Bengals make offensive roster moves

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
CINCINNATI -- With their passing offense -- specifically their tight ends -- depleted after the first two games of the season, the Cincinnati Bengals on Tuesday made a series of roster moves.

First, they placed 10-year veteran tight end Alex Smith on the injured reserve list after he suffered a left biceps injury against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. Smith was one of three Bengals lost in the first quarter of a physical game. Overall, five Bengals were sidelined before the game ended, causing the Bengals to get a little creative with their personnel decisions entering this Sunday's contest against the Tennessee Titans.

Since fellow tight end Tyler Eifert is already on the short-term IR, and since teams are only permitted to put one player per season on that designated-to-return IR, Tuesday's news means Smith's season is officially over. He's placed onto the season-ending injured reserve. He appeared in the first two games, helping the Bengals address their depth behind Eifert, who got hurt in the first quarter of the season opener at Baltimore.

Eifert is expected to return Week 10 when the Bengals host the Cleveland Browns on a Thursday night.

In addition to removing Smith from the 53-man roster, the Bengals signed free-agent tight end Kevin Brock and slid him into Smith's old spot. Brock is a second-year player who opened this season's training camp with the Bengals before getting waived two days before the team's preseason finale. He originally was signed by the Bengals last postseason after Smith dislocated a wrist in the regular-season finale. This is the second straight season Smith has ended a year on IR.

Along with adding Brock, the Bengals also released tight end Ryan Otten off the practice squad to make room for offensive lineman Emmett Cleary. The versatile guard/tackle is a first-year player from Boston College. He spent time last season on Tampa Bay's practice squad before getting acquired by Oakland on waivers this summer. He was waived by the Raiders the same day the Bengals cut Brock.

Even with all these moves, the Bengals have the same number of players they did when the day began -- 52. They're still one shy of the 53-man limit, and could hit it Wednesday when they have to make a decision on cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris, whose two-game suspension ended Monday. The NFL granted the Bengals a two-day exemption period starting Monday to determine what they're going to do with him. At this point, it seems they'll either sign him or release him.

Steelers sticking with Marcus Gilbert

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said right tackle Marcus Gilbert is not in danger of losing his starting job despite giving up four sacks through the first two weeks of the season.

“I’m not concerned about Marcus and his ability to rebound,” Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. “I expect him to come back fighting like Rocky.”

The fourth-year veteran needs to summon up some Balboa-esque grit after getting pushed around by Ravens outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil last Thursday night.

Dumervil recorded both of the Ravens’ sacks in a 26-6 win over the Steelers, and he beat Gilbert badly on the second one. The 5-foot-11, 255-pound Dumervil bull rushed Gilbert and knocked the 6-6, 315-pounder on his back on the way to a sack of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Tomlin gave credit to Dumervil, an accomplished pass rusher, but he also said Gilbert needs to play better.

“When I coached college football I used to say they have scholarships, too. I think the same applies to the National Football League,” Tomlin said in reference to Dumervil’s success against Gilbert.

The Steelers, however, are expecting more out of Gilbert after signing the former second-round draft pick to a five-year, $26.2 million contract last month.

Gilbert played well in camp and the preseason, never allowing Mike Adams to mount a serious challenge to his starting job. The Steelers need Gilbert to show that his struggles in the first two games of the regular season are an aberration.

“If you play 60-plus snaps and you give up two sacks, it’s a bad game,” Tomlin said. “That’s the nature of our business, and I’m sure as a tackle that’s a challenge [Gilbert] embraces.”
A weekly by-the-numbers look at the Cleveland Browns' next game, at home against the Baltimore Ravens:
  • 83.2 -- Joe Flacco's passer rating
  • 87.4 -- Brian Hoyer's passer rating
  • $51 million -- The guaranteed portion of Flacco’s contract
  • $1.965 million -- The complete value of Hoyer’s contract
  • 4.5 -- The Ravens' average yards per carry in the run game
  • 5.1 -- The Browns' average yards per carry in the run game
  • 89 -- Rushing yards allowed per game by Baltimore
  • 152.5 -- Rushing yards per game by the Browns' offense
  • 78.2 -- Opposing quarterbacks’ passer rating vs. Baltimore
  • 33 -- Total first downs Baltimore’s defense has allowed
  • 32.4 -- Average number of yards the Ravens have given up per drive
  • 27 -- Total points allowed by Baltimore in two games
  • 5 -- Said total points rank in the NFL by Baltimore's defense
  • 26.5 -- Points scored per game by the Browns' offense
  • 5 -- Browns' rank in total points in the NFL
  • 6.2 -- Yards per play when Baltimore faces a no-huddle offense
  • 8 -- Yards given up rushing in the red zone
  • 6 -- Yards given up passing in the red zone
  • 0 -- Opposing quarterback rating in the red zone
  • 2.33 -- Average yards given up on red-zone plays
  • 1 -- Baltimore’s rank in the NFL in red-zone efficiency
  • 1 -- The number of touchdowns the Ravens have given up in two games

