PRELUDE TO STEELERS VERSUS BALTIMORE RAVENS
Imagine. The only undefeated team left in the NFL is an underdog. The Pittsburgh Steelers faced this reality traveling to Baltimore where the Ravens began as three and a half point favorites. A bye week left the Ravens rested and relatively healthy. The Steelers lost the services of key backups as the grind of playing four straight games with no real bye week among the seven exacted its toll. Questions remained how the Pittsburgh defense would fill the loss of Devin Bush at inside linebacker compounded by Ulysses Gilbert pulling lame late in the week. Mike Hilton missing as the slot corner created another chink in the defensive armor.
Sue and I arrived at to Nags Head, North Carolina Saturday evening to spend some time with my sister and brother-in-law. They are cheese heads but no matter with a television in a separate room, I was set to enjoy watching the Steelers play without distraction. I took a walk on the beach and found a positive sign. A Steelers flag fluttering proudly in the sky. I was over 500 miles from Heinz Field but would watch the game satisfied that fellow Black and Gold fans would be cheering just a short walk down the beach.
THE STEELERS FORECAST
Steelers Depot gives us specific things we should look for during the game. I always read these articles prior to kickoff:
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Tom Mead described three plays to attack the Ravens defense. Tom reviewed tape from the Cincinnati Bengals game versus the Ravens. He then identified three plays along with scenarios the Steelers could emulate to help defeat the Ravens.
Tyler Wise identified the key matchup to watch this week. Tyler directed our attention to how both quarterbacks responded to the respective blitz packages they would face. He noted that Ben Roethlisberger was more successful passing against the blitz than Lamar Jackson this season.
KEYS TO VICTORY
Dave Bryan identified the five keys to a Steelers victory . First, stymie the Ravens rush attack to force Jackson to throw the ball more than 25 times. Second, Ben connects deep at least three times. Third, limit Marquis Brown and Mark Andrews. Fourth, use pre-snap motion to free up James Conner. Fifth, keep the Ravens under 20 points scored.
Alex Kozora forecast what would happen in his Steelers versus Ravens prediction. Alex foresaw victory if pass rush contained Jackson, receivers make tough catches, and special teams match the Ravens excellent unit. On the other hand, the Steelers lose if inside linebacker in dime packages fails, Ravens win turnover battle, and Baltimore exploits zone coverage. Alex predicted the Ravens winning 20-17.
You can compare these pregame guides to Alex’s analysis of the game’s winners and losers which came out within minutes of the final whistle. How does his analysis compare with your view of the game?
Did the Steelers offense appear in the first half? Yes, but barely. They manage just 20 plays in four possessions. The offense possesses the ball less than ten minutes and do not score a single point.
FIRST DRIVE GIVEAWAY
The Steelers defense scored to start the game. The Ravens assisted by a poor officiating call on third down tied the game at 7-7. The offense stepped onto the field for the first time midway through the first quarter. On third and eleven, Ben throws deep to James Washington. Marcus Peters interferes by tugging on his jersey to prevent the reception. The Steelers have a first down instead of punting the ball. On the next play, Ben connects with Chase Claypool over the middle, but Peters makes up for his penalty by recovering his own forced penalty. For a second, I thought Claypool’s knee was down, but the replay showed it was a clean fumble. The Ravens have the ball inside Pittsburgh territory at the 44-yard line.
The defense staunches the wound by creating their own turnover so that the Ravens cannot exploit the offensive gaff.
OFFENSE CAN’T DIG OUT OF HOLE
The Steelers second possession began at the four-yard line. I’m not complaining since the defensive turnover prevented the Ravens from scoring. James Conner went nowhere on his first run but then burst for nine yards and a first down on his second. But that was it. Ben threw deep to Claypool but missed. Conner caught a short pass for no gain. On third down, Conner gained four on the ground. Steelers forced to punt from the 18-yard line.
The Steelers third possession began at the 15 following a short field punt to start the second quarter. This time, Conner gained four yards on his first try. Eric Ebron caught Ben’s short pass for seven yards and a first down. Ben fields Maurkice Pouncey’s muffed snaps and completes a pass to Claypool for seven. On second and three, Jaylen Samuels drops a pass that would have been a first down. Ben then throws a ball in the vicinity of James Washington but nowhere near catchable. The Steelers punt from deep in their own territory again.
