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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 19 October 2013 by Luke Jones

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Meeting for the 38th time in the last 18 years, the Ravens and Steelers renew one of the greatest rivalries in the NFL at Heinz Field on Sunday afternoon.

The buildup of this year’s first meeting between the AFC North rivals lacks its normal buzz as this is the first time since 2002 — not counting season openers — in which the Ravens and Steelers meet with neither team sporting a winning record. However, the game could be even more critical than usual for each team as the Steelers are trying to climb out of the 0-4 hole they dug for themselves in September while the Ravens don’t want to head into their bye week with a losing record.

The cast of characters continues to change in this rivalry as the likes of Ray Lewis, Hines Ward, Ed Reed, and James Harrison are no longer present, but Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger takes on the Ravens for the first time since Nov. 6, 2011 with a now-healthy Terrell Suggs aiming for him on the edge. Meanwhile, the Ravens will attempt to win their fourth straight regular-season game in Pittsburgh, which would be a franchise best after Baltimore also won three straight on the road from 1999 through 2001.

It’s time to go on the record as the Steelers lead the regular-season series by a 19-15 margin while also owning a 3-0 advantage in postseason contests. The Ravens are 7-10 all-time in Pittsburgh but have won three of the last four games overall at Heinz Field. Of the last 10 games played in the regular season between these two rivals, eight have been decided by three points and each team has won five.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens look to put the Steelers in a 1-5 early-season hole while also earning their 14th win in their last 16 AFC North games …

1. Punters Sam Koch and Zoltan Mesko will have a very busy afternoon with a combined 15 punts.
You can feel your eyelids getting heavy just reading that first prediction, but neither team’s offense has inspired confidence this season as the Ravens rank 22nd in total yards while the Steelers are 18th. Both teams rank in the bottom six in rush offense, putting plenty of pressure on their respective quarterbacks. These teams combined for 25 punts in their two meetings last year, and I’d expect a similar story this season with points at a premium. The Ravens’ struggles on first and second down are well-documented as they rank 23rd in third-down conversion percentage while Pittsburgh is 21st in the league in third-down percentage. With strong defenses and a history of close, low-scoring games, field position will be very critical in determining the winner of this one as it often has been over the years.

2. Jacoby Jones won’t cash in with a touchdown like he did last year in Pittsburgh, but a big play from the wide receiver and return specialist will set up a Ravens touchdown. His 63-yard punt return for a score was the difference between a win and a loss at Heinz Field last year, and the Ravens are surely glad to have Jones’ speed back on the field via special teams and the passing game. Jones provides a consistent vertical threat on the opposite side of the field to Torrey Smith that the Ravens hope will take away some of the bracketed coverage Smith has seen this season without much complementary speed on the field. Jones made his presence immediately known last week in catching a touchdown in the second half against Green Bay, and he will set the Ravens up on a short field with a long return on a day when the offenses will struggle for each team.

3. The Steelers have sported the better overall pass defense, but the Ravens’ ferocious pass rush will lead to five sacks against Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh’s secondary has played at a very high level this season in allowing only 196 passing yards per game, but the pass rush has been underwhelming with just seven sacks, ranking 31st in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Ravens rank third in the league with 22 sacks and have consistently gotten pressure on quarterbacks to help out a suspect secondary. It’s no secret that the Pittsburgh offensive line has struggled this season, but the Ravens will once again face a quarterback with the ability to escape pressure to extend plays for receivers to get open down the field. After facing Miami’s Ryan Tannehill and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers in the last two games, the Ravens will be ready to face Roethlisberger, who isn’t as elusive as he was in his younger days. That will lead to a rough day for the Pittsburgh quarterback in the pocket.

4. With the running game a non-factor for both teams, the focus will shift to the passing game with Smith and Antonio Brown shining for their respective teams. The Ravens spoke about making changes this week to energize a rush offense averaging a paltry 2.7 yards per carry and the Steelers surprisingly rank an uncharacteristic 22nd against the run, but Baltimore will need to show it to make me believe they can do anything productive on the ground. The Steelers have been almost as inept at 3.1 yards per rushing attempt as their offense depends on Roethlisberger’s arm and the passing game. Smith was the hero in Pittsburgh two years ago in catching a game-winning touchdown in the final seconds of a comeback victory and will catch a touchdown on Sunday. Brown has been the offensive star for the Steelers with 41 catches and 498 yards, and he will get behind the defense for a score as Roethlisberger scrambles out of trouble and extends a play.

