The Pittsburgh Steelers borrowed a chapter from their nemesis’ playbook as they defeated the Ravens, 16-13, on Sunday night at M&T Bank Stadium.
The Steelers came out with a conservative offensive game plan to control the pace of the game and pummeled the Ravens with 198 rushing yards on 41 carries. Sound familiar?
The Ravens (10-6) had used that formula to win seven of their past nine games dating to a 23-20 win over the Cleveland Browns on Oct. 23. That includes a 16-14 victory over the Steelers on Dec. 11 when the Ravens rushed for 215 yards on 42 carries.
“Very disappointing. Give them credit; they flipped the script, and that’s not what we expect,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “We don’t expect that at all. They got the job done [and] ran the ball very well against us.”
Pittsburgh (8-8) didn’t just flip the script; they hit the Ravens in the face with it. The Ravens entered the game with the No. 3 run defense in the NFL, allowing only 87.5 yards per game. But they had no answers for Pittsburgh, which entered ranked No. 18 in rushing, averaging 115.4 yards per game.
Pittsburgh running back Najee Harris ran around, through and over the Ravens for 111 yards on 22 carries. His backup Jaylen Warren had 12 attempts for 76 yards as the Steelers did their best impersonation of the Ravens’ 1-2 of running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, who had 95 yards on 20 attempts.
Pittsburgh wasn’t bashful about letting the Ravens know what it wanted to do. The Steelers wanted to play smashmouth football and limit the passing attempts and potential turnovers from rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett.
It’s a bad day for the defense when both safeties lead the team in tackles; the Ravens’ Chuck Clark had 10 and fellow safety Marcus Williams had nine.
“I think they were hitting us with the wide zone [running game], really,” Clark said. “They were just getting downhill, and they have a good back [in Harris]. Hats off to him. We had him; we kept him bottled up a couple games in the past, but he had a good day today, honestly.”
Pickett had gotten off to a rough start earlier in the season after failing to beat out veteran Mitch Trubisky, who threw three interceptions in relief of an injured Pickett when the teams last met.
This time, Pittsburgh played it safe for most of the game. Pickett threw a lot of quick hitches and turnaround routes, much like the Ravens use with backup quarterback Tyler Huntley, who is now 2-2 in four starts for injured star Lamar Jackson.
But Pickett played well, completing 15 of 27 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown. The first-round draft pick scrambled and was elusive in the pocket. He threw some good passes over the middle with velocity. He had much more command of Pittsburgh’s offense than Huntley has of the Ravens’, and he has a much brighter future.
There were two passes from Pickett that stood out during the Steelers’ 11-play, 80-yard game-winning drive in the final minutes.
On first-and-10 from the 50 with 2:06 remaining, Pickett threw a 28-yard dart across the middle to wide receiver Steven Sims that fit in a narrow window between two Ravens defenders, including Williams. The Ravens don’t have a player on their roster who can make that throw.
The 10-yard touchdown pass to Harris with 56 seconds left had nice touch as Harris beat middle linebacker Roquan Smith down the left sideline.
“We all didn’t make a play,” Ravens inside linebacker Patrick Queen said of the Steelers’ final drive. “We had a chance to get to the quarterback; we didn’t get to the quarterback. We had a chance to make a play; we just didn’t make the play. It shouldn’t have even gotten to that point, honestly. So, we’ve just got to go back to the drawing board, get better and try to win a game next week.”
Even more insulting was that Pittsburgh ran the ball four times in the last drive, including two quarterback sneaks on third-and-1. The Ravens couldn’t stop those either.
The defense lost almost every battle in the trenches.