The Ravens respond with an 80-yard drive to take a 14-7 lead.
STEELERS OFFENSE COMES UP EMPTY
A touchback gave the Steelers offense their best starting position of the half. Conner ran 18 yards on second down. Then ran for six meeting up with former teammate LJ Fort. At this point, Ravens chippy play set in. Conner was forced out of bounds for two-yard loss. A melee ensued involving Steelers receivers and Ravens defenders. Marcus Peters picked up an offsetting penalty against a Steelers player. But Matt Judon committed the sin of shoving a referee and was ejected from the game.
The 15-yard penalty placed the ball at the Baltimore 38. Conner ran for three more which put the ball within Chris Boswell’s range. However, an incomplete pass and Dave DeCastro’s false start set up a third and 12 from the 40-yard line. Ben went to pass, hesitated then DeShon Elliott and Chris Board bottled him up and forced the fumble. Ben managed to recover his own fumble but now out of field goal range Berry brought on to punt.
Their longest drive netted just 23 yards and the only points on the board for Pittsburgh was the pick-six scored in the opening minutes. The Steelers down 7-17 at the half.
The offense wakes up and scores 21 second half points. The last touchdown retakes the lead in the fourth quarter.
OFFENSE SCORE POINTS OFF TURNOVER
The Steelers opening drive went nowhere after JuJu Smith-Schuster gained 24 yards on a short Roethlisberger pass. Three straight incompletes. Folks were worried since announcers reported that Ben and team doctors conferred following his sack in the first half.
The defense gave the ball back to offense at the 21-yard line after just one play. Conner took the ball into the red zone on a three-yard run. Roethlisberger found Eric Ebron for an 18-yard touchdown pass. And just like that, the Steelers were back into the game down by just three points.
OFFENSE PUTS A DRIVE TOGETHER
The Steelers next possession started at the 23 following a Ravens punt. Conner ran into a wall on first down so Ben went to the air. First to Eric Ebron for 14 yards. Then deep to Ray-Ray McCloud who drew a defensive pass interference call against Terrell Bonds. That made two deep passes that resulted in yards due to a penalty. Now in Ravens territory, Ben completed two passes to Claypool for nine and eight yards. Jaylon Ferguson sacked Ben making it second and 17 at the 32.
Ben continued his short game. Conner gained 13 on a short pass to the left. JuJu Smith-Schuster bulled over defenders for the first down on another short pass. Conner lost his footing for a three-yard loss. But JuJu set up first and goal with his 14-yard reception to the one. Pittsburgh calls time. Then Conner smashes through the Ravens goal line defense to take the lead for the first time since the opening score. Steelers up 21-17. The ten play for a modest 57 yards was the Steelers longest drive of the day. But capped with a TD, I’ll take it.
The Ravens pinned the Steelers at the 11 on their next possession following a fair catch by Ray-Ray. The Steelers punt after failing to gain a first down. McFarland stumbled for a one-yard gain and a short pass to Conner went nowhere on third and nine.
OFFENSE RESPONDS TO RAVENS TD WITH ONE OF THEIR OWN
The Ravens parlayed a 15-yard punt return into a fourth quarter touchdown to retake the lead 24-21 over the Steelers. Ray-Ray McCloud tried to spark the team returning the ball from two yards deep in the end zone, but Ravens special teams stopped him at the 20-yard line. Ben connected with Ebron for nine yards. On third and one, McCloud gained six. Officials tacked on 15 more due to Chuck Clark grabbing McCloud’s facemask. The next set of plays were all to JuJu. Ben short middle to JuJu for four yards. Short left to JuJu for five. On third and one, Ben to JuJu again and he gains the necessary yardage. On first down, Ben throws deep incompletion to Claypool.
