Lolley’s 10 Thoughts: Wrong side of ‘fine line’ ☕


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Stephon Tuitt reacts to a stop against the Ravens Sunday at Heinz Field. -- MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

How good are the 2019 Steelers? Good enough to be 4-1 at this point.

How bad are they? Well, they're actually 1-4.

That's the harsh reality staring this team in the face right now after Sunday's latest defeat, 26-23 in overtime to the Ravens at Heinz Field.

This is a team talented enough, even without Ben Roethlisberger, to hang with anyone not, apparently, named the Patriots. They've shown that in their three losses since the opener, losing those three games to the Seahawks, 49ers and Ravens by a combined nine points.

The latest loss showed just how thin of a line it is on which the Steelers are trying to walk.

This game was lost not so much on JuJu Smith-Schuster's fumble in overtime -- though that certainly didn't help -- as it was on the Steelers' first two possessions.

After Johnny Holton returned the ball 13 yards to the Pittsburgh 11 on the game's opening kickoff, the Steelers came out intent on getting the ball to Smith-Schuster to open the game.

That's actually not a bad idea considering Smith-Schuster had been pretty quiet since Mason Rudolph took over at quarterback. But the Ravens were ready for it, as Smith-Schuster was tackled for just a 2-yard gain on first down and was then stopped for a 4-yard loss on an inside pass on second down. A false start by Maurkice Pouncey then backed the Steelers up even more, making it third-and-16. An 11-yard pass to Vance McDonald couldn't convert that, and the Steelers punted from their own 16.

That gave the Ravens the ball at their own 41 for their first possession, which is already nearly in Justin Tucker field-goal range. That's what the Steelers allowed for a 3-0 Baltimore lead.

Then, on the Steelers' second possession, Ryan Switzer returned a high-hanging kickoff from his own 2 out to the 26 for what would have been much better starting position had Ola Adeniyi not been penalized for holding.

Instead, the Steelers took over at their own 12 and decided that would be a good time for Jaylen Samuels to throw his first "real" career pass. Yes, Samuels was credited with "throwing" three passes last week against the Bengals, but those were all flips behind the line of scrimmage. This was an actual attempt at a pass -- on the move -- that was intercepted by the Ravens inside the Pittsburgh 20.

Even then, the Steelers had an opportunity to hold the Ravens to a field goal, but Mark Barron was called for a defensive hold one play after the Ravens had been called for a holding penalty of their own to give Baltimore a free first down after facing first-and-20. Thing was, Barron's "hold" came while Lamar Jackson was scrambling out of the pocket.

It would be the first of several interesting penalty calls in this game that adversely affected both teams.

This one gave the Ravens a first down at the Pittsburgh 11 and, after Stephon Tuitt was rightly called for roughing the passer for hitting Jackson late along the sideline, it led to a touchdown.

Just like that, it was 10-0 before the Steelers had a first down. And it had only taken the Ravens gaining 63 yards to do it.

You can't spot teams 10 points. You certainly can't spot teams 10 points when you're playing without your starting quarterback. And you definitely can't do it against good teams. Despite a bad defense, the Ravens are still a good team.

But so are the Steelers, despite their 1-4 start.

Bill Cowher used to say there's a fine line between winning and losing in the NFL. And right now, the Steelers are walking on the wrong side of that too often.

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