AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers

LeBeau still high on Steelers' safeties

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
PITTSBURGH -- Troy Polamalu and Mike Mitchell have each accumulated a fair share of tackles, but neither has broken up a pass much less made a big play through the first two games of the season.

Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said that will change.

"I think they’re going to give us one of the best safety combinations in the league," LeBeau said Thursday after practice. "I’ve said that all along. I still feel the same way. With the whole group we’ve got some new faces, and the sooner we can tie it all together, all 11 guys knowing where the other 10 are going to be, the sooner we’re going to get to looking like I want us to look."

LeBeau dismissed the notion that Mitchell, who signed a five-year, $25 million contract in March, is off to a slow start because he is getting used to playing with Polamalu.

"It’s still football," LeBeau said. "He’s in a new environment and a new system, and I think he’s only going to get better and better and more comfortable. But he’s always been a good football player and he’s playing good football right now."

The Steelers' defense has been anything but good following a strong first half in the season opener against the Browns.

The Steelers have given up 50 points in their past six quarters, and they haven’t been able to stop the run.

The Steelers are yielding 170.0 rushing yards per game, but LeBeau said the problems they had had stopping the run can be fixed.

"We’ve got to quit shooting ourselves in the foot. Most of the runs we have given up we haven’t gotten in our detailed assignments enough," LeBeau said. "The guys are working on that and we’ve got to get it done. You’re not going to give up those kinds of runs and be successful."
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Lance Moore practiced again Thursday and all but said afterward that he will play Sunday night at Carolina.

Moore missed the Steelers' first two games because of a groin injury, but he has not been limited in any of the three practices this week. Moore said the only thing he is waiting for is the go-ahead from coach Mike Tomlin to suit up for his first regular-season game with the Steelers.

"The mental part of the injury I think is gone now," said Moore, the Steelers' No. 3 wide receiver. "Every morning I wake up and feel normal again. I don’t have any pain or soreness. I’m definitely looking forward to getting out there on Sunday."

Ramon Foster is also looking forward to playing against the 2-0 Panthers.

The Steelers' left guard did not practice today because of an ankle injury and was limited in drills on Wednesday. Foster said he turned his ankle in practice this week, but said he will practice on Friday.

"I’m walking fine," Foster said. "Coach T said he won’t let me set myself up for failure, so we’re rehabbing and getting back out there."

Rookie running back Dri Archer (ankle) was limited in practice for the second consecutive day, and he will probably have to be able to make it through a full practice on Friday to play against the Panthers.

Panthers running backs DeAngelo Williams (thigh) and Fozzy Whittaker (thigh) and offensive tackle Garry Williams (thigh) have yet to practice this week.

Cotchery influence helps Wheaton emerge

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
PITTSBURGH – They still exchange occasional text messages, but it’s a wonder Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Markus Wheaton did not experience some separation anxiety after Jerricho Cotchery signed with the Carolina Panthers in March.

Wheaton attached himself to Cotchery last season, shadowing the veteran wide receiver the way a cornerback would as Wheaton made the transition from college to the NFL.

The two were as natural a pairing as peanut butter and jelly. Both are soft-spoken and hard-working, and Cotchery was as eager to mentor as Wheaton was to learn from him.

What Wheaton gleaned from Cotchery is starting to pay off in his second NFL season.

The 5-11, 182-pound Wheaton has caught 11 passes for 135 yards in two games, already doubling his production from 2013, when a recurring finger injury sabotaged his rookie season.

True to his nature, Cotchery did not take any credit for Wheaton’s early success this season, saying the rookie simply needed to an opportunity to show what he can do.

“Every time he got on the field [last season], he made plays,” Cotchery said. “We saw that early on in the year last year before he broke his finger. Going into the Minnesota game in London, we had a good package for him and he was ready to go. I think he played a good game in that Minnesota game, but unfortunately he got hurt and it kind of set him back.”

