Baltimore Ravens tight end Owen Daniels (81) celebrates catching a touchdown pass from quarterback Joe Flacco (not shown) in the third quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium. / Mitch Stringer, USA TODAY Sports
BALTIMORE – Yes, they played football here Thursday night.
Remember that game? Oblong ball, America’s favorite sport turned punching bag of late?
The Baltimore Ravens hosted the arch-rival Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium, providing a team and a city a much-needed respite after 72 hours of non-stop Ray Rice controversy turned Roger Goodell controversy.
Clearly, the Steelers were distracted. The defensive side of the ball in particular.
There may come a day when this defense comes of age and restores the luster of years past, it might even be this season, but that time is not now. A weakness is quickly becoming a liability.
“Penalties hurt us, turnover hurt us, not getting off the field hurt us,” said safety Mike Mitchell.
Thursday night’s dismal 26-6 loss – the largest margin of defeat against Baltimore since 2011-- is a microcosm of the Steelers’ shortcomings.
When the offense doesn’t score -- and save for a couple of Shaun Suisham field goals, they didn’t – this defense can’t win them games.
Thursday night’s loss was effectively a continuation of the second half of the Cleveland game in Week 1. If you’re counting, the Steelers have now been outscored 50-9 over their last six quarters.
Yes, the Steelers were the victims of some poor calls, to put it mildly, but those are just excuses. They have more legitimate concerns. Way too many missed tackles, too many missed assignments and entirely too many penalties.
“We’ve got work to do,” said defensive end Brett Keisel. “Obviously, we wanted to come in and get this one, two divisional games, but they beat us today. They beat us. In all three phases. We’ve got work to do if we want to get back to where want to be.”
They don’t get after the quarterback with any consistency or urgency. No sacks in Week 2 after a somewhat promising showing against Cleveland in the opener.
The unit’s much-hyped speed has failed to materialize. The two biggest additions of the off-season also wore the horns against the Ravens. Rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier makes predictable rookie mistakes. Mike Mitchell, a five-year veteran, also makes rookie mistakes. Forget the penalties, two 15-yarders in two games, it’s the poor routes he takes to make tackles. It’s way too early to declare Mitchell a bust but, fair to say, this isn’t the start the Steelers were hoping for when they signed him to five years and $25 million.
Once again, no takeaways, either.
“I wish I knew the answer to that,” said Keisel. “We’ve got to give our offense the ball and give them short fields and put points on the board.”
Yet again, a quarterback picked apart a suspect secondary. Joe Flacco threw for just 166 yards, not all of them against Cortez Allen, but it certainly seemed that way. The talented cornerback, who received a four-year, $26 million extension last week, has failed to live up to his promise.
Baltimore running back Bernard Pierece didn’t rush for 100 yards either, he fell six yards short of that but, the Ravens still managed an unconscionable 166 on the ground. Maybe that’s a moral victory of sorts. That, and limiting Baltimore to four field goals were about the only ones Thursday.
“We talked about that,” said Keisel. “Having some pride there in the goal line situation. Not giving up, fighting to the end. I was proud of the way we hung in there tonight at the goal line. That’s a little thing we can build on.”
The Steelers could get away with some of these mistakes – barely -- against Cleveland. The Ravens aren’t the Browns. These first two games could be a blip on the radar or are an omen of things to come. The Steelers should hope it’s not the latter.