When you sit down to watch a Steelers/Ravens game, there are a few things you prepare yourself for. Two ferocious defenses that make life as difficult as possible for the opposition. Some big highlight plays punctuated by some hard nosed ball carrying and tough receptions. And of course, a little back and forth between two of the best teams in the 2020 NFL season.
We got it all. The electric 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson did his best to provide a spark to an offense that was piling up yardage. However, they couldn’t pull away and the Steelers played up to the level of their historic rivals. Lending further credence to their claim as the kingpin of the NFL.
Week eight review: Pittbsurgh Steelers 28 – 24 Baltimore Ravens
Two of the most dominant defenses squared off to try and stop two dynamic offenses to gain true control of the AFC North. The narrative never changes when it comes to the Steelers and the Ravens. Especially when both are operating at a high level.
Both teams boast defenses loaded with talent and the Ravens added to their talented core by acquiring pass rusher Yannick Ngakwoue from the Vikings. Early on, it seemed as if the Ravens defense had the upper hand. They limited Pittsburgh to three and outs and punts as the physical Ravens secondary erased the young Steelers playermakers on the perimeter.
The Steelers weren’t to be outdone though, with new hero Robert Spillane snagging a pick six from Jackson. Spillane made a great break on the ball over the middle and housed the ball for six. While the former depth chart filler is proving himself to be a sure tackler and great box player, he lacks the foot speed of the injured Devin Bush and this showed on some outside runs.
Alex Highsmith has also proved to be a pleasant surprise over the last two weeks, snagging an interception by taking a great angle on a zone drop into the flat. He high pointed the ball well, got enough depth on the play and continues to look smooth in space. With his snap count increasing week by week, Highsmith looks to be another draft steal in this deep class.
The cheap addition of LB Avery Williamson from the hapless New York Jets should help solidify the front seven and add some much needed depth to a depleted LB corps. While the addition doesn’t solve the speed issue at linebacker, it does allow more flexibility for Keith Butler and the defense. Williamson is a plus run defender, with some upside as a pass defender when deployed properly. Jets fans will point to an awful game in zone coverage against the Chiefs last week and be thankful to get rid.
The Steelers defense finished with two interceptions, four sacks, three forced fumbles and a TD. TJ Watt and Dupree wreaked havoc in the second half, holding the edge and forcing the Ravens to run the ball through the tough centre. Spillane himself registered eleven tackles, a fumble recovery and the aforementioned interception.
The run defense suffered in the first half with the early loss of Tyson Alualu to the tune of 265 rushing yards. With the run stuffing DT in the lineup, the Steelers were only allowing 1.9 yards per carry. This number skyrocketed when he left the game and Isaiah Buggs was forced into action. JK Dobbins, Gus Edwards and Lamar himself made life difficult for the injury riddled front seven throughout the game. With Cam Heyward going down late, the Steelers defensive line could be diving deep into the depth chart next week. No official update has been provided on either player, but it was noted that Heyward’s injury “wasn’t serious”.
It was only the eighth time in Steelers history that they have surrendered 200+ yards and won the game. The takeaway? An important win for the only undefeated team in the NFL and the secondary played well. Cam Sutton seems to provide more stability than the blitz happy Hilton, a conundrum for Butler in the coming weeks.
Stepping up when needed
The Pittsburgh offence was limited to 221 total yards, with only 48 yards on the ground. They were stymied in the first half and the imposing Ravens secondary, particularly Marcus Peters. Who welcomed offensive rookie of the year candidate Chase Claypool to the NFL by forcing a fumble and shutting him down.
The second half was a different story. The Steelers offense took advantage when it needed to, converting their three red zone trips to TD’s. Ben Roethlisberger threw two well designed TD strikes to Claypool and Eric Ebron. The vet admitted that he took over the offensive play calling somewhat in the second half, resulting in more five-wide sets and some impressive route running combinations.
Ebron in particular looks to be fitting in nicely, averaging 4.4 catches per game and six targets (over the last five games). Big Ben obviously trusts the former Colt in key moments, and Ebron is providing the TE production that tends to make the Steelers offense tick.
Overall, this was a tough, hard earned victory that pushes the Steelers to the very top of the pile in the AFC. The schedule softens for a few weeks, before the Ravens head into Pittsburgh for a rematch, which will hopefully allow the Steelers to acclimate their new LB addition and get their defensive starters healthy.
Next week: America’s team take on the Cowboys.
Jack is an NFL nerd with a passion for player stories and watching too much draft coverage. He's a DB coach with the Exeter Demons University team in the UK and a Steelers fan.