Clearly the Ravens present a more serious test defensively to the Browns than Pittsburgh or New Orleans. The Ravens are a physical, aggressive group that has been very stingy giving up points. The only touchdown they allowed was a 77-yard deep throw by Andy Dalton to A.J. Green. Teams have yet to sustain any drives against them.

Offensively, both teams have had effective running games, but Baltimore has been stingy giving yards up as well. Baltimore’s struggles against the no-huddle has to have caught Mike Pettine’s eye.

If Hoyer and the offense can get something done on this Baltimore defense, it will be the first time it happens. But Baltimore has yet to play away from home and the Browns' crowd provided a huge lift in the win over New Orleans.

The numbers say this will be a tough game, but it will also be a very interesting one -- and can reveal much about where the Browns stand with the big boys of the NFL as they head to the bye week.
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers came out of a typical hard-hitting game against the Baltimore Ravens in pretty good shape from an injury standpoint.

Starting nose tackle Steve McLendon is the only player who sustained an injury that could keep him out of the Steelers’ Sunday night game against Carolina. McLendon hurt his shoulder and coach Mike Tomlin said he is questionable to play against the 2-0 Panthers.

Rookie running back Dri Archer also is questionable after missing the Ravens game because of a sprained ankle.

McLendon and Archer each practiced on a limited basis on Monday.

Wide receiver Lance Moore was a full participant in practice on Monday after missing the first two games because of a groin injury. The ninth-year veteran is optimistic that he will play against the Panthers, though Tomlin said a lot will depend on how Moore’s body responds to practicing this week.

“We’ll watch his response to yesterday’s work and formulate a plan,” Tomlin said. “Obviously Lance is a guy who’s capable of helping us. He knows how to play football. When we get him back out there we expect him to be a positive contributor to our efforts.”

Tomlin did not mention quarterback Ben Roethlisberger among the Steelers' injured players. But Roethlisberger said on his weekly radio show that he is still “very sore” after getting drilled in the chest last Thursday night by Ravens linebacker Courtney Upshaw.

“That was a significant shot that comes with the territory that he’s embraced over the years,” Tomlin said of his quarterback.

Roethlisberger struggled with his accuracy in the Steelers’ 26-6 loss to the Ravens but Tomlin brushed off a question about whether the early hit affected Roethlisberger’s play.

“He’s not going to make excuses and I’m not going to either," the eighth-year coach said. "He’s capable of playing better and we look forward to working hard so that it occurs this weekend.”

In Case You Missed It: The Devon Still story

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still, who will appear on NFL Nation TV today at 1 p.m. ET, learned on June 2 that his 4-year-old daughter, Leah, was diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma, a rare pediatric cancer. When he learned of the diagnosis, Still was granted permission by the Bengals to leave organized team activities and minicamp in June to attend to his daughter.

The Bengals had no choice but to cut him in September. However, the team re-signed him to the practice squad so Still would continue to get a paycheck and health insurance.

Still talked about his daughter's condition on his Instagram account:

In an effort to help raise money and awareness about pediatric cancer, Still coordinated a fundraising drive in which donations will be made based on the number of sacks the Bengals record this season.

The team announced Sept. 8 that it was donating all proceeds from sales of Still's jersey to pediatric cancer research. Less than 24 hours later, more of the defensive tackle's black No. 75 jerseys had been sold in that time span than any jersey featuring any other Bengals player -- ever.

New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton purchased 100 jerseys.

After just four days of sales, he and the Bengals have raised about $400,000. Still said more than 5,000 of his jerseys have been purchased in the week since the team launched the jersey-sale campaign.

