Lolley's 10 Thoughts: Steelers find their physicality against Ravens

When the head coach of a team – any team in any sport – goes into a press conference and calls his team out about something, or a lack of something, that thing usually gets corrected.

In the case of Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin last week, it was a message to his team about its lack of physicality in a 30-6 loss to the Houston Texans in Week 4.

Tomlin has been around the block enough to know which buttons to push with his team. And in this case, pushing the physicality button had the desired effect.

The Steelers weren't about to allow themselves to be pushed around on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.

If they did, they were going to be in for a very long day.

"They'll push your butt off the field," said Steelers inside linebacker Elandon Roberts following the Steelers' 17-10 come-from-behind win over the Ravens Sunday at Acrisure Stadium. "You'll go home and you'll be stiff as heck. If I'm going to go home and be stiff, I'm going to make sure I whooped someone's butt rather than having someone whoop my butt."

The Ravens had some success in the first half, posting 244 total yards – including 100 on the ground on 17 rushing attempts – while limiting the Steelers to 88 total yards.

But the end result was only a 10-3 lead. And when the Steelers made some halftime adjustments, they slammed the door on Baltimore, which didn't score again.

"I think it was our adjustments, good coaching and the ebb and flow of the game. We kind of saw what type of day it was going to be," Roberts said. "Our coaches made some adjustments and we just had to stay more, I don't even want to say gap sound because sometimes you see they're going to block it a certain way and you make the adjustment. They blocked it a little different than what we expected. But we came in at halftime and made some adjustments. You can still go out there and play fast."

The same could be said of the Steelers' offensive line.

Game action photos from the Steelers' Week 5 game against the Baltimore Ravens at Acrisure Stadium

But in the second half, the Steelers could feel the Ravens starting to wilt on both sides of the ball.

Baltimore had just 25 rushing yards on eight carries in the second half. The Steelers, meanwhile, had 51 rushing yards in the second half.

"We had kind of felt them start to bend a little bit on defense in that third quarter, early in the fourth quarter," center Mason Cole said. "Jaylen (Warren) had a couple of explosive plays. We started throwing the ball to George (Pickens), started moving the ball well. We kept the momentum going."

That's the way Steelers-Ravens matchups go. They'll be a 60-minute, knock-down, drag-out fight. And the team that is more physical over the course of those 60 minutes is typically the one that goes home a winner.

In this case, the Steelers took Baltimore's best punch early. They got up off the mat and continued battling, coming out a winner in the end.

"I do, because I'm a physical linebacker. I don't care whether he was talking about me or not. I did," Roberts said when asked if he took umbrage with Tomlin calling out his team's physicality.

"I don't like that. But it wasn't like Mike T was calling us out. It was a clear message."

Tomlin's message was sent and received.

And the Steelers won a game on Sunday because of it.

"They made a commitment throughout the week, the prep, the things that we talked about leading up to the week that we had to do better in preparation," Tomlin said. "I felt that. I felt an earnest effort in that regard. And there's football justice."

• At 3-2, the Steelers are now in first place in the AFC North headed into their bye week with wins over Cleveland and Baltimore.

And they do so knowing that they'll get wide receiver Diontae Johnson back off injured reserve along with getting some of the players they were missing in this game – tight end Pat Freiermuth, guard James Daniels, offensive tackle Dan Moore and punter Pressley Harvin III among them – back.

They're also a step closer to the return of defensive lineman Cam Heyward, who had surgery to repair a groin injury after Week 1.

It's not so bad, and certainly beats where they were at going into their bye a year ago at 2-6.

"We're going into the bye week, get healthy," said quarterback Kenny Pickett. "Got some banged up guys. (We) want to try to get back to full strength. So it will be good moving on from the bye week."

Certainly better than it has been at times without those players – particularly Johnson and Heyward, with whom they have been without since Week 1.

"It's a long season," said cornerback Patrick Peterson. "We've got what, 13, 14 more games? We need all those guys back and healthy."

It's 12 in the regular season, but Peterson is thinking the right way.

