The Pittsburgh Steelers evoked memories of old in their 26-9 victory over the Baltimore Ravens. In their Super Bowl victories, the strength of those teams was their Steel Curtain defense and their running game. In fact, those units were so good, the quarterbacks hardly needed to throw passes, or at least make the passing game irrelevant to the outcome of the game.
This game was a reminder of how Steelers football used to be as they used the running game and defense to dominate the Ravens in a rare victory in Baltimore. In fact, the Steelers hadn’t beaten the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in 5 years (2012). For them to beat an AFC North Divisional Rival in their stadium is always huge, especially if they’re the Ravens. Such a victory allowed the Steelers to be alone in first place and 2-0 in the American Football Conference (AFC) the Ravens fell to 2-2, their second straight blowout loss after falling 44-7 to Jacksonville last Sunday in London.
But was this truly a blowout loss? I think it was. The Steelers were able to get almost 30 points while the Ravens couldn’t get 10 points and to be honest, the Steelers should’ve had at least 45 points because they left lots of points on the field. Their first 2 drives ended in field goals by Chris Boswell which isn’t so bad because of his sure foot, but I truly have an issue with teams who fail to score TDs in the Red Zone (inside the 20-yard line) and end up settling for field goals.
Fortunately for the Steelers, the Ravens couldn’t capitalize off those missed Steeler opportunities as they weren’t able to generate anything in the first half. But this game marked the revival of RB Le’Veon Bell as he ran over and through the Ravens unlike any other Steelers RB has ever done (at least since Jerome Bettis) as he finished the day with 144 yards rushing and 2 TDs. The Steelers game plan was to wear the Ravens defense down with the running game which also included 26 yards on 4 carries from rookie James Conner who averaged 6.5 yards a carry during his brief time on the field. The plan worked, especially since the passing game wasn’t all that hot.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t too impressive in this game, but he did enough to get the job done as he converted several 3rd downs and found rookie WR JuJu Smith-Shuster for an 11-yard TD pass which extended the Steelers lead to 13-0, but there was a lot that Big Ben didn’t do that leaves cause for concern.
The first question is, what happened to the deep vertical passing game? Apparently, it hasn’t been existent in these 4 games. All offseason it was said that the Steelers had one of the best (if not the best) offense in the National Football League and that they should average 30 points a game. But as I’ve previously said, who cares if a good offense doesn’t average 30 points a game? If the defense allows at 31 points, then it doesn’t really matter. A high-scoring offense is flashy, but not essential to winning championships (see Dan Fouts San Diego Chargers and Dan Marino’s Miami Dolphins: Great offenses, but 0 rings)
Big Ben only threw the ball deep once in this game and that pass was beyond the hands of Martavis Bryant who was wide open. That pass would’ve been a sure touchdown. The other pass was one that didn’t happen as he missed a wide-open Antonio Brown in the middle of the field which also would’ve been a sure touchdown, but Big Ben missed him and completed a short pass that basically went nowhere. To no surprise, Brown wasn’t happy about it, but I think he took it a step further by throwing tantrums on the sideline which included yanking away from offensive coordinator Todd Haley and throwing a Gatorade Cooler.
Not cool Antonio. He needs to grow up. Keep that drama in the locker room. We all get frustrated, but it’s how we handle it. You don’t think John Stallworth, Lynn Swann, and Hines Ward didn’t get frustrated on those run-first Steeler teams? Of course, they did, but you didn’t’ see those frustrations expressed on the sideline and the last time I checked, they all have rings. Antonio’s a class act, and we’re all human, but he must realize that he doesn’t want to be the next Terrell Owens, Chad Johnson or even Randy Moss when they don’t get the ball, and please don’t allow me to add Keyshawn Johnson to that mix. Great players, but 0 rings among them.
Anyway, back to the game. It just hasn’t been a good 2 games for Big Ben, but he’s a pro. He’ll eventually get it together. The key to the Steelers success this season is truly based on how the defense performed and in this game, they were pretty good. Not only did they put significant pressure on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, but they also sacked him 4 times with 2 coming from DE Cam Heyward. LB Bud Dupree and DE Stepheon Tuitt split a sack and rookie Mike Hilton also got one off a CB blitz.
And they also intercepted Flacco twice thanks to LB Ryan Shazier and Hilton, who is truly making Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin look like a genius by adding him to the 53-man roster. Hilton was truly a standout in the preseason and is looking like one so far in the regular season.
The only errors by the defense was when they allowed a 50-yard run by RB Alex Collins that reminded many of what the Chicago Bears run game did to them last week which led to the Ravens the only score of the game when Flacco found former Steeler WR Mike Wallace for a 16-yard laser of a TD pass that closed the Steelers lead to 19-9. But that didn’t tarnish the stellar day by the defense.
I like the fact that it was the first time that Dupree and 1st round draft pick JJ Watt both played on the field for the first time. Of course, the concern is why veteran LB James Harrison didn’t play for the 3rd straight game. In fact, he was inactive, something that he probably hasn’t been since 2004. I know Tomlin has a plan with Harrison, calling him the Steelers ‘safety net’, but I can’t imagine this being the reason why they brought him back this season. Yes, I know he’s 39 years old, but he led the Steelers in sacks last season and he’s proven he can still bring it. So, saving him for the latter part of the season looks good on paper, but it looks foolish on the field right now, but that’s just my opinion.
There was also a strange play in the game. Big Ben threw a pass to Brown who was stopped and then the ball popped up in the air (after the whistle) but was caught by Ravens S Eric Weddle. At first, the play was ruled dead, but it was eventually ruled that the ball never touched the ball and Weddle intercepted it. It took Ravens head coach John Harbaugh challenging it before it was officially overturned. My feelings on the play are that although the ball never left the ground, Brown’s knee touched the ground before the ball popped loose, and of course, the refs blew the whistle. But hey, that’s not how the refs saw it. To the credit of the Steelers defense, the Ravens settled for a Justin Tucker field goal and gave them only 3 points, when it easily could’ve been 7.
All in all, it was a good win by the Steelers who will welcome the Jacksonville Jaguars to Heinz Field next Sunday. The Jaguars are 2-2 after losing a heartbreaker to the NY Jets in overtime. Just when you thought that game would result in another meaningless tie, the Jets kicked a 41-yard field goal to win it. You think the Jags will be coming into Pittsburgh with an attitude next Sunday? Count on it.
As for the Steelers, being 3-1, one-third into the season is pretty good. They need to continue to pile up the AFC Conference wins if they want to secure one of those first-round byes for the postseason. And if the defense and run game keep playing at the level they did in this game, I can’t see why that won’t happen. I just hope Big Ben and the receivers can get on the same page, then this team will be unstoppable. Time will tell.
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