Five things we learned from the Ravens’ 21-14 win over the Steelers

1.) This is the best Ravens defense we've seen in five years.

The Steelers have three of the best offensive players in the league in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le'Veon Bell.


And for more than three quarters, the Ravens ate them alive.

This is not the flashiest defense. There's no Ray Lewis barking for the cameras or Ed Reed zig zagging to the end zone after an impossible interception. With Terrell Suggs battling age and a torn biceps and Elvis Dumervil sidelined, the edge rush isn't what it used to be.


But when they're healthy, these Ravens control every layer of the field. Their interior linemen consistently win battles for the line of scrimmage. Their corners prevent home-run passes on the outside. Their linebackers and safeties clean up the middle of the field.

"All three levels were really working as one," safety Eric Weddle said, calling it the best defense the Ravens have played since their opening win against the Buffalo Bills.

Bell, who came in averaging 5 yards a carry, ran for 32 yards on 14 attempts. Brown, generally regarded as the best all-around receiver in football, caught two passes for nine yards in the first three quarters. Roethlisberger needed 45 throws to accumulate 264 yards.

Tony Siragusa was in the house Sunday to lead cheers for his former team. And his presence was fitting, because the Ravens' defense carried the team to a crucial win, much as Siragusa and his mates did throughout the 2000 Super Bowl season.


This group isn't as overpowering as that one, but with the AFC North weaker than usual, it might just be good enough to keep the Ravens in playoff contention until the end.

2.) The uplifting victory obscured another underwhelming offensive performance.

Take away Mike Wallace's 95-yard touchdown catch, and the Ravens offense did not produce another drive of more than 47 yards all game.

Terrance West, finally running behind the offensive line that started the season, gained 21 yards on 15 carries. His back-up, Kenneth Dixon, gained 13 yards on nine carries.

On any given Sunday, one NFL team can play as poorly as the other, and the P

Because the Ravens couldn't run the ball, they could not salt away a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter. They gained a total of 42 yards in the second half against a defense that came in 27th overall in the NFL.

First-round pick Ronnie Stanley suffered through an awful game, committing four penalties and struggling to control Steelers linebacker James Harrison on the corner. Two of Stanley's penalties essentially ended drives, a pattern that's haunted the Ravens all season.

Coach John Harbaugh blamed Stanley's dreadful performance on injury-related rust.

Joe Flacco ended another drive with as bad an interception as you'll ever see an NFL quarterback throw. He tried to fire across his body to double-covered tight end Dennis Pitta, squandering a prime scoring opportunity on the Pittsburgh 22-yard line.

Harbaugh said he saw improvement in the offense, but honestly, it's hard to identify much progress since Marty Mornhinweg replaced Marc Trestman as coordinator after Week 5.

The Ravens still derail too many drives with penalties and poor decisions. They still can't run the ball consistently. Flacco still hasn't delivered a truly sharp performance.

With half the season gone, it's time to stop excusing the offense as work in progress.

3.) The Mike Wallace signing is one offensive move that has worked unequivocally.

Wallace again demonstrated why he's a unique element for the Ravens when he ducked inside of Steelers cornerback Artie Burns to catch a simple slant and ran away from Burns and safety Mike Mitchell for the longest score from scrimmage in the franchise's regular-season history.

He's now caught passes of 50 or more yards in four of eight games this season, paying off the team's 2-year, $11.5-mililon investment in him.

Rush linebacker Terrell Suggs was more focused on the two late touchdowns that the defense allowed than h

Wallace is not a classic No. 1 receiver whom you target 15 times a game. But he's the rare player whose speed can obviate the need for a consistent, grind-it-out offense.

Given the Ravens' inability to sustain drives, Wallace's big plays are essential.

For three years, he faced criticisms he'd lost the game-breaking acceleration that made him special as a young receiver for the Steelers. So it was neat to see him get so excited he made himself sick after he scored against his old team.

llace is a charming guy and right now, he's giving his new team precisely what it needs most.

4.) Tavon Young looks like the answer at cornerback across from Jimmy Smith.

The Ravens generally opted not to shadow Brown with Smith, trusting Young, their rookie cornerback, to handle his side of the field.

The Oxon Hill product handled the responsibility so well that Harbaugh handed him a game ball in the victorious locker room.

"Those corners played really, really well," Harbaugh said of Young and Smith. "They played solid, fundamentally, on-top, square, eyes-on-their-luggage football."

With a cluster of adjectives like that, you know he meant it.

As Harbaugh noted, the Ravens expect such performances from Smith. But they're learning to trust Young, a fourth-round pick who made his third career start against Pittsburgh.

At 5-foot-9 and 177 pounds, Young is smaller than the prototype NFL corner. But from early in training camp, he impressed coaches with his confidence and instinct for breaking up passes.

He hasn't been perfect. He was part of the meltdown against Odell Beckham after Smith suffered a concussion against the New York Giants.

But considering how long the Ravens have searched for a corner to partner with Smith, Young could end up as the hidden gem of their 2016 draft.

5.) When critics talk about the NFL being hard to watch, games like this are the reason.

It sounded like the perfect set-up for an autumn Sunday afternoon — a renewal of one of the NFL's classic rivalries with first place at stake and an armada of star players returning from injury.

But instead of celebrating another Ravens-Steelers turf war, we spent much of the afternoon bemoaning the unsightly football they played.

This was a game in which the Ravens committed 10 penalties for 94 yards and actually played a cleaner game than the Steelers, who committed 13 for 99 yards.

For long stretches, the yellow flags gulped up more yardage than either offense.

Neither team managed what you'd call a sustained drive until the desperate Steelers cut loose in the fourth quarter.

With NFL television ratings headed south, a growing chorus of naysayers has spent the last few weeks diagnosing the league's ills. Some have blamed deepening discomfort with the sport's brutality, others competition from a thrilling World Series and other forms of entertainment. But the most popular theory seems to be that the league — swamped by a vast middle class of mediocre teams — simply isn't fun to watch.

The Ravens and Steelers embodied that problem for much of the afternoon with a symphony of penalties, dropped passes and general inefficiency. You would never have guessed that some of the greatest players and most accomplished coaches in the sport were behind this ugly duckling of a game.

On the last meaningful play, Steelers kicker Chris Boswell whiffed an onside kick attempt. Sad to say it was the perfect ending.