5. Continuing their profile of rarely making it look pretty — or easy — this season, the Ravens squeak out a 14-13 win for their fourth straight regular-season win over the Steelers in Pittsburgh. An early lead would go a long way in providing confidence for quarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense, but there’s no reason to think Sunday will bring the breakthrough performance the unit is waiting for. That said, Flacco has come up with just enough big plays to get the job done in Pittsburgh in each of the last three regular-season meetings and he will be opportunistic against a formidable defense. Field position, limiting turnovers, and third-down efficiency are critical factors to win in any football game, but they will be even more important in this one where the offenses figure to be challenged for most of the afternoon. Neither of these teams are at their best right now, but the Ravens are the better group and will do just enough to squeak out a narrow road victory.

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The Steelers are 1-4…they’re not beating the Ravens on Sunday.

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The Steelers are 1-4…they’re not beating the Ravens on Sunday.

Posted on 18 October 2013 by Drew Forrester

This Ravens-Steelers game is impossible to pick.

Anything could happen.

As inept as both offenses have been, would it be out of the question for both of them to catch lightning in a bottle on Sunday and put up 20-something points somehow?  I can see it now;  Roethlisberger wakes up on the right side of the bed, the Steelers o-line is decent enough to keep him upright most of the afternoon, and Big Ben finds Antonio Brown twice for big gains to help give Pittsburgh two scoring drives.  Later, a punt return puts them down to the Ravens 25-yard line.  A pass interference call gives Pittsburgh first and goal and they punch it on the ground two plays later.  Add a couple of field goals and suddenly they have 27 points, somehow.

The same goes with the Ravens.  Flacco and Torrey Smith connect on a couple of 50 yard throws.  Ray Rice scampers in from six yards out.  Bernard Pierce busts in from the three yard line.  Lardarius Webb snags a ball that bounces off of someone’s shoulder pads and takes it down to the Pittsburgh 13.  On the next play, Flacco finds Marlon Brown in the end zone.  A field goal or two from Justin Tucker and you have a 24 or 27 point output.

I can see both of those scenarios.  At some point, don’t these two offenses have to produce a game that makes them look like a major league team offensively?

I think so.

But it won’t happen this Sunday.  The two defenses are too good to let that stuff happen.

Ravens win 14-9.  Pittsburgh’s 1-4 for a reason.  They stink.  And they’re not winning on Sunday.

(That said, if Baltimore loses on Sunday, all hell’s gonna break loose around here.  You can make book on that.)

 

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Five days later, I have to give credit to…of all people…Mike Tomlin

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Five days later, I have to give credit to…of all people…Mike Tomlin

Posted on 07 December 2012 by Drew Forrester

Since the Steelers rarely beat the Ravens anymore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Baltimoreans – ahem, me included – can’t get past that smelly home loss to the Black and Gold last Sunday.

It’s still hard to stomach.

The Ravens lost to Charlie Brown Batch.

Or did they?

Did someone else actually do more damage than Batch?

Well, after kicking Pittsburgh’s coach in the family jewels on Monday with THIS BLOG about his bush-league treatment of John Harbaugh in the post-game handshake, you’re going to be surprised by what you read next.

Mike Tomlin beat the Ravens on Sunday.

And do you know how he beat them?  By letting it leak out last Wednesday that Ben Roethlisberger was OUT and Charlie Batch was IN for Sunday’s game in Baltimore.

Think about it — why on earth wouldn’t Tomlin have tried to keep that a secret last week, like every other coach in the league would have done?  Wouldn’t nearly every other coach in the NFL think to himself: “I’ll keep this quarterback thing up in the air and make the Ravens think all week that Roethlisberger might be able to play.”?  Answer: Yes.  Every coach would.

But Tomlin went the other way and allowed word to get out right away that Big Ben was OUT and the old man was in.

Why? Because he knew once word got out that Batch was playing, anyone and everyone – including the 53 players on the Baltimore roster – assumed there was no way in hell Pittsburgh was winning.

And, as my late, great Mom used to say:  ”When you assume, you only wind up making an ass out of “u” and me.”

Insert your own punch line here.

We all assumed – and some of you probably even invested in that assumption…if you know what I mean – there was no way the Ravens would lose at home to Charlie Batch.

