It never gets repetitive hearing this, but the Pittsburgh Steelers did it again. After another nail-biting game, the Steelers erased a ten-point half time deficit and beat the Baltimore Ravens 28-24.
Things started out very murky. The offense was stagnant in the first half, with the only points on the board being the pick-six by Robert Spillane. It took a while, but they scored three offensive touchdowns - James Conner, Eric Ebron, and Chase Claypool crossed the goal line - and the Steelers barged their way past their biggest foe.
For the seventh time in as many games, we have much to discuss. Let’s get down to it.
No touchdowns, but JuJu was the team’s offensive MVP
The Ravens cornerbacks make up one of the better groups in all of football. Between Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith, and Marcus Peters, good luck having success against them. As such, Smith-Schuster was shut out in the first half.
But much like the offense as a whole, Smith-Schuster looked like a different receiver in the second half.
Finishing with eight catches for 67 yards, Smith-Schuster didn’t quite light up the stat sheet but had an efficient day nonetheless. Most impressively Sunday, it seemed like he fought for extra yards every time he ran with the ball. He never once went down easily and always bulled his way forward, fighting for extra yards each time.
A handful of those catches ended up in first downs for his team, and the Steelers kept drives alive thanks to his tenaciousness. Without JuJu’s second-half production, maybe the Steelers aren’t sitting at 7-0 after eight weeks of NFL football.
Everyone remembers Smith-Schuster’s costly fumble last season against the Ravens, where Humphrey punched the ball out with mere minutes to go in a drive that could’ve won the Steelers the game. That memory didn’t prevent JuJu from inserting himself into the hard-nosed rivalry and helping the Steelers to a second-half resurgence.
Spillane proving he’s not just a flavor of the month
Many times, injury replacements step in and look as though they are unstoppable, and then they fade out over time. Spillane has only played two and a half games to this point. However, he has done nothing but look like a legitimate NFL linebacker.
If he wasn’t meeting Derrick Henry in the hole this week, he was taking interceptions to the house and factoring in on nearly every defensive play.
Look, no one is going to replace Devin Bush. Bush’s ACL injury sucks, and his coverage will be missed. Spillane has already exceeded expectations to this point and has embraced the “next man up” mentality that head coach Mike Tomlin consistently instills.
A stat sheet stuffer on Sunday, Spillane factored in on 11 tackles, made the pick-six, and didn’t look out of place. He got beaten wide a few times as J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards torched the Steelers front seven in this contest. Spillane still was able to be all over the field. He almost ran down a fumble that was headed for the sidelines late in the game as well.
On the fourth down stop of Lamar Jackson in the red zone, it looked like the defense forced a fumble, and Spillane recovered it. The stat correction may come later on in the week, but as of now, Jackson was down by contact. If the play gets changed, that would be just another nod in another great game by Spillane.
‘Bend don’t break’ was the defense’s motto Sunday
Containing Lamar Jackson is not an easy thing to do. He is the prototypical college quarterback but has embraced that same style and successfully converted it to the NFL. Now, teams not only have to account for his above-average quarterbacking ability, but his legs can kill a team too. Last season’s MVP award was no scam, and he showed that today.
Jackson posted 208 passing yards to go with 65 rushing yards. However, it felt like he did so much more. Jackson also accounted for two interceptions and lost the ball on a few occasions. Any time the defense forces turnovers against him, you’re going to win.
The need to focus highly on Jackson allowed the running backs to thrive today. However, their usual starter, Mark Ingram, missed the game with an injury. Dobbins, Edwards, and Jackson combined for 47 attempts and gained 265 yards on the ground. That averages out to 5.6 yards per carry. To average that over that volume of attempts is impressive, especially against a stout front seven in Pittsburgh.
On multiple occasions, it felt like the Ravens could break the game open. But the defense did just enough to thwart away the threat.
They committed to not let Jackson beat them single-handedly. He surely had his success, but it largely would’ve been due to their ground game if the Ravens prevailed.
Time to await word on injuries
The Steelers lost Cam Heyward on two separate occasions late in the game. It looks like some sort of leg injury as he struggled to put weight on it, heading to the sidelines. Losing Heyward obviously would be detrimental enough. Losing Tyson Alualu, one of the Steelers’ unsung heroes on defense through seven games, is less than ideal as well.
Quietly, the Steelers’ front seven has been as rugged as any in the league. Running on them isn’t easy. They get after the quarterback at an alarmingly high rate. Losing two key cogs of that after losing Bush begins to set off some worry.
They’re also still without Mike Hilton in their secondary, so a rash of injuries isn’t quite welcome right now.
Winning always comes at a price when you lose guys to injuries. Let’s hope things aren’t too serious on the injury front.
How far can the Steelers take this undefeated streak?
Pittsburgh is now 7-0 after eight weeks. They’ve defeated some bad teams. They’ve defeated two AFC favorites in Baltimore and Tennessee, both on the road.
Looking ahead, the Steelers have Dallas on the road and then a home matchup with the Bengals in week 10. Jacksonville awaits in week 11 as Pittsburgh again hits the road. The Steelers should be favored in all three of those matchups.
It is at least reasonable to think the Steelers could be 10-0 heading into a Thanksgiving home game against the Ravens. That should give anyone chills.
The 1972 Dolphins remain the only undefeated team in NFL history. The 2007 Patriots had an undefeated regular season but lost in the Super Bowl. I don’t believe the Steelers will go 16-0, let alone go 19-0 on the way to a Super Bowl. The NFL is crazy, and anyone can win on any given Sunday.
But there are only two real worrisome games left with the Thanksgiving game and a road matchup in Buffalo. Otherwise, besides the games listed above, the Steelers have Washington, Cincinnati for a second game, Cleveland, and Indianapolis left.
I personally won’t make a record prediction based on that. I said 12-4 prior to the season, and I’ll stick to that mainly because teams lose games unexpectedly over the course of a season. But things are looking very good for the Steelers to make it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
Next week, the Steelers can improve to 8-0 for the first time in franchise history if they defeat the Cowboys.