Nothing is ever easy when it comes to beating a rival. From the lowly Browns to the Bengals in Cincinnati, you know you’re going to get their best when it comes time to lace ‘em up and play. That adage proved out again Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium when the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens clashed with first place on the line in the AFC North.
This building hasn’t been too kind to the visiting Steelers for the past four seasons, as the home team won each game by an average margin of eight points. Considering how many games have ended with a margin of four points or less, (21 of 47 games all-time) that was a big deal and a rather large monkey on the backs of the Black-and-gold coming into Sunday’s game.
But it’s time now for Steelers Nation to grab a banana and get that monkey off their backs, after a 26-9 smashing of the Ravens. And you’ve got the defense (plus a pretty good effort from Le’Veon Bell) to thank for it.
We can gush over Le’Veon’s effort later this week but, simply put, (at least as I see it) the credit for this win falls on the broad shoulders of a defense that was active, forced turnovers and—when things got close late in the third quarter—stiffened up and didn’t allow the Ravens to get any closer than 10 points.
It was a Steel Curtain-like effort for sure and quite a departure from what many (myself included) felt would be the offense winning games with their weaponry, firepower and overall awesomeness.
Funny how things work out in real life rather than the way you draw it up on paper.
The true story of Sunday’s Steelers win over Baltimore should be the play of the defense and what it did to hold a lead when the offense sputtered during the second half. This was the same offense that had gained a net 203 first-half yards and sprinted to a 19-0 lead after 30 minutes of play.
It was Pittsburgh’s opening drive of the second half that provided the fuel igniting the Ravens’ revival. Antonio Brown caught a short pass from Ben Roethlisberger, only to spin and fall, letting the ball pop out of his hands and into the arms of Ravens’ safety Eric Weddle. The play would be reviewed, as it appeared AB was down and was ruled to not have clear possession of the ball, which never hit the ground.
That gave the dirty birds the ball at the Steelers’ 18-yard line and a chance to grab a cheap touchdown to get back into the game. Facing a short field to defend, the visitors in white forced Joe Flacco to misfire on two passes and promptly sacked him for a six-yard loss on 3rd-and-10.
That’s win No. 1 of the second half.
Shaking off that odd play, the Steelers’ offense came back out and got right back on the horse they rode during the first 30 minutes—giving Le’Veon Bell the ball six times for 33 yards on an 11-play drive that stalled at the Ravens’ 26. For some reason, on the 11th play, a 3rd-and-9, the Steelers ran Bell right for only two yards.
A head scratcher of a play for sure.
No problem right? Chris Boswell had been 5 for 5 to start the year. This 44-yard attempt couldn’t go wrong could it?
You know how this one ends.
Three plays later, the Ravens crossed the goal line to cut the lead to 19-9. They went for two and appeared to get it, but it was reviewed and replay showed Terrance West was down just shy of the goal line, keeping it a 2-possession game.
That’s when the Steelers D really stepped up and shut the door on Baltimore, and it was quite crucial because their offense went punt, punt, punt on its next three drives.
Enter Ryan Shazier, who was a beast all game long. He led the team with 11 total tackles including 10 of the solo variety. The former first-round pick would end one Ravens’ drive with his first interception of the season. He deflected a Flacco pass on the next drive that would end up in the hands of cornerback Mike Hilton thwarting yet another Baltimore possession.
Then, the offense finally woke up and drove 49 yards in seven plays, with Bell going the final yard for his second touchdown of the game. That capped off a 35-carry, 144-yard day. Bell also added four catches for 42 yards in what was, by far, his best effort of the season.
Say what you want about how good it looked. Say what you want about the offense finally showing some zip. Take all those positives in and enjoy the Steelers sitting atop their division at 3-1 at the quarter pole.
For the most part, the start of this season has been anchored by a better-than-we-thought defense. That’s good news in the land of steel with the 2-2 Jacksonville Jaguars on the horizon next week and a return to Heinz Field for the Steelers.
John Phillips is the author of this article and a former secret member of the Galactic Empire. JP’s covered the Steelers for BTSC since 2014. Follow him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/john.phillips.161009