For the third time, a deep pass results in a penalty on the Ravens. This no play adds 20 yards to the drive. Ben goes back to JuJu on a short pass that gains 11 to set up first and goal from the eight. Claypool scores the go-ahead touchdown on a short Ben Roethlisberger pass. The offense gains 45 yards, and the Ravens defense assists with 35 penalty yards. The score now 28-24.
The Steelers final possession was a three and out right after the two-minute warning. However, the significance is that it forced the Ravens to burn their two final timeouts. With just 52 seconds left and no timeouts, the Ravens offense remained scoreless on the field as the buzzer sounded.
Defense runs hot and cold in first half. A pick-6 to start but give up three long scoring drives.
HOT START: THEN OFFICIALS STEP IN
The Steelers deferred after winning the toss. Following the touchback, Gus Edwards ran four yards before Robert “The Hammer” Spillane tackled him. Lamar Jackson threw incomplete pass targeting Devin Duvernay to set up third and six. Spillane stepped in front of Jackson’s pass intended for James Proche and raced 33 yards into the end zone. The hammer just nailed the Ravens for a pick-six! Steelers led 7-0 less than a minute into the game.
Boswell kicks again for another touchback. Jackson completes his first pass to a Raven on first down. Myles Boykin gains 14 yards. Back to Edwards for four. Stephon Tuitt stuffs Edwards for a loss. On third and seven, Jackson scrambles toward the right sideline. Minkah Fitzpatrick grabs him and Cam Heyward drives both players out of bounds. An official throws a flag. At first, they say Fitzpatrick committed the final but then assign blame on Heyward for unnecessary roughness. A bizarre call since Heyward initiated contact on the field of play. Regardless, the Ravens rewarded with a first down by the incompetent officiating instead of punting the ball.
Rookie J.K. Dobbins gains four. An illegal formation temporarily sets the Ravens back. Then a short pass to Willie Snead gains 34 yards. Spillane makes the tackle. The Ravens now at the nine-yard line. Jackson keeps it and goes up the middle for three yards. T.J. Watt sacks Jackson before he can scramble across the line of scrimmage and its third down. Jackson connects with Miles Boykin to tie the game. Vince Williams covered. The Ravens may be targeting the inside linebackers in the passing game. On first down from the 20, Gus Edwards runs 25 yards before Joe Haden brings him down.
DEFENSE TAKEAWAY IS BIG
The Steelers offense gave the ball back to the Ravens in their territory. From the Steelers 44, Edwards gains seven yards on two running plays. The Ravens lose offensive lineman Tyree Phillips. On third and three, Dobbins goes around the right end for 28 yards. They are at the nine yards again. Heyward and Vince Williams stop Jackson at the eight. Tyson Alualu banged up and will not return to the game.
Jackson goes back to pass on second and eight. But Bud Dupree is there to swat the ball from his hand. Vince Williams recovers the fumble and the Raven’s scoring threat is over. The game remains 7-7.
The defense follow-up the score stealing takeaway with another robust performance following Jordan Berry’s weak 34-yard punt from the 18. The Ravens started at their own 48 and quickly entered Steelers territory. Edwards gashed the defense for six yards. Jackson added another five on the ground. Tuitt then sacks Jackson for an eight-yard sack. The Ravens lose another offensive lineman. This time it is Ronnie Stanley. A huge loss and should cool down the Ravens taunting. With second and 18, Baltimore tries passing. An incomplete pass then a short three yarder to Mark Andrews keeps the Ravens out of field goal range and they punt.
DEFENSE FALTERS: RAVENS SCORE TWICE TO CLOSE HALF
Tyson Alualu is on the sideline icing his knee. His return doubtful. Isaiah Buggs looks uncomfortable and a little gimpy in relief as the Ravens turn on the running attack. Missing two starting offensive linemen and Edwards runs 25 yards before Joe Haden corrals him. Edwards gains six more on the next play. The Ravens then shift to Dobbins who gains 12 for a first down then three more. Jackson completes his only pass of the drive to Mark Andrews for 11 to the Steelers six-yard line. No magic this time. Alex Highsmith and Minkah Fitzpatrick prevent Jackson from scoring but ball now at the one. Edwards scores on the next play to put the Ravens up 14-7.
