Sunday marked the first meeting of the season between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens in their physical AFC North rivalry. The Ravens came out the victor in overtime on a Justin Tucker 46-yard field goal. The sour result put on display the clear strengths and weakness for the 1-4 Steelers.
Pittsburgh’s offense struggled to get into gear for much of the game. It wasn’t helped by the loss of quarterback Mason Rudolph in the middle of the third quarter. However, the defense put in another strong performance. Devin Bush helped spur the Steelers to one of their best showings of the season. The defense, and its catalyst in Devin Bush, continue to progress, while the offense continues to try and find its way.
Devin Bush and the Pittsburgh Steelers Defense Shows Improvement While Offense Struggles
Another Solid Day for Devin Bush
One week after recording his first career sack against the Cincinnati Bengals, Bush recorded his first career interception on Sunday. Bush plucked the ball right off of Ravens tight end Nick Boyle as they went to the ground. A replay review upheld the call, giving Bush his first interception and the third on the day for the Steelers. Bush was also second on the team with eight tackles on the day.
Bush has had a fantastic start to his career. Through his first five games, Bush has tallied 45 tackles, including 28 solo tackles. Both of those totals lead the team. If there is a critique of Bush’s play thus far, it would be his lack of forced turnovers and getting to the quarterback. However, in the past couple of games, he has begun to show he is capable of doing those things. Against the Bengals, Bush recorded his first sack and had three tackles for loss. And against the Ravens, Bush recorded his first interception. He has recovered three fumbles so far this year as well. Bush has been every bit the catalyst the defense had been lacking since Ryan Shazier was injured in 2017.
Defense Continues to Improve
For the second game in a row, Pittsburgh’s defense held the opposition to under 300 yards of total offense. On Sunday the Steelers defense held the Ravens to less than 150 yards through the air. Sunday’s game was also the fourth straight that the defense forced multiple turnovers. Through 16 games last season, the Steelers defense recorded eight interceptions. Through five games this season, they already have six. Half of those came against Lamar Jackson on Sunday, where Bush, Mike Hilton, and Kameron Kelly each had one. The Steelers also added five sacks of Jackson, a stat the defense ranks among the top-five in in the league. The defense has done enough to keep the Steelers in all but one of their first five games. Pittsburgh has lost three games by a combined nine points. The defense is doing all it can to give the team a chance to win, but the offense needs to improve.
Offense Continues to Spin its Wheels
For the third time this season, on Sunday, Pittsburgh couldn’t tally 300 total yards of offense. And they failed to rush for over 100 yards yet again, and had a turnover for the fifth game in a row as well. Last week, James Conner and Jaylen Samuels combined for 240 all-purpose yards. This week, they combined for a paltry 72 all-purpose yards. Conner did score a touchdown, but Samuels threw an interception while playing quarterback in the Wildcat formation. The running backs powered the Steelers to victory the previous week, but they didn’t help much against the Ravens.
The offensive performance could have been better if not for the injury of Mason Rudolph in the third quarter. Rudolph escaped pressure and found his friend James Washington over the middle for a 26-yard completion on third down. It was one of the best plays of Rudolph’s young career. However, after releasing the ball, Earl Thomas hit Rudolph in the jaw on a scary hit that knocked Rudolph out cold. The Steelers quarterback laid motionless on the field for several minutes before ultimately walking off with much assistance, later being diagnosed with a concussion. Taking over was undrafted rookie Devlin Hodges. To his credit, Hodges came into the game and seized the opportunity. He completed seven of nine passes for 68 yards and had two rush attempts for 20 yards. All eyes will be on him to provide a spark on Sunday Night Football against the Los Angeles Chargers.
It was a mixed bag for the Steelers on Sunday. The offense struggled to get any consistent rhythm going. They scored enough to stay in the game, but never looked in command. Now with Rudolph out for the next game, Hodges has to shoulder the pressure. The running game has to be a factor for Hodges to be successful. Cleaning up late mistakes must be a priority as well. Two games have been lost on late fumbles by the offense.
The defense played great and gave the team every chance to win. Devin Bush continues to fly all over the field and makes an impact in each game. This unit plays fast and forces turnovers, two attributes they lacked last season. If they can elevate their play just a bit, it might be enough to overcome the offensive struggles and get the Steelers back in the win column.