Once the scoreboard read 10-5 early in the fourth quarter, it was clear that this edition of the Steelers vs. Ravens rivalry was set to be another ugly, bizarre, and nail-biting affair. Sure enough, it was — and as always, there are plenty of takeaways to be had.
1. First in the division is first in the division
Ah, the emotional roller coaster of being a Steeler fan. After a dismal showing against the Texans last week, myself and just about every other fan wanted to chuck the franchise whole into the Allegheny River. This week against the Ravens looked like more of the same until a blocked-punt-turned-safety, some heroic fourth-quarter defense, and a clutch game-winning drive from Kenny Pickett turned the tide last minute. The loss to Houston was depressing and painful, but this week’s win was a reminder of why it’s worth it to be a Steeler fan. Wacky wins against divisional rivals will always be a treat, and now Pittsburgh sits at 3-2 atop the AFC North heading into their bye week.
That is to say, don’t count this Steelers team out yet. They currently sit in the driver’s seat of their division, led by a coach who knows how to consistently pull wins out of ugly games. Are the Steelers a good team at the moment? Definitely not. But they enter their bye week first in the AFC North with a winning record. And that has to count for something. Who knows what the rest of the season holds, but the Steelers certainly gave us something to cheer about on Sunday, which is worth acknowledging before diving into the many problems this team still has.
2. Addition by subtraction
The Steelers won! But offensive coordinator Matt Canada still needs to go. His offense reminds me of an Honest Trailer that once described Christopher Nolan’s convoluted 2020 sci-fi flick Tenet as a “Rube Goldberg machine that ends with you getting kicked in the nuts.” Canada’s pre-snap motions with planned rollouts might look great on paper, but they’ve accomplished absolutely nothing, simply resulting in Pickett having fewer targets to throw to. Right now, the Steelers’ offense is a needlessly complex way of averaging under 5 yards per play.
I enjoyed Tenet, but I haven’t enjoyed Canada’s offense one bit. The Steelers offense’s fourth-quarter surge proved that there’s too much talent on this roster for it to consistently look as allergic to scoring as it has over the past few seasons. Again, the Steelers are in a good spot to still push for the playoffs this year. They have talent on offense, a young quarterback who is in the make-or-break-it stage of his career, and two weeks to reset and prepare for their next game. Now’s the time to cut ties with Canada and try to salvage the season before it’s too late. Canada has been with the Steelers since 2020, and he’s been their offensive coordinator since 2021. If he was capable of running an NFL-caliber offense we would’ve seen that by now. But we haven’t even seen glimpses.
There’s talk that Canada may not be the problem in Pittsburgh. And that may be true. But there’s no denying that he’s still a problem, and the Steelers don’t have much to lose by parting ways with him. They need to do something to try and get this offense back on track this year instead of sacrificing yet another season at the altar of stability.
3. Addition by subtraction (Part 2)
Like Matt Canada, Steelers’ wide receiver Gunner Olszewski can get so much vitriol directed at him that I start to feel bad. I’m sure both are great guys, but there’s a clear reason why they’re wanted out of Pittsburgh.
Unfortunately, all Olszewski has done in his Steelers career is make game-altering mistakes. In this year alone he’s made plenty, whether it was his fumble and kickoff-return gaffe against Cleveland, or his punt-return fumble against the Ravens on Sunday, that nine times out of 10 would’ve cost his team the game. And he’s had next to no positives to offset the numerous bad plays. Similarly to the Canada situation, there’s multi-season proof that the Steelers are not helping themselves win at all by keeping Olszewski around — and they have nothing to lose by releasing him.
It’s getting to the point where the failures of Olszewski and Canada fall less on their shoulders and more on the Steelers’ coaching and leadership for keeping them around. Pittsburgh needs to learn when it’s time to move on.
4. Living up to the hype
Speaking of learning when to move on, the Steelers were forced to replace starting left tackle Dan Moore with first-round rookie Broderick Jones with the former missing the Ravens game due to injury. Jones immediately showed why he should’ve been starting over Moore much earlier, clearly outplaying both him as well as right tackle Chuks Okorafor. Kenny Pickett had undeniably cleaner pockets than he’s had all season with Jones starting, and the left side of the line finally looked as solid as fans hoped it would entering this season thanks to the play of Jones and left guard Isaac Seumalo.
Simply put, if the Steelers continue to stick with Moore the rest of the season after he returns from injury, their decision-making needs to be questioned. Benching Jones would be a disservice to not just the rookie’s confidence and development, but also the success of the Steelers’ offense as a whole. Pittsburgh is undoubtedly better with Jones in the lineup.
Similarly, the Steelers finally had to start giving high-profile rookie corner Joey Porter Jr. some snaps in the second half against the Ravens following awful defensive back play from the veterans ahead of him on the depth chart. Porter responded in a big way, nabbing an interception in his own end zone to prevent the Ravens from icing the game, setting up the Steelers’ game-winning drive.
Both Jones and Porter lived up to the hype that has been building ahead of them finally seeing extensive playing time. There will be ups and downs to follow in their young NFL careers, but hopefully, the Steelers stick with their high-ceiling youngsters rather than clinging to the underperforming veterans who started the season.