Keep winning games and improving along the way and see where that gets you at the end of it all. And it could mean additional games.

• The first half was bad for the Steelers – again. 

But that was largely because they were losing the field position battle to Baltimore – something you just can't do against the Ravens.

Not including a kneel-down possession to end the half, the Steelers got the ball at their own 4, 25, 10 and 49.

Not surprisingly, when they got the ball at the 49, they converted that into a field goal. When you're getting the ball at your own 10 or worse, the sledding is going to be tough.

"In those situations, you're really just trying to get a couple of first downs and try to flip the field position," said Cole. "We started our first possession inside our own 5. That's tough."

What the Steelers did, however, was limit their three-and-outs. That had been a major issue in their first four games. But in this game, of 10 meaningful possessions that didn't include taking a knee to end a half, they had just two three-and-outs.

The Ravens had four, all of which came in the fourth quarter. And even when Baltimore did get a first down in the second half, that was typically all it got. The Ravens had four total first downs in the second half and had nine of their 12 possessions account for two or fewer first downs.

• Maybe Pickett is just a quarterback who thrives under pressure and chaos when the game is on the line.

Pickett was 7 of 15 for 60 yards in the first half. He was 11 of 17 for 164 yards and a touchdown in the second half.

Sunday's game was the fourth fourth-quarter comeback of his career. Two of them have now come against the Ravens.

"It can spring it a lot," said wide receiver George Pickens of this emotional victory. "Resiliency is the biggest component for our team that will get us through because it's the NFL. It's not going to be 30-0 like college. It's going to be a close game almost every week."

Resilient would be one word you'd definitely use to describe Pickett. And that resiliency is one reason his teammates believe in him the way they do.

It's similar to the way Ben Roethlisberger's teammates believed in him. No matter how poorly he had played – or they had played as a team – they always believed Roethlisberger would pull out a win at the end if they gave him a chance.

They have a similar feeling about Pickett.

But perhaps that comes from Tomlin, as well.

"Coach showed up tape of how close the games are against the Ravens," Pickett said. "It's just how it goes in the AFC North. All the teams are competitive. Great offenses, great defenses going at it every week. We were saying it's going to be a marathon-type game down to the end. Everyone doing their job you have a chance to win at the end."

Punch and counterpunch, don't make the big mistake and try to win it in the end.

• Would the game have taken on a different tone if the Ravens had kicked a field goal at the end of the first half to make it 13-3 instead of snapping the ball with 19 seconds remaining on fourth-and-2 from the Pittsburgh 23?

Perhaps. But we'll never know. What we do know is that the Ravens didn't score again in the game, even after Gunner Olszewski lost a fumble on a punt return that gave Baltimore the ball at the Pittsburgh 5 late up 10-8.

And perhaps that is how the Ravens not kicking the field goal at the end of the half hurt the Ravens.

Had they been up 13-8 instead of 10-8, perhaps Lamar Jackson wouldn't have felt it necessary to throw into the end zone on that play. Had the Ravens been up 13-8, a field goal would have put them up by a touchdown.

Instead, Jackson attempted a pass into the end zone toward Odell Beckham Jr. that was picked off by rookie Joey Porter Jr.

So, what happened at the end of the first half?

"We were planning on kicking the field goal there," said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. "The idea was to run the clock down and not leave them time to come the other way and then just call a timeout and kick the field goal. But we had just a miscommunication – heat of battle. We weren't on the same page. They jumped the neutral zone, and guys thought they were in the neutral zone and went ahead and snapped it. So, that wasn't what we were planning on doing. You see Lamar was surprised by the snap, so that was just one of those things operationally that we just have to get better at."

The Ravens have made a habit over the years of having their offensive line react when they think they have someone offside, making sure the officials see it. In this case, second-year center Tyler Linderbaum handed the Steelers a gift.

• The Ravens did a lot of that in this game, dropping passes and not making plays.

But that's all part of the game.

You have to take advantage of your opponent's miscues. And the Steelers did that.

And some of those miscues came down to the Steelers putting pressure on Jackson and making him hold the ball or not deliver it where the wide receiver was expecting it – although Rashod Bateman's drop in the end zone in the first half was just a simple drop.