The broken pinkie finger – and the depth chart with the players ahead of Wheaton at wide receiver, including Cotchery – limited the 2013 third-round pick to six catches and 64 yards.

But Wheaton said learning the game from Cotchery proved to be invaluable, and the veteran -- now in his 11th NFL season -- taught him how to watch game film as well as take notes during meetings.

Taking notes sounds easy enough, but imagine sitting in a class and writing down everything the professor says. That is what Wheaton initially tried to do, and he often found himself lost as he scribbled furiously in his notebook.

“It was a little bit overwhelming, so [Cotchery] taught me what to pay attention to,” Wheaton said. “He taught me how to focus on what’s important and what’s not.”

Cotchery has since moved on to Carolina and started mentoring another rookie wide receiver in Panthers first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin. Cotchery said he expects great things from Benjamin.

The same can also be said for Wheaton, whom Cotchery now follows from afar.

“I knew once he got on the field, he was going to go out there and make plays,” Cotchery said.

Steelers' offense bracing for stern test

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Steelers’ schedule is widely perceived as favorable.

It is anything but that this week.

The Carolina Panthers, who host the Steelers on Sunday night, have been the NFL’s hottest team since last October, and they have been particularly good at home.

The Panthers are an NFL-best 13-1 in their last 14 regular-season games, and during that span, they lead the NFL in turnover differential (plus-17) and points allowed per game (14.6), according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The Panthers limited the Detroit Lions’ high-powered offense to a mere touchdown in a 24-7 victory last Sunday, and they held All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson to six catches for 83 yards.

Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford targeted Johnson 13 times in the game, but Johnson was pretty much taken out of the game.

And what stood out to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger when watching film of the Panthers is how they limited Johnson.

“It’s not like they put two or three guys on Calvin,” Roethlisberger said. “They basically just said, “We are going to line up and if you can beat us, then beat us. If not, we are going to beat you.’ They are one of the best defenses, statistically speaking, and it’s not like it’s an exotic type of defense. They just flat-out beat you.”

The key for the Steelers will be going to Le'Veon Bell early and often Sunday night at Bank of America Stadium.

The Panthers are sixth in the NFL in rushing defense (86.0 yards per game), but they are giving up 4.0 yards per carry.

Bell has been the Steelers’ best offensive player through two games, and the second-year running back is tied for fourth in the NFL with 168 rushing yards. He is averaging 5.3 yards per carry.

“I think our offensive line should be able to handle their defensive line and I should get space to do what I can,” Bell said. “Our goal is really to be balanced. We don’t want to force it if it’s not there.”

Big Ben stands behind Marcus Gilbert

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
PITTSBURGH -- A day after coach Mike Tomlin said Marcus Gilbert isn’t in danger of losing his starting job, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger gave the Pittsburgh Steelers' right tackle a vote of confidence.

“I know the person (Gilbert) is and the competitor he is,” Roethlisberger said Wednesday. “He’s going to come out and be ready to play.”

Gilbert would probably like a do-over to the start of the season as much any anybody in the Steelers' locker room.

The 6-foot-6, 315-pounder has given up four of the five sacks allowed by the Steelers, including a pair to Ravens outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil in a 26-6 loss at Baltimore.

Dumervil’s second sack last Thursday was the basketball equivalent of dunking ferociously on someone. He bull-rushed Gilbert and dropped the fourth-year veteran on his back, taking down Roethlisberger in the process.

The play was such an unmasking that Gilbert’s teammates didn’t even subject him to some good-natured ribbing while watching film of it this week.

“I think it was more humbling to Marcus,” Roethlisberger said.

Gilbert and the rest of the Steelers' offensive line will have to play better Sunday night at Carolina against a defensive front that regularly humbles the opposition.

The Panthers have seven sacks and 20 quarterback hurries through the first two weeks of the season, and Roethlisberger said Carolina’s defense is so stout because its players consistently win one-on-one matchups.

That will challenge the Steelers' offensive line as much as playing a second consecutive night game on the road.

