The Pittsburgh Steelers fell to the Baltimore Ravens 16-14, losing out in the battle of the backup quarterbacks. The loss snapped the Steelers 2 game winning streak and the Ravens four game losing streak against Pittsburgh.
- The reason for the change in trends?
As Mike Tomlin conceded during his press conference, there’s nothing mystical about it: When you turn the ball over 4 times in the Red Zone, you’re going to lose. Even if that is true, and it is, the Steelers still had a chance to win. They didn’t because they fell short on another, more ominous fundamental.
Understanding Tomlin’s Patience with Pickett
The win over the Falcons provided an affirmative example of why Mike Tomlin has been smart to stick with Kenny Pickett, despite calls from outside the franchise to sit the rookie. The loss to the Ravens provides a negative one.
- Pickett’s progress has been slow at times, painfully slow.
The offense has improved, outside the Red Zone at least, the improvement has flowed the way molasses drips down the side of a bottle. The positive is that the drip’s progress is sustainable – unless something acts on it from the outside.
- A reason for Pickett’s slow progress is that he’s been very, very careful with the ball.
That caution virtually eliminated turnovers from Pickett’s game, yet that caution came at the cost of settling for field goals instead of touchdowns.
- The Baltimore Ravens were the outside force that slowed the molasses of Pickett’s progress.
After just two series (and two punts), Pickett left the game in the concussion protocol, giving way to Mitch Trubisky. And Tribusky certainly provided the proverbial “spark” to the offense.
- He wasted little time in finding Pat Freiermuth for 14 yards converting a 3rd and 9
- He immediately struck downfield to George Pickens for 42 yards
- He looked again to Pickens who drew a pass interference penalty
Najee Harris lunched himself into the end zone, cutting Baltimore’s lead to 3. The decisiveness, and the downfield aggressiveness that had been missing from the offense was back. I daresay the series reminded me of the tiempo pickup we saw when Joe Gibbs benched Jay Schroeder in favor of Doug Williams against the Lions back in ’87.
But Tribusky’s aggressiveness carried its own cost. His next two series ended with a Red Zone interception and another interception just outside the Red Zone. Instead of settling for a Chris Boswell field goal, the Steelers got nothing.
- Tribusky’s second series of the 2nd half featured a nice deep strike to Diontae Johnson that Marcus Williams picked off.
Worse yet, while Tribusky protected the ball better the next time the Steelers neared the Ravens Red Zone, Calais Campbell blocked Chris Boswell’s field goal….
Yet despite turning the ball over four times on three possessions which could reasonably have ended with Chris Boswell field goals, the Steelers were in the game till the very end.
Defense Fails @ Line of Scrimmage
Normally turning the ball over four times yet still having a chance to win amounts to a tiny silver lining. That’s not the case here.
The Steelers defense had a chance to win this game. And the Steelers salary cap decision tell us that this defense was built to win games just like this.
- Sure, T.J. Watt had his first full sack and looked good doing it.
- Chris Wormley and Tyson Alualu got another one in.
- Myles Jack stopped a fourth down conversion.
- Minkah Fitzpatrick laid vicious hit on Tyler Huntley stuffing him on third down.
Those Splash plays were nice, but the Steelers defense came up short on bread and butter plays. Fitzpatrick’s hit on Huntley forced him from the game, bringing in Ravens 3rd string quarterback Anthony Brown.
- All the Steelers needed to do was stop the Ravens running game.
The Steelers defense knew the run was coming. They tried to stop it. They failed. J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards hung 186 yards on Pittsburgh.
Sure, the Steelers limited the Anthony Brown-led Ravens offense to one field goal. But the field goal drive saw the Ravens rip off runs of 5, 14, 6, 7 and 7 yards. Patrick Ricard also converted a 3rd and 1. Oh, and the Steelers had done a good job of taking Mark Andrews.
- Except when Anthony Brown hit him for 7 yards on to convert a 3rd and 4 on the field goal drive.
The worst play for the Steelers run defense came last: Gus converted a 3rd and 3, gaining 6 yards thanks to a Minkah Fitzpatrick stop.
You know your run defense is “choto” (Argentine slang for… coming up short er um, anatomically , discussed here) when it is 3rd and 3 after the 2 minute warning where a stop gets you the ball back and your free safety makes the tackle.
- And so it was.
That singular failure in the trenches illustrates why the Ravens are leading the AFC North and why the Pittsburgh Steelers appear destined to author the first losing season of the Mike Tomlin era.