I don’t think anybody would accuse the Pittsburgh Steelers of playing the most graceful football in the world right now. While their pass rush on defense at times can certainly churn up the pressure—they lead the league with 30 sacks, two ahead of the Buccaneers and the Eagles—their coverage and passing game are not exactly the most efficient in the league, and they are coming off of an atrocious performance against the run.
Their play on the field might not amount to what some soccer fans would call ‘the beautiful game’, but their record is certainly beautiful, because they are 7-0. They are the only team in the league who remains undefeated, and one of two teams to have reached seven wins so far, joined by the 7-1 Kansas City Chiefs.
But don’t let that fool you into thinking that the Steelers are content with where they are. As head coach Mike Tomlin said last week about their winning streak, all it means is that they’re doing enough to get out of stadiums. And as for their resilience in coming back to win on Sunday, he said that “it’s good today, but it means nothing for tomorrow”.
In fact, Tomlin opened his post-game press conference being about as blunt as I can recall ever having heard him following a win at a point in a season in which they were in control of their own destiny. “I’m going to tell you what I told my team”, he said. “We did not play well today”.
“We lacked detail in a lot of areas. When you play good people, you are going to be up against it when you don’t play good”, Tomlin told reporters. “We can’t allow the emotions of the moment for us to miss that fact. I am proud of these guys. I am proud of the fight. I am proud of how they supported one another. But it is important that we don’t lie to ourselves. We did not function well in a lot of ways today”.
Statistically speaking, the Steelers were outgained 457 to 221, which is an astonishing ratio. They went 3-for-9 on third down while allowing the Ravens to go 8-for-15. They lost the time of possession battle by over 10 minutes. The only areas in which they won, other than scoring, were in turnovers and penalties.
“We acknowledge that we can bleed a little bit, but the story is beyond that”, Tomlin said after talking about the Ravens being a part of their struggles, as well as injuries. “We lacked details in some areas, so we have to work to get better, to fortify ourselves for the next opportunity. Like I always say, it is good to do that with a win”.
It’s not often that you have a division in which there are two teams with two or fewer losses by midseason and one team holds a two-game lead. The Steelers are fortunate to be in that situation now, even though they know they can still play much better football, or at least cleaner and more efficient football.