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What you need to know from the Ravens' 23-16 loss to the Steelers


What you need to know from the Ravens' 23-16 loss to the Steelers

With two division matchups looming, the Baltimore Ravens welcomed the Pittsburgh Steelers to M&T Bank Stadium with much of their 2018 season on the line.

After dropping their last two games, a division win at home would have provided a much-needed confidence boost for the Ravens. But after 60 minutes of physicality, the Ravens were left with more questions than answers.

Lamar Jackson continued to put his versatility on display, Steelers running back James Conner showed why the Steelers are no longer concerned about Le'Veon Bell and the Ravens defense couldn't stop the Steelers on third down. 

Here's what you need to know from the Ravens' 23-16 loss to the Steelers.

— Ravens-Steelers games are always interesting, but the most interesting play of the game happened between Ben Roethlisberger and Eric Weddle. Facing a fourth down, the Steelers kept their offense on the field but pulled some trickery when Big Ben punted the ball. Safety Eric Weddle saw it coming and was able to return it. You read that right. Roethlisberger punted the ball, Weddle returned it.

— We knew we'd have to keep an eye on Steelers running back James Conner all afternoon, and on their first drive he already had more rushing yards than he did all of Week 4 (19). The AFC Offensive Player of the Month made the Ravens' defenders look like children at times and finished the day with 24 rushing attempts for 107 yards averaging 4.5 yards-per-carry and 56 receiving yards and one touchdown. 

— Joe Flacco's day didn't get off to a strong start. On a third down and with Lamar Jackson in at receiver, the QB overlooked a wide-open Jackson in the end zone instead of throwing to John Brown in double coverage. What would have been an easy touchdown turned into a field goal attempt from Justin Tucker. We're sure Flacco will be reviewing that play a lot in film session this week.

— The Ravens' offensive woes continued against the Steelers going 4-for-12 on third downs and finishing the day with 268 net yards.

During the second quarter with the Ravens facing a third down in the red zone, a questionable play call had Lamar Jackson tackled for a loss, and prior to that play, Flacco's pass to Michael Crabtree was ever so slightly overthrown. If mistakes like these could have been corrected, the Ravens' season would be a different story.

Having a banged up offensive line didn't help them either. Patrick Eluemunor, who was starting at left tackle for the first time since college, was hit with a false start and a holding penalty all in one drive. 

— Third down conversions were one of many problems for the Ravens' defense Sunday. The Steelers converted 10-of-16 third down attempts (63%) and were 3-for-4 in the red zone. The men in black and yellow also held 36 minutes and 29 seconds of possession opposed to the Ravens' 23 minutes and 21 seconds. 

— The Ravens' first touchdown of the game didn't come until late in the third quarter. It took 11 plays, 75 yards and 3 minutes and 50 seconds for a one-yard touchdown run from Alex Collins to put the Ravens down by seven. The defense followed up on that much-needed drive with their first, and much-needed, three and out. 

— The hearts of Steelers fans everywhere dropped when Big Ben dropped after being tackled to the sideline by linebacker Za'Darius Smith in the fourth. Backup quarterback Joshua Dobbs then took over, throwing a 23-yard completion. Big Ben only missed a play and led his team to the red zone before cornerback Jimmy Smith broke up the QB's pass to Antonio Brown forcing a field goal. Postgame, Roethlisberger said he just had the wind knocked out of him.


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Ravens preparing for ‘raucous’ atmosphere in Kansas City on Sunday

Ravens preparing for ‘raucous’ atmosphere in Kansas City on Sunday

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens offense will be able to see Lamar Jackson just fine this Sunday. They just won’t be able to hear him. 

As the Ravens head to Arrowhead Stadium, one of the loudest venues in the NFL, they'll have to adjust some of their offensive calls when facing the Chiefs defense — and their crowd.

“It gets loud there, for sure, so we’ve been working on various cadences starting, really, in the spring,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “And there’ll be a lot of visual communication going on. We’ll mix in some cadence, but we’ll probably use a lot of what we call ‘silent count’. There are a lot of various cadences we have in the silent count, and we’ve been working them for a while.”

The Ravens have some experience playing in front of a crowd commonly known as among the most hostile in sports. They played in Kansas City last season in Week 14, falling in overtime.

“We know it’s going to be louder, so we’re just going to have to bring our volume up,” center Matt Skura said. “Just making sure everyone is on the same page. Whether that’s in the huddle, leaving the huddle or up at the line of scrimmage, if anyone has any doubt, just ask. As long as we’re on the same page, it’ll be good. Nothing really too much changes."

It won’t be the first time the Ravens venture into a hostile crowd this season, as they’ll head to Seattle on Oct. 20 this season. 

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley and right guard Marshal Yanda both stressed the importance of being on the same page as an offensive unit, with communication expected to be limited. 

The important part, however, is making sure nothing changes too much offensively. 