“There’s no panic right now,” Gilbert said. “It seems like everybody is in panic mode and worrying, but we just have to grow together and play team ball and things will work out.”

The first two weeks of the season have reinforced a cruel reality to Gilbert.

As well as the former second-round pick may have played in the first two games, he is defined by the sacks he allowed because of the Steelers' high profile -- and the fact that Gilbert signed a five-year, $26.2 million contract last month.

“If you watch the film (from the Ravens loss) we did a lot of great stuff,” Gilbert said, “but those two (sacks) you can’t just give up and I can’t let that happen. It’s something that can be fixed. There’s no panic over here. I’m very excited for what’s ahead of me Sunday night.”

Steelers need to shore up run defense

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
PITTSBURGH – Brett Keisel, who has played on defenses that simply didn’t allow teams to run the ball, delivered a message earlier this week.

“Come in here and make it important,” the veteran defensive end said. “Do the little extra things that you might not have had to do up to this point because you’ve been a great college player. In the pros it’s different. You’ve got to prepare every week differently and you can’t relax or you’ll get gashed.”

The Steelers’ defense has been gashed repeatedly in the running game, something that would have been unheard of in the prime of Keisel’s career.

The Steelers yielded a team-record 62.8 rushing yards per game in 2010, and they allowed just one 100-yard rusher in 50 games during a span that stretched from 2007-10.

The run defense sprung leaks in 2013 when the Steelers yielded 115.6 rushing yards per game. And the defense is again searching for answers after giving up 170 rushing yards per game through the first two weeks of this season.

Only three other teams have been worse than the Steelers when it comes to stopping the run.

“We’ve talked and things were said and we just need to get on the same page,” Keisel said. “I like where we’re going.”

The Steelers insist the problems that have allowed the likes of Terrance West, Bernard Pierce and Justin Forsett to run on them can be fixed.

But they have to start tackling better and staying in their assigned gaps, particularly up front.

Hitting in practice doesn’t occur during the regular season but coach Mike Tomlin said that shouldn’t prevent the Steelers from improving this week when it comes to the most basic fundamental in football.

“Tackling is about a plan or an approach, and having a hardcore plan and recognizing the positions that your positions puts you in (and) the manner in which you approach the ball from a variety of positions on the field,” Tomlin said. “All of those things can be done in a practice setting without actually tackling. We have been emphasizing that (and) we’ll continue and we’ll expect the tackling to improve because of it.”

Keisel said he is encouraged by the desire of the younger players on the Steelers’ defense to get better.

“Guys are willing to work, they’re willing to listen, they’re willing to take coaching and that’s a positive thing,” said Keisel, who is in his 13th NFL season. “But you’ve got to make it a habit. You’ve got to approach it like a pro, you’ve got to study like a pro, and that’s the biggest thing I want these guys to understand. That this is big business and you’ve got to be ready to go when that National Anthem goes off.”

And if they don’t?

“We’re going to be up and down like we were all last year,” Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu said.
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin offered high praise for a pair of Carolina Panthers players, including linebacker Luke Kuechly, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

“I think he is legitimately in the argument of a J.J. Watt in terms of some of the most exciting young football players in our game,” Tomlin said. “Luke Kuechly is quite simply one of the best in the business.”

That lofty assessment is not merely a case of Tomlin laying it on thick when talking about an upcoming opponent.

Kuechly is the first player since a guy named Lawrence Taylor to win the Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year and the AP Defensive Player of the Year in consecutive seasons.

The 6-3, 238-pounder piled up 156 tackles while intercepting four passes last season in helping the Panthers in the NFC South. Kuechly is tied for third in the NFL with 20 tackles through two games and the 2012 first-round draft pick also has a sack.

“There’s nothing that he can’t do,” Tomlin said of the Panthers’ 23-year-old middle linebacker. “He is good at blitzing. He is a sideline-to-sideline tackler. He has innate instincts. He can slip blocks. He can defeat blocks physically. He is great in the passing game.”

