5 things we learned in Steelers’ overtime loss to Ravens
Five things we learned from Ravens 26, Steelers 23, OT.
1. Wildcat giveth, taketh away
One week after the Steelers used the wildcat formation to help produce their first win of the season, they got disastrous results in the rare times they tried involving running back Jaylen Samuels on a direct snap against the Ravens.
On the first play of the Steelers’ second series, Samuels tried to lob a short pass to wide receiver James Washington only to overthrow his target. Josh Bynes intercepted at the Steelers 15, and the Ravens got a 4-yard touchdown run from Mark Ingram to take a 10-0 lead with 4:48 left in the first quarter.
The second direct snap to Samuels lost 5 yards in the second quarter. The Steelers went to the wildcat a third and final time in the third quarter. Samuels took the snap, shoveled the ball to Diontae Johnson, who lateraled to Johnny Holton on a reverse. The play, for all of its trickery, gained 4 yards.
Coach Mike Tomlin said his intention involved not “utilizing” the wildcat against the Ravens. Given the results produced Sunday, perhaps it’s time to put it back into storage when the Steelers face the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 6.
2. Ready for some splash
A season removed from the Steelers tying a franchise record for fewest interceptions, they picked off three against the Ravens. That gives them six interceptions on the season, all coming in the past three games.
Last year, the Steelers had eight.
Kameron Kelly, Mike Hilton and Devin Bush were the beneficiaries of the interceptions thrown by Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. And the Steelers turned these takeaways into 13 points — James Conner’s 1-yard touchdown run and two Chris Boswell field goals.
After finishing next-to-last in the NFL with 15 takeaways in 2018, the Steelers have created 12 through five weeks. That’s one bright spot in a season that hasn’t produced many of them during a 1-4 start.
3. Taking their time
Despite getting five more sacks and holding the Ravens to 277 yards — 118 fewer than Baltimore’s previous low this season — the Steelers defense was on the field for 39 out of 64-plus minutes.
The Ravens converted six times on third down (out of 15 tries) and once on fourth. That conversion came on the first possession of the third quarter when the Ravens faced a fourth-and-6 at the Steelers 49.
Coach John Harbaugh kept his offense on the field in an obvious attempt to bait the Steelers into an offside penalty. It worked as rookie Devin Bush flinched and committed the neutral zone infraction. With a fourth-and-1 from the 44, the Ravens gained the yard on Lamar Jackson’s sneak after he fumbled the exchange.
Bush atoned for his gaffe with an interception on the next play to end a drive that encompassed 6 minutes, 38 seconds. After the Steelers scored a go-ahead touchdown, the Ravens were on the field for 7:03 while driving for a field goal that tied the score, 20-20.
The Steelers also continued to have difficulty covering the tight end. Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst combined for nine catches for 77 yards.
4. Point of no returns
After watching the Steelers get poor field position courtesy of short returns or penalties that wiped out longer gains, Tomlin had his team kick off to start overtime.
Tomlin didn’t want the Steelers offense backed up in its end like in the first quarter when its first two possessions began at the 11 and 12, respectively. A third try resulted in a 9-yard return in the fourth quarter.
“We couldn’t get back to the 15. Why would I sign up for that?” Tomlin said.
The three returns — two by Ryan Switzer, one by Holton — averaged 14 yards. Tomlin has been reluctant to use Diontae Johnson, who had four total touchdowns on kick and punt returns at Toledo, on special teams in his rookie season. In his absence, the touchback has been the Steelers’ most reliable weapon on kickoff returns.
5. Wizardry continues
It speaks volumes about the Steelers plight that their most consistent player has been kicker Chris Boswell.
Forced to win a spot in training camp with a $2 million roster bonus at stake, Boswell not only has regained his 2017 form, he’s been perfect on field-goal tries this season.
After making 13 of 20 attempts last year while also missing four extra-point tries, Boswell is 10 for 10 this year on field goals and 9 of 9 on extra points.
Boswell has yet to try a game-winning field goal, but he provided the go-ahead points Sunday with 2:37 left when he made a 33-yarder.
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .