AFC North: Ravens top the Roethlisberger-less Steelers
By Stephen Stone (@SrStoneSports)
Cold Hard Football Facts AFC North Sniper
The fourth quarter of the Ravens and Steelers game is just about halfway over. It’s 13-10 Baltimore. Of course it is. Is there any other score you would expect? With all due respect to those offensive finesse teams with shoddy defenses that are happy to play 45-38 track-meets, this isn’t that kind of football. As long as these teams are constructed the way they are, Pittsburgh-Baltimore will never be that kind of football.
It’s 20 minutes later and the game is over. The Ravens have held on to a three-point victory, despite not scoring an offensive touchdown. That’s what you get with these two teams. You can interchange the players (even the quarterback) and the nature of these contests don’t change.
I saw a ton of people on Twitter complaining about the game being boring. I’m not sure what they were expecting. Pittsburgh and Baltimore produced exactly what they do whenever they take the field, and now the Ravens have a bit of a stranglehold on the division.
Here’s what transpired in the AFC North today.
1. Baltimore’s defense and special teams were relentless.
In fact, all 13 points were scored by the special teams, but the Ravens’ defense made sure the point total was enough to win. It’s easy to say Ben Roethlisberger would have made a difference, but it’s hard to tell if anyone would have been successful against this aggressive unit.
After the Steelers took their opening drive quickly down the field for the game’s first touchdown, the Raven defense stiffened and ensured that the Steelers wouldn’t find their way back.
Pittsburgh out-gained Baltimore by a mark of 311 yards to 200 yards, but the Ravens’ Bendability - currently ranked sixth in the NFL - came through. While Joe Flacco’s trend of under-performing on the road continued and Ray Rice was a non-factor, the defense proved it can continue to carry this team.
2. Byron Leftwich was ineffective
I didn’t buy a lot of the hype heading into the game about Roethlisberger’s absence. As I pointed out last week, even if their winning percentage with him starting is much better, the Steelers still have a winning record without Big Ben in the lineup. But more importantly, Leftwich is a seasoned veteran. With all the young quarterbacks across the league, I thought the Steelers were lucky to have a 10-year vet as the backup signal caller. In fact, he’s been in the league longer than Roethlisberger has.
I turns out, I was wrong. After leading Pittsburgh down the field right away to start the game, he was never able to get anything else going. He had little help from his recently-resurgent running game, but he did himself no favors with a 51.3 rating. While I don’t know how any quarterback would have fared against the Raven defense, Leftwich certainly didn’t help.
You have to wonder if Charlie Batch - someone with experience winning in a Pittsburgh uniform - will get the call next weekend.
3. Andy Dalton was dominant for the second straight week.
The second-year Cincinnati quarterback has taken his lumps this year, but he seems to be heating up. Last week, he threw four touchdown passes and no interceptions as the Bengals shocked the Giants. This week, he led a blowout over Kansas City by throwing for two touchdowns, running in a third score. And, for the second straight week, he didn’t turn the ball over.
Of course he had help. AJ Green scored again because that’s what he does. But Dalton’s recent emergence, evidenced by back-to-back weeks with a 100+ quarterback rating (after five straight weeks under the century mark) shows that he may be primed to lead the Bengals to, at the very least, an interesting December. As I said in last week’s preview column, Cincinnati is in good position to be in contention before its last two games against Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Green’s been great, but the Bengals’ success starts and ends with Dalton.
It’s no coincidence that the former TCU standout has put up a rating of 95 or higher five times this season and Cincinnati is 5-0 in such games. When Dalton’s rating is below that mark, the Bengals are 0-5. The team will live and die with their quarterback, and if he keeps up his stellar play, Cincinnati may just be heading back to the playoffs.
4. Cleveland can’t catch a break on the road.
Had the Browns held on and won on Sunday, it would have been the team’s first win outside the Dog Pound since September 18 of last season. In addition to winning their first road game in 14 months, the Browns also would have won their first overtime game since November 18 of 2007 - exactly five years ago today.
Since then, Cleveland has lost four consecutive games in the extra period, including Sunday’s heartbreaker in Dallas. The Browns are young and improving, and their inability to win the close game late exemplifies that.
5. Power Rankings
1. Baltimore Ravens - Who knows what would have happened tonight if both teams were at full strength, but the fact is the Ravens took care of business on the road. If Roethlisberger doesn’t come back soon, by the time he does the Ravens could have the defense locked up.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers - Without their starting quarterback, they weren’t able to get into a rhythm against the staunch Raven defense. They’ll have to find a way to win without Big Ben if they want to be in a good position when he returns.
3. Cincinnati Bengals - Part of me wanted to put them ahead of Pittsburgh, but I can’t do it just yet. However, if the Steelers struggle without Roethlisberger and Cincinnati takes care of business against its relatively weak schedule, the Bengals could jump to the second spot very soon.
4. Cleveland Browns - They are a young team (despite their old quarterback) so putting veteran teams like Dallas away is tough. They’ll have to grow as a team before next year.
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