The Panthers used their most recent first-round pick to address their passing game on the other side of the ball.

And Kelvin Benjamin, a big and rangy wide receiver, has already provided some early returns for Carolina.

The former Florida State star has caught eight passes, including one for a touchdown, in two games, and is averaging 17.3 yards per reception.

The Steelers took a long look at the 6-5, 240-pound Benjamin prior to the draft last May and Tomlin and Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert each attended Florida State's Pro Day.

“There are big wideouts and there are really big wideouts,” Tomlin said of Benjamin, the 28th overall pick of the 2014 draft. “This guy is really big. He is going to have a 50 pound or so advantage on just about every defensive back he comes across. He has good body control. He has good, strong hands. He attacks the ball. [Carolina quarterback] Cam [Newton] does an awesome job of locating balls and putting balls in locations that only Benjamin can make the plays. He is an impressive young man.”
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers came out of a typical hard-hitting game against the Baltimore Ravens in pretty good shape from an injury standpoint.

Starting nose tackle Steve McLendon is the only player who sustained an injury that could keep him out of the Steelers’ Sunday night game against Carolina. McLendon hurt his shoulder and coach Mike Tomlin said he is questionable to play against the 2-0 Panthers.

Rookie running back Dri Archer also is questionable after missing the Ravens game because of a sprained ankle.

McLendon and Archer each practiced on a limited basis on Monday.

Wide receiver Lance Moore was a full participant in practice on Monday after missing the first two games because of a groin injury. The ninth-year veteran is optimistic that he will play against the Panthers, though Tomlin said a lot will depend on how Moore’s body responds to practicing this week.

“We’ll watch his response to yesterday’s work and formulate a plan,” Tomlin said. “Obviously Lance is a guy who’s capable of helping us. He knows how to play football. When we get him back out there we expect him to be a positive contributor to our efforts.”

Tomlin did not mention quarterback Ben Roethlisberger among the Steelers' injured players. But Roethlisberger said on his weekly radio show that he is still “very sore” after getting drilled in the chest last Thursday night by Ravens linebacker Courtney Upshaw.

“That was a significant shot that comes with the territory that he’s embraced over the years,” Tomlin said of his quarterback.

Roethlisberger struggled with his accuracy in the Steelers’ 26-6 loss to the Ravens but Tomlin brushed off a question about whether the early hit affected Roethlisberger’s play.

“He’s not going to make excuses and I’m not going to either," the eighth-year coach said. "He’s capable of playing better and we look forward to working hard so that it occurs this weekend.”

The Film Don't Lie: Steelers

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
A weekly look at what the Steelers must fix:

The Pittsburgh Steelers have to start forcing opposing offenses into low-percentage situations, something they didn’t do at all on two 12-play drives that resulted in the Ravens’ touchdowns on Thursday night.

The Ravens faced a total of just four third downs on their touchdown drives. None was longer than 4 yards, and Dick LeBeau’s defense is predicated on stopping the run and putting teams in obvious passing situations.

“If you can make a team one-dimensional, it’s so much easier to play the game,” Steelers free safety Mike Mitchell said. "But if you’re in third-and-1s and third-and-2s [offenses] can do whatever they want. We can’t continue to play teams where they can run and pass on us.“

The Steelers actually fared well when they put the Ravens significantly behind the chains. Baltimore did not convert a third down longer than 6 yards in its 26-6 win over Pittsburgh, and it was just 5-of-12 in third-down percentage.

The problem for the Steelers is they consistently gave up yards in chunks because of a combination of shoddy tackling and players not staying in their assigned gaps on running plays.

That allowed the Ravens to stay away from third-and-long situations for much of the game.

“I think it’s new faces, new guys understanding new techniques, new responsibilities,” veteran defensive end Brett Keisel said about why the Steelers have struggled on defense. “It’s a hard transition, but it’s a transition that has to happen.”