The Ravens final drive of the half started at the eight with 3:44 to go. The Ravens continue to punch the defense in the mouth with their running game. Edwards gains four, Dobbins two then Jackson around the end for nine. Lamar carries the ball in one hand and fumbled on the play but recovers it. Ball bouncing in Ravens favor. On second and six Jackson throws what I believe is a Joe Haden interception. I immediately wonder if the Steelers can score off the turnover. Unfortunately, officials overturn the call after review. The tip of the ball hit the ground though it looked like it was in his grasp. More good fortune for the Ravens.
RAVENS PULLING AWAY
On third and six Jackson gets eight and the Ravens call their first timeout with 1:09 to go. An illegal shift sends the Ravens to the 30 and first and 15. Dobbins runs right for nine. Ravens no huddle and line immediately up. Willie Snead just manages a first down and the Ravens call a second timeout with :41 to go. Two incomplete passes bring third and ten. Willie Snead again catches a pass gaining just enough for another first down. Jackson goes up the middle and Ravens use final timeout with 21 seconds left. At the 41, they are out of even Justin Tucker’s range. Dobbins brings him into range with an eight-yard run. Jackson spikes the ball with three seconds left. Tucker calmly kicks a 51-yard field goal to extend the Ravens lead to 17-7. Their lead feels much greater than ten points.
Steelers defense starts the half strong with another opening drive turnover. Give up fourth quarter touchdown but manage to preserve the Steelers four-point lead at the end of the game.
DEFENSE STRONG THIRD QUARTER
The Ravens first possession of the second half lasted one play. Alex Highsmith intercepted Lamar Jackson’s pass intended for Andrews. The offense exploited the turnover two plays over with a touchdown to resurrect our hopes for a Steelers victory.
The defense forces the Ravens to punt after three plays on their next possession. Isiah Buggs tackles Edwards to set up a third and four. Spillane defends a pass intended for Dobbins. Young Steelers stepping up. The Ravens must punt.
The Ravens were more successful on their third possession of the half. But did not cross midfield. On third and five, Jackson connected with Mark Andrews. Cam Sutton force a fumble and Spillane just missed recovering it as he slid out of bounds. Dobbins reaches midfield on a two-yard run. Jackson throws an incompletion then tries the middle but is denied by Watt. Sam Koch punts away.
EARLY FOURTH QUARTER LETDOWN
The Steelers ended the third quarter by Tuitt sacking Lamar Jackson for the fourth time of the game. But John Harbaugh must have drawn up good plans during the commercial break. Jackson completed a 39-yard pass on the first play of the fourth quarter. It was third and 14. Sheesh. Suddenly, the Ravens are knocking on the door in the red zone. Spillane drops Edwards for a two-yard loss. Offensive holding pushes the ball back to the 30. Someone forgot to tell the defense Willie Snead was on the field. He caught a 24-yard pass on second and 22. Baltimore challenges incompletion but Marquise Brown knee clearly out of bounds as he caught ball. Should cost a timeout. The defense holds until third and three. But Jackson to Brown connection not to be denied as they connect for the go-ahead touchdown.
LONG DRIVE ENDED BY ANOTHER TAKEAWAY, LEAVE RAVENS ON FIELD
Ben and the offense responded with a go-ahead touchdown of their own to make the score 28-24 with 7:29 to play. Heyward stopped Dobbins after a seven-yard run. He really hustles. Edwards gains four and a first down. The defense looks gassed. Dobbins for nine and then five more for a first down. Ravens at midfield with five minutes to go but a Tucker field goal not a factor with a four-point lead. Edwards runs 20 yards to the 30-yard line. Dobbins around right end to the 15. Defense not containing the Ravens rushing attack and team leader Cam Heyward walks off the field with a leg injury. Yoi!
3:48 to play. Ravens first and ten at the 15-yard line. Dupree stops Jackson after a three yard gain up the middle. Dobbins runs off right guard where Highsmith and Fitzpatrick combine to limit him to two yards. Jackson tests the middle again on third and five. Isaiah Buggs who looked uncomfortable in the first half stops him at two yards setting up fourth and three. A big play in the game. Jackson keeps going up middle again. Buggs and Fitzpatrick stop him forcing a fumble that Spillane recovers. Regardless, it’s Steelers ball at the two-minute warning.