“K.C. is a big stadium, and every seat will be full,” coach John Harbaugh said. “They’re raucous. They do a great job with that, and our offense, especially, is going to have to be on-point with that. So, yes, that’s going to be important. We’re working hard on it; we have been. I really feel like we’ll be good with it, but [there is] nothing like the real thing.”


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A view from the other side: A Q&A with a Kansas City Chiefs columnist

A view from the other side: A Q&A with a Kansas City Chiefs columnist

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ahead of the Ravens and Chiefs game this Sunday, NBC Sports Washington reached out to Sam Mellinger, a columnist for The Kansas City Star. 

Here’s what Mellinger and the Chiefs are saying about this week’s game between two 2-0 opponents in a rematch of last year’s thrilling 27-24 overtime finish. 

Note: Mellinger’s answers were over email.

Q: The Ravens have mentioned that last year's wild overtime finish has been somewhat of a learning experience for them. Have the Chiefs said the same? Or is there no carryover from year-to-year?

A: That game has been talked about a lot here. It's still Patrick Mahomes' only game under 26 points in regulation. There are a dozen different moments that had to go the Chiefs' way to win that one, even beyond the 4th and 9 that everyone talks about. The carryover is probably less of a thing for the defense than offense, just because that side of the ball has been almost completely overhauled.

Q: Lamar Jackson has been one of the league's most impressive quarterbacks so far this season — what have the Chiefs and their coaches said about his progression from year 1 to year 2? 

A: The Chiefs are always complimentary of their opponents. They could play the Dolphins this year and Andy Reid would talk about being excited for the challenge of playing a good football team with good players and good coaches. That's just how they go. But we all have b.s. detecters, right? And the talk is more sincere this week. Jackson and the Ravens do a lot of things well that match up against what the Chiefs don't do well. Jackson is a problem for everyone, but particularly for the Chiefs. Their improved speed at linebacker and rookie safety Juan Thornhill will be especially tested this weekend.

Q: There's been a lot made of Mahomes' progression in his second year, has that been discussed by the Chiefs in what to expect from Jackson this week?

A: The connection with Mahomes hasn't come up specifically, unless I've missed something, but yeah they've talked about Jackson looking more comfortable and advanced this year than last, which I believe was just his fourth start.

Q: In terms of defending the run and pass from Jackson, what have the Chiefs stressed as difficulties in defending both? What are the keys to that? 

A: They don't reveal a lot beyond cliches, but basically the Chiefs are going to need to set the edge, stay disciplined, and perhaps even put one of their faster linebackers or even a safety as a spy against Jackson. The Chiefs have been pretty terrible defending the run for some time now. The Ravens could have a lot of success there.

Q: The Ravens have one of the better secondaries in the NFL, how do you see the matchup between all of the Chiefs weapons and the Ravens secondary playing out?

A: The Chiefs have enough weapons and the right quarterback and a scheme that once allowed Alex Smith to lead the league in passer rating, so the stock answer is that this offense is too much of a problem for any secondary. But the answer this week is a little different, I think, because the Chiefs won't have Tyreek Hill and the Ravens signed Earl Thomas. That matters. A lot. Thomas is a Hall of Famer still relatively close to his peak, and his ability as a sort of center fielder — both his range and mind — could cut the top off some of what the Chiefs want to do. The combination of Mahomes' arm strength and Hill's speed often stretches defenses past the point of recognition, but that part of the game will be in closer balance now.

Q: What's a particular matchup (position or individual) that you're interested in seeing on Sunday?

A: I think we all tend to think of these things through the lens of the team we follow the closest, but the two that come first to mind are Cam Irving and Juan Thornhill. Irving will start at left tackle for the injured Eric Fisher. Irving is a representative lineman — they're not pushing a practice squad guy out there — but he got trucked in the run game last week against the Raiders. The Ravens are tough and physical and disguise their blitzes really well, so that could be a particular problem for a Chiefs team without their starting left tackle and (likely) at least one of their two top running backs.

Thornhill is sort of the Chiefs' version of what we were just talking about with Earl Thomas. Thornhill is obviously not in Thomas' class, I'm not saying that, but he's a similar profile: center fielder type of a safety with length and athleticism. Hollywood Brown with more comfort from Jackson in the pass game will stretch the field more than the last time these teams played. The Chiefs' corners are inconsistent, and can be had. Thornhill will be relied upon.

Q: If you had to put a prediction on the game, what would that be?

A: I did picks before the season, and this is one of three games I had the Chiefs losing. I'll stick with that. The Ravens look like the best team the Chiefs will play this season other than the Patriots, and like I mentioned before, a lot of the things they do well are particular problems for the Chiefs. I know the line is close to a touchdown, and I guess I can understand why, but I'm expecting this to be a really hard game for the Chiefs. The Ravens beat Mahomes up last year more than anyone else has been able to, and now the Chiefs are down a lineman and short on running backs for pass protection. No outcome would be surprising other than a blowout either way, but I think the Ravens can get this one.