The Ravens have found a way to do something hardly anyone else in the NFL has done: slow down Pittsburgh's offense.
The Steelers came into Sunday's matchup at M&T Bank Stadium having put up at least 30 points in their last six games. Wide receiver Antonio Brown averaged 145 receiving yards and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had thrown 13 touchdowns in those contests.
But Pittsburgh's offense didn't look anything like that high-octane unit on Sunday, and the Ravens held the group at bay in the 20-17 victory.
So what's the recipe for stopping the Steelers'potent attack?
"You have to be the Ravens," cornerback Lardarius Webb said with a laugh "Seriously, we just understand them. They have a very explosive offense – one of the best offenses in the league with their receivers – but we understand them. I really don't know how to explain that, but we do."
The Ravens basically shut down Pittsburgh's offense in both meetings this year. Baltimore won the Week 4 meeting 23-20 when the Steelers had Michael Vick at quarterback. Brown had just 42 receiving yards that game, and he had 103 receiving yards total in his two* *matchups with Baltimore. He's averaging 119 receiving yards in Pittsburgh's other 13 games this year.
As a team, the Steelers have been held to 20 points or less five times this year, and two of those games came against the Ravens.
"It means a lot to this team, to this defense, the way we ended the game on defense, just to let them know the defense, we are still here," Webb said. "We've still got that Ravens' dominant defense; we just have to put our little pieces together, but I like the way we finished the game."
The Ravens knew coming into the contest they would have to find a way to limit Brown, just like they did in their Week 4 victory in Pittsburgh. The NFL's leading receiver can torch teams in a variety of ways, but the Ravens prevented him from beating them over the top for big plays.
Roethlisberger threw Brown's direction on 11 of his 34 passes, but the receiver finished the day with just 61 yards. His longest play was a 27-yard snag.
"I thought we had them all week where we wanted them," Webb said. "With our record, 4-10, they came in and thought that it was going to [be] bombs over Baghdad against us. That's when we had them. So with them thinking that all week, we were thinking we were going to beat them, and we knew it. Guys came out and showed it."
The Ravens put Webb, Jimmy Smith and Shareece Wright on Brown throughout the game, and all three of them limited what he was able to do.
"This week, we had a great game plan going in," Smith said. "We had to take [Brown] out of the game. I think we did that."
Another key piece for the defensive turnaround is that the Ravens found a way to force the turnovers that have been elusive all season. Jimmy Smith and Daryl Smith both came up with interceptions, and that led to 10 points for the Ravens. Jimmy Smith also had a 101-yard pick-six that was ultimately taken off the board because outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw was offsides on the play.
"To get a turnover, period, is a great thing," Jimmy Smith said. "To get a turnover in a rivalry game when things are not going the way we want [them] to is even better. Those turnovers turned into points for us today. It was a great thing for us. Got a good win."
Baltimore also came out with a heavy defensive back rotation, daring the Steelers to move away from their aerial assault and run the ball. At first, Pittsburgh had success as running back DeAngelo Williams had eight carries for 80 rushing yards in the first quarter.
He had nine carries for just 20 yards after that.
"We want to make them run the ball, and we were definitely OK with trying to stop the run with just six people in the box," nose tackle Brandon Williams said. "We believe what they can do in the back end, they believe what we can do in the front end, and that's what we tried to do."
Baltimore's game plan was to count on the defensive front to put the pressure on Roethlisberger without bringing too many blitzes. Roethlisberger is a master of picking apart defenses, so the Ravens primarily used four-man pressure throughout the game.
That plan worked just the way the Ravens wanted, as the front four were able to generate solid pressure. Za'Darius Smith, Upshaw and Timmy Jernigan all finished with sacks.
"Let's give credit to our pressure, but also to our coverage," Harbaugh said. "Our coverage held on for that click or two that gave those guys a chance to get there. You talk about eyes on your luggage, discipline, doing your job, covering your guy all over the field, even through the scrambles – it was really just a heck of a performance."
The overall outing by the defense was perhaps the most complete showing from the group all season. They avoided the big play, forced turnovers and came up with stops in clutch situations. It was exactly the kind of game the Ravens historically expect from their defense, and it was a bright spot in a difficult season.
"We're having a down year, but this win right here makes you feel just a little bit better," Webb said. "We don't like them. They don't like us. So it feels awesome right now to get that win."