DEFENSE FINISHES IT FOR THE OFFENSE
The offense could not make the first down needed to ice the game. The Ravens do burn their final timeouts. So, get the ball at their own 37 with 52 seconds to steal the victory from the Steelers. Running the ball is no longer an option for Baltimore. Heyward hustles to tackle Dobbins after an eight-yard gain. Following an incompletion, Baltimore completes a big fourth and two play. Jackson finds Snead deep for 32 yards to the 23-yard line. Cam Heyward hurt again, and the Steelers must call timeout. Jackson has two plays to score but throws two incomplete passes. Wrap it up, the defense holds for another Pittsburgh Steelers victory.
I break special teams play into six phases: Kickoffs, kickoff returns, punts, punt returns, field goal kicking and blocking field goals plus PAT attempts.
Chris Boswell kicked off five times. Four kickoffs were touchbacks. Devin Duvernay returned one for 20 yards reaching the 27-yard line. Marcus Allen tackled him.
Justin Tucker kicked off four times. Ray-Ray McCloud returned the first 26 yards, but Trey Edmunds made illegal block pushing the ball back to the 16. Tucker kick two touchbacks then Ray-Ray returned the last from two yards deep in the end zone. He gained 22 yards before Ravens special teamers tackled him at the 20-yard line. The Steelers started behind their 25 twice while the Ravens worst starting position was the 25 and the best the 27-yard line. Advantage Ravens.
Jordan Berry punted six times averaging 42.2 yards a punt. His first punt was a weak 34-yard punt that went out of bounds at the Baltimore 48. He then punted three times with fair catches at the 20- and eight-yard line. The third went out of bounds at the 17. Berry’s fifth punt from deep in his territory went 56 yards but James Proche returned it 15 yards to the Baltimore 47. The Ravens scored following the 15-yard return. His last punt went 48 yards and fair caught at the Baltimore 37. Berry netted 39.7 yards a punt.
Sam Koch punted three times averaging 39.7 yards per punt. Ray-Ray McCloud returned the first five yards to the 15-yard line. Ray-Ray fair caught the other two at the 23- and 11-yard lines, respectively. Koch only netted 38 yards a punt but was kicking from shorter fields. Two of three of his punts were behind the 20. Berry showed that he has a strong leg, but the big return hurt and aided the Ravens go ahead score in the fourth quarter. Advantage Ravens.
FIELD GOALS AND POINTS AFTER TDS
Chris Boswell made all four of his extra point attempts. Tucker kicked three extra point attempts and nailed a 51-yard field goal to extend the Ravens lead at the end of the first half. Advantage Ravens.
DAVE BRYAN’S VICTORY PUNCH LIST REVIEW
- Stymie the Ravens rush attack to force Jackson to throw the ball more than 25 times. Jackson threw the ball 28 times, but the Ravens ran for 265 yards. And they were missing two starting linemen most of the game. Mission fail.
- Ben connects deep at least three times. Ben threw three deep passes resulting in defensive penalties on an aggressive secondary. Not completions but the same result. Mission accomplished.
- Limit Marquis Brown and Mark Andrews. Brown and Andrews caught four of eight passes targeting them for 35 yards. Brown scored a short touchdown, but Baltimore looked toward Willie Snead for help. Mission accomplished.
- Use pre-snap motion to free up James Conner. Conner gained 47 yards on 15 carries. Mission fail.
- Keep the Ravens under 20 points scored. Defense kept them under until the fourth quarter but … Mission fail.
YOUR HOT TAKES DURING THE GAME
FIRST HALF READER COMMENTS
Steelers Depot readers commented 1521 times on the game’s first half Live Update and Discussion Thread. Ross McCorkle kept us informed with live updates as we chirped our comments.
Drews 1914 had the most liked comment of the first half: “Prayers for Stanley. Hope he’s gonna be alright” It says a lot about the overall Steelers Depot readership. Very classy.
