The main difference between the strong Ravens defensive efforts of the first two months of the season and what we saw in the last two games? That would be the red-zone defense.
Welcome to the Monday Ravens 10-Pack, where reporter Jon Meoli hits on 10 stats, notes, and thoughts following a 43-23 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers that was tough for a lot of folks around here to stomach. Read ahead for notes on the Ravens' faltering red-zone defense, Joe Flacco's favorite targets, a nick in the offensive line's aura and the team's discipline.
1. The main difference between the strong Ravens defensive efforts of the first two months of the season and what we saw in the last two games? That would be the red-zone defense. Over the first seven games, the Ravens allowed seven red-zone scores. Then the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers scored three times apiece inside the 20. It's one thing to give up a lot of yards through the air but tighten up inside the 20-yard line. But that's not happening anymore.
2. The home/road and good/bad splits continue for the Ravens, who are now 4-9 away from Baltimore in the past two seasons (2-3 this year) compared to 11-4 at home in that stretch. The Ravens' losses have come to teams a combined seven games over .500, and the wins have come to teams a combined eight games below .500. Until the Ravens prove this trend to be untrue, it's hard to view them in any other light.
3. I have no patience whatsoever for the general sentiment that the Ravens get mistreated or unfairly judged by officials (or commentators, for that matter, but I'm not even touching that). When you have your hands all over receivers, take four personal fouls and spend most of the game jawing after plays, you get what you get. Pittsburgh was a willing accomplice in all of this, but most of the escalation came from the team in white. That's just what happens.
4. Quarterback Joe Flacco didn't have a ton of time to throw, but most of the Ravens' pass protection issues came on the left side of the line, where guard Kelechi Osemele and tackle Eugene Monroe, plus center Jeremy Zuttah, had a tough time with the Steelers' stunts. The right side, by comparison, was so strong. Right tackle Rick Wagner will get plenty of attention this week for how he's played with former Raven Michael Oher coming to town, but he and guard Marshal Yanda have been the most consistently good Ravens all season, and they indeed received the highest grades from Pro Football Focus.
5. When Flacco does get time, who exactly is a threat to break a big play? Twenty-five of his 44 pass attempts went to tight end Owen Daniels, wide receiver Steve Smith and running back Justin Forsett. Forsett can break a screen open with the best of them, but the others are the football equivalent of singles hitters at this point. Torrey Smith's four-catch effort was one of his best of the season, but he needs to be used more effectively in complement of those veterans.
6. What to do when there's no Jimmy Smith greatness to update? How about using this space to highlight great secondary play from a player who hasn't seen much praise this year: safety Matt Elam. He jumped out several times playing a run-supporting and pass-rushing role, and while no one covered particularly well, Elam was blameless in a way that he hasn't been at any point in his sophomore season. His development is something that, outside of wins and losses, is a huge aspect of the season to watch.
7. Not sure if this is a situation where the statistics tell the full story or not, but Sunday brought another stout performance from the Ravens' run defense. The seventh-best rush defense in the NFL entering the game allowed 55 yards on 22 carries (2.2 per carry), with a long of nine yards. Is this because no offense in the league has any earthly reason to run against the Ravens when it's so much more inviting to pass? Perhaps, but credit to all of the defensive linemen, including tackles Brandon Williams and Haloti Ngata, for locking down what they're supposed to. Rookie defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan had his best game to date as well.
8. Punter Sam Koch didn't get a lot of work this year before Sunday, but he showed why he's one of the highest-paid punters in the league. Koch put five of his six punts inside the 20, and none were returned by star Antonio Brown. Aside from the penalty special teams ace Albert McClellan took early in the game, this was a very strong special teams performance, highlighted by the long-awaited Jacoby Jones return touchdown that kept the game close entering the fourth quarter.
9. Sunday was a night for Ravens who were put on an ice float to come back in from the cold, namely inside linebacker Arthur Brown and cornerback Chykie Brown. Arthur Brown didn't play a defensive snap, but he played hard on special teams. Chykie Brown, serving as the third cornerback at times, played 14 snaps and allowed the long 54-yard touchdown to Antonio Brown, but he was otherwise anonymous in coverage. If he can even come close to putting it together, he can be an asset in Jimmy Smith's absence.
10. The "Three-star Accountability Corner" is a happy place this week, as all three players selected were active and found the end-zone in the game. Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell didn't turn in a first-star performance, but he scored an early touchdown. Receiver Martavis Bryant had two touchdowns, and Torrey Smith added one of his own. Antonio Brown probably should have found a way in here, but that would have been easy. You didn't need me to tell you he'd be a boss in this game, though he very clearly was.