Stroke of genius by Mike Tomlin.

Stroke. of. genius.

Can’t believe I’ve been forced to write that this morning, but it’s my final thought relative to the 23-20 Steelers win in Baltimore last Sunday.

I’m putting the game behind me now and getting focused on the Redskins.

Mike Tomlin, you got us last week.

Don’t get used to it, though.  We’ll be watching you more closely next time.

Both before AND after the game.

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The Ravens couldn’t beat Charlie Batch – in Baltimore, no less

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The Ravens couldn’t beat Charlie Batch – in Baltimore, no less

Posted on 02 December 2012 by Drew Forrester

Now, before you all go nuts, you have to admit this:  The Ravens deserved to lose one of those kind of games.

We just never expected Charlie Batch to be the one pulling the rabbit out of his hat in the final six minutes.

Playing with a patchwork offensive line and a quarterback closely resembling your high school gym teacher, the Pittsburgh Steelers pulled off a stunner on Sunday, using a late 10-point surge to nip the Ravens, 23-20, and keep their playoff hopes very much alive.

After two months of winning games in the most unlikely of fashions, the Ravens got the tables turned on them.

And the harsh truth is this: The Ravens are 9-3 and, frankly, that record might still be a game or two on the generous side.

But the fact is, they’re 9-3 and in control in the AFC North, despite not nailing the coffin shut on the Steelers, who now put themselves in excellent position over the last four weeks with three home games and the likely return of Ben Roethlisberger in the next seven to fourteen days.

I have to write this again, in bold, just to convince myself it really happened: Charlie Batch beat the Ravens.  In Baltimore. 

I thought the Orioles making the playoffs was bizarre, but this is even more crazy.

Charlie Batch.

No friggin’ way.

The Ravens will go back to work now, needing to figure out what’s going on with their offense (two TD’s…again) and how their defense could allow a 3rd stringer to drive the Steelers sixty yards in six minutes with the game on the line.

(Please see next page) 

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Ravens tight end Dickson doubtful; Roethlisberger out for Sunday

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Ravens tight end Dickson doubtful; Roethlisberger out for Sunday

Posted on 30 November 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Making final preparations for their second meeting with the Pittsburgh Steelers in three weeks, the Ravens have once again gained the upper hand on their biggest adversary in terms of health as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was ruled out by Pittsburgh on Sunday.

Tight end Ed Dickson was listed as doubtful for Sunday after missing three straight practices this week as he recovers from a knee injury sustained in last Sunday’s 16-13 win over the San Diego Chargers. The third-year tight end sustained no major ligament damage, but coach John Harbaugh anticipated his practice time to be extremely limited this week.

The Ravens coach offered nothing new on the status of Dickson or inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who is listed as questionable after not practicing all week. Defensive end Pernell McPhee and cornerback Chris Johnson are also questionable against the Steelers after working on a limited basis throughout the week.

“Nothing really new to report on injuries,” Harbaugh said. “All the guys are in the same status as they were early in the week. We’ll just see how they get to Sunday.”

Ellerbe was present for Friday’s practice but did not participate, labeling himself a “game-time” decision on Sunday. He would likely be replaced by some combination of Brendon Ayanbadejo, Albert McClellan, and Josh Bynes in the lineup should he not be able to play.

The fourth-year linebacker injured his ankle in the first half of Sunday’s game against the Chargers and did not return.

“I’m getting better everyday,” Ellerbe said. “The swelling [is better]. They say it’s looking good. It’s just the strength and the pain.”

With Dickson unlikely to play, the Ravens are left with a conundrum at the tight end position in terms of blocking responsibilities as Dennis Pitta is considered a stronger receiver but does not fare well when asked to block. Third tight end Billy Bajema has been active the last two weeks and will likely see time as a blocker against Pittsburgh, but the veteran doesn’t offer much as a receiver. .

The Ravens have held out hope all week that Dickson would be available, but Friday’s designation did not paint an optimistic picture.

“[Dickson] is a quick healer. He is moving around good, so we’re really not going down that road yet,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said Thursday. “We’ve got plenty of guys that can block. Dennis can block, Billy [Bajema] can block. If you can’t block, you’re not going to be here. I’m glad we have depth at tight end.”

