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Steelers Win an Ugly and Odd Edition of this Classic Rivalry

In Mike Tomlin’s post game press conference in Jacksonville, he said “nothing is perfect about us, except our record”. The phrase tells the story of this game as the Steelers played their overall worst game of the year but still ended up with a win and moved to 11-0. Baltimore is now out of contention for the AFC North with this loss and have been swept by the Steelers. 

In other news, it looks like Bud Dupree has torn his ACL and will miss the rest of the season. He came up gimpy after a non contact injury where his knee seemed to buckle. This is obviously a massive loss for the Steelers but also terrible for Dupree because he was set to be a free agent and get paid handsomely this offseason.  

Make no mistake, even if an entire team’s defensive line is on the COVID reserve list, the Steelers will still be a pass first and often team. On Wednesday afternnon the pass game was wildly inconsistent and it prevented the Steelers from getting into the endzone. The Steelers drove the ball inside the 10 yard line three times in the first half and scored two field goals. 

From solely a stat sheet perspective, Ben played well and could have had over 300 yards and an 82% completion percentage if his receivers didn’t drop passes. But in all honesty Ben played well enough to win a game against a depleted Ravens team and nothing more. There was obviously that awful interception in the endzone on fourth down but it wasn’t just that. The accuracy wasn’t as pinpoint as it’s been in weeks past and his decision making almost cost them dearly if it wasn’t for James Washington making an excellent catch on a lob pass with three defenders lurking.  It was not a bad game from Ben but it also wasn’t one of his best of the year. 

As an offense overall, they seemed to be very out of sync from a pass game that has proven it can play better. The explosive weapons were all off their games today with the exception of Juju and Snell. Johnson, Claypool, and Ebron combined for 6 drops all together and McCloud had an uncharacteristic muffed punt on special teams. Half of these dropped passes came in the red zone where the Steelers struggled the most. 

From a gameplan point of view the Steelers frankly didn’t seem to know what they were doing too many times in this game. They consistently threw the ball in the direction of Marlon Humphrey, the Ravens best corner, and he was able to notch a few pass breakups and played outstanding coverage. Additionally when the ball was inside the 10, the Steelers never threw the ball into the endzone on a single play and threw the ball outside the numbers far too often. A great game plan and consistent execution is needed to produce a good offensive product and the Steelers didn’t seem to have either against the Ravens. 

Believe it or not, however, there were guys who stepped up and played on offense as the Steelers needed someone to step up if they wanted to win. JuJu Smith-Schuster had a mellow stat sheet game but simply put, he was very reliable which can’t be said about everyone else. He had no drops, scored the lone offensive touchdown, and delivered a nasty stiff arm to fight for extra yards. Each week he continues to prove his value in a contract season. 

Benny Snell was the starting running back since Conner tested positive for COVID earlier in the week. He ran hard and totaled 93 yards of offense through the run and pass game. It’s not like the Steelers run blocking was particularly great either, as a lot of his yardage came from him making something out of nothing. Not a pretty product but credit to the Ravens, as their defense was ready and they showed it.  

With how poorly the offense played, the Steelers defense had to play stellar to win the game. With the exception of two plays, they were. A Robert Griffin III big run and Brown’s 75 yard touchdown were the only significant plays given up all game. Those two plays made up 52% of the Ravens total yardage gained for the entire game. The run defense was stout enough, as they limited Baltimore’s go-to playcall. 

Two turnovers were forced from the defense. One being a missed handoff from Griffin which was recovered by Vince Williams and the other was a Joe Haden pick six. It marks the third pick six of the year and continues their successful trap corner zone defense scheme on the outside. 

Up front, they played well as a team against the run and Cameron Heyward stepped up big time with the loss of Stephon Tuitt for this game. Heyward flat out pancaked Griffin to the ground on his sack and generated consistent pressure up the middle. 8 tackles for loss as a team with 3 of them being sacks. 

Two of the sacks came from TJ Watt who now leads the NFL in sacks with 11 on the season. He continues to build his case for DPOY, leading the NFL in sacks, QB hits, and total pressures certainly puts him in the running. He also played well in converge against Hollywood Brown, which is not something that should continue because it won’t end well against better quarterbacks. 

Robert Spillane had a productive outing with 6 tackles but they were all timely plays when he brought down the receiver or running back before the first down line. Minkah Fitzpatrick once again saved a touchdown against the Ravens. At the end of the half he broke a pass that would have been completed in the end zone for a touchdown. Yes, the Steelers should have been flagged for delay of game before the last play, but the Ravens would have had a timeout if John Harbaugh hadn’t wasted it the play before. Minkah came up with two pass deflections and a big time hit on Griffin on the sideline. 

It was a great outing from the defense in a game where this team needed them to play well. Regarding the Bud Dupree injury, it’s nothing short of a huge loss for the Steelers. Dupree is their second best pass rusher and it’s the combination of him and Watt that makes the Steelers so potent of a pass rushing team. Alex Highsmith has played well when he’s come into the game but he can’t replicate the productivity of Dupree at this stage of his career. This loss could allow teams to gameplan better against TJ Watt and company which would force the Steelers to blitz more if the rush can’t hit home.  Without Bush and now Dupree, the Steelers must continue to embrace the next man up mentality at linebacker.  

It was a wacky game from start to finish. The game was played six days after it was originally scheduled to take place, there were four turnovers on four drives in a row, and RG3 and Dez Bryant were playing on the same team. Steelers fans thought the trap game would come against the Bengals or the Jaguars but in reality the Steelers played down to a COVID riddled Ravens team. 

Some will say the Steelers are frauds because of how they looked in this game. This thinking fails to understand that the Steelers vs Ravens games are always a battle and it’s always a close game no matter the circumstances or the rosters on paper. That’s the beauty of this rivalry. Ugly wins happen in the NFL and the Steelers won a very ugly game. By the looks of Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger’s faces postgame, they know they didn’t perform well and they know there is still a lot of work to do moving forward.   

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