5. More problems in the secondary
Joey Porter Jr. finally seeing significant snaps on the boundary addressed some problems in the Steelers’ secondary, but there are still many more that need fixing. The Ravens’ insane number of dropped passes on Sunday masked the absolute disaster that was the Steelers’ pass defense. Levi Wallace continues to be lethargic in coverage, even against receivers not known for their quickness. He’s a massive liability as a tackler as well. The fact that the ghost of Patrick Peterson still looks more agile than Wallace is not an encouraging sign. Chandon Sullivan continues to be a non-factor in the slot, getting beat multiple times and luckily being bailed out by a drop on a deep crosser he got toasted by in the second half.
The lack of talent in the defensive backfield forced the Steelers to play safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, one of the best center-fielders in football, close to the line of scrimmage for man coverage and run support for much of the game. That shouldn’t be happening. You have to be wondering how much the Steelers regret letting Cam Sutton walk in free agency earlier this year. And we really need to see the Steelers give Desmond King a look on defense at some point soon.
6. Great effort
Practice squad mainstay Rodney Williams got called up to the Steelers’ active roster to provide an extra body at tight end while Pat Freiermuth recovers from a hamstring injury. Williams didn’t provide anything on offense, but his effort on special teams was apparent. He nearly recovered Miles Killebrew’s blocked punt in the end zone for a touchdown, sprinting and stretching out in a great effort to catch a ball that was only inches away from being his first NFL score.
Williams was able to provide something more tangible later in the game when he fought off Ravens’ blockers to make a touchdown-preventing tackle on a fumble return in the fourth quarter. It was a fantastic showing for Williams in a rare opportunity for the practice squad tight end. It may not be the Steelers, but I have a feeling that Williams will play his way into a permanent 53-man roster spot sometime in the future.
7. Jaylen Warren is underrated
Yes, the Jaylen Warren/Najee Harris debate is a dead horse, but let’s beat it just a bit more. The argument that Warren looks better simply due to his usage as a third-down back still holds some water, but there are definite holes in that logic. Warren’s yards after catch and contact are due partly to the situation, but it’s his pure talent as an elusive, well-balanced runner that’s providing most of his success. He pulled out his entire bag of tricks on Sunday, whether it was a hurdle, or spin moves, jukes, stiff arms, and unrelenting leg drive. Is Warren a better overall running back than Harris? That’s hard to tell due to the Steelers’ poor rushing scheme and yes, the situation.
However, it’s getting harder to deny that Warren’s explosiveness is simply giving the Steelers more bang for their buck right now on offense. Warren isn’t just a run-of-the-mill third-down back with padded stats — he’s earning every one of the many missed tackles he forces.
8. Odds and ends
- The Steelers’ linebacker play stepped up this week. They’re still imperfect in coverage and struggled with contain when playing the Ravens — what NFL linebacker room won’t — but they made some great plays on Sunday, especially in run defense.
- Feed George Pickens. That is all.
- Kenny Pickett’s pocket presence on Sunday was much better than it was against the Texans. There’s still plenty to work on there, but he looked far less skittish thanks to his much cleaner pockets against the Ravens.
- Miles Killebrew’s blocked punt was a work of art. And Miles Boykin had a fantastic game as a gunner. The Steelers’ special teamer (minus Gunner O.) looked great on Sunday.
- Whether it was the Ravens’ myriad of drops or their strange failed attempt at going for a fourth-and-2 in field goal range when up by seven, there’s no denying that the Steelers were helped out a ton by Baltimore’s mental mistakes. Still, a win is a win.
- Boos and “Fire Canada” chants were loud and present all game from the Steelers’ home crowd. The fanbase is done with this offense.
- Larry Ogunjobi’s forced fumble was a tremendous play. His vicious punch-out was somehow outshined by his great effort chasing down a screen as a defensive lineman.
- Is there any pass-rusher in the NFL who gets blatantly held more than Alex Highsmith? And it only gets called occasionally.
- A 10-5 score in the fourth quarter has to be the most Steelers-Ravens thing ever.
- Arthur Maulet’s red zone pass breakup of a throw intended for Pickens was textbook pass interference. He made contact and never looked for the ball. I’m still surprised that it was a no-call.
- TJ Watt and Highsmith have now won Pittsburgh two games this season with fourth-quarter sacks and forced fumbles. It’s hard to understate how important this duo is for the Pittsburgh defense.
- Kenny Pickett’s game-winning touchdown pass to George Pickens showed off the young quarterback’s clutch gene and why it’s still too early to completely give up on him. Still, the Steelers need to see a lot more from him early in games. A lot.
- I’m still unsure how I feel about the Steelers’ choice to go straight to victory formation in their final possession of the game. It guaranteed that the Ravens would get the ball back with a slim chance to win the game. The Steelers could’ve handed the ball off to Najee Harris, who is known for his ball security, to at least try to get the game-securing first down. Instead, they played not to lose instead of playing to win. I didn’t love the play call of kneeling it down. Then again, we all saw what happened to the Miami Hurricanes on Saturday. It’s a tough call.
- Did Lamar Jackson set an NFL record for the most thrown helmets in one game?
The first-place Steelers’ next stop is a bye week before they travel to Los Angeles to take on the Rams on October 22. It remains to be seen if the Steelers will make any major changes between now and then.
What are your overreactions and takeaways from Steelers vs. Ravens? Agree/disagree with the ones above? Join our Behind The Steel Curtain community and let us know in the comments!