As the Steelers boarded their flight from Tampa back to Pittsburgh on Monday night, Sept. 24, they were happy. Happy they sat at 1-1-1, with their first victory of the 2018 campaign. Happy their offense was able to come through at the end of a game that looked like it may slip away. And happy they didn’t have to go through another week of questions stating, “What’s wrong with the Steelers?”
Yet as they left Tampa and began to prepare for the rival Baltimore Ravens in their upcoming Sunday Night Football matchup, Sept. 30, many questions do still loom.
First, to me, is this defense any good at all? Sure, they made some plays, specifically in the first half of the Bucs game as they created four turnovers and kept Ryan Fitzpatrick in check. Yet, that same defense nearly blew a 20-point lead in the second half as Fitzpatrick led a spirited comeback. The secondary, specifically Artie Burns and Coty Sensabaugh, looked confused and lack talent. I believe Joe Haden is still a solid corner but if he can’t get help on the other side, what good does it do?
When this team plays the Ravens on Sunday, they won’t be allowed to get behind early, as they did in Tampa, or blow leads late, as they also did against the Bucs. The Ravens are good enough to make them pay. Joe Flacco has had success against the Steelers in Pittsburgh, and he will make the comeback Fitzpatrick couldn’t complete if this defense plays the way they have been.
It’s not just the secondary; the linebackers aren’t getting the pass rush required to help the secondary out. TJ Watt hasn’t done much since week one, Bud Dupree is a guy who has talent but is unreliable at times and with all apologies to Vince Williams and Jon Bostic, there is no big-time playmaker on the inside.
One way or the other, come Sunday night, these four, and their backups are going to have to get to Flacco. If he’s allowed time, Flacco will burn you. He’s got a big arm and as we now know three weeks in, the Steelers are susceptible to the big plays.
Yet, it’s not always the defense that allows big plays through the air or on the ground. We’ve consistently seen penalties racked up in droves, with the team averaging over 12 per game.
The second area of concern is discipline. Can this team stay disciplined for a game?
The Black and Gold have 37 penalties through three games, nine more than any other team in the NFL. Undisciplined football is losing football.
Those types of mistakes may not have cost them the game in Tampa, fortunately, but you better bet dollars to doughnuts it will against the Ravens. The Ravens aren’t exactly buttoned up themselves but they do average five less penalties per game, and in a game that often comes down to the last drive and is typically a three-point affair, providing free yards cannot happen.
I expect that to be a challenge this week, one the team will overcome. There will be a lot of trash talk, a very physical environment and players will be put in a position to lose their cool. Mike Tomlin will need to preach all the way up until kickoff, the value of keeping cool and allowing the other team to mess up.
Yet, if this game does come down to the final drive and a field goal is needed to win it, do we trust the special teams to get it done? In other words, do we trust Chris Boswell? My short answer is yes, but my long answer is not a whole lot right now. Boswell has been flat out terrible, let’s be honest. If that game in Tampa came down to him making a game-winner outside of 40 yards, were you comfortable? If you said yes, you’re a liar! He can’t even make his extra points consistently right now. That needs to and will change this week, if not then the Steelers are done. Special teams will ultimately determine the outcome of the Ravens game, they almost always do. If Boswell misses any kicks, it will spell doom for Pittsburgh.
Lastly, how far can Big Ben carry this team? It’s more evident this year than possibly ever before, this team relies on Ben Roethlisberger. He is still a top-five quarterback in this league and he will need to make the plays against Baltimore to lead this team to victory. It’s obvious, Ben can still extend plays, he can still shake off defenders and he can still defy the odds by throwing across his body to make something out of nothing. That type of skill set is unmatched and one that will be needed against Baltimore this week.
Roethlisberger will lead this team to victory on Sunday night, Sept. 30. It’s in his DNA to play well on the big stage with this team still needing a victory to keep their season moving forward. I don’t expect it to be easy. It may even be downright ugly. Don’t expect 300 yards for Big Ben, or even 100 yards from James Conner. Look for a more regimented, slow pace offense, ball control style, dump offs and short runs that allow the team to grind the clock and win late.
The Steelers will win the game on the final drive, in a lower scoring affair (for them anyway), 24-23.