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh will not only be without Roethlisberger as outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, right tackle Mike Adams, and backup quarterback Byron Leftwich were also ruled out. This means former New England quarterback Brian Hoyer — only signed last week — will serve as the backup to veteran Charlie Batch with the Steelers’ other two signal-callers sidelined against the Ravens.

The news of Roethlisberger not being available was no surprise after pessimistic reports about his practice work on Thursday, but Harbaugh offered a humorous and historical take on the Pittsburgh quarterback’s status before he was officially ruled out Friday afternoon.

“I’m expecting to see Willis Reed come jogging down the tunnel,” said Harbaugh, referring to the Hall of Fame center for the New York Knicks who made a heroic return from injury in the 1970 NBA Finals. “That’s the expectation. And if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen.”

As expected, safety Troy Polamalu and wide receiver Antonio Brown were both listed as probable after practicing fully all week and will make their returns to the field after extended absences due to injury.

BALTIMORE
OUT: CB Jimmy Smith (abs)
DOUBTFUL: TE Ed Dickson (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Dannell Ellerbe (ankle, knee, finger), CB Chris Johnson (thigh), DE Pernell McPhee (thigh)
PROBABLE: WR Anquan Boldin (knee), DT Terrence Cody (elbow), CB Corey Graham (illness), WR Jacoby Jones (ankle), TE Dennis Pitta (neck), S Bernard Pollard (chest), S Ed Reed (shoulder), WR Torrey Smith (thigh), LB Terrell Suggs (ankle)

PITTSBURGH
OUT: T Mike Adams (ankle), QB Byron Leftwich (ribs), QB Ben Roethlishberger (right shoulder), LB LaMarr Woodley (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: T Willie Colon (knee), WR Jerricho Cotchery (ribs)
PROBABLE: WR Antonio Brown (ankle), DT Casey Hampton (illness), S Troy Polamalu (calf), T Max Starks (back)

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An open letter to Steelers coach Mike Tomlin

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An open letter to Steelers coach Mike Tomlin

Posted on 29 November 2012 by Drew Forrester

Hey coach, I hope this finds you well and preparing to enjoy a wonderful Holiday season with your family and friends in Pittsburgh.

(Actually, while I think you’re a helluva football coach, I have to admit I giggled my ass off last Sunday watching you squirm your way through that press conference in Cleveland after your football team lost to the lowly Browns.  So, for obvious reasons, I’d probably rather you not be well.  If that makes me a bad guy, so be it.  I do, though, hope you have a great Holiday season.  I’m a Ravens fan, not a Grinch.)

Based on the whispers coming out of Pittsburgh about Ben Roethlisberger, it appears as if you’re going to have him back for this Sunday’s big game in Baltimore.  What a warrior that guy is, huh coach?  A month ago on a Monday night, he suffered some whacky rib and shoulder injury that could have killed him if he would have reached for the remote control the wrong way and now, suddenly, he’s going to risk life and limb to play against the Ravens?  Holy canoli. I’m impressed.

(Are you guys nuts Coach?  Why would you risk the best player on your team for one game?  You know you’re getting your ass kicked down here on Sunday no matter who stands behind center.  I realize you have to paint the best picture you can for your team, but in your heart of hearts, you’ve seen this play out over the last couple of years and you know for sure it’s going to play out down here again this Sunday.  Your team can’t beat the Ravens.  You’re going to get your feelings hurt, Roethlisberger or not.)

We have a lot of respect for the Steelers here in Baltimore, Coach.  We know as long as you guys have a pulse, you’re always capable of pulling off one, two, three or even four wins in a row and then somehow weaving your way through the pile of post-season teams to return to the Super Bowl.  Truth be known, we’d rather NOT see your team in the playoffs if we could pick and choose our playoff opponent.  Somehow, you always seem to nip us in the end when the chips are down in January.

(As S.E. Hinton once wrote (she’s a she, by the way, in case you didn’t know), “That was then, this is now”.  Yeah, we respect the Steelers here, but the Ravens are now the kings of the AFC North and your team is chasing our team.  With Roethlisberger at quarterback – and getting assistance from the refs like you usually do – the Steelers always have a puncher’s chance of beating anyone.  Without Roethlisberger, you’d be hard pressed to win the SEC.  And if it comes to pass that you’re fortunate enough to make the playoffs, you’ll be one and done without a home game, so we won’t see you in this post-season anyway.)

