Steelers Run Defense Collapses as Ravens Impose Will in Win
PITTSBURGH — Coming into Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers boasted a Top 10 run defense that allowed a little bit over 100 yards per game to opponents. There were cracks starting to show in the second half against the Atlanta Falcons when Cordarrelle Patterson and the offense ran for nearly 130 yards to claw back into the contest.
But on Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens put on a clinic against a defense that was selling out for the run. After Tyler Huntley went down and did not return, third-string quarterback Anthony Brown came into the game for most of the second half. He only threw the ball five times, and yet on the final two possessions when the Steelers had slow the rushing attack down, Baltimore prevailed.
First, it was 1a 3 play, 55-yard drive that took seven minutes and 55 seconds off the clock. Afterward, the defense needed a stop on 3rd and 4 to extend the game, but the Ravens moved forward yet again. All in all, the Ravens ran for 215 yards, a season-high allowed by Pittsburgh for the first time in nearly a year.
“We didn’t get off the field,” Cam Heyward said. “Each game is a different philosophy but during this game, you have to know it is coming down to the run game. We did not execute enough to give our offense another chance. They sustained drives, and we should have known at the end that everything was coming downhill. That’s what stings the most.”
Heyward was out of the gap at nose tackle on JK Dobbins’ 44-yard rip early on in the game. That continued to be a theme throughout the day for the Steelers’ run defense. When it felt like they were potentially ready to stand up and make stop in the ground game, the Ravens would punch back and make some play to keep their drives going. It ended with a dominant performance on the ground for the visiting Ravens, and all without their superstar quarterback, Lamar Jackson.
“They just outexecuted us,” Myles Jack said. “They may have had numbers on some plays, but I have to go back to watch the film. They executed. Give them credit. Everybody was in a three-point stance. That final drive was gutcheck time and we didn’t answer the call.”
Jack went on to say that he feels like it is the gap fits. There always appears to be a hole for someone to sneak through and squirt out of even if the Steelers are mostly gap-sound. Pittsburgh ran different looks with three inside linebacker, three safeties, and even three outside linebackers at times. All of the different packages did not come in handy as Baltimore continued to torch them on the ground.
“They just ran it and we weren’t able to stop them at all,” Alex Highsmith said. “There’s nothing else there. It’s frustrating. We knew what they were going to do. But we didn’t step up. We have to play consistent down-to-down football. We didn’t today.”
Baltimore came into the game without starting right guard Kevin Zeitler. In his place, Ben Cleveland and Trystan Colon both saw snaps in his place. Cleveland saw the team wear down the Steelers defensive line more and more as the game continued on. It all ended with the Gus Edwards ripping off a six-yard run to seal the game late.
“Our mindset has always been to make the run game go,” Cleveland said. “When you win your one-on-ones, you can do a lot of great. One thing we do not lack is the heart and desire to win football games. I think every guy in that offense put it in their mind that we weren’t going to lose.”
Mike Tomlin saw a simple reasoning for the Ravens being able to close out the game at the end. He saw his defense wearing down, and when it came to the weighty moments, the Steelers could not rise to the occasion to give their offense one more opportunity.
“I just thought we wore down. The pile was falling forward,” Tomlin said.
Now, the Steelers go to Charlotte to face a Panthers team that averages 4.4 yards per carry on the season. If they do not have their run defense up to snuff again, Pittsburgh could easily see their season slip even further away from them.