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AFC North Week 9 recap: Ravens and Steelers escape scares

It may be the week after Halloween, but the AFC North found themselves in some frightening games this week.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

While the Bengals (2-5-1) and Browns (5-3) enjoyed their bye weeks in Week 9, the two teams leading the division found themselves trying to escape with victories on the road. Both the Ravens and Steelers looked unexcitingly beatable this week, but was this just a fluke or a sign of things to come in the second half of the season.

Defense carries Ravens to victory

The Ravens offense had a rough outing against the Colts this week. Lamar Jackson has seemingly lost some of his shine from his 2019 MVP campaign. This week he was efficient in completing 19 of 23 passes, but they only went for 170 yards. He was the team’s leading rusher with 58 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. This was enough to get them by, but these numbers are a far cray from what he was putting up last season. It is clear defenses in the NFL are catching up to what Baltimore and Jackson are trying to do.

Fortunately for the Ravens, their defense was impeccable this week even without cornerback Marlon Humphrey (COVID). They returned a fumble for a touchdown and a questionable Marcus Peters interception setup another touchdown for Baltimore. They relentlessly got in Philip Rivers’ face as well, which created plenty of stops on the afternoon.

The old saying is defense wins championships, but it is hard to envision this formula getting the Ravens and Jackson deep into the playoffs in the AFC where they will have to get through teams like the Chiefs and Steelers who won’t struggle as hard to take advantage of the opposing offense struggling. This Baltimore team is still talented, but they don’t have that same bite as last year’s team who looked unstoppable at times.

Ravens sit at (6-2) on the season

Steelers survive an upset attempt in Dallas

No one was giving the Cowboys a chance this week against the Steelers and there was honestly no reason to. Dallas was on their third string quarterback Garrett Gilbert, and their defense had struggled most of the season. So a visit from the undefeated Steelers who seemed to be red hot coming into the game seemed like an easy projection. That is why they play the game, though.

Pittsburgh’s offense struggled to get their offense going until late in the second quarter. During that time, Dallas built a 13-point lead. The Steelers defense did an incredible job of bending but not breaking most of the game. They only allowed one touchdown on the day, and forced the Cowboys to settle for field goals.

That inability from Dallas to score touchdowns allowed Ben Roethlisberger, after an apparent knee injury, to claw his team back into the game and create a lead. He only completed 29 of 42 passes, but they went for over 300 passing yards and three touchdowns. The real offensive struggles came as the rushing attack failed to get off the ground. James Conner carried the ball nine times for only 22 yards, but even more importantly they were stuffed on several occasions trying to convert short yardage situations.

The game ultimately still came down to one final heave from the Gilbert and the Cowboys that didn’t really end up looking all that threatening. This was the first sign of Pittsburgh playing down to their opponents talent, which has been an issue at several times during the Mike Tomlin era. One has to wonder if Dallas had Dak Prescott or even Andy Dalton available that they could’ve possibly pulled off the upset, but you can only play the game put out on the field. The bigger question is if Pittsburgh will learn their lesson from their slow start this week, or if the Bengals and Joe Burrow can possibly finish off what the Cowboys couldn’t in Week 10.

The Steelers remain undefeated and get to (8-0)