Box Scores – any kind, any sport – I love them; I confess to being a nerdy guy on this count. They tell so much of the story. It is like reading a book, but finding the final chapter was ripped out of it, or that some critical part of the story was not fully explained. But even so, the box score is awesome!
The stats in the box from this past Thursday’s Baltimore Ravens / Pittsburgh Steelers football classic reveal both the obvious, yet also what may be a critical concern for the Ravens. As well, some definite strengths are evident in the numbers.
All the math demonstrates that it was a very close contest, which is of course no surprise for this rivalry. Instead of being decided by a three-point margin like the past four games between these teams, it was rather a two-point difference on this occasion. It is simply the nature of this twice-annual clash.
Right away, the time of possession illustrates the back and forth nature of the game, with Pittsburgh holding the ball 30:04 to Baltimore’s 29:56. The passing yards are relatively even at 257 for the Steelers and 237 for the Ravens, while the Ravens outgained the former on the ground – crushing them with 74 yards as compared to 72! The ebony birds also had just a few more return yards with 132 to 102. And neither team committed a turnover, while the penalty yards were nearly the same as well (Baltimore 55 / Pittsburgh 51). Each team ran exactly 62 plays.
But there are two negative stats for Baltimore that present a concern, along with one set of positive numbers – those that made all the difference.
Red Zone Offense – Pittsburgh was a perfect three for three inside the 20, whereas Baltimore managed only one touchdown on four trips to the red zone. The Ravens’ defense was largely decent throughout the game, but as on several other occasions, they seemed unable to stop the opposition at a critical moment late in the game (though credit should be given for not allowing the two-point conversion to tie).
On the other hand, the Ravens’ offense struggled again inside the 20. The first drive of the game was successful, scoring their only touchdown on eight plays covering 71 yards in 3:06. But there continues to exist the ongoing problem of running and pounding the ball in these situations. As well, false start penalties on A.Q. Shipley and Michael Oher helped to derail the first two unsuccessful red zone drives.
Ray Rice was a single-handed wrecking zone in the final red zone drive. A pair of two-yard gains were sandwiched around a two-yard pass he received. With 4th and four at the Steelers’ five yard line, his frustration boiled over and “gained” a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. This is not helpful.
Sadly No Sacks – The Ravens allowed two sacks of Joe Flacco for a total loss of 14 yards – an acceptable statistic, especially considering that the team is second in the NFL for sacks allowed with 39 through 12 games. However, the Ravens were unable to get to Ben Roethlisberger even once, thereby allowing him time in the pocket and on the run to pick out receivers. This would also be somewhat acceptable if the Steelers were known for their stellar pass protection – which they are not, being sixth in the league with sacks allowed at 37.
Kicking Game / Special Teams – Here is where the Ravens really made a difference in the game and in the final score. The numbers 31,34,38,45,48 are not lotto winning numbers; they are the lengths of field goals kicked by the machine named Justin Tucker. He now has 27 in a row, and indeed he deserved the famed John Madden turkey award, MVP, or whatever the heck it is called. Add to this the runbacks by Jacoby Jones – a guy who is a true weapon – and the special teams were the difference in an otherwise close game.
All of this sets up an interesting end to the season for sure. It looks like an entire year of mostly close games, as every contest is essentially a playoff game to stay alive.