Go ahead and throw caution to the wind, Coach.  Tape Big Ben up and bring him down here on Sunday.  Your team has a much better chance of winning that way.  And, as you know, the standings are such that you really are in “must-win” territory these days.  You don’t have a choice, I suppose.  You have to go with Roethlisberger.

(Don’t be a dummy, Mike.  Leave Roethlisberger on the bench and let Charlie Batch be the QB of record in a 30-10 loss.  No one will blame you.  You can talk about “not risking a career” and “we have faith in Charlie” and “injuries are part of the game” and everyone in Pittsburgh will understand.  If you go with Ben, you’re getting your asses kicked here.  If you go with Batch, you’re getting your asses kicked here.  Do you see the similarity?)

Finally, I wasn’t around last Sunday.  How’d you guys do against the Browns?

(I know what happened in Cleveland.  hehe)

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Dickson, Ellerbe, Graham, J. Jones sit out Wednesday’s practice

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Dickson, Ellerbe, Graham, J. Jones sit out Wednesday’s practice

Posted on 28 November 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With a chance to clinch the AFC North division title against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, the Ravens hit the practice field on Wednesday with four key players missing from action.

Tight end Ed Dickson, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, cornerback Corey Graham, and wide receiver Jacoby Jones did not practice in the first full workout of the week while five other players practiced on a limited basis.

Dickson and Ellerbe are considered to be the biggest concerns in terms of their availability for Sunday’s game as the starting tight end is dealing with a knee injury while the inside linebacker suffered an ankle injury in the 16-13 win over the San Diego Chargers. Coach John Harbaugh said Monday he expected each player to be very limited in practices this week with the thought that they would both have a chance to play against the Steelers.

“I feel pretty good,” Dickson said prior to missing Wednesday’s practice. “I’m as far along as I can be on a Wednesday, and I want to continue to rehab it and get ready.”

Graham was listed as missing Wednesday’s practice with an illness while Jones rested the sore ankle that was re-aggravated during Sunday’s win.

Cornerback Chris Johnson, defensive end Pernell McPhee, and safeties Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed were all limited participants.

Harbaugh confirmed that linebacker Ray Lewis was in the building rehabbing on Wednesday, which is something he’d done away from the facility prior to this point, but did not practice. The 37-year-old linebacker is eligible to return to the practice field on Thursday, but the Baltimore coach gave no indication when he would begin working with the rest of the team.

“We’ll just play it day by day as far as whether he practices or not,” Harbaugh said. “He is not imminent to return to play or anything like that, so to me it’s really a non-story. He’ll go out there when he’s ready to practice when the elbow holds up, and when that happens, we’ll let you know.”

For Pittsburgh, quarterback Ben Roethlisbeger practiced on a limited basis as most media reports are giving him no more than a 50 percent chance of playing against the Ravens on Sunday. Head coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday the plan is to prepare as if backup Charlie Batch will start this week while Roethlisberger tests out his injured right shoulder in practices.

Linebacker LaMarr Woodley was absent from Wednesday’s practice and is considered doubtful after sustaining an ankle injury in the Steelers loss in Cleveland.

The Steelers received good news, however, with the returns of wide receiver Antonio Brown and safety Troy Polamalu, who are both expected to play in Baltimore if they don’t suffer any setbacks.

BALTIMORE
OUT: CB Jimmy Smith (abs)
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Ed Dickson (knee), LB Dannell Ellerbe (ankle, knee, finger), CB Corey Graham (illness), WR Jacoby Jones (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Chris Johnson (thigh), DE Pernell McPhee (thigh), S Bernard Pollard (chest), S Ed Reed (shoulder), WR Torrey Smith (thigh)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Anquan Boldin (knee), DT Terrence Cody (elbow), TE Dennis Pitta (neck), LB Terrell Suggs (ankle)

PITTSBURGH
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: T Mike Adams (ankle), T Willie Colon (knee), QB Byron Leftwich (ribs), T Max Starks (back), LB LaMarr Woodley (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Jerricho Cotchery (ribs), QB Ben Roethlishberger (right shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Antonio Brown (ankle), S Troy Polamalu (calf)

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Ed Reed says win was different without Ben

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Ed Reed says win was different without Ben

Posted on 19 November 2012 by WNSTV

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Ravens likely to see old-school attack from QB-challenged Pittsburgh

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Ravens likely to see old-school attack from QB-challenged Pittsburgh

Posted on 14 November 2012 by Luke Jones

Both the Ravens and the Steelers are saying all the polite things about Pittsburgh’s new starting quarterback Byron Leftwich, who is one of the classiest individuals you’ll find in the NFL.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh even went as far as describing Leftwich as having been a “premier” quarterback early in his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but we all know better. The numbers don’t lie as Leftwich makes his first NFL start since 2009 and possesses a 79.5 passer rating over the course of a disappointing career for the seventh overall pick of the 2003 draft.

