Ravens Defense Flexes Its Muscles Against Steelers


A lot of attention is paid to the Steelers' big three of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le'Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown, and justifiably so. They're perhaps the best offensive trio in the league.

But Baltimore's defense is no joke either, and it flexed its muscles in Sunday's 21-14 win at M&T Bank Stadium.

The Steelers were shut out in the first half for the first time in 43 games, snapping the NFL's second-longest streak. Pittsburgh didn't get on the scoreboard until there was less than nine minutes left in the game. 

The Steelers had more yards in penalties (84) than offense (66) in the first half. Of the Steelers' first 11 drives (outside of a kneel to end the first half), 10 ended with punts and the other was an interception. Sunday's performance showed how stifling the Ravens defense can be when all its pieces are on the field.  

"When we stay focused, we execute the plays and stay determined through the whole game, no one can stop us, no one can score on us," nose tackle Brandon Williams said.

The Ravens were without some key defensive pieces during their four-game losing streak. Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (thigh) missed two games. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (biceps) missed one.

With them back on the field and the test of a fierce rival on the other side of the line of scrimmage, the Ravens rose to the occasion.

Safety Eric Weddle said it was the most together all three levels of the defense – the defensive line, linebackers and secondary – played since a 13-7 beat down of the Buffalo Bills in Week 1. Before talking to the press, Weddle let out a big, "Wooo!"

"It was big to get C.J. and Sizz back for our confidence, and they just bring a lot," Weddle said. "It solidifies our defense, playing together. Our front seven is outstanding, really enables myself to move around and disguise and do the things that give quarterbacks trouble. It played into our hands and made them struggle all day today."

Baltimore's defensive linemen held Bell to just 32 rushing yards on 14 carries (2.3 per rush). Brown was double-and sometimes triple-teamed and finished with seven catches for 85 yards and a touchdown, almost all late in the fourth quarter when the Ravens were playing conservatively on defense.

In his first game back from meniscus knee surgery, Roethlisberger was held to 264 passing yards and completed just over 50 percent of his passes (23-of-45). He threw one touchdown and one interception (the Ravens dropped three other picks).

"It's frustrating," Roethlisberger said. "We don't take anything away from them. They're a good team. We did not make plays."

"Baltimore had a good game plan," Bell said. "You have to give those guys credit. They played well."

Bell went on to say that the Ravens "just guessed right." If that's the case, they guessed right a lot.

The Ravens struggled giving up big plays during their four-game losing streak. In back-to-back losses in New York, the Ravens gave up big touchdowns to Giants receiver Odell Bekcham Jr. and Jets receiver Quincy Enunwa.

Baltimore knew it had to limit those Sunday. Brown's longest play was a 27-yard catch and receiver Eli Rogers hauled in a 30-yard pass to set up a Steelers scoring drive.

Ravens fourth-round rookie cornerback Tavon Young, who at times had the task of covering Brown, got a game ball in the locker room afterwards.

"[Our] corners played really, really well," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "They played solid, fundamentally, on-top, square, eyes-on-their-luggage football. … The ability to make those plays with the weapons they have, I think, speaks volumes."

It's no secret that Baltimore's offense has struggled for the first half of the 2016 season. Outside of one play – a 95-yard touchdown by Mike Wallace – the unit didn't do much Sunday either.

So even with the Steelers' high-octane offense in town, Baltimore's defense knew it had to hold the unit to a low number and did. And there's a growing sense that the defense may have to carry the torch the rest of the way if the Ravens are going to keep the momentum rolling.

"We feel that we have to play great to win," Weddle said. "That's no slight to this offense or to this team. We're playing complementary football. We feel like we have to get turnovers and we have to hold teams to low points.

"We put it on our shoulders that if we go out and play great, we're probably going to win. If not, we're probably going to lose."

After the game, Suggs expressed disappointment in the two late Steelers touchdowns, focusing more on that than the other three-and-a-half quarters.

He was asked whether it feels like this year's defense has the potential to be one of the best he's played on in Baltimore. The Ravens entered the game fourth in the NFL in total defense, and may rise in the rankings after Sunday.

"I don't know," Suggs said. "It's all in how you finish. If you miss the playoffs, who cares where your defense ranked? … At the end of the year, you can say, 'Oh, they had a top-10 defense.' Whatever. But if you don't win, it doesn't matter. Winning is the only thing that matters."

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