It won't get any easier against the 2-0 Panthers, who are coming off an impressive 24-7 home win over the Detroit Lions.
PITTSBURGH -- An offense that hasn’t scored a touchdown in six consecutive quarters could get a boost Sunday night when the Pittsburgh Steelers visit the Carolina Panthers.

Lance Moore said he practiced Monday, and the veteran wide receiver is optimistic he will be able to play in his first game in more than a month.

“I felt better today than I have in a number of weeks,” said Moore, who has been hampered by a nagging groin injury. “That’s encouraging and I’m looking forward to continuing getting better. Hopefully I’ll feel better throughout the week and hopefully be ready to go on Sunday. That’s my goal.”

Moore's return would help an offense that has struggled since putting up 27 points in the first half of a season-opening win against the Browns.

Moore gives the Steelers an experienced No. 3 wide receiver, something they haven’t had with first-year player Justin Brown the last two games. The 5-foot-9, 180-pound Moore is just two seasons removed from catching 65 passes for 1,041 yards and six touchdowns for the Saints, and he could really help the Steelers as their slot receiver.

Moore has not played in a game since the Steelers’ second preseason contest Aug. 16 because of the groin injury that has tested the ninth-year veteran’s patience.

“It just takes time, and the days I was thinking it was ready I kind of got out there and did a little bit and it just wasn’t ready yet,” Moore said. “It was kind of one of those thing where you can continue to do that and make it worse or you can sit out a little bit longer and hopefully it heals up on his own.”

Dri Archer is hoping to join Moore in returning to the field, though the rookie running back/wide receiver is probably questionable at best for the 8:30 p.m. ET game against the Panthers.

Archer, who didn’t play last week against the Ravens because of a sprained ankle and a knee injury, said he practiced Monday on a limited basis after getting treatment at Steelers headquarters over the weekend.

“I did a little bit, just getting a test of how it feels,” Archer said following the Steelers’ first practice of the week. “I’m hoping (to play against the Panthers). It’s feeling a little better, and I’m just taking it day by day and getting more treatment.”
PITTSBURGH -- A search for answers after a 20-point loss in Baltimore will lead the Pittsburgh Steelers to a familiar place: turnovers.

And not the three they committed last Thursday, including a lost fumble that snuffed out an opening drive that should have resulted in at least three points.

The Steelers have not forced a turnover in two games, and such a statistic would not mean too much standing on its own since the 2014 season is still in its infancy.

But the Steelers have not fielded an opportunistic defense since 2010, the last time they played in the Super Bowl, and Brett Keisel is at a loss to explain why.

“I wish I knew the answer to that because you guys have been asking that for a while,” the veteran defensive end said.

The questions, Keisel would be the first to admit, are justified.

The Steelers forced 35 turnovers in 2010, and they erased a double-digit halftime lead against the Ravens in an AFC divisional playoff game with a couple of game-changing takeaways in the third quarter.

Since 2010, the Steelers have averaged a tick under 20 takeaways per season.

They had 20 last season -- none during a disastrous 0-4 September -- and if the start of 2014 is any indication the Steelers are still trying to figure out how to win the crucial turnover battle.

“They kind of just happen,” free safety Mike Mitchell said of takeaways. “You capitalize when you have an opportunity.”

The Steelers missed an opportunity early in the fourth quarter last Thursday night when they were still in the game.

A blitzing Ryan Shazier forced Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco to make an ill-advised throw near the goal line that cornerback Cortez Allen had a chance to intercept. Allen made a nice play on the ball but he couldn’t pick it off and the Ravens kicked a short field to increase their lead to 20-6.

The catch was a tough one for Allen but the Steelers have to make those plays if they want to start generating turnovers.

“They’re going to come,” defensive end Cameron Heyward said after the 26-6 loss to the Ravens. “I’m not going to worry about that. We were in position a bunch of times. We just have to finish them.”

Keisel agreed.

“We’ve got to give our offense the ball,” he said, “and give them short fields and put points on the board.”