The Bengals on Sept. 11 signed Still off the practice squad and added him to the 53-man roster, where they had a spot available. "I rolled right out of bed," Still told reporters. "I made it here about five minutes later before they could change their mind."

"NFL Countdown" talks to Still about his daughter's treatments:

Still on Sept. 15 posted this on Instagram:
"There's not too many things that can take that smile off her face #WomanOfSTILL"

Still answers questions from viewers:
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- There were times over the years when the Baltimore Ravens felt they were battling the referees in addition to the team on the other sidelines.

That certainly hasn't been the case in the first two weeks of the regular season. For a team that averaged seven penalties per game last season, the Ravens are currently tied for the fewest penalties in the NFL with a total of seven.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh believes reducing flags comes down to mental discipline.

[+] Enlarge Ben Roethlisberger
AP Photo/Alex BrandonCourtney Upshaw's hit on Ben Roethlisberger resulted in one of the seven penalties the Ravens have been whistled for this season.
"We know that other teams are going to get away with stuff that we’re not going to understand," Harbaugh said. "There’s going to be holding and illegal contact and offensive pass interference that we’re not going to understand why it didn’t get called, maybe, in terms of who we’re playing against. But we can’t concern ourselves with that. We need to concern ourselves with what we’re doing. If we play within the rules, if we play good, clean football, then we’re not going to get called, and we want to be that kind of a team."

In the previous six seasons under Harbaugh, the Ravens have committed 633 penalties, which was the seventh-most in the league over that span. This year, the Ravens are tied with the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the fewest flags in the NFL.

Here are the seven penalties called on the Ravens this year:
While Harbaugh doesn't want his players to get caught up in questioning the officials, it doesn't mean he has to do so. Thursday night's penalty on Upshaw, who was flagged for hitting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, had Harbaugh scratching his head. Harbaugh said he spoke with NFL officiating chief Dean Blandino about the penalty.

"The way the rules are written is one thing; what’s possible to accomplish is another thing," Harbaugh said Monday. "There’s no way to coach Courtney out of that. He’s coming full speed, he’s getting down into the strike zone, and he’s keeping his eyes up. He can’t lift his head any higher than that. He also can’t get his head off to the side because Ben’s moving, and also the fact that if he gets his head off to the side, he has a real good chance of missing the tackle or hurting himself by dropping his head. We’re never going to put our player in position to coach him to drop his head."

In addition to the few penalties, the Ravens have turned the ball over twice. The theme has been not hurting themselves.

"We’re not making a lot of mistakes," Harbaugh said. "We’re not committing a lot of penalties. We are playing with very good discipline. We’re playing with good technique, overall. But we still should just be scratching the surface in what we are trying to accomplish. We need to get a lot better, and we need to do it quickly in order to be the kind of team we want to be."
BEREA, Ohio -- One of Brian Hoyer's most important throws in the win over New Orleans on Sunday was to his third read, and to a receiver he had never thrown to on that particular play call.

That came on the fourth-and-6 throw that kept the Cleveland Browns' game-winning drive alive, a throw that Hoyer either makes or the game ends in a loss.

[+] EnlargeBrian Hoyer
AP Photo/David RichardBrian Hoyer gave Browns fans reason to cheer on Sunday with his clutch play during the final drive.
Hoyer broke down the play, saying it was similar to a third-down play call against Pittsburgh when he forced a throw to Gary Barnidge when Barnidge was well covered. Hoyer admitted in Pittsburgh he thought pre-snap of getting five yards to try a field goal. Because he forced it, the Browns had to punt.

As he lined up against the Saints, he saw a coverage he didn’t like and reminded himself to let the play develop and go through his reads.

His first was outside to Taylor Gabriel, but he was double-covered.

His second was to Andrew Hawkins over the middle, but he was short of the first-down marker and well covered.

His third took him to Barnidge, who had safety Jairus Byrd at his feet as he made the catch.

“I’ve probably never thrown that ball to Gary in my life [on that play],” Hoyer said “That read on that fourth-down play, I don’t think I’ve had on that play with him.”

But he explained the way the play developed.

“You know exactly what you need to get and when they take No. 1 away, [No.] 2 is in front of the sticks, you gotta get to No. 3 and that's what we were able to do," Hoyer said.

