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Five things we learned from Steelers 26, Ravens 9

Joe Rutter
| Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, 10:12 a.m.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger celebrates after a Le'Veon Bell touchdown against the Ravens on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger celebrates after a Le'Veon Bell touchdown against the Ravens on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

Five things we learned from Steelers 26, Ravens 9:

1. One component from the Big 3 has yet to break loose. Le'Veon Bell flashed his 2016 form for the first time this season when he rushed for 144 yards. Antonio Brown has recorded double-digit receptions in two games. That leaves Ben Roethlisberger as the missing piece to have a big-time performance this season.

Roethlisberger's passing totals continued a downward trend against the Ravens. Consider that after he passed for 263 yards in the opener at Cleveland, his yardage totals have dwindled to 243 to 235 to 216 against the Ravens. It is the first time since 2008 that Roethlisberger has not posted a 300-yard passing performance within his first four starts of a season.

He's getting the job done as evidence by six touchdown passes to two interceptions and the team's 3-1 record. He just hasn't put up the huge numbers that he has in the past.

2. Martavis Bryant also awaits his breakout game. With so many playmakers, it's hard to keep everybody happy. Witness Brown's meltdown in the second quarter when he flipped over a Gatorade cooler. Bryant also hasn't connected often with Roethlisberger on the deep pass that figured to be a big part of the playbook. Roethlisberger bears some responsibility by overshooting his target frequently, but Bryant has gotten his chances. Bryant had another relatively quiet game, catching three passes for 48 yards. He was targeted two other times. His 18.3 yards per catch is higher than his career average, but Bryant is on pace for just 40 receptions this season and he's exceeded 50 yards receiving one time in four games since his return from suspension.

3. The new-look secondary got the job done. J.J. Wilcox stepped in at free safety for Mike Mitchell and didn't look out of position. That's a good thing for a secondary whose longest-tenured members with the Steelers on Sunday were second-year players Artie Burns and Sean Davis. Of course, the back tier of the defense benefited from the heavy pass rush applied to Joe Flacco, who had just 49 passing yards in the first half and piled up most of his yardage in garbage time. Slot corner Mike Hilton continues to wow, collecting his first NFL sack on a corner blitz and collecting an interception off a tipped pass. Oh, and he also had a special-teams tackle.

4. Eli Rogers has lost his slot receiver job. If it wasn't evident before the game when Rogers was a healthy scratch, it became clear when rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster made several combat catches and again impressed with his blocking. Smith-Schuster finished with three receptions for 47 yards and his second career touchdown. He's rapidly earning Roethlisberger's trust, much like Rogers did last season. Rogers' best chance at getting back on the field will be wrestling the final game day receiver spot away from Justin Hunter. He also could benefit from watching Brown's cautious approach in returning punts.

5. Jesse James remains the best option at tight end. Vance McDonald had another drop and his would-be first catch as a Steeler was wiped out by penalty. Through four games, McDonald has yet to record a catch with his new team and is best remembered for his touchdown-saving forced fumble last week against the Bears. James, meanwhile, continues to be dependable. He caught all three targets for 40 yards. Nothing junior varsity about his play as he is the team's third-leading pass catcher (15 for 127 and 2 TDs) after four weeks.

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jrutter@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.

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