By David Todd
The Steelers played an early-season, must-win game Sunday at Heinz Field and came away with a 19-16 win over the Baltimore Ravens. It was a well-played game that lived up to many of the great match-ups in the history of this intense rivalry despite the troubles both teams have had in the early going. The Steelers got an early lead for a change and led throughout until a late Ravens touchdown tied it at 16 with 1:58 left. But a big kickoff return by Manny Sanders and some good play-calling and execution by the Steelers offense put them in position for a game-winning 42-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham, his fourth of the game, on the game’s last play. Led by rookie Le’Veon Bell the Steelers consistently moved the ball on the ground for the first time and the offensive line played it’s best game of the year after suffering yet another early injury, this time to Marcus Gilbert who was replaced by Guy Whimper. Defensively the team built on last week’s performance with solid tackling and few big plays and held the Ravens to 82 yards on the ground. Incredibly this is the fourth time in a row and the 9th time in the last eleven meetings a game between these two teams has been decided by exactly three points.
Marcus Gilbert came into this week’s game nursing a strained quad, ended up leaving in the first quarter and did not return. Both Guy Whimper and Brett Keisel limped off during the game but were able to return. Cam Heyward played through the flu. Mike Tomlin suggested all other injuries were typical bumps and bruises. Jarvis Jones did not dress. He was diagnosed with a concussion during the week and apparently passed his baseline concussion test Friday, but not Saturday. Tomlin said he expected him to be ready to go this week.
*The Steelers offensive line had by far its best game of the year. Guy Whimper got his first playing time of the year and was solid in relief of Marcus Gilbert. The Steelers finally established a running game netting 141 yards on 29 carries and converting four third downs on the ground which included solid runs by Felix Jones on a 3rd-and-3, Jon Dwyer (on his only carry) on a 3rd-and-1 and a great 19 yard scramble by Roethlisberger with included a big block by Dwyer who got a high-five from his HC when he came to the sideline. Ben was sacked three times but a couple of those were coverage sacks.
*Le’Veon Bell finally showed why the Steelers are so high on him. He carried 19 times for 93 yards showing good vision and patience running behind a line that was opening holes in the interior. Bell took four snaps in the wildcat, running three times for 15 yards. He also had a 6-yard reception.
*The shovel pass to Heath Miller was a great call and perfectly executed. Todd Haley did an excellent job of mixing things up throughout this one.
*The Steelers also had a fantastic play design on 2nd-and-7 from the Baltimore 35 with 43 seconds left in the game. They stayed aggressive, not settling for a FG of around 50 yards. Jerricho Cotchery ran a streak from slot left while Antonio Brown ran a slant in behind him after initially faking outside. Ben hit AB in stride for an 11-yard gain and a much more manageable field goal. Two plays earlier Brown made an excellent catch and run gaining 13 yards and getting out of bounds after catching the ball in the middle of the field.
*In the second quarter Derek Moye made an excellent leaping grab, got flipped in the air, landed on his back and held onto the ball on a 3rd-and-5 for a 19-yard gain. Those are the plays that get a young guy more playing time. Unfortunately, Moye dropped a TD catch later.
*Ben’s decision-making was excellent again. After committing nine turnovers in the first four games, he has none in the last two. He had a passer rating of 107.2. The Steelers are 48-4 when Ben exceeds 100.0.
*The Steelers offense converted seven of 12 third downs and scored on five of seven possessions, not counting the kneel down at the end of the half.
*Last week I opened this section with, “Settling for field goals is a recipe for disaster in the NFL and the Steelers settled for four in this one.” Deja Vu. Last week it was Antonio Brown who dropped a back-shoulder TD throw. This week Moye dropped a perfectly-thrown ball from Ben that would have gone for seven. They have to do better, particularly in the red zone.
*As mentioned, Haley’s play calling was excellent, but I didn’t understand going three-wide on 3rd-and-1 on the opening drive after Bell had run for six and eight yards on the previous two plays.
*Manny Sanders was flagged for holding for the second week in a row and Bell was called for a 15 yard face mask penalty. Those penalties can be drive-killers, tough for an offense to overcome.