The pass was on the money, and Barnidge made the catch with Byrd spinning him to the ground immediately.

“That was a heck of a throw and an even better catch,” coach Mike Pettine said. “He had Byrd just hanging on his back. That was clutch.”

Barnidge has 36 career receptions, and he was playing at the time because starting tight end Jordan Cameron was sidelined with a shoulder injury. In the Browns' system, Barnidge is the receiving tight end, Jim Dray the blocker. Trusting the backup tight end in that situation might take some gumption, but Hoyer didn’t hesitate to throw the ball where it should go, saying he trusts all the backup receivers “with all my heart.”

“He’s a solid player,” Pettine said of Barnidge. “He’s not going to be on anybody’s Pro Bowl ballot, but I believe in the guys that we have. You have to because they feel it if you don’t.”

Hoyer understands any and all skepticism because he’s been released three times and is coming off major knee surgery.

But in four starts for the Browns when he finished the game, Hoyer has led the team back from 24 points down against Pittsburgh, led a late game-securing drive against Cincinnati and led late game-winning drives against Minnesota and New Orleans. Against the Saints, he converted two third downs and the fourth-down throw to Barnidge.

“We talk about, ‘If you’re going to be a great player, you need to make great plays when your best is needed,’” Pettine said. “He certainly did that for us. That’s when you gain respect. Respect can’t be manufactured that way. It can’t be artificial. It just has to be earned, and it has to be earned through his play, through his actions. I thought he handled himself real well [Sunday].”
CINCINNATI -- Like most coaches, Marvin Lewis tries to avoid giving injury updates as much as he's permitted to do.

Traditionally, he remains mostly silent when discussing injuries, especially on Mondays after Sunday games, and especially when they aren't ones that will require major roster moves to be made.

So this Monday, when he met with local reporters for his weekly news conference, it wasn't much of a surprise when Lewis provided very little in the way of updates on the five players who were hurt in Sunday's 24-10 win over the Falcons. Lewis was asked about the status of linebacker Vontaze Burfict receiver A.J. Green, the Pro Bowl wideout who was lost just six offensive plays into the contest to a toe injury.

Asked how concerned he was about the injury and whether it might keep Green out for any extended period of time, Lewis responded by saying, "You use that word 'concern' and I never agree to that, so he'll be out there when he's out there."

Then Lewis added, "but I don't think it's anything long term."

Green told ESPN's Bob Holtzman after the game that the toe isn't broken and that he hopes to play this weekend when the Bengals host the Titans. reported that an MRI on Green's foot came back negative.

It wouldn't be too surprising if Green and a few of the others get held out this week. After playing the Titans on Sunday, Cincinnati has a bye week before traveling to New England for a Sunday night game in Week 5. The Bengals have already targeted that as the week receiver Marvin Jones will return from a foot injury. It appears he's getting close to practicing again ahead of that game, although it's unclear exactly when he'll be back out with his teammates.

As for the other injuries, the Bengals are still in wait-and-see mode with Burfict. One week after suffering a concussion in the opener, Burfict left Sunday's contest with a stinger. Asked about Burfict, Lewis invoked that word he doesn't like using.

"I can't be concerned," Lewis said. "We have to play with what we've got. Vontaze will have to overcome whatever he has, and we'll keep moving on. It's football."

As for the other injuries, reported Monday that the training staff believes defensive tackle Brandon Thompson (left knee) and offensive guard Kevin Zeitler (right calf) did not suffer season-ending injuries when they left Sunday's game. The website added that the "news doesn't sound good" on tight end Alex Smith (left biceps).

Zeitler and Thompson were seen on crutches Monday. Zeitler's right leg was in a boot and he wasn't putting any pressure on it as he hobbled through the locker room. While he didn't want to discuss the prognosis of his injury, Zeitler did tell me the injury occurred when he ended up taking on two defenders during Giovani Bernard's 4-yard touchdown run. It didn't appear Zeitler was hit any particular way during the block, the calf just kind of gave out, he said.

After trying to hop off the field following the second-quarter score, he immediately sat down on the field and got evaluated by training staff before limping into the locker room.

Breaking down Cundiff's winning kick

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
BEREA, Ohio -- Billy Cundiff's 29-yard field goal to beat the New Orleans Saints on Sunday was not his first game winner for the Cleveland Browns.

