybrid also surpassed Peter Boulware to become the Ravens franchise’s all-time leader in sacks.
Suggs had a now viral quip coming off the field, when he said of Roethlisberger, “God can have his soul, but his ass is mine.”
As for Ngata, he made Ravens fans who are already uneasy about his being yet to sign a long-term contract even more anxious to see a contract get done. On the Steelers’ first play of the second quarter, with Ravens fans everywhere feeling exceptionally nauseous thinking back to last year’s blown 14-point lead, Ngata busted through Pittsburgh’s line and nearly decapitated Rashard Mendenhall as he took the handoff. The ball popped loose, Ngata pulled it in, and Joe Flacco hit Ed Dickson just one play later to extend the purple lead.
Mendenhall’s eyes were as wide as dinner plates as big #92 barreled towards him at full speed (full speed for Ngata is pretty damn fast, by the way, as he showed in chasing down the speedy Mike Wallace from behind later in the game), something announcer Jim Nantz was kind enough to point out on the CBS broadcast.
Stairway to Seven…Turnovers
The “Stairway to Seven,” as Steelers fans love to call the team’s quest for a seventh Lombardi Trophy, was derailed in February by the Green Bay Packers.
This next iteration of the stairway got off to a great start as well, as the Steelers managed to turn the ball over an incredible SEVEN TIMES in this one.
Roethlisberger himself was responsible for five of them, with the two aforementioned fumbles and three interceptions. One of the picks was tipped at the line by Ngata, but the other two were just incredibly bad and ill advised throws by the two-time Super Bowl champion.
Ed Reed, after a string of disappearing acts against the Steelers, found himself in the right place twice (almost three times) as Ben floated wounded ducks into the Ravens’ secondary.
As Ben scrambled around and unleashed those balls, Ravens fans’ hearts everywhere dropped. We’ve just seen it too many times. As the camera panned away from the line of scrimmage, we just knew we were about to see Heath Miller or Mike Wallace pull in a touchdown to get Pittsburgh back in the game.
Instead, it was Reed that was standing there waiting.
Reed handily outplayed his rival (in fans’ minds, anyway), Troy Polamalu. Polamalu’s highlight of the day was a post-whistle takedown of Ray Rice in the third quarter scrum – there’s another of your classy players there, towel-wavers.
Well, he was involved in another highlight – #43 was the one that Ed Dickson streaked past on his touchdown catch.
Offensive Line Answers
For all the hand-wringing that was done around town after John Harbaugh opted to not play his new-look offensive line for even a single play in the final preseason game, the brutes up front made John look like a genius – at least for one day.
McKinnie, Ben Grubbs, Matt Birk, Marshal Yanda, and Michael Oher (ZERO FALSE STARTS!) manhandled a Steelers front seven that has given the Ravens nightmares in seasons past.
In addition to the 170 rushing yards Rice and Ricky Williams racked up, they also made Harrison and Lamarr Woodley all but disappear as well. Woodley ended up with Pittsburgh’s lone sack on the day, as Flacco had time to throw all day – more time than he’s ever had against a Steelers team.
Some are saying it proves that the Steelers’ defense is getting old and slow, but I’m not going to go quite that far. Harrison is still a bit injured, and Woodley is only 26. Pittsburgh’s ferocious pass rush had an off day, and the Ravens’ O-line had a really good day – those are the only conclusions we can draw at this point.
Some Bad News, Too
As awesome as 35-7 is – and we won’t soon forget it – there were some concerning things to come out of yesterday’s game as well.
The first, and most worrisome, is the injury to rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith. Smith was injured on the Ravens’ first kickoff, and it was revealed Monday that he has a high ankle sprain and will likely miss a month.
High ankle sprains are trouble.
Smith wasn’t the only guy in the secondary to get dinged up, as Chris Carr reaggravated his hamstring injury.
Fortunately, the Ravens have the Titans, Rams (who just lost their #1 WR for the season), the Jets, AND a bye week coming up before they face any truly scary passing attacks (Houston comes to Baltimore on October 16).
It was also disappointing to see Lee Evans fail to pull in any passes, despite being targeted several times. Perhaps he is still feeling the effects of that foot injury, but word from M&T Bank Stadium was that he seemed to be lacking the explosiveness he showed against Kansas City in the preseason.
It was only one game.
The Steelers will be fine. They have the Seahawks and the Manning-less Colts next up on their schedule, so expect them to get healthy real quick.
The Ravens aren’t going to beat everybody by 28 points, or suddenly become the 2007 Patriots. They aren’t going to force 112 turnovers this season.
But damn, was it an awesome game.