Their pressure has been Jackson's Kryptonite. His passer rating coming into this game was nearly 120. He had been completing 74 percent of his passes.

He had a 65.2 passer rating in this game. He failed to throw a single touchdown pass and was intercepted once. Jackson had a 26-yard run on Baltimore's opening possession, but finished the game with 45 yards on six rushing attempts, meaning he had 19 yards on his final five runs.

Jackson still had a couple of Superman-like plays, including converting a third-and-18 play to Zay Flowers on the ill-fated final possession of the first half. But overall, the Steelers kept him in check and improved to 3-1 against him in his starts.

Only the Chiefs and Steelers have now beaten Jackson three times in his career.

• You don't block punts in the NFL by accident. Miles Killebrew should know.

He's now blocked four punts in his NFL career, including three with the Steelers. And he seems to do it at very opportune times.

Sunday, the Steelers were down 10-3 early in the fourth quarter. Now, they were going to get the ball back in great field position after forcing a three-and-out by the Ravens at their own 14.

"The thing I love about blocked punts is that it's a team stat," said Killebrew, the team's special teams captain. "We all get credit. There's a lot of things that have to go right for it to be a blocked punt. It has to be the right call. Kudos to (special teams coordinator) Danny Smith.

"It's a great call by Danny. It was a scheme that we've been practicing for three weeks. Danny drew it up. We've been working on it. It just so happened that all of the things that needed to happen for that to be called took place. It has to do with field position, where we are in the game for Danny to call it. He let us go and so we were able to get it done."

Still, that doesn't happen by accident. Killebrew might credit his teammates and Smith for setting him up for the block. But he still has to pull it off.

"I practice it," he said. "I don't think anything happens by accident. It's something I actively seek. I'm just thankful to be on a team with guys who do their job so I'm able to count on them and we can get it done."

• One of the knocks on rookie cornerback Porter coming out of Penn State was that he didn't have great hands.

But Porter had one interception in the preseason and had one in the fourth quarter of this game where the quarterback just basically threw him the ball like he was the wide receiver.

Porter's length makes that possible.

In both cases – in the preseason and again on Sunday – it seemed like the quarterback simply made up his mind before the snap that he was going to go after the rookie. And in both cases, it looked like Porter ran the route for the receiver.

In fact, Jackson all but admitted Sunday, he was throwing the ball to Beckham – his intended target on the interception – no matter what.

"I was trying to get my boy a shot," said Jackson, referring to Beckham. "We've just got to get in sync – that's all. (Porter) made a great play and a great interception. We didn't want it to happen, but it happened."

So much for not having good hands.

Rookies get tested in the NFL. That's why Porter knew the ball was coming his way.

"I already kind of had that in the back of my mind they were going to try me on that play," Porter said.

And he held up well.

• Dale Lolley is co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast

Porter probably needs to play more coming out of the bye. He's earned that level of trust.

"(He) has been playing increasingly more with each passing week," said Tomlin. "I've been really transparent about the inclusion of all the rookies. Oftentimes we start with a good foundational plan in terms of how they participate, and we grow from there. He's done a solid job with the work given. And today he got more. He did a nice job with the work he was given today."

• The Steelers know the Ravens and the Ravens know the Steelers so well that it's amazing that in the game's most crucial moments that Baltimore chose to allow T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith to go one-on-one against their offensive tackles.

Game situation certainly plays a part in that. But when you know two guys can completely wreck your day and you then allow them to do it, you've got nobody to blame but yourself.

• If some of the new guys didn't know what the Steelers-Ravens rivalry is about, they certainly got a crash course in it Sunday.

This game had more highs and lows than the Steel Curtain at Kennywood. And the finish was one to remember.

"These games are special. I don't know what it is with these Pittsburgh-Ravens games, but it's incredible to be a part of," said Cole, who has now taken part in three of them. "It's an emotional game. The highs and lows of this game – football in general – but this game are so dramatic. It's fun to be a part of."

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