*The Steelers only turned it over once in this one, but it was costly as the Ravens converted the Heath Miller fumble into three points right at the end of the first half.
*Lawrence Timmons was a beast finishing with 17 tackles tying his career-high, 12 of them solo.
*The Steelers shutdown the Ravens run game as Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce only managed 58 yards on 21 carries. Steve McLendon stuffed Pearce for a one-yard loss on a 3rd-and-1 forcing the Ravens to settle for a 46-yard FG late in the first quarter.
*The Ravens were on the Steelers 34 with a 3rd-and-8 in the second quarter when LaMarr Woodley came up the middle, beat a cut block and sacked Joe Flacco for a 10-yard loss, taking the Ravens out of FG range. Woodley has five of the team’s eight sacks.
*The whole secondary played well in this one. Troy, Cortez Allen, William Gay and Shamarko Thomas all filled the stat sheet. Ike Taylor got beat on a 41-yard pass to Torrey Smith, but he had excellent coverage. It was a perfect throw and catch.
*Down seven with just under 10 minutes to go, the Ravens were able to put together a 16-play, 83-yard drive that took 8:01 and tied the game at 16. Baltimore converted four third downs. The defense needs to get a stop there.
*Like the Jets last week, the Ravens missed a big play opportunity. In the third quarter Joe Flacco was late throwing and underthrew a wide open Jacoby Jones. William Gay was beaten by two steps, but did a good job recovering. An on-target throw from Flacco and it would have been an easy touchdown.
*In five of six games the Steelers have failed to force a turnover and they only had one sack in this one.
*Shaun Suisham. Sushi. Money. 34, 28, 38 and a 42-yard game-winner, his sixth as a Steeler. 14-14 on the season. Perfect.
*The return game was a big plus. Manny Sanders set up the game-winning drive with a 44-yard kickoff return that initially looked like it might go for a touchdown. There was an audible groan from the crowd when Sanders decided to bring the bouncing kick out from seven yards deep, but that quickly turned to jubilation as he sprinted down the right sideline for an apparent touchdown. That was overturned as it was ruled that he stepped out at the 37, but the Steelers were in business. Felix Jones also set-up a scoring drive with a 42-yard kickoff return and Antonio Brown set-up the Steelers first scoring drive with an 18-yard punt return.
*The kick return unit did a great job when the Ravens tried an onside kick in the fourth quarter. Stevenson Sylvester drilled kicker Justin Tucker as he was going for the ball and Vince Williams was there for the recovery. It is one of of only two drives, out of 67, that the Steelers have started across the 50 this season and led to a FG.
*Zoltan Mesko only got one opportunity and didn’t make the most of it. On the Steelers opening drive he punted from the 42 and only managed a low 36-yard kick that was returned 12 yards. Mesko has been a disappointment thus far.
*Todd Haley’s offensive game plan was exceptional for the second week in a row. Last week it was a series of early screens to slow down the Jets pass rush. This week, there were fewer screens, but some new wrinkles with the wildcat and the shovel pass for a touchdown. Haley also saw that Green Bay was able to run the ball up the middle against the Ravens last week and followed that blueprint perfectly.
*Mike Tomlin won his only challenge on a spot in the fourth quarter, giving the Ravens a 3rd-and-1 rather than a first down. The defense stuffed Vonta Leach on the ensuing play, but Flacco converted a quarterback sneak on fourth down on the second play of the fourth quarter. Good use of the challenge.
*The Steelers seemed to have some trouble with the Ravens no-huddle, hurry-up offense.
Big Officiating Calls:
*Not many questionable or missed impactful calls in this one. I think they got it right with Manny Sanders stepping out of bounds.
Up Next: The Steelers will take on the Oakland Raiders next week at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Kick-off is scheduled for 4:05 EST. The Steelers will be looking for their third win in a row in a place where they have lost the last three times, including a 34-31 defeat last year.
Reminder: You can hear me and Tom Bradley on the postgame show on the Steelers Radio Network after every Steelers game. You can listen on the Steeler Gameday app, the Steelers Nation Radio app on iHeart Radio or DVE or 970 ESPN in Pittsburgh. You can hear me weekdays on 970 ESPN from 4-7 pm and you can follow me on twitter @DavidMTodd.