By Jeremy Hritz
Winning cures everything. But the 19-6 victory at the Meadowlands may not have provided enough of the elixir needed to speed the recovery of the sickly Pittsburgh Steelers. Optimistically, however, the win against the Jets was the first sign of health from a team that seemed to be without pulse as it deteriorated 0-4.
There were several positives in the Steelers only win, highlighted by an efficient offense that finally protected the football and did not have a turnover. Though Emmanuel Sanders did fumble, the liberated ball was thankfully recovered by the Steelers.
On defense, the turnover hex was lifted, as Ryan Clark and Lawrence Timmons both picked off passes. It could have been three interceptions had Clark not done his best Ike Taylor impersonation shortly after his first pick.
As far as individual performances are concerned, Antonio Brown was solid and consistent outside of his dropped touchdown pass, and Ben Roethlisberger, who probably enjoyed his best protection of the season, and was precise and mistake free.
And Cameron Heyward, Jarvis Jones, Jason Worilds, and LaMarr Woodley generated pressure, rattling rookie Geno Smith and forcing him into some erratic throws, while Vince Williams flashed what can be as he continues to develop.
But for every positive, there are still some concerns as to how good of a football team the 2013 Steelers can be.
The running game continued to struggle.
The rushing defense still was a bit porous.
And the offense still is not scoring enough points, especially when presented with quality opportunities.
You have to acknowledge the quality of the Jets run defense when considering the running game, but the Steelers must be able to rush for more than 2.8 yards per carry moving forward, and maybe with some consistency on the offensive line with Kelvin Beachum sticking at left tackle, this will be an area that improves.
Conversely, the Steelers gave up 4.2 yards per carry against the Jets, perpetuating the issues of the rushing defense that have been around all year, and with Ray Rice coming to town, though the Baltimore Ravens run game has struggled, the Steelers must fulfill their defensive charge of shutting down the opponent’s ground game.
Lastly, the Steelers have to show that they can get into the end zone more, something that can be helped by making strides in the running game to take off some of the defensive emphasis on the passing game. The Jets surrender an average of 22 points a game, and the Steelers only managed to score 19. If they are to compete with teams of offensive prowess, they have to score touchdowns and not settle for field goals. As I wrote back in January, Steelers offenses under Roethlisberger average 22.6 points a game, and in 2013, the Steelers are only putting up 17.6. If the winning trend is to continue, this number has to begin trending upwards.
And now it is Ravens week and a chance for the Steelers to get out of the hospital bed. Unfortunately for the Steelers, a healthy and explosive Terrell Suggs and a speedy Elvis Dumervil will be looking to put Roethlisberger in one.
The Ravens haven’t been world-beaters this season at 3-3, and many of the issues that are plaguing the Steelers, they are experiencing as well. Deficiencies on the offensive line, in the running game, and in scoring points have made the Ravens less fearsome than they have been in years past.
Rice has not been himself, Joe Flacco is getting pounded, and outside of Torrey Smith, the Ravens receiving corps is painfully average.
The greatest strength of the Ravens is their edge rushers, and it is the reason that Steelers fans should feel the most anxiety heading into this weekend’s game. After six games, the Ravens have 22 sacks, with Suggs responsible for seven and Dumervil responsible for five. The Steelers have not seen a pass rush like this all season, and if they don’t get marked improvement in their protection, it’s not a matter of if Roethlisberger gets injured, it’s a matter of which quarter. Ultimately, if this dreaded duo abuses Beachum and Marcus Gilbert, which is highly likely, it will be a long day at Heinz Field. For this reason, the emergence of the running game is needed more than ever to offset this threat.
What to Expect
It will be interesting to see what the Steelers can do with the momentum that they built in last week’s game against the Jets, and whether or not they can carry that over in their contest with the Ravens. This team has to relearn how to win and break the bad habit of losing, and last week was the first step in doing so.
Last week was the first time this season in which the offense appeared to have some rhythm, as evidenced by the lack of turnovers and their ability to move the football through the air against a good defense. While they didn’t score a slew of points, the unit as a whole, outside of the running game, showed flashes. The Steelers offense for the first time this season demonstrated some confidence, and that cannot be overstated. That confidence should carry over into this important game against the Ravens and result in an even better rhythm and momentum in their pursuit of upping their record to 2-4.
Keep Your Eye On
Suggs and Dumervil.
Both will dictate the outcome of this game, because the Steelers greatest weapon is Roethlisberger. If he is neutralized by the Ravens pass rush, the outcome of this game is easy to predict.
Roethlisberger has missed the last two contests against the Ravens and is no doubt anticipating facing off against a quarterback that has leapfrogged him in the “elite” discussions by the pundits this offseason. The short passing game from a week ago will again be the focus, though the Steelers will try to stick with the run to set up a couple deep throws off of play action to take advantage of an exploitable secondary.
There is no reason to believe that Beachum and Gilbert can protect the Ben, but I think that Beachum redeemed himself well after his early hiccups against the Jets and that Gilbert has been steadily improving. Additionally, in Beachum’s first start last year against the Ravens at right tackle, he played well and only gave up one sack. The Steelers are generally successful in October, and I think that they will be up for this game. Steelers in a close one with some late game magic from Big Ben.
Steelers 21 Ravens 17