Why Week 5 is the Steelers last chance to get a grip before the season is lost

Steelers, Freiermuth
Steelers, Freiermuth / Carmen Mandato/GettyImages

Pittsburgh losing 30-7 in their season opener sucked, but considering that it was to the respected San Francisco 49ers, I and many others refused to see it as a year-defining moment; that refusal only grew stronger after the Steelers then went on to win in Weeks 2 and 3 over hated rivals.

As the Houston Texans entered Week 4 with a losing record shortly after an ugly 0-2 start, the optimism amongst yinzers grew to an all-time high. The thought process sat along the lines of: “If the Steelers can win this one—which we’d like to think they should—then they can be sitting at an appealing 3-1 with all the momentum in the world.” But boy howdy, did that not happen.

With a passing attack that left no mercy and a defense that encountered little conflict, the Texans rolled right past Pittsburgh in a 30-6 rout. Especially when considering the inclusion of concerning injuries, the result sent every last Steelers fan right back to the bleak outlook that followed Week 1, except the victors were all the more flawed this time around.

But hey, there are still 13 games to work with between now and the end of the regular season, and Pittsburgh is no stranger to late turnarounds. Therefore, some would argue that this apocalyptic tone I’m attempting to set is a tad overdramatic.

However, I hate to inform them that said tone is very much warranted, and why? Because the Steelers are down to what I believe is their final chance to establish some consistency before their 2023-24 hopes wither away for good.

This Sunday, the Steelers meet a villainous AFC North squad, the Baltimore Ravens, in front of what should hopefully be an unforgiving Pittsburgh crowd. With the Ravens having developed a reputation in recent years for struggling with the Steelers far more than they should, this game is one that I would confidently declare “winnable”—or at least, that’s what I’d normally do.

Unfortunately, there have been some unsettling circumstances that have changed my perspective on this matchup. When remembering how we kicked off today’s discussion, I don’t think we need to address the role Pittsburgh played in that, but Baltimore also deserves the blame in the matter and for all the wrong reasons.

The Steelers and Ravens are polar opposites after Week 4

While the Steelers have been inexcusably disappointing so far this season, the Ravens have been the exact opposite, sitting with a record of 3-1. That may not seem particularly admirable, as that makes them only one game better than Pittsburgh, but additional context tells a far more lopsided story.

Of the three victories under Baltimore’s belt, the first was by a double-digit margin over the Texans (which understandably holds more relevance today), the second was over the Bengals, an outcome that gave them a win over divisional opposition, and the third was over the Browns, which checked both of those boxes. In regards to what’s against them, all the Ravens have is an overtime loss to Indianapolis, and that on its own wasn’t enough to keep them from now leading the AFC North standings.

So at this point, the Ravens-Steelers game doesn’t appear as a competitive clash between two postseason hopefuls like it’s been as of late. Rather, it’s the division’s front-runners facing off against what has so far been one of the league’s most disappointing teams, with it simply being a matter of how much the former wins by.

Now, can the Steelers still pull off the home upset? Absolutely. Heck, their chances of success weren't looking so hot going into the Browns game, and they found a way to win that.

However, with us now being a month into the season, the stark contrast between them and Baltimore feels all the less like a fluke, leaving me in no position to comfortably predict a Pittsburgh victory. But so what?

Let’s say the Ravens win. At 3-1 with their sole loss being by three in OT, where would be the shame in them doing so? On top of that, the aforementioned Niners are unbeaten and Houston’s C.J. Stroud has exploded onto the scene as one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks right now.

Those guys would make for tough competition in anyone’s eyes, so why is the Steelers losing to them seen as the end of the world, especially when they are finding ways to beat their weaker competition in the process? Easy—it’s because their future foes don’t look like they’re going to make for any easier rides.

Despite regarding them as such, the Ravens are more than just talented rivals in this discussion; they’re also the first of five consecutive squads on the Steelers schedule that meet both of the following criteria: One is that they’ve made at least one postseason appearance in the last two years, and two is that they currently have records just as good as (if not better than) Pittsburgh’s. Oh, and after Baltimore, none of them come with a rivalry factor that can help shake up the odds in Pittsburgh’s favor.

In short, if the Steelers somehow stun the Ravens, they must capitalize on the momentum from it while we fans hope it wasn’t another installment of false promise. If they scare the Ravens yet still lose, we can chalk it up to the formidability often shared between archnemeses and gauge where they stand on their inconsistencies as they enter their bye week.

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Lastly, if Pittsburgh fails to muster up even an ounce of hatred to fuel its drive and subsequently gets pummeled by Baltimore, the 2023-24 Steelers would likely need to be forgotten right then and there, as it would then be evident that they’d done next to nothing with that last shred of their room for error.