Cundiff joked that his first winner came in a game when the Browns and Buffalo Bills "set fooball back 40 years."

He was only partially joking, because that game did feel like it set football back decades. It was in Eric Mangini's first season, after the Browns had lost four in a row to start the season. The Browns scored on two field goals and won 6-3. Quarterback Derek Anderson was 2-for-17 and the Browns won because a Bills punt returner fumbled a return.

Cundiff was with the Browns only because Phil Dawson was hurt.

"I was kind or re-establishing myself back in the NFL, letting people know I still had the ability to play at this level," Cundiff said. "That's exactly what it did. It was able to get me another job in Baltimore."

Where he kicked for two-plus seasons (and went to the Pro Bowl in 2010) before going to Washington for one season. He then joined the Browns late in training camp a year ago. Sunday was his first game winner in his second go-round. His only chance last season was from 58 yards in New England, which fell short (his career long is 56 in 2005).

"It's still early in the season," Cundiff said. "Obviously we don't want to put too much stock into one kick. But as the season goes on you want to be able to win close games, especially at home."

Cundiff is learning about the winds off Lake Erie and how they can affect the game. But he's also learned that offseason stadium renovations make the winds swirl more. He referred to something called "the Dawson flag," which is a flag former kicker Phil Dawson had installed to the right of the Browns bench.

"That was the flag that would tell you which way the wind was coming," Cundiff said. "Now it's not working."

Because the renovations added seating that enclosed the end zones.

Cundiff also knew the Saints would aggressively go after the kick, and they did.

"That was our fastest get-off time all game," Cundiff said. "I think it was clocked at 1.21 (seconds) and they almost got it. So it shows that we were really humming."

Which was good also because until that kick, the kicking trio of Cundiff, snapper Christian Yount and holder Spencer Lanning were responsible for the one-point differential. Yount's snap on the extra point after Tashaun Gipson's interception return for a touchdown was high and slipped through Lanning's fingers.

"As a specialist you guys know when we fail," Cundiff said, adding: "It's a tough feeling for the whole week knowing that your mistake led to a team losing."

Of course, the opposite is just as true when a kick wins a game.

Said Cundiff: "It's the feeling you live for."
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he doesn’t believe the team is going to be able to move past the Ray Rice situation anytime soon, even though it cut ties with the Pro Bowl running back a week ago.

"We’re probably not going to get away from it, and probably rightfully so,” Harbaugh said Monday. "Not just us, the league. Hopefully it impacts society in a good way going forward.”

A Ravens spokesman told reporters before Harbaugh’s weekly news conference that questions regarding Rice could be asked but the team is trying to move on publicly from the Rice situation because an independent investigation has begun.

Asked whether the investigation will take much of the Ravens' time, Harbaugh said, "I know nothing about that. That's not something that anybody has given me any kind of schedule or timetable on."

The Ravens cut Rice last Monday just hours after TMZ released a video of the star running back punching his then-fiancée in a casino elevator. The team is holding a jersey exchange on Friday and Saturday, when fans can trade in their Rice No. 27 jersey for an available jersey of another Ravens player.

Despite the media onslaught at the Ravens' facility last week, the Ravens evened their record at 1-1 by defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers 26-6 on Thursday night.

"The point is to remember that we don’t get caught up in the swirl as much as you think,” Harbaugh said. "I thought our guys did a great job of handling the situation. They were able to compartmentalize the fact that they had to address a situation going on that was a deep-seated deal and has ramifications beyond sports. It’s a bigger issue than sports. It’s a societal issue. It’s a problem that is all across society and not just in our country."

Harbaugh added, "It’s something that needs to be addressed. Historically, sports has been a catalyst for positive change, especially in this country over the years. That’s a good thing. If good can come out of that in some way and our players and our organization can be a part of that somehow, I would really embrace that."
CINCINNATI -- The two-week suspension Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris served for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy was lifted Monday.

He was granted full reinstatement to all team activities, but his status with the team as of now remains in limbo.

For now, he is neither formally on the 53-man roster nor on the practice squad. The NFL granted Lewis-Harris and the Bengals a two-day exemption Monday that will give the team two days to figure out what exactly it will do with him. The Bengals have until 4 p.m. Wednesday to inform the league.

