Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers aim to reverse recent struggles in Baltimore
As if the Steelers didn’t have enough to be concerned about in the wake of the national anthem controversy, they are just days away from venturing into a venue where they last won five years ago.
The verbal and written jabs the team has received from angry fans this week parallel the physical beatings the Steelers have taken from the Baltimore Ravens in recent games played at M&T Bank Stadium.
The AFC North rivalry renews Sunday in the Charm City, which has been anything but charming to the Steelers since they played in the Super Bowl following the 2010 season.
The Steelers have lost five of the past six meetings in Baltimore, including four in a row.
“They are as tough as it gets,” tight end Jesse James said Wednesday. “We obviously have our work cut out for us.”
That’s particularly true of an offense that ranks No. 22 in yards per game and is tied for 16th in points despite entering the season with high expectations by having receiver Martavis Bryant rejoin quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell and wideout Antonio Brown.
The Steelers were held to a season-low 17 points last week in an overtime loss to the Chicago Bears, and the offense hasn’t produced a three-touchdown game this season. Brown is the only member of the star quartet playing to a lofty standard.
“I don’t think we’re that far off,” Roethlisberger said, later adding, “The unfortunate part is we’re playing a really good defense this week.”
The Ravens held the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns to a combined 10 points in winning their first two games. But while the Steelers were losing to the previously winless Bears amid the anthem flap at Soldier Field, the Ravens were flying back from London trying to make sense of a 44-7 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
If history is an indication, the Steelers won’t get the offense back on track Sunday. In the past five losses in Baltimore, the Steelers have averaged just 13 points.
Roethlisberger has thrown four touchdown passes against seven interceptions and 11 sacks in those games, with a 69.2 passer rating.
The only time the Steelers won in Baltimore this decade was in 2012 when the quarterback was Charlie Batch, starting for the final time in his NFL career as his 38th birthday approached. Batch improbably rallied the Steelers from a fourth-quarter deficit, leading touchdown and field-goal drives in the final eight minutes for a 23-20 win.
Roethlisberger has lost his past five starts in Baltimore, including last season when he returned to the lineup 20 days after undergoing knee surgery.
“I wish we could say we can go in there and get blowouts,” center Maurkice Pouncey said, “but it’s always a hard-fought game.”
One the Steelers can’t seem to win in Baltimore, although Ravens coach John Harbaugh doesn’t have an answer for his team’s success on its home field.
“The common denominators are they’re all great games,” Harbaugh said. “They are all played similarly and the same style of football, and they all come down to the wire, it seems like.”
The 2016 matchup, a 21-14 loss, was an exception. Pouncey left in the first quarter with a finger injury, and the Steelers had difficulty using a silent count with backup center B.J. Finney.
Until early in the fourth quarter, when the Steelers trailed by 21 points, they had just 76 yards of offense and two first downs.
“It’s a tough environment,” Roethlisberger said. “The crowd is loud, and they really feed off that. They can really get off the snap of the ball, create some issues, get you behind the chains, force you to pass and then throw some different blitzes at you with their rushers and cover guys.
“It creates a lot of tough situations for you.”
The debacle in London notwithstanding, the Ravens have been the NFL’s best defense at creating turnovers. They produced eight interceptions and 10 total turnovers in the first two weeks.
“They’ve spent a lot of money on (the secondary), and they are playing like they spent a lot of money on the it,” Roethlisberger said. “They play the pass really well. They force you to run the ball, and when you throw it, they jump all over you.”
The Steelers are prepared to enter a hostile environment and perhaps even embrace it given all of the off-field issues they have dealt with since the national anthem controversy.
“We just have to be grown about things and approach it the right way,” Pouncey said. “Everyone in here knows we got our (butt) whipped by the Chicago Bears. We are going to come in here and prepare the right way knowing that this is a big game, an AFC North game.”