Hey, remember the Steelers? You know, that team this blog is actually supposed to be about? If it seems like it’s been forever since they played a game, it’s because that’s pretty true. It’s been two full weeks since the Steelers lost in frustrating fashion to New England and three weeks since the dud in Miami. It has been a full month since we actually felt good about this team after they obliterated the Chiefs and Jets. Now, we come off the bye and head to Baltimore to face the once-hated Ravens. I did a guest spot on the Purple Reign Show podcast this week (appearance at around the 31:00 mark) and we talked about how this rivalry has lost a lot of the old hatred as players like Ward, Polamalu, Miller, Reed, and Lewis have retired. Hines Ward and Ed Reed did a collaborative interview in The Player’s Tribune and basically said the same thing (that article is a fantastic read, well worth your time).
What To Watch For
1. Break the Damn Trend
The Steelers have lost three in a row and 5 of their last 6 against the Ravens, including the first round playoff game in 2014. This is a trend that needs to end immediately. The Ravens have absolutely had the Steelers number lately, and it hasn’t helped that Mike Tomlin has made some of his worst coaching blunders in these games. Not only the kickoff-return incident, but also decisions to go for it on 4th down last year with Michael Vick at quarterback that led to the Ravens tying and winning the game.
2. Ben Roethlisberger
Ben practiced all week. He is nearly two full weeks removed from his knee surgery after the Miami game. However, reports even as late as Saturday night said that the Steelers quarterback situation would be a “game time decision.” All signs point to Ben playing, and the Steelers may be trying to slow-play his situation by keeping things a mystery. The Steelers definitely have a better chance to win with 7 under center than they do with Landry Jones. That being said, Ben’s road splits this year have not been good. At home this year, Ben has 12 TDs and 2 INTs as opposed to 4 TDs and 4 INTs on the road. Ben is also averaging almost 65 fewer yards per game on the road as he is at home. Historically, Roethlisberger has not played well in his first game back from injury, but he still gives the Steelers the best chance to win this game. If Ben does miss this game, it will be the 7th time in his 13-year career he has missed at least one game against Baltimore in a season.
3. Cover 2 Press Man
Over their recent run of success against the Steelers, the Ravens have employed a relatively simple defensive strategy. They have generally played with two safeties high to take away the deep ball while playing press man coverage underneath. This has enabled the Steelers to use their running game to carve up big chunks against the Ravens defense, and Le’Veon Bell could be in for a monster game this week. However, it has limited the Steelers’ ability to throw the ball deep and get big chunks of yards at once. Antonio Brown has been blanketed by double and triple teams this year, and will likely see more of the same this week. Brown has struggled a bit against the Ravens in the past as their two-deep scheme has prevented him from getting behind the coverage while being pressed at the line has diminished his abilities to get easy yards on quick hitters and WR screens.
4. 20 Points
20 has been the magic number when these two teams have met. Over the last 19 games, dating back to the start of the 2008 season, the Steelers are 6-0 when scoring more than 20 points against Baltimore. When the Ravens have held the Steelers to 20 points or fewer, the Steelers are just 3-10. Over the last 6 meetings, the Steelers have only broken 21 points once, in their 43-23 victory in 2014, their only win in that time span. The Ravens offense is much the same as it always was. It is predicated on short passes to running backs and tight ends and trying to play Pass Interference Roulette by taking shots deep. The defense with Cam Heyward back up front should be good enough to hold the Ravens to a reasonable number of points and it will be incumbent on the offense to score enough to bring home the victory.
5. The Battle for the North
Both teams are coming off their bye weeks, so this will be the official midpoint of the season. Despite having lost their last two games, the Steelers still hold a one-game lead atop the AFC North. A win over the Ravens would solidify the Steelers’ position and give them a two-game lead over Baltimore. The Bengals tied the Redskins last week, and a tie typically is either the deciding factor of getting a team into the playoffs or preventing them from getting there. If the Steelers lose, Baltimore will ascend to the top of the division. The feeling among Ravens fans is that this is a watershed game in their season. A win could propel them on a path to the playoffs while a loss could send them reeling back to another Top 10 draft pick. The Steelers have the more talented lineup, but that has not prevented them from going on the road and losing to inferior teams before (including a loss to this Ravens team with Ryan Mallett at QB last season). The Steelers need a win to secure their spot at the top of the division and put themselves on the right track heading into the second half of the season.
It’s Steelers-Ravens guys, let’s f***ing go.