In a meeting of bitter rivals on Sunday Night Football the Pittsburgh Steelers rode their hot offense to a big 43-23 win over the Baltimore Ravens. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 6 touchdowns for the second straight week, but the real story was how well their hobbled defense played.
This was a crucial divisional game for both teams who came in each with a record of 5-3 and a half game back of the Cincinnati Bengals for the AFC North lead. The Steelers came into this game hot getting two big wins over the Texans and Colts in the first two games of their three game home stand. Baltimore lost a close one to the Bengals the week before but have looked convincing in all their others wins so far this year.
Defensively the Ravens opened the game firing on all cylinders not letting the previously very hot Steelers offense get a single first down until their fourth drive of the game. Pittsburgh’s defense played well in the first half all around except for getting beat deep once for their only first half touch down to Torrey Smith. Early on the Ravens pass rush was really causing Ben Roethlisberger trouble, but as the half wore on Pittsburgh’s defense started to get more pressure on Joe Flacco.
As the Steelers pass rush increased it began to disrupt Flacco’s rhythm and it led to a Jason Worilds interception that set up their second touch down. Pittsburgh’s first touchdown was setup by another turnover when Baltimore fumbled and the Steelers recovering it inside the Ravens 30 yard line. Both of Pittsburgh’s first two scores were set up by Baltimore turnovers and some of the Pittsburgh drives had also been kept alive by bad penalties. Late in the second quarter James Harrison really began to look like the 2009 version of himself wreaking havoc in the back field and constantly getting in Flacco’s face.
Just before half the Steelers added to their lead with a really quick drive that went 80 yards in 5 plays ending with a 47 yard touchdown bomb to Markus Wheaton. A really odd play gave Pittsburgh a two-point conversion, when the holder fumbled the snap and rolled out and found a receiver in the end zone, making the halftime lead 22-10.
The second half opened with a third quarter that saw neither team score but both showed they were ready for a fight. These teams reminded everyone their dislike for each other as play began to get really physical around the time Terrell Suggs got flagged for a cheap shot to the back of LaGarrette Blount’s knees. Neither offense could muster much in terms of yardage as the physicality began to ratchet up, but Pittsburgh began to show some life on offense late in the third quarter and early in the fourth. Leveon Bell, who has been super productive so far this year, really struggled to get anything going in the run or the pass other than his short touchdown catch in the second quarter.
Antonio Brown reignited the Steelers offense early in the fourth quarter with a nice catch and an amazing run after the catch to score a 54-yard touchdown and extend the lead to 29-10. Jacoby Jones gave the Ravens an immediate answer returning the ensuing kick off for a touchdown without getting touched keeping them in the game cutting the Steelers lead making it 29-17. Brown answered back with some nice catches on the ensuing drive and set up another Martavis Bryant touchdown. Bryant’s catch in traffic that made the score 36-17 was his fifth touchdown in only his third NFL game.
After being heavily criticized this season the Steelers defense really played well in this one getting a huge boost in the pass rush from the excellent play all night from James Harrison. The pass rush definitely helped but the very young secondary really played well, especially Antwon Blake who replaced Cortez Allen at starting corner and played very well. Troy Polamalu came out of the game hurt in the first half but the young secondary stepped up and his absence did not seem to matter in the end. Injuries have really piled up for the Pittsburgh defense and in this matchup they lost rookie first round pick Ryan Shazier to another injury, but as with other positions the replacements have filled in well.
It was not just the defense that stepped up in this winning effort for Pittsburgh the offense also continued to roll carrying over the momentum from their big win over the Colts. Ben Roethlisberger had another 6-touchdown game making it twelve in two games with no interceptions. Antonio Brown has continued to prove he might just be the best receiver in the NFL with another huge night ending the night with 11 receptions for 144 yards and a touchdown. After a 3-3 start Pittsburgh has really stepped up in a three game home stand to improve to 6-3 with a game in New York against the Jets coming up next.
It will be tough for the Ravens to recover after this big loss to their bitter rivals, which dropped them to last in the AFC North with a 5-4 record. Baltimore has now lost two straight road games to division foes but will get a little easier matchup next when the Titans travel to Baltimore. This result could really change the perception of these two teams as the Ravens have gotten much more respect coming in even though the two teams had the same record coming in.
In the AFC North it is still a wide-open race even after the Steelers beat the Ravens handily by a score of 43-23. All four teams are above .500 but the two teams matched up in this one look headed in different directions. Baltimore was 5-2 but now they are 5-4 after two straight division losses. Pittsburgh has had an offensive explosion in the last two weeks and it has led them to a 6-3 record.
Commentary By Max Petkevicius