If Pittsburgh is to have a chance to beat the Ravens on Sunday night, it’s going to be because Leftwich doesn’t lose the game and the Steelers’ other facets are able to pick up the slack for the depleted passing game. Instead of the frequent throwing seen from Ben Roethlisberger in recent years, the Baltimore defense will likely deal with a ball-control attack from the league’s 21st-ranked run offense.

“We are just doing the best we can with the guys that we have that are healthy,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “The quarterback situation is the quarterback situation. The guys that play running back are going to do that, and nothing is going to change in terms of what is expected from them.”

Despite underwhelming averages of 103.8 rushing yards per game and a 3.8 yards per carry, the Steelers’ by-committee approach — based largely on injuries — has improved in recent weeks as running backs have turned in 100-yard performances in three of their last four games. The key to their improvement has been the offensive line, which is still far from an elite unit but is playing better than it has in recent seasons.

In contrast, the Ravens defense ranks 26th against the run and has struggled throughout the season to slow teams using a run-heavy approach, including Kansas City, Dallas, and Houston.

“First of all, it starts with the offensive line,” Harbaugh said. “Their offensive line is a big, physical offensive line. They maul you. That’s their whole thing. The backs are downhill backs. Both [Jonathan] Dwyer and [Isaac] Redman are hard-running guys — very difficult to tackle. You have to wrap them and take them to the ground. You’ve got to gang-tackle, those kinds of things.”

As Pittsburgh has dealt with various injuries at the running back position, the Ravens’ front seven has been decimated with the long-term loss of Ray Lewis, the decreased production from an injured Haloti Ngata, and the early-season absence of Terrell Suggs. Until recently, defensive coordinator Dean Pees had received little from younger players, but the likes of defensive lineman DeAngelo Tyson and linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Paul Kruger have emerged since the bye week to contribute to an improved defensive attack up front.

The yardage totals against Cleveland and Oakland weren’t overly impressive, but the Ravens’ 27th-ranked defense ranks first in the league in red-zone defense with opponents scoring touchdowns in only 36.1 percent of their trips inside the Baltimore 20-yard line. The Browns and Raiders went a combined 0-for-8 in trying to score touchdowns inside the red zone as the “bend but don’t break” mantra becomes more popular in the second half of the season.

Even with the big-play threat of wide receiver Mike Wallace on the outside, Leftwich’s limitations make it unlikely that Pittsburgh can strike quickly, meaning the Steelers will need to sustain drives and move the ball with modest gains. The Ravens will simply try to continue the trend started in recent weeks by clamping down inside the 20 should the Steelers be able to move the ball on the ground.

“You don’t want to do something one week and then not do it the next,” Suggs said. “We fared pretty well the last two weeks, and we’re just trying to keep it going. It’s nothing to be happy about. We’re just going to keep trying to get better around here.”

The Ravens’ preparation doesn’t change with Leftwich at the helm instead of Roethlisberger, but outsiders’ expectations have been altered dramatically for the type of offensive attack the Steelers will have on display. The Pittsburgh of yesteryear will return with a mentality of “three yards and a cloud of dust” with its running game instead of the passing game being on full display.

In past seasons, that would have played perfectly into the hands of the Ravens defense, but that unit will need to prove it can slow the run in order to set up the offense with good field position against an imposing defense on the opposing side.

The names have changed — along with strengths and strategies in the various phases — but the Ravens are expecting another fight in Pittsburgh, even with Roethlisberger on the sideline.

And they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“As soon as we walk in their stadium, they’re going to lock the gates,” Suggs said. “But that’s what we want. We definitely want them to lock the gates behind us so we can get in there and we can have it out. When the clock reads 0:00, we’ll just see what happens. We’ll see how it goes.”

