Possession. Possession. Possession.
That’s all Mike Tomlin seemed to preach during the week. And he was right. A huge reason why the Pittsburgh Steelers lose in Week Four to Baltimore, why a normally high-powered offense spun its wheels, were its issues on third down. In the 26-14 loss, Pittsburgh managed to go just 2/12 on third down, stalling out some promising drives or punting away after a lackluster three and out.
If the Steelers were going to notch the win, they had to be better. Significantly so. Much to their credit, they were. Today, they finished 10/16.
Context is important too. Pittsburgh has seen a dramatic improvement on third down since that game, rising from one of the worst offenses in that situation to a team that routinely converts. But those successes have come against teams like the Atlanta Falcons and Cincinnati Bengals, literally the two worst third down defenses in football.
Baltimore is a much different story. They entered today with the NFL’s second best third down defense, only trailing the historically good Minnesota Vikings. And the Steelers whooped on them. Didn’t matter if it was 3rd and short or more than that, Pittsburgh found ways to extend drives. That included their first touchdown, a 3rd and 5 completion to James Conner, though Matthew Marczi will talk specific plays in a future article.
It’s no surprise that let them control the ball too. Pittsburgh had it for over 36 minutes, wearing down a talented Ravens’ front and working them over with a healthy dose of Conner throughout. Unlike Week Four, there was no dud of a second half. It may have only been nine second half points but it’s better than the goose egg from before. And it was enough to secure the victory. That’s even counting one of the best third down failures the Steelers have ever had, Roethlisberger – admitting post-game he “gave up” for the first play ever – taking a sack on their final drive to kill clock and give the Ravens a very small chance of a comeback.
Consider this. The Steelers have faced two top ten third down defenses the last two weeks, Cleveland and Baltimore. They’ve gone 16/26 against them, a cool 61.5% percentage against two teams allowing a first down about one-third of the time.
The saying goes the team who has the ball last will win. That wasn’t the Steelers today. But they had the ball the longest. And that’s a critical reason why they won.