The last time the Pittsburgh Steelers won in Baltimore was in 2012. Who was the quarterback of that team? Not Ben Roethlisberger, but Charlie Batch. Fans will never forget that game, with Heath Miller’s tremendous stretch to hit the pylon for the game-winning touchdown, but when will the Steelers finally break the current dry spell?
The team aims to do just that in Week 4 when they make their annual visit to M&T Bank Stadium.
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As if the Steelers didn't have enough to be concerned about in the wake of the national anthem controversy, they are just days away from venturing into a venue where their last victory was five years ago.
The verbal and written jabs the team has received from angry fans this week parallel the physical beatings the Steelers have taken from the Baltimore Ravens in recent games played at M&T Bank Stadium.
The AFC North rivalry renews on Sunday in the Charm City, which has been anything but charming to the Steelers since they played in the Super Bowl following the 2010 season.
The Steelers have lost five of the past six meetings in Baltimore, including four in a row.
“They are as tough as it gets,” tight end Jesse James said Wednesday. “We obviously have our work cut out for us.”
That's particularly true of an offense that ranks No. 22 in yards per game and is tied for 16th in points despite entering the season with high expectations due to having receiver Martavis Bryant rejoin quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le'Veon Bell and wideout Antonio Brown.
The Steelers were held to a season-low 17 points last week in an overtime loss to the Chicago Bears, and the offense hasn't produced a 3-touchdown game yet this season. Brown is the only member of the star quartet playing to a lofty standard.
“I don't think we're that far off,” Roethlisberger said, and then added, “The unfortunate part is we're playing a really good defense this week.”
The Ravens held the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns to a combined 10 points in winning their first two games. But while the Steelers were losing to the previously winless Bears amid the anthem flap at Soldier Field, the Ravens were flying back from London trying to make sense of a 44-7 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
If history is any indication, the Steelers won't get their offense back on track Sunday. In the past five losses in Baltimore, the Steelers have averaged just 13 points.
Roethlisberger has thrown four touchdown passes against seven interceptions and 11 sacks in those games, with only a 69.2 passer rating.
The only time the Steelers won in Baltimore this decade was in 2012 when the quarterback was Charlie Batch, starting for the final time in his NFL career as his 38th birthday approached. Batch improbably rallied the Steelers from a fourth-quarter deficit, leading touchdown and field-goal drives in the final eight minutes for a 23-20 win.
Roethlisberger has lost his past five starts in Baltimore, including last season when he returned to the lineup 20 days after undergoing knee surgery.
“I wish we could say we can go in there and get blowouts,” center Maurkice Pouncey said, “but it's always a hard-fought game.”
The Steelers can't seem to win in Baltimore, but Ravens coach John Harbaugh doesn't have an answer for his team's success on its home field.
“The common denominators are they're all great games,” Harbaugh said. “They are all played similarly and the same style of football, and they all come down to the wire, it seems like.”
The 2016 matchup, a 21-14 loss, was an exception. Pouncey left in the first quarter with a finger injury, and the Steelers had difficulty using a silent count with backup center B.J. Finney.
Until early in the fourth quarter, when the Steelers trailed by 21 points, they had only 76 yards of offense and two first downs.
“It's a tough environment,” Roethlisberger said. “The crowd is loud, and they really feed off that. They can really get off the snap of the ball, create some issues, get you behind the chains, force you to pass and then throw some different blitzes at you with their rushers and cover guys.
“It creates a lot of tough situations for you.”
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is done talking about the national anthem controversy from last weekend, but he said Wednesday it’s a chance for the Steelers to learn from adversity.
“You will either be divided or brought together,” Roethlisberger said. “This is a group that is a very close-knit group, and I feel strongly that we will be stronger than ever.”
A couple Steelers players, Roethlisberger included, said distractions from the team's national anthem stance contributed to a 23-17 overtime loss to the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. The players, with the exception of left tackle and former combat veteran Alejandro Villanueva, remained inside a tunnel while the national anthem played as a way to protest President Donald Trump's criticism of players who kneel for the anthem.
The Steelers play the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium in a matchup of 2-1 teams with first place in the AFC North at stake.
Tight end Jesse James said the Steelers can't afford to have distractions disrupt preparations for the game in Baltimore.
“If you let it, you have to toughen up mentally,” he said. “You can't let things going on in the outside world affect how you play the game.”
James said the Steelers have an opportunity to show their mettle against the Ravens.
“We have to come back from where we were last week and we've got to grow,” he said.
Throughout Ben Roethlisberger's career, the Steelers have often fallen back on their ability to run the ball to open up opportunities for the passing game. Their offensive line has slowly improved each week this season, but still hasn’t been winning at the right spots to give Le'Veon Bell the space to do what he does best.
Overall, the offense that was widely expected to produce 30 points per game now ranks 16th in the NFL at 21.3.
While many have speculated the reason Bell has yet to rush for more than 100 yards is that he lacks his standard burst, I see the problem as the offensive line. Bell is at his best when he has space to make the lightning-fast calls and cuts with his feet. What each of the Steelers' first three opponents has been able to do is maintain the line of scrimmage and infiltrate the backfield to clog up any space Bell might have.
Back to Sunday in Chicago ...