In case there was any doubt that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ first loss of the 2017 regular season came at the hands of an inferior NFL opponent, that uncertainty was promptly erased on Thursday night when the Green Bay Packers mopped up the gridiron at historic Lambeau Field with the pathetic Bears by a 35-14 score. Consequently, as the Steelers prepare for their Sunday matchup at M&T Bank Stadium with the Baltimore Ravens, it remains a complete mystery exactly what kind of team the Black-and-gold will turn out to be by the time late December rolls around. Despite matching the Ravens’ 2-1 record, the Steelers have failed to establish anything resembling a definable identity in their first three games of the season.
Because Pittsburgh’s play has been so uneven, and also because the Ravens don’t appear to be as strong or healthy a team this year as they’ve been in past seasons, I’m sticking with a pretty basic analysis of what needs to happen on Sunday to bring the Steelers back home at 3-1:
Key No. 1: Roethlisberger must lead the charge.
Even as poor a game as the entire team played last Sunday in Chicago, the Steelers probably would still be undefeated today if Ben had played better football. It’s no secret that, when Ben plays poorly, the Steelers rarely win. It seems unlikely that Pittsburgh wins this game unless No. 7 chalks up at least a 90-something passer rating and avoids turnovers throwing into an opportunistic Ravens’ secondary.
Key No. 2: Run defense must improve.
When you allow a team to run as effectively as the Bears did last Sunday, it’s nearly impossible to win, even if the opponent’s quarterback is Mike Glennon—or Joe Flacco on a bad day. With the likely return of Stephon Tuitt and T.J. Watt, plus the eagerness of James Harrison to see more snaps, there’s reason to believe that the Steelers can get the job done—provided they can stuff the Ravens’ ground game. If not, then Big Ben will be under even more pressure to turn in one of the better efforts of his career.
Key No. 3: Turnovers may be decisive.
Pittsburgh’s defense hasn’t yet shown that it can take control of a game via takeaways that translate into multiple short-field opportunities for the offense. It’s quite likely that the team getting the most turnovers in Baltimore will be the one leading the AFC North at the end of the day.
Given the three Steelers’ games we’ve witnessed so far this season, you’d certainly be climbing out on a very shaky limb to predict a dominant performance by the Steelers on Sunday—particularly in view of the history of razor-thin decisions between these two teams. On the other hand, there’s still hope that the Steelers possess the offensive talent to be explosive on any given Sunday. So maybe this is the week when they finally put it all together.