When you are the team with the weaker offense, it’s generally a good policy to try to shorten the game, in the sense of limiting the number of drives at your opponents’ disposal. The Baltimore Ravens entered Sunday’s game with a tattered offensive unit going up against one that had put up 30 points in six straight games.
No doubt it was at least in part the Ravens’ strategy to limit the number of possessions that the Pittsburgh Steelers would be able to run, and indeed they managed to do so, as the offense carried out just 11 drives in the game, below their season average, and that is a number that includes the one-play lateral at the end of the game with four seconds remaining.
More telling than the number of drives, however, is the time of possession allowed, and the corresponding differential, because it speaks to the quality of the drives that the Steelers were able to have.
The Ravens managed to possess the ball for 34:20, the Steelers just 25:40. Baltimore managed to control the ball for almost nine minutes more than Pittsburgh, despite having the same number of drives. While the Ravens ran 73 plays on their 11 drives, the Steelers managed to run just 57.
It did not help that they went three-and-out and four-and-out during the game, had another three-play drive end in an interception, and run a five-play drive that also ended with an interception. The one-play lateral drive also skews the plays per drive ratio.
The Steelers’ average drive lasted two minutes and 40 seconds, lasting five plays. They had just one drive of at least 10 plays, which ended in a field goal. Only three of their drives consisted of at least one explosive play; two ended in points, the third ended in a turnover.
Their 10 meaningful drives against the Ravens are the second-fewest that they have had in a game this season, behind only the season opener against the Patriots, during which they had just nine total drives. They have only had 10 or fewer total drives four times, and have had at least 12 drives in a game seven times, averaging about 12 per game.
On the opposite sideline, the Ravens managed to maintain possession by sustaining drives. They had three drives during the game that crossed into double figures, including drives of 11, 12, and 15 plays. The opening 15-play drive consisted of four successful third-down conversions.
Baltimore converted nine third-down opportunities in all out of 18 attempts, while the Steelers managed to convert just two of eight of their opportunities on third down, making it extremely difficult for them to sustain drives. Of the four drives that did not feature a third down, one was a one-play lateral and two ended in interceptions. The other resulted in one of their two touchdowns.
The Ravens were able to upset the Steelers not only because they managed to limit their total number of scoring opportunities per possession, but also because they were able to minimize the quality of their drives. Of course, they had a large hand in beating themselves, but Baltimore deserves this credit.