Last week, the Ravens suffered a heart-breaking home loss to the Steelers, 23-20, giving the Ravens their first home loss since 2010, also against the Steelers. The teams exchanged field goals to begin the game, but the Ravens would waste no time taking the lead. A Justin Tucker field goal coupled with Anquan Boldin's second touchdown catch of the season helped the Ravens jump out to a 13-6 halftime lead. On their first drive of the second half, Isaac Redman found a hole and rushed sixteen yards to the end zone, tying the game. But late in the third, Ray Rice bounced to the outside and sped 34 yards to the end zone, giving the Ravens the lead with a quarter left to play. After a key interception by Ed Reed, the Ravens gave the ball back when Joe Flacco was sacked, fumbling the ball and giving the Steelers prime field positon. Just over a minute later, Charlie Batch found Heath Miller in the end zone to tie the game once again. The Ravens were forced to punt on their next drive, giving the Steelers the ball back with 6:14 remaining on the clock. Batch used his time management skills to help drive the Steelers down the field, and set up a 42-yard game-winning field goal as time expired. The Steelers took home a win that prevented the Ravens from clinching a spot in the playoffs. Batch, who has thrown in his 15-year career about as many passes as Drew Brees does in two typical seasons, got an emotional boost to his waning life as a backup NFL quarterback.
Player of the Game: Steelers QB Charlie Batch-25/36 for 276 yards, 1 passing touchdown, 1 interception
Key Takeaway from the Game: In reality, this loss isn't crucial in terms of the Ravens' playoff race. But, as with every loss to the Steelers, it hurts. Joe Flacco underperformed, giving his doubters another moment to point there fingers at and scream "you see" and seem smart. Will Flacco ever be the elite quarterback he once seemed destined to be? Who knows. But here is what we do know. Joe Cool has taken us to four consecutive playoff appearances (almost five), two AFC championship games, and a 53-23 record. No one knows what we'll say of Flacco ten years from now, but right now, he is finding a way to get the job done.
Ray Rice touched the ball thirteen times on Sunday. Yes, you read that right. And yes, that's unacceptable, but it isn't as easy as just giving him the ball. Cam Cameron needs to find opportunities for Rice to get open all over the field, both on the ground and out of the backfield. Our main offensive weapon should have a main role in the offense.
Next Sunday, the Ravens travel to face the other team from Maryland, the up-and-coming 6-6 Washington Redskins. The recent irrelevancy of the Redskins has given Ravens fans a lot to brag about, but the "Battle of the Beltways" has taken on a new life this year. The 'Skins are lead by their mobile rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, who is just as much of a threat with his feet on the ground as his arm is in the air. RGIII has rushed for over 700 yards this season, and is tied for the team lead with six rushing touchdowns, while only turning the ball over six times. On offense, the Redskins' attack is centered upon their ability to use the play-action to set up the passing game and Griffin III's running game. Their upstart "pistol" offense makes it difficult for defenses to read the offense's play call. Don't discount RB Alfred Morris, whose physical but elusive running approach could prove to be kryptonite against a Ravens defense that has struggled with tackling the ball-carrier. This style of offense will be put to the test again against an experienced Ravens defense. RGIII lives on the ability to trick the safety into going the wrong direction. Ed Reed lives on his ability to read where the quarterback is going. You can see where I'm going with this. But the Redskins are a lot less daunting on defense, where injuries have crippled their early success. They are ranked next to last in the league in passing yards allowed per game, which will allow Flacco to open up the playbook. Their 4th ranked rush defense is lead by a few of the more underrated defenders in the league, including LB Ryan Kerrigan and veteran LB London Fletcher. You can expect Ray Rice to see some burn out of the backfield as Flacco and Cameron hope to avoid dealing with the rush, and get the ball away quicker, something Flacco had trouble with against the Steelers.
Prediction: All in all, the Ravens could have a really rough day if they are unable to put a lid on RGIII. If he has his way, who knows how ugly this could get. But I don't think it will get too ridiculous. On defense, the Ravens need to be able to read the play-action. I think they may have some struggles, but they'll pull it together when they need to. I have the Ravens winning, 27-23. Also remember that the Ravens haven't lost consecutive games since 2009.
Key Matchups for Ravens at Redskins
Ravens S Ed Reed vs. Redskins QB Robert Griffin III Edge: Push
Analysis: Hands down the best matchup on the field Sunday. As I mentioned earlier, these two are each other's foil. Reed is the key to neutralizing RGIII. RGIII is the key to neutralizing Reed. Get your popcorn ready.
Ravens CB Cary Williams vs. Redskins WR Santana Moss Edge: Moss
Analysis: Moss is one of the best veteran receivers in the league, and has formed a relationship with RGIII that proves lethal to opposing corner-backs. Williams won't be able to keep up with him for sixty minutes.
Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. Redskins LB Ryan Kerrigan Edge: Rice
Analysis: After a down week against the Steelers, Rice could break out Sunday at FedEx. After all, Rice leads all other NFL running backs with 1,646 rushing yards in December and January since 2009.
Ravens WR Torrey Smith vs. Redskins CB DeAngelo Hall Edge: Smith
Analysis: Smith can break out in this game against a weak Redskins secondary. Hall is not the corner-back he once was, and has had major self-control issues this season.
TE Ed Dickson-Knee-OUT
LB Dannell Ellerbe-Ankle-OUT
CB Jimmy Smith-Abdomen-DBT
CB Asa Jackson-Shoulder-QST
DB Chris Johnson-Thigh-QST
LB Terrell Suggs-Biceps-QST
LB London Fletcher-Ankle-QST
CB DeAngelo Hall-Ankle/Knee-QST
OT Trent Williams-Thigh-QST
AFC North Standings
Team W L
Ravens 9 3
Steelers 7 5
Bengals 7 5
Browns 4 8
AFC North Outlook: The Ravens can clinch the division with a win and losses by the Steelers (vs. Chargers) and the Bengals (vs. Cowboys). The Browns will host the Chiefs.
That's it for this week's version of my Ravens Report, see you next week and go Ravens!