By Matthew Marczi
The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the game knowing that they could not gain any ground on the division-leading Cincinnati Bengals, who won their afternoon game on a long, last-second 54-yard field goal by Mike Nugent. But they are facing the Baltimore Ravens, whom they can match in losses at four with a victory.
The Ravens won the coin toss and deferred. On the first play, Mike Adams came in as an extra lineman, which went for a first down on a completed pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown. After a penalty, Le’Veon Bell showed nice patience and vision for a big gain to set up third and one. Roethlisberger had time on the third down play, but a floater down the field could not find a target, bringing Zoltan Mesko on for the punt, which was returned to the 34.
On Joe Flacco’s first pass, LaMarr Woodley batted it up in the air, but right tackle Michael Oher smartly batted it away. Jason Worilds got the start at outside linebacker with Jarvis Jones out due to a concussion. Ray Rice was stopped for a one-yard gain and pressure on third down forced a three-and-out. Brown returned the punt 19 yards to the 40-yard line.
On first down, the Steelers faked a reverse that went to Bell on a handoff for a 10-yard gain to midfield. On the next play, Bell lined up outside and the pass went to Brown for five. On second down, Roethlisberger went outside with Bell in the wildcat, who handed to Brown for a three-yard end-around to set up third and two. The same play was called on third down, except this time Bell kept it for a five-yard gain on a read-option.
On the next play, Roethlisberger was back under center, and he was forced to heave up a wobbler that Will Johnson almost caught. Le’Veon Bell gained close to five on second down near the 30-yard line. On third down, Roethlisberger found Jerricho Cotchery into the red zone a game after the veteran receiver was not even targeted.
Now from the 12, Roethlisberger found Cotchery again for nine yards to set up third and short. Bell was brought down on a great tackle by Lardarius Webb to stop him short of the first. On third and one, Heath Miller motioned right after the snap and received a shovel pass for the touchdown to take a 7-0 lead.
In the interim, right tackle Marcus Gilbert left the game and was deemed questionable to return with a quad injury. Guy Whimper took over at the spot despite Adams already having played in the game at tight end—which Whimper has also done with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Steelers were evidently working Adams at tight end in practice, and knew Gilbert was iffy with the quad injury, however, and elected to stick with the game plan.
On first down for the Ravens, Ray Rice took a pass six yards, but was stopped for no gain on the ground by Cortez Allen on second down. On third down, Tandon Doss beat Allen for a big 22-yard pass just across midfield.
Shamarko Thomas drilled Marlon Brown on the next play after a three-yard gain. Rice gained three to set up third and four as the dime package continued to dominate. Ed Dickson was able to convert on third down, however. Steve McLendon was eventually able to stop a third and one carry, but Justin Tucker was good from 46 to make it 7-3.
On the ensuing kickoff, Felix Jones took the final play of the first quarter out of the end zone all the way to the 41, with most of the last ten yards coming with Ravens on his back. This is the second drive out of three in which special teams has set the Steelers up with quality field position.
On first down, Bell continued to show patience on a nine-yard carry. On second down, the Steelers faked an end-around on a handoff to Bell, which again went for a nice gain, this time for eight. On his third consecutive handoff, he gained five. Roethlisberger’s second-down pass was out of bounds to Antonio Brown, setting up third and five from the 38.
On third down, Roethlisberger found fifth receiver Derek Moye for a big first down. He elevated and had his legs taken out from under him, landing on his head, but he thankfully popped right back up.
After a run for no gain, Roethlisberger pump faked, then took a sack from Brandon Williams to set up third and 15. There appeared to be some confusion between Roethlisberger and Bell on a draw, who ended up gaining four yards to set up a 34-yard field goal (following an offsides call) for Shaun Suisham to extend the Steelers’ lead to 10-3.
Of note, Le’Veon Bell recorded 61 yards—his career-high—on 11 carries through the Steelers’ first three drives. He seems to be running with greater patience this week, and the offensive line—including the duo of Kelvin Beachum and Guy Whimper at tackle—is displaying some of its best efforts of the season thus far.
The Steelers nearly came away with a break on the kickoff, as nobody covered the ball immediately. Will Johnson nearly came away with it deep in Ravens territory, but the Ravens ultimately came up with it.
From the 14, Flacco found Marlon Brown for nine yards. Bernard Pierce converted the first down a play later. Pierce took a reception nine yards on the following play close to the 40-yard line, and he once again converted the second and short.
From the 40, Cortez Allen hit Flacco’s arm on a blitz to force an incomplete pass that was close to being a strip sack. Flacco found his tight end, Ed Dickson, for the first down on the following play, and Rice gained 13 yards on the ground to break into Steelers territory.
After an incomplete pass, Rice was stopped after a gain of two, setting up third and eight. On third down, LaMarr Woodley got the sack after the defense provided heavy pressure to knock the Ravens out of field goal range.
Felix Jones got the handoff on first down from inside the Steelers’ own ten, gaining three on the carry. Antonio Brown gained just five on a receiver screen on second down, setting up third and two. Jones gained three tough yards on the ground to convert.
Now from the 20, Roethlisberger connected with Emmanuel Sanders for the first time on the evening for a seven-yard gain. Jones could not convert on a second down carry, setting up third and short at the two-minute warning. After the break, Jonathan Dwyer came in to convert. Le’Veon Bell was flagged for a facemask penalty after a decent gain on a pass, however, which pushed the Steelers back to the 24.
Bell gained seven of those yards back, but Heath Miller fumbled a completion on the next play for a big, momentum-changing turnover just before halftime, with the Ravens getting the ball after the half.
A quick completion to Jacoby Jones brought the Ravens to the 26 with 33 seconds in the half. A few plays later, the Ravens settled for another field goal to draw within 10-6 at the break.