Steelers' season nearly reaches panic mode after loss to Ravens

Clark explains why Bell's absence is now being exposed (2:06)

After a 26-14 loss to the Ravens, Ryan Clark explains why the Steelers' offense has been stagnant without Le'Veon Bell in the backfield. (2:06)

PITTSBURGH -- Not even prime time can save these Pittsburgh Steelers, though Sunday's loss cuts deeper than some meaningless stat.

The Steelers, previously winners of 10 straight night games before the Baltimore Ravens' 26-14 pounding, are a team without much of an identity beyond a few good drives here or there.

They can't get enough stops, they can't run the ball consistently enough and the flair of the past few years is hidden somewhere in the Heinz Field turf.

What exactly is this team about? That's hard to know when the answers are sporadic from week to week.

Players offered well-worn themes such as lack of execution and inability to finish before departing the locker room. Meanwhile, the Steelers triumvirate -- coach Mike Tomlin, general manager Kevin Colbert, president Art Rooney II -- huddled for several minutes to process the aftermath.

"We have to be honest about what we're doing," defensive end and team captain Cameron Heyward said. "That's the only way this ship is going to right itself."

The Steelers' disastrous starts at home are becoming more standard than aberration.

These numbers are numbing: In the past three home games, the Steelers have spotted opponents a combined 56-0 lead.

The Steelers largely played the Ravens to a draw for much of the game, but that doesn't matter when it's 14-0 seven minutes in.

To no surprise, the Steelers have lost three consecutive home games for the first time since 2012.

The defense has been shaky enough to the point that forcing the Ravens into four punts over 60 minutes was a mild surprise. A goal-line forced fumble by Sean Davis was a bright spot, and the team put together a few third-down stops.

But so many plays were emblematic of a unit that can't rediscover its glorified past. Midway through the fourth quarter, the Steelers had the Ravens first-and-18 at midfield and gave up a first down on two simple dump-offs and a sea of missed tackles.

These are crippling plays that will plague them all year unless something -- namely, an uptick in sacks and turnovers -- changes.

"We need more splash plays," linebacker Vince Williams said.

The reality is the Steelers' offense is starting to miss Le'Veon Bell. James Conner has done some nice things but was averaging 3.9 yards per carry before his 19 yards on nine carries Sunday night lowered that figure further.

That forces Ben Roethlisberger (27-of-46, 274 yards, one touchdown, one interception) to keep defenses honest almost entirely with his arm, which works sometimes but probably isn't sustainable.

Roethlisberger's throw off his back foot with 2:22 left into the area of two Ravens defenders fell gently into the hands of Ravens corner Anthony Levine because it had no juice behind it.

The Steelers' early offensive strategy was a sound one: Use Antonio Brown on deeper routes to draw the safety and loosen up the middle. That explains why fourth receiver Ryan Switzer caught seven passes and tight end Vance McDonald added 62 yards.

But when the Steelers needed big third-down plays in the second half, Roethlisberger and Brown were clearly off on their timing despite having a few opportunities to thread the ball. Usually, that deep out route to the sideline is money for them. Not right now.

The Steelers failed to convert 10 of 12 third downs compared to the Ravens hovering around 50 percent in that area for much of the game. In the fourth quarter, the Steelers held the ball for two minutes, 40 seconds. Oof.

"It's bad for our fans," guard David DeCastro said. "To come out and have us play like that, it sucks."

Couple all that with coach Mike Tomlin's botched challenge over a Ravens third-down conversion and McDonald's costly first-quarter fumble, and that's how games are lost.

A third straight AFC North title is starting to slip away. The Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns are all better.

The season might be salvageable, but not the way the Steelers are currently playing -- especially with Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons coming to Pittsburgh in Week 5.

Heyward challenged his team to win the next four divisional games. Meanwhile, Roethlisberger tried to provide perspective.

"We are only a quarter of the way through the season," Roethlisberger said. "We have a long way to go."