By Daniel Benjamin
The Pittsburgh Steelers have been waiting for their offense to explode, and it finally did at the most opportune time. The Steelers produced a season-high 381 yards of offense and scored a season-best three offensive touchdowns en route to a 26-9 victory over their arch-nemesis, the Baltimore Ravens. The victory in Baltimore was the Steelers’ first since 2012.
“It’s great to enjoy this victory in a hostile environment, AFC North football,” said head coach Mike Tomlin. “I thought our guys responded in an appropriate way, not only to the environment and the opponent, but largely to the challenge all week. Just being able to stay focused, stay together, that is what professionals are called to do.”
While it is still early in the season, the victory was very important for the Steelers. They have won two straight over the Ravens, marking the first time that has occurred in four years. More importantly, the win gives the Steelers an early edge in the battle for the AFC North crown as they essentially own a two-game lead over the second place Ravens.
The star of the game was unquestionably running back Le’Veon Bell. After struggling the first three weeks of the season, Bell looked like his old self against the Ravens. He logged 35 carries for 144 yards and two touchdowns to go along with four receptions for an additional 42 yards. Bell put on big moves and bounced to the outside several times in the game, resulting in solid gains. Overall, he had 11 runs of five yards or more, and three runs of 10 yards or greater. The fifth-year pro averaged 4.1 yards per carry with the biggest run being for 21 yards.
While the running game thrived, the Steelers didn’t have any other standout offensive performers. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger managed the game well, but he wasn’t able to generate any big plays downfield. Roethlisberger completed 18-of-30 passes for a pedestrian 216 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He was also only able to complete four of nine passes to star receiver Antonio Brown, which in part led to Brown‘s frustration.
The offense did capitalize on the Ravens mistakes and controlled the ball for most of the game. The Steelers scored two touchdowns after Ravens turnovers and tallied three scores altogether when they worked a short field. The Steelers were also 7-of-15 on third downs and kept the ball for 35 minutes and 29 seconds.
The Steelers defense bounced back very nicely from their disappointing Week 3 effort. They did a fantastic job bottling up a Ravens running attack that is averaging 142.3 yards per game. The Steelers did allow 82 yards on on the ground to the Ravens, but 73 of those yards came on two carries by second-year pro Alex Collins.
The defense registered seven tackles for losses, six quarterback hits and four sacks for the game. They also picked off two passes and defensive end Cam Heyward forced and recovered a fumble. In addition, the Steelers had seven pass defensed.
The Steelers limited the Ravens to 288 yards of total offense as they pestered quarterback Joe Flacco regularly. They have not given up more than 18 points through the first four weeks and are on pace to produce 60 sacks for the season.
Linebacker Ryan Shazier was the most active defensive player, recording 11 tackles—10 solos—to go along with an interception and three pass defensed. Shazier intercepted a pass early in the fourth quarter and then on the very next Ravens’ possession deflected a Flacco pass that ended up in the hands of cornerback Mike Hilton.
Heyward also had an outstanding outing with four tackles and two sacks. Heyward now has three sacks on the season, tying his season total last year.
Special Teams: B
Kicker Chris Boswell missed a field goal attempt for a second straight week as his 44-yard attempt midway through the third quarter was wide left. He did finish the game with eight points, making a 30-yard and 49-yard field goals. The 49-yarder came on the drive Villaneuva was flagged for 15-yards.
The Steelers coaching staff knows that if the offense is going to be successful, they need to run the ball. And the Ravens, who were missing a few starters on their defensive line, were ripe for the picking. The best part of the Steelers’ strategy was that they kept getting Bell touches. Bell had his number called nine times on the opening possession, where he totaled 56 of the 84 yards on the drive. Overall, the Steelers ran the ball 42 times for 176 yards.
The Steelers coaching staff also gets high marks for going for the two-point conversion following the second touchdown late in the first half as that is what the score and time remaining dictated. The defensive game plan was also superb.
The Steelers will look to extend their lead in the the AFC North when they host the Jacksonville Jaguars on Oct. 8 at Heinz Field. The Jaguars (2-2) are off to their best start since beginning the 2010 season at 2-2. The Jags are coming off a 23-20 overtime road loss to the New York Jets on Sunday afternoon.
Pittsburgh has won three straight games in the series, though the two teams have not met in nearly three years. Jacksonville leads the all-time series 12-11-0.