Ravens throttled by visiting Steelers, 26-9, as offense 'kind of laid an egg' in second straight loss

The optimism and defiance that Joe Flacco exhibited Wednesday was mostly gone. He didn’t offer a vehement defense of the offense or his own play. He didn’t reference the few fleeting moments Sunday when the offense actually looked capable of mounting a drive against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

What the battered quarterback did provide was an honest and hard-to-dispute assessment of his performance — “I sucked,” he said — and a cold dose of reality for the Ravens’ offense going forward.

“Listen, we definitely have the ability to be productive, and no matter what anybody thinks, we’re all we have right now,” Flacco said. “We’re going to go out there, and we’re going to make it happen.”

In a lackluster 26-9 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in front of an announced 71,126 who spent part of the afternoon, both before the national anthem and during the game, booing the home team, the Ravens provided more fodder to the argument that their offense is broken.

The Ravens were shut out in the first half for a second straight week, and their 19-0 deficit at halftime means they’ve been outscored 42-0 in first halves over the past two games. Despite that, the game was still there to be won in the fourth quarter, but Flacco was intercepted twice to thwart drives, and has been picked off in 10 consecutive games dating to last year.

The final numbers — 288 total yards of offense, 82 rushing yards, 18 first downs — didn’t really do justice to how poor the offensive performance was against Pittsburgh. Through their first seven drives, the Ravens had just 62 yards of total offense.

“Unfortunately on offense, we kind of laid an egg,” wide receiver Jeremy Maclin said. “That’s kind of been the story. Something has to get better there.”

Maclin’s frustration boiled over on the sideline in the second quarter when after the Ravens’ third three-and-out in a span of four drives, he spiked his helmet and started yelling in the direction of offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.

Other players voiced their frustration in a quiet locker room after the game. For the season, the Ravens (2-2) have scored just 59 points in four games, and a good portion of those were set up by takeaways by their defense.

The Ravens have seven total offensive touchdowns this season compared with nine turnovers.

“We just didn’t get first downs, and they stopped us,” said tight end Benjamin Watson, dismissing a question about whether the team’s not having a bye week after a 44-7 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in London led to the lackluster offensive performance. “I don’t care if we played on Mars. It’s really simple. You have to run, you have to catch, you have to block. We have to execute. This is the NFL.”

The Ravens’ defensive leaders made sure to accept their share of the blame. A beaten-up defensive front was shredded by Le’Veon Bell for 144 rushing yards and two 1-yard touchdown runs, and the Ravens allowed points on four of the Steelers’ five first-half drives. For a second straight week, the Ravens also struggled to put meaningful pressure on the quarterback. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was sacked only once as he completed 18 of 30 passes for 216 yards and a touchdown, an 11-yard strike to JuJu Smith-Schuster right before halftime that gave the Steelers a 19-0 lead.

It’s hard to be too critical of the defense when the offense is repeatedly putting it in bad spots, both in terms of field position and time of possession. The Steelers held the ball for more than 35 minutes Sunday.

“I think we’re just frustrated as a group,” safety Eric Weddle said. “Playing a good team, let alone any team, you have to play well to give yourself a chance. Collectively — offense, defense, special teams — we didn’t do that in the first half.”

Weddle stressed that the “belief is there” and maintained that guys are getting better. From an offensive standpoint, though, it’s difficult to see how things are going to markedly improve.

Flacco was sacked four times Sunday, and he continues to take a lot of hits behind a patchwork offensive line that won’t be getting back starting guards Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis this season. Even when he gets time, Flacco’s decision-making and accuracy remain off.

On his first interception, Flacco threw the ball right to Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier, who was standing in front of Watson. But an even better example of Flacco’s ongoing struggles was the quarterback’s throwing high and wide to an open Breshad Perriman right outside the end zone after Weddle’s interception set the Ravens up inside the Steelers’ 20 early in the second quarter.

Flacco missed Perriman on first down, couldn’t connect with Mike Wallace on second down and was sacked on third down. The Ravens actually went backward on the drive and settled for a 42-yard field goal by Justin Tucker that made it a 19-3 game.

“Look at it, he was wide open, and I was just trying to put it on him,” Flacco said of the miss to Perriman. “I put it too high, and we missed an opportunity to really make a dent and get back in the game.”

Flacco and the offense seemed to find a bit of a rhythm in the third quarter. Alex Collins, who avoided falling into coach John Harbaugh’s doghouse despite losing his second fumble in his first 20 carries, had a 50-yard run. Two plays later, Flacco found Wallace in between two Steelers defenders for a 16-yard touchdown to make it a 19-9 game.

But the Ravens’ next three possessions ended on a sack and two interceptions.

“We’ve got to be better off early in games,” Flacco said. “The type of game that’s going to benefit us right now is being good early and then putting teams away. And when we’re trying to climb back in games like we were today, there are opportunities to do it, and we weren’t good enough to do it. That starts with me. I wasn’t good enough to get us back in the game.”

Flacco and other key Ravens maintained that the team has the personnel it needs to have a productive offense. Harbaugh also didn’t sound like a coach who is readying to make extensive changes ahead of Sunday’s Week 5 game at the Oakland Raiders.

“We just have to improve,” Harbaugh said. “You’re not going to make a bunch of changes. You just have to improve. There were some flashes in there, and we have to build on those things. It’s a process. You have to go to work, and you work to improve. We have playmakers out there, and we can put the ball in peoples’ hands. We can run the ball; we’ve shown that. We have to eliminate the mistakes and make more plays.”

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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