The classic AFC North rivalry between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens usually gives us a classic matchup: Something that lives up to the hype of both teams in terms of their aggressiveness, high caliber of play, and hard-nosed style that has pitted these two sides against each other for decades.
We didn’t necessarily get that Sunday—at first. The lackluster first half that saw the Ravens run through the league’s best defense to a tune of 179 rushing yards and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger complete just 4-of-10 passes for 24 yards turned into an eventual 28-24 win for the Steelers. The nail-biting finish nearly went in the Ravens’ favor, if it wasn’t for a batted pass in the end zone, but the Steelers outlasted the Lamar Jackson-led Ravens to remain the league’s only undefeated team, reaching 7-0 for only the second time in franchise history.
The start wasn’t pretty and showed some of the Steelers’ flaws, no matter how perfect their record is, including their run game and run defense.
“We lacked details in some areas, so we have to work to get better, to fortify ourselves for the next opportunity,” head coach Mike Tomlin told reporters. “Like I always say, it is good to do that with a win. But, just much respect to Baltimore, they bring the best out in us.”
The Steelers have passed every test so far, and the one Jackson gave them in Week 8 showed that even the best units have plenty of work to do, and that started with the defense. When Pittsburgh entered the game, it gave up a league-low 286 yards of total offense and the second-fewest rushing yards (69)—trailing only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (66)—per game. The Ravens totaled 265 rushing yards without their starting running back Mark Ingram, who was inactive with an ongoing ankle injury. Rookie J.K. Dobbins led all rushers with 113 yards. Jackson had 65 rushing yards to pair with 208 passing yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions.
Pittsburgh’s defense was already without inside linebacker Devin Bush, who will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL, and cornerback Mike Hilton, who is nursing a shoulder injury; Bush’s replacement, Robert Spillane, stepped in masterfully, finishing with a pick-six. The Steelers had injuries to two defensive linemen: Tyson Alualu and Cameron Heyward. Alualu suffered a knee injury in the first quarter and Heyward sustained a leg injury later in the game. Alualu’s loss was the most impactful to an already depleted defense.
“We went in the game minus some significant run defenders like Mike Hilton,” Tomlin said. “The loss of Tyson Alualu really stretched us, in terms of matching their power in that area. They're a strong, strong run team, coupled with the fact that their quarterback is a legitimate runner. We had to do what we had to do to settle it down.”
Roethlisberger has shown he’s capable of the same high level of play after suffering a season-ending elbow injury last year. He’s helped round out the offense, but, again, the Steelers can afford to improve. Their run offense isn’t far from the top teams. Pittsburgh falls just outside of the top 10, averaging 130 yards per game. The Steelers have been inconsistent, especially the last couple of weeks, which included 82- and 47-yard games, respectively, from leading back James Conner.
While the Steelers have the best record and an argument can be made that they are one of the most complete teams in the league, they sit in a very weird position. There’s no one clear cut runaway team breaking away at the midway point of the season. This can work to any franchise’s advantage, but Pittsburgh is far ahead of anyone else in the league and, with continued improvements, can make a long postseason run in the toughest conference.
- Dec 01, 2022
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