Until the Steelers start doing that the question will persist as to why the defense has not been more opportunistic.
BALTIMORE -- An examination of what the Pittsburgh Steelers must do after their 26-6 loss to the Baltimore Ravens:

Just as Justin Brown’s lost fumble inside the Ravens’ 20-yard line portended the kind of night it would be for an offense that hasn’t scored a touchdown in six quarters, the Steelers’ defense drew two flags on the Ravens’ first play from scrimmage.

The penalty the Ravens accepted – a 15-yard face-mask call on cornerback Cortez Allen – helped turn a short reception by Steve Smith into a 29-yard gain.

[+] EnlargeMike Tomlin
AP Photo/Gail BurtonMike Tomlin is not happy about the attention his team is getting from referees after two games.
And penalties ultimately doomed the Steelers’ defense as much as its inability to stop the run or cover the middle of the field.

Two games into the season, penalties are a problem for the Steelers -- and the problem is not confined to one side of the ball.

They have had 20 penalties assessed against them and a handful more declined. The Steelers' 10 penalties a game is double the number of penalties they averaged last season.

And their 85.5 penalty yards per game is more than double the penalty yards (42.3) the Steelers averaged last season.

“We’ve got to play technically and cleaner,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.

The spike in penalties will be an indictment of Tomlin and his staff and – just as troubling -- a reflection of a decline in talent if it continues.

It is too early to call it a trend, but the defense hasn’t played well enough, dating to last season, to earn a pass either for the five penalties assessed against it Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium.

Two of the penalties came on the Ravens’ opening drive, which resulted in a touchdown, and both were committed by Allen.

Allen, who signed a five-year, $26.2 million contact last Saturday, had 38 penalty yards on Baltimore’s first drive compared to 24 passing yards by Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.

Numbers like that explain why the Ravens beat the Steelers soundly -- and why the Steelers were lucky to lose by only 20 points.

Sure, there were a couple of questionable unnecessary roughness calls on Troy Polamalu and Mike Mitchell on the Ravens’ second touchdown drive.

But a roughing-the-passer call on Ravens outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw extended the Steelers’ first drive and Baltimore was able to overcome that.

The Steelers, meanwhile, did too many things to beat themselves, starting with turnovers and penalties.

When asked how to correct the latter, Polamalu said, “Just work on playing cleaner, practicing better.”

Ravens report card vs. the Steelers

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
Grading the Baltimore Ravens in their 26-6 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night:

Quarterback: This was one of the most efficient games of Joe Flacco's career. He completed 72.4 percent of his throws (21 of 29). Not forcing the deep pass, Flacco showed patience and accuracy in hitting his targets on the short to intermediate passes. His improved play-action fakes led to both touchdown throws near the goal line. Flacco also extended two drives by converting on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 with sneaks. Grade: B-plus.

Running backs: It was slow going early on, but the Ravens' running game was the reason why the team finished off the Steelers so decisively. Bernard Pierce and Justin Forsett combined for 95 yards in the fourth quarter. Pierce, who started after being benched Sunday, ran with determination. Forsett is dangerous when he gets to the edges. Has anyone seen Kyle Juszczyk this season? Grade: B.

Wide receivers/tight ends: It was a big night for the tight ends. Owen Daniels caught two touchdown passes on goal-line plays. Dennis Pitta kept both of those touchdown drives alive by converting a third down on each one. Even though Flacco talked about Torrey Smith being a 100-catch receiver, he was more focused on wide receiver Steve Smith for a second consecutive week. Steve Smith was targeted on over one-third of Flacco's passes, catching six of them for 71 yards. Grade: B-plus.

Offensive line: The reason why the Ravens beat the Steelers by 20 points starts with the domination up front. Flacco was barely touched. The Ravens didn't allow a sack or hit, and they pushed the Steelers back on run plays. Left tackle Eugene Monroe had one of his best games as a Raven. Center Jeremy Zuttah knocked the Steelers' interior back, which allowed Flacco to easily convert both of his quarterback sneaks. Grade: A.

