Maybe the Ravens should have drafted another quarterback long ago.
While Lamar Jackson is still playing a very small role in their offense, his addition appears to have made a big difference in the way the incumbent quarterback’s playing.
Veteran Joe Flacco threw for 363 yards and two touchdowns, and the Ravens played their traditional kind of timely defense to beat the Steelers 26-14 on the road.
Flacco is throwing the ball downfield more, and hitting more of those plays. That’s what the Ravens offense has wanted to be based on through a number of versions. His yards per attempt and yards per completion numbers last year (5.7 and 8.9, respectively) were grotesque, but now he has a bit more confidence downfield (8.6 and 13.0 against the Steelers).
Meanwhile, Jackson had four carries for 17 yards and didn’t throw a pass. At some point, the Ravens will want to diversify his role (if he doesn’t throw a pass, the element of surprise is lessened), but it’s hard to take the ball out of Flacco’s hands right now.
Especially with the Ravens creating turnovers on defense, it’s a formula that’s working, and it starts at the top.
Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football.
1. The Steelers can spin it however they like, but there’s no denying the fact they’re not remotely the same offense without running back Le'Veon Bell.
Bell still hasn’t shown up because of his contract unhappiness, and coach Mike Tomlin has declared he didn’t want to talk about him. Any efforts to trade him haven’t gotten anywhere, which makes it reasonable to wonder if he’s movable considering the contract limitations (anyone who trades for him can’t renegotiate his deal).
But without him, there’s no balance to the Steelers offense, no matter how much they try to force James Conner into a lead role. Conner had nine carries for 19 yards Sunday, as the Steelers threw 47 passes and had 11 rush attempts as a team.
Bell coming back, if he comes back, will help get that back to where it needs to be. But at the moment, the debate is about the balance between receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown, and that’s not to the benefit of anyone there.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for 224 yards in the first half. He finished with 274. As good as he is, relying on him to be the entire offense isn’t sustainable.
2. John Brown has always shown hints of being an explosive receiver.
He just hasn’t been able to keep it going.
The Ravens wideout finished with three catches for 116 yards and a touchdown, with a 33-yard touchdown reception and another 71-yarder.
In a perfect world, he’d provide the Ravens with the consistent deep threat they need to take full advantage of Flacco’s skills. But he hasn’t been consistent over the course of his career.
He caught 65 passes for 1,003 yards and seven touchdowns in 2015 for the Cardinals, but fell off sharply after that, and they seemed willing to walk away from him.
Brown can make big plays, he just needs to make them more often.
3. Steelers fans have a visceral reaction to tight end Vance McDonald, and rightfully so.
But he brings out big reactions from people who aren’t even in the stadium as well.
McDonald got the home fans lathered up in the second quarter by rolling attempted Ravens tacklers backward during their touchdown drive before the half. It wasn’t as violent as his stiff-arm of Bucs safety Chris Conte last week, but honestly, what is?
“A wise man once said…’What goes around comes around.'” Conte replied to a Twitter commenter who forwarded video of the play to him.
Conte’s on injured reserve now, after he tried to play with a torn knee ligament, and it didn’t work.
While it might be hard to discern any advantage without a close look at tape (do they make me an honorary coach for saying that?) Sensabaugh made some of the visible plays that could keep him on the field.
Haden is so solid on the other side that the other Steelers corner is going to see a lot of traffic, so finding the right mix will be crucial.
5. The Ravens secondary played an incredible game.
They’re about to get their best cover player back.
Cornerback Jimmy Smith will return from his four-game suspension for violating the personal conduct policy next week, giving them another playmaker in the back seven.
Brandon Carr will be the odd man out when Smith returns, as 2017 first-rounder Marlon Humphrey isn’t going anywhere. But that gives them depth at a position where many teams are looking for two qualified starters.