With only 52 players on the current 53-man roster, there technically is a spot for him. But after a wave of serious injuries swept over the team in Sunday's 24-10 win over the Falcons, the Bengals may be active on the free-agent market this week as they try to maintain depth following the injuries. Receiver A.J. Green, linebacker Vontaze Burfict, offensive guard Kevin Zeitler, tight end Alex Smith and defensive tackle Brandon Thompson were the five players lost in Sunday's game.

Zeitler's, Thompson's and Smith's injuries appear to be the most serious; it appears for now that it could be weeks before they return to action. The other two have better chances of playing this week against Tennessee but are more likely to be rested this week ahead of the Bengals' Week 4 bye.

Lewis-Harris' partial reinstatement means he is cleared to participate in workouts and personnel meetings. If he gets signed to the 53-man roster officially on Wednesday, he will join a deep defensive backs group.

The third-year player spent the preseason with the Bengals after appearing in regular-season games the last two years. He has eight career defensive tackles.

The Film Don't Lie: Ravens

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
A weekly look at what the Baltimore Ravens must fix:

The Ravens have to do a better job chasing down Cleveland Browns running back Terrance West on Sunday than they did against Giovani Bernard and Le'Veon Bell in the first two games.

The biggest problem for the Ravens is their inside linebackers getting a step behind speedy running backs in open space. Daryl Smith, who was strong in coverage last season, looked slow matching up with Bernard and Bell in the passing game.

The Ravens allowed Bernard and Bell to total 116 yards after the catch. In the season opener, Bernard averaged 11.3 yards after the catch and produced a 32-yard reception. In Week 2, Bell averaged 9.6 yards after the catch and broke one reception for a 19-yard gain.

This is the biggest area of concern for a Ravens defense that has given up just one touchdown in its first two games.

The Film Don't Lie: Bengals

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
A weekly look at what the Cincinnati Bengals must fix.

This is going to sound like nitpicking, but heading into the Bengals' Week 3 game against the Titans on Sunday, Cincinnati will need to tweak its interior run protection. The reason this might sound nitpicky is because in actuality, there's very little the Bengals have to address coming out of their Week 2 win over the Falcons. Overall, the run game was sound. The passing game worked smoothly. They were good on third down on both sides of the ball. The defense put intense pressure on Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan and did a good job snagging three interceptions in the secondary. The Bengals had obvious issues with kicking this week, but we've addressed those already.

The film doesn't lie about the Bengals' comparative difficulty running between the tackles. They averaged 3.6 yards per interior rush, and 4.9 yards per rush around the edges against the Falcons. Including the season opener, the Bengals have averaged just 3.5 yards up the middle this season. Rookie center Russell Bodine still is working on his run blocking as an NFL lineman. That was evident in the minus-4.7 run-block grade Pro Football Focus handed him after Sunday's game; the only negative grade a Bengals' offensive player was given.

The Film Don't Lie: Steelers

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
A weekly look at what the Steelers must fix:

The Pittsburgh Steelers have to start forcing opposing offenses into low-percentage situations, something they didn’t do at all on two 12-play drives that resulted in the Ravens’ touchdowns on Thursday night.

The Ravens faced a total of just four third downs on their touchdown drives. None was longer than 4 yards, and Dick LeBeau’s defense is predicated on stopping the run and putting teams in obvious passing situations.

“If you can make a team one-dimensional, it’s so much easier to play the game,” Steelers free safety Mike Mitchell said. "But if you’re in third-and-1s and third-and-2s [offenses] can do whatever they want. We can’t continue to play teams where they can run and pass on us.“

The Steelers actually fared well when they put the Ravens significantly behind the chains. Baltimore did not convert a third down longer than 6 yards in its 26-6 win over Pittsburgh, and it was just 5-of-12 in third-down percentage.

The problem for the Steelers is they consistently gave up yards in chunks because of a combination of shoddy tackling and players not staying in their assigned gaps on running plays.

That allowed the Ravens to stay away from third-and-long situations for much of the game.

“I think it’s new faces, new guys understanding new techniques, new responsibilities,” veteran defensive end Brett Keisel said about why the Steelers have struggled on defense. “It’s a hard transition, but it’s a transition that has to happen.”

It won't get any easier against the 2-0 Panthers, who are coming off an impressive 24-7 home win over the Detroit Lions.