Defensive line: Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata showed his athleticism in the fourth quarter when he batted a pass and intercepted it. Nose tackle Brandon Williams recorded two tackles and got some pressure on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Backup DeAngelo Tyson recovered a fumble deep in Ravens territory. Grade: B-minus.

Linebackers: Inside linebackers Daryl Smith and C.J. Mosley again struggled against a speedy back and had trouble chasing down Le'Veon Bell. Mosley had two missed tackles. But Smith and Mosley came up with big stops with each forcing a fumble. Terrell Suggs got caught crashing inside and the Steelers made him pay on reverses. Elvis Dumervil had two sacks. On one of them, he ran through tackle Marcus Gilbert before taking down Roethlisberger. Grade: C-plus.

Secondary: Jimmy Smith did a good job keeping wide receiver Antonio Brown in check. Safety Matt Elam was around the ball for a second straight week, leading the team with 10 tackles. Pass coverage, though, still isn't one of his strengths (he gave up five receptions). Chykie Brown was removed from the starting lineup but was forced back in after Asa Jackson suffered a concussion. But Brown only allowed one catch. Grade: B.

Special teams: Justin Tucker converted four field goals: 30, 23, 22 and 20 yards. He also had six touchbacks on kickoffs. Sam Koch netted an impressive 48.5 yards on two punts. Jacoby Jones was a nonfactor until he returned a punt 33 yards in the fourth quarter. Grade: B-plus.
Ben Roethlisberger Patrick Smith/Getty ImagesBen Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense were out of sync against the Ravens.
BALTIMORE -- The Pittsburgh Steelers, in spite of themselves, hung around on a sticky Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium.

They trailed the Baltimore Ravens by just a touchdown, and the offense was on the move near the end of the first half when Ben Roethlisberger threw a pass that sailed over the head of 6-foot-5 tight end Heath Miller.

The Steelers punted instead of getting a fresh set of downs inside the Ravens’ 20-yard line.

And that errant pass defined their dismal night as much as the three turnovers they committed and the nine penalties that also had coach Mike Tomlin fuming during a terse postgame news conference.

The Ravens beat the Steelers 26-6 at M&T Bank Stadium. What should be most troubling to Tomlin, who is 17-17 in his past 34 games, is that Pittsburgh has been outscored 50-9 in its past six quarters.

True, the defense may actually be worse at stopping the run than it was last season, which was considered an outlier. But the offense was expected to carry the defense until the young players got more experience and the new players got a grasp of the system.

Roethlisberger, after looking shaky in the second half of the Steelers' 30-27 win over the Browns, was pedestrian in his second start.

The 11th-year veteran completed 22 of 37 passes for 217 yards against the Ravens. He missed three open receivers when the outcome still hung in the balance.

Roethlisberger didn’t lose the game, but he didn’t come close to conjuring up some of the magic that he has before in Baltimore.

Four years ago, Roethlisberger played through a broken nose and late in the game he held off Terrell Suggs long enough to throw away a pass. The next play he threw for the game-winning touchdown. Two years before that, Roethlisberger led the Steelers on a 12-play, 92-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter to beat the Ravens.

Those games seem like they are from a bygone era.

And maybe they are with all of the turnover of personnel that has taken place since the Steelers played in three Super Bowls and won two of them from 2005-10.

Roethlisberger though is the one player who holds the Steelers together and gives them hope, and his wide receivers could have given him a little more help Thursday night.

Maybe Justin Brown was supposed to stop in the middle of the field on a third-down pass that Roethlisberger threw behind him in the second quarter. Maybe Markus Wheaton and even Pro Bowler Antonio Brown could have done a better job fighting for balls that Roethlisberger gave them a chance to catch.

But the reality is that Roethlisberger has to raise the level of play of everyone around him, not the other way around.

And he has to start with himself if the Steelers are to have any chance of returning to the playoffs after consecutive 8-8 seasons.