There’s a reason why ESPN and NBC vie to show the Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Baltimore Ravens in prime time. That’s because the two feuding franchises has set a certain standard of expectation among NFL Fans.
When the National Football League’s equivalent of the Hatfield and the McCoy get together, the public has come to expect hard hitting, trash talking, playoff level intensity, and close games.
At Heinz Field on Sunday Night Football, the Steelers vs. Ravens 2014 II delivered 3 out of four and while score wasn’t close, in beating Baltimore 42-23 the Pittsburgh Steelers sent a signal to the rest of the AFC North.
Ravens Provide In-Season Measuring Stick
Football teams are organic. They evolved. Each edition has its unique identity. Super Bowl trophy in hand, Mike Tomlin sized on that fact when he declared “No Repeats,” vowing to start anew.
- In that light, divisional rivalries often times provide a useful yard stick to gauge a team’s progress.
Consider the 1989 Steelers and 1989 Houston Oilers.
The first time the two teams met, Houston shut out Pittsburgh. The second time the Oilers won, but needed to be gifted an extra timeout from the officials. The third time the Steelers upset the Oilers in the playoffs.
While playoff talk is imprudently premature in Pittsburgh, the Steelers have shown remarkable evolution since their first meeting vs. the Ravens in September. That game too, was decided by a 20 point margin, but Baltimore’s 26-6 victory margin actually makes that contest look closer than it was.
- The Steelers offense was rudderless without Antonio Brown for long stretches
- The Ravens ran the ball at will
- Joe Flacco literally went untouched for the entire night.
My what a difference 6 weeks makes in the NFL. For the third straight week the Pittsburgh Steelers offense has exploded under the leadership of Ben Roethlisberger, who threw another six touchdown passes for the second straight week.
In outings vs. the Indianapolis Colts and then the Baltimore Ravens (were the world a justice place it would be the Baltimore Colts and the Indianapolis Colts) the Pittsburgh Steelers offense has been scary good.
The Baltimore Ravens dominated the 1st quarter and completely dictated the tempo on both sides of the ball for the game’s first 21 minutes or so. The Ravens opened the second quarter like this:
- Matt Elam and Chris Canty sacking Roethlisberger on 1st down
- Haloti Ngata sacks Roethlisberger on 2nd down
- Elvis Dumervil sacks Roethlisberger on 3rd down
After that Mike Munchak had a little chat with his offensive line. When the Steelers got the ball back the threw an incomplete pass, an then came the Raven’s 3 penalty play where Courtney Upshaw managed to get a late chin shot on Roethlisberger’s jaw.
Something snapped at that point. Baltimore barely touched Roethlisberger after that moment, the Steelers offensive line settled down and began protecting their charge, and Ben Roethlisberger began to pick apart the Ravens with laser like focus, and threw touchdowns to Le’Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton, Antonio Brown, and yes Matt Spaeth.
- The Steelers offense is and should win praise for its effort against the Ravens.
This is the type of offensive production that see Pittsburgh playing in January. But, for as positive as it is, it wasn’t the difference in the game.
Steelers Performance Worthy of the Occasion
This was no normal game. The Pittsburgh Steelers did something they’ve only done once before, and that’s retire a number. Joe Greene’s to be precise. And no player exemplifies the Steelers of tradition on defense better than Greene.
- It was fitting then that it was the Steelers defense delivered the difference vs. Baltimore.
No, the Steelers defense didn’t deliver a truly “dominant” performance on par with the norms established under Bill Cowher’s time and the beginning of Mike Tomlin’s tenure. This unit doesn’t quite have the talent for that. But it did hold the Ravens offense to 17 points, one of which was little more than a glorified garbage time score.
- But more importantly, the Steelers defense dictated the tempo of the game’s final 40 minutes.
James Harrison sacked Joe Flacco 2 times, hit him 4 times, and pressured him several others, including pressuring him into throwing his first interception. Arthur Moats and Lawrence Timmons got to him. The Raven’s couldn’t run. They couldn’t convert third downs. The Steelers no name corners, Brice McCain and Antwon Blake held Steve Smith Sr. to 5 catches for a measly 36 yards.
The 2014 match vs. the Ravens at Heinz Field won’t go down as one great all time defensive stands by the Steelers defense, but it was the defense that shifted the game in the Pittsburgh’s favor.
True Test Yet to Come for Pittsburgh
Ben Roethlisberger and his receivers are soaking up most of the ink in the wake of the Steelers 3 game winning streak. That’s fine. But the Steelers defense is beginning to prove itself as a unit that can take away the ball and harass opposing quarterbacks, and that can result in a deadly combo.
- The Steelers have played better and looked more impressive with each successive victories.
Ironically, however, it is in New York against the 1-8 Jets that Steelers Nation will discover who the real 2014 Steelers are. The Steelers have shown they’re capable of beating playoff caliber teams. Now Pittsburgh most prove it can muster the focus needed not to get ambushed by the bottom feeders.