Many agreed with KS on the early roughing call, “He was still in bounds when Heyward hit him.” Dante Parker wanted to know why officials didn’t see “Dupree was held. Refs never give us our flags.”
When the Ravens were sure to score but failed, Steven Small gave thanks. “Nice! Thanks Lamar! We need to keep the pressure on this guy and make him crack. Good job Bud.”
As the Ravens running game picked up steam Ddrews 1914 added another popular opinion: “Who knew Alualu would be the guy we could least afford to lose” Donald observed, “Defense looks gassed already, understandably so”
Lack of offense frustrated the fans. Nolrog captured the sentiment, “The entire Pittsburgh offense has 66 yards of production so far. Spillane alone has 33 yards of “offense” and he plays defense.”
As the half ended on a sour note, Stone Age Tone remained optimistic, “Different game after HT, trust me guys, believe in the Steelers!”
7-17 but it seemed like 47-7. Let’s see what the second half brings.
SECOND HALF READER COMMENTS
Comments up to 1586 in the 2nd half live discussion. A raucous half of football.
Your truly, Beaver Falls Hosiery had the leading comment of the second half: “Steelers need 88-yard drive lasting 17 minutes capped by TD.” The comment got the Fan in Exile thinking, “A 17-minute drive. Just rolling that one around in the mind right now.’ But why not? The Steelers had the ball on the 11- or 12-yard line with 2:25 to go in the third quarter. It would be epic. But the Steelers go three and out.
Michael Cunningham loved Lamar Jackson’s interception to start the half. “LJ is literally keeping us in this game … thanks !!! :)” Jason Vancil added “This Draft Class is looking stellar.”
Alevin 16 identified a weakness in the rules following a penalty on the extra point attempt. The Steelers were forced to re-kick after Baltimore had too many people on the field. “That rule needs to be reviewed. It should not cost us anything for their mistake.”
SDKeller72 likes the pre-snap motion in Pittsburgh’s offense. “I like the Claypool motion; it made the defense hesitate”
My guess is that the Rusted Curtain did this multiple times as many of us did during this back and forth game: “Aaand I just taught my children how to swear properly…”
KS appreciated JuJu’s gritty drive extending plays. “Man, I know we probably can’t pay him, but JuJu’s the heart and soul of this receiving corps. He’s worth a little more than his production.”
When the game finished, Pittfan exalted. “NOW WAS THAT EPIC OR WHAT???”
I agree. Wrap it up and I’ll take it.
The Steelers offense was absent in the first half. Ben came on strong in the second half. While he did not complete a bunch of deep passes, three drew penalties. He went underneath to keep the ball moving. James Conner ran just enough to keep the Ravens attention. JuJu reminded me of Hines Ward on some of the key first downs he picked up to extend drives.
The defense started big with a pick six. But allowed too many long drives. The defense lost containment on the edges which the Ravens exploited. But stopped the Ravens running game at the crucial point in the game to win it.
The Ravens elite special teams outmatched the Steelers units but not by much. Not bad considering key special team contributors like Jordan Dangerfield and Derek Watt did not play. The Steelers rendered Tucker a non-factor by taking a four-point lead in the fourth quarter.
Big plays by Robert Spillane and Alex Highsmith are encouraging. Isiah Buggs grew into his role replacing Tyson Alualu as the game wore on – he is not a nose tackle by trade.
No mistake. This was a big game, and the players know it.
My main hero this week is the Hammer … Robert Spillane. His pick six to start the game provided a cushion that helped the team survive 17 unanswered points. The Ravens tested his coverage skills and succeed at times, but he did defend at least one pass in addition to his interception. He hustled all over recovering one fumble and almost had another.
We’ll learn Tuesday if the Steelers dodged an injury bullet with Tyson Alualu and Cam Heyward. It was scary when Ben consulted the doctor following his sack, but his arm looked lively in the second half. The Dallas Cowboys are next up. They are hurting but we all know what that means. Steelers don’t fall for the trap!
YOUR MUSIC SELECTION
I always like to offer a music selection. The Ravens were chippy and taunting while they held a lead. But the Steelers never backed down. Here is I Won’t Back Down by Tom Petty.