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After Further Review: Undone by the run ... again

After further review …

It loomed as a game that would potentially reveal a great deal about the Steelers for a number of reasons, but instead it ended up confirming what we already knew, or at least what we already should have realized.

The run defense is still below the line.

That No. 7 ranking against the run the Steelers brought with them to Acrisure Stadium for their much-anticipated showdown with the Ravens suggested otherwise.

But that had been achieved, in part, thanks to games against Tampa Bay (No. 32 in rushing as of Sunday morning), Miami (No. 28), Indianapolis (No.27) and two against Cincinnati (No. 26).

Even New England (No. 23) had successfully run the ball when necessary to close out what became a 17-14 victory over the Steelers on Sept. 18.

Even the Jets had carried the ball into the end zone from 20 yards away, turning four consecutive running plays into what became the game-winning touchdown with 16 seconds remaining in a 24-20 triumph on Oct. 2.

As for the teams that are among the most accomplished at running the football, Buffalo (No. 8) had averaged 6.7 yards per carry against the Steelers, Philadelphia (No. 5) 5.6 and Cleveland (No. 4) 4.5.

The Steelers were also coming off a game in Atlanta in which the Falcons (No. 2) had run it 22 times for 118 yards (5.4 yards per attempt) in the second half.

So the Ravens' 215 rushing yards and 5.1 average per carry in Sunday's 16-14 decision were, in retrospect, more of the same.

This was a Baltimore team that entered No. 3 in the NFL in rushing. But the Ravens also took on the Steelers with their backup quarterback initially and with their third-string quarterback eventually, and without guard Kevin Zeitler.

They were still able to run the ball throughout and eventually run out the clock.

The Steelers tried a three-safeties defense in response. They also resorted to their three-inside linebacker package and opted for a three-outside linebackers alignment. They even tried Cam Heyward at nose tackle briefly.

But there was a common flaw in all of it.

"We weren't physical enough in the second half and they were successful running the ball because of it," linebacker Alex Highsmith lamented.

"They just ran it and we weren't able to stop 'em. We didn't play physical enough. It's frustrating because we knew what they were gonna do."

In a collective effort that also included three interceptions thrown by quarterback Mitch Trubisky and a 40-yard field goal attempt getting blocked, that inability to stop the run stands, perhaps, as the fatal flaw.

Being unable to induce a three-and-out from the Ravens on a series that began at the Baltimore 21-yard line with 2:24 left in the fourth quarter was at the very least the final straw.

"You should be knowing where it's going by that point," Heyward insisted. "To not get off the field and just give our offense one more chance, that stings the most."

Heyward called that development the "head-scratcher."

But in hindsight, we should have seen it coming.

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