PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 30: Joe Flacco #5 of the Baltimore Ravens drops back to pass in the first quarter during the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on September 30, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Baltimore Ravens put some early space between themselves and the Pittsburgh Steelers with a 26-14 victory Sunday at Heinz Field.

Baltimore is now 3-1, while its archrival is 1-2-1 and looking up at both the Ravens and the 3-1 Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North. Joe Flacco torched Pittsburgh’s defense with 363 passing yards and two touchdowns, while Ben Roethlisberger finished 27-of-47 for 274 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Justin Tucker converted all four of his field goals and was the only one to score in the second half as the ultimate difference.

         

Joe Flacco Ensuring There Is No QB Controversy in Baltimore

It looked as if the writing was on the wall for the 33-year-old Flacco when the Ravens selected Lamar Jackson with a first-round pick in the 2018 draft.

Instead, the Ravens are tied atop the AFC North at 3-1, already have a win over the Steelers under their belt and have Flacco operating at a high level. He threw six touchdowns and just two interceptions in the first three contests and picked apart Pittsburgh’s lackluster secondary in front of a hostile crowd.

By comparison, Jackson has been designated to something of a gimmicky Wildcat role (four carries for 17 yards) and is taking direct snaps and running sweeps. While he may unleash some passes from the sets in the future, the Ravens saved all the throws for Flacco against the Steelers.

The talent Jackson displayed at Louisville while winning a Heisman Trophy and two ACC Player of the Years is being wasted in this role, but Flacco has done nothing to suggest there is even a semblance of a quarterback controversy at this stage.

The veteran who has a Super Bowl ring and 15 playoff games on his resume is playing like someone who will be a factor in January, which is welcome news for a Ravens team looking to return to the postseason for the first time since the 2014 campaign.

         

Steelers Shaky Defense Will Decide the AFC North

There is no more important unit in the AFC North than the Steelers defense, and that was on full display Sunday.

Pittsburgh has enough offensive playmakers to put up points—even if it that wasn’t the case against the Ravens—but the defense must be at least average to compete with the likes of Baltimore and the Bengals. It has been anything but average to start the season and was a mere 27th in the league in yards and points allowed entering Week 4.

The unit that allowed 42 points to the Kansas City Chiefs and 411 passing yards to Ryan Fitzpatrick was nonexistent to start yet again with costly penalties and receivers running wide open. As a result, Flacco quickly staked Baltimore to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter with touchdown passes to John Brown and Alex Collins.

While Collins’ fumble at the goal line on a possession that could have made it 20-3 breathed a bend-but-don’t-break life into the defense, Flacco directed four straight field-goal drives down the stretch to build a two-score lead with less than two minutes remaining.

The Steelers don’t have the talent at all three defensive levels to prevent opponents from racking up chunk yardage, but the bend-but-don’t-break display in the second half at least provided a blueprint for the rest of the season.

A third straight AFC North crown is still on the table for Pittsburgh, but the defense has to prevent crooked numbers and give Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Co. a chance at the end of games. Otherwise, it’s going to be a long season for the Black and Yellow.

          

Plethora of Steelers Weapons Makes Antonio Brown Even More Dangerous

Brown (five catches for 62 yards and a touchdown) was already a six-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro member who led the league in receiving yards twice entering the 2018 campaign, but the emergence of other Steelers weapons makes him all the more dangerous even if he’s sacrificing some targets.

Roethlisberger consistently looked elsewhere to start the game, as JuJu Smith-Schuster finished with as many targets (11) on his way to 60 yards, Vance McDonald (five catches for 62 yards) served as a wrecking ball over the middle and Ryan Switzer took advantage of underneath routes.

While the Steelers didn’t score until the second quarter, Baltimore couldn’t afford to double-team Brown on every play. The result was single coverage, and Big Ben found him in the corner of the end zone for Pittsburgh’s only touchdown in a situation that was particularly problematic for the Ravens with cornerback Jimmy Smith suspended:

There may have been concern entering the season that Pittsburgh’s offense would just be a heavy dose of Brown as long as Le’Veon Bell is holding out, but Roethlisberger still has an abundance of playmakers at his disposal.

It becomes a pick-your-poison situation for the defense, as a double-team on Brown opens the field for others while single coverage leaves the cornerback on a nearly impossible island. Baltimore learned that the hard way Sunday. Even in the loss, the possibility of Brown facing more single coverage is at least a silver lining for the Steelers.

Next up for Pittsburgh is an Atlanta Falcons team that allowed a combined 80 points the last two weeks, so look for Brown to continue putting up impressive numbers even if they come on fewer catches.

          

What’s Next?

The Ravens remain in the division in Week 5 with a road game against the Cleveland Browns, while the Steelers host the Falcons.

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