 

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Injuries and absences aside, toppling Steelers far from easy task

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Injuries and absences aside, toppling Steelers far from easy task

Posted on 13 November 2012 by Luke Jones

Long before Kansas City linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston flattened quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on Monday night, we knew this year’s two-act drama of Ravens-Steelers would be different from those witnessed in previous years.

The previous elder statesmen of the best rivalry in the NFL, Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, will be nowhere to be found on the Heinz Field gridiron Sunday night. Lewis will be relegated to the sideline as he recovers from triceps surgery while Ward now only runs his mouth as an NBC analyst instead of as the antagonist hated most by Baltimore fans.

In fact, neither Lewis nor Ward will be featured in a meaningful Ravens-Steelers game for the first time since before the NFL’s best rivalry actually mattered.

(Both players missed the 2007 season finale played in Baltimore, but that contest was of little consequence to either team.)

Health concerns are abundant on both sides as Steelers strong safety and defensive leader Troy Polamalu is likely to miss his sixth straight game and speedy wide receiver Antonio Brown is questionable to play. In addition to Lewis’ absence, the Ravens have already lost top cornerback Lardarius Webb for the season and are leaning on a banged-up Haloti Ngata and recovering Terrell Suggs to lead their defense.

Of course, all those absences and injuries took a backseat after Roethlisberger suffered a right shoulder sprain that leaves him questionable for Sunday night’s nationally-televised game against the Ravens. Make no mistake, his potential absence transforms the Ravens from the underdog in Pittsburgh to a group with a great chance to beat a Steelers team that could be led by backup quarterback Byron Leftwich, who’s made a total of five starts in the last five seasons.

Should Roethlisberger’s shoulder injury keep him out, it will compel me to pick the Ravens to win after previously thinking the Steelers were playing too well in recent weeks to predict a Baltimore victory in Pittsburgh.

Inflated optimism is understandable and appropriate, but if you think the Ravens are going to Pittsburgh and moonwalking their way to victory, you’re setting yourself up to be disappointed.

With the 2011 season-opening 35-7 win being the lone outlier, nothing has come easy against Pittsburgh in the John Harbaugh era. Of the teams’ last 10 meetings (including two postseason games), all but two have been decided by seven or fewer points.

History even suggests the Ravens won’t flatten the Steelers on Sunday night if Roethlisberger is sidelined after he sat out two other times in recent years.

In 2009, it was Dennis Dixon — yes, the same quarterback the Ravens cut from their practice squad earlier this month before he was re-signed Tuesday — who nearly led the Steelers to an upset in Baltimore before the Ravens prevailed in overtime. A year later, veteran Charlie Batch was in line for a win over the Ravens before Joe Flacco threw a game-winning touchdown pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh in the final minute.

The last time I checked, Roethlisberger isn’t a member of the league’s top-ranked defense and that’s why no one should be tallying a victory just yet for a Ravens team averaging only 17.5 points per game in four road contests. The Steelers currently rank sixth against the run and first against the pass as Flacco and the Baltimore offense will need to turn in a strong performance at Heinz Field in order to win there for the third straight time in the regular season.

“It was greatly exaggerated, no doubt,” said Harbaugh when asked about the perceived demise of the Pittsburgh defense earlier this year. “They are playing great. They are the No. 1 defense in the league – run, pass, big plays, sacks; they are still getting sacks. It’s just a premier defense, no doubt.”

As impressive as the Ravens looked in scoring a franchise-record 55 points against Oakland in Week 10, are you really that confident as they face the Pittsburgh defense on the road?

Two weeks ago, the Steelers made New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning look sickly in his home stadium, holding the two-time Super Bowl winner to just 125 passing yards and an interception in a 24-20 comeback victory for Pittsburgh.

Offensively, Leftwich wouldn’t figure to pose much of a threat through the air, but the Steelers have found a formidable running game in recent weeks with the combination of Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman turning in three 100-yard rushing performances in the last four games. And while the Ravens’ run defense has improved over the last two weeks, it still ranks 26th in the NFL and will be tested by the Steelers’ improved offensive line.

Pittsburgh may not have their star quarterback on Sunday night, but plenty of others will be waiting for the Ravens, including James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, Heath Miller, and Mike Wallace.

Would Roethlisberger’s absence swing the advantage in the Ravens’ favor come Sunday night?

Absolutely.

But if you think the Ravens are just going to cruise to victory in Pittsburgh, you haven’t been paying attention to this rivalry.

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