The Baltimore Ravens are in the midst of Steelers week and with several factors crippling both teams it makes for an interesting game. The Ravens are without Ray Lewis, Lardarius Webb possibly Ed Reed and are playing with 1/2 a Haloti Ngata and about 60% of Terrell Suggs. Not to mention the defense is in the middle of it's biggest turn-over season in a long time with the loss of so many key starters from last season. The offensive line is a whole other story. The best five changes weekly and I'm not sure even the Ravens know who will be starting this week.
Pittsburgh has not fared well with the injury bug either. Their defensive line has absolutely no depth at the moment. They have played most of the season without Rashard Mendenhall, Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark. They have also missed James Harrison at times as well. Now, they are without starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and will have to start Byron Leftwich against their division rivals.
So, with all that being said, who on the Ravens roster needs to step up for Baltimore to come out of the Steel City with a W? I'll mention a few areas that I think need to show up Sunday Night and you fans feel free to tell us who you think needs to lead this team against the Steelers.
1) Joe Flacco:
If there was ever a time the Ravens will need Joe to show up on the road and be sharp and crisp this is it. Let's face it, at this point of Joe's career we know he is capable of taking over a game with his arm but we also know that he is quite capable of succumbing to pressure and falling apart if he is made uncomfortable in the pocket.
Joe and the Ravens offense will have one clear advantage in the offensive passing game and they must exploit it if they want to win. If Baltimore can get any early lead they can force the Steelers to pass the ball and perhaps force some turn overs or quick three and outs. In that case this one could become a laugher real quick.
2) Ravens' offensive line:
As important as it is for Flacco to be ready and know what the team needs of him this week, it is equally important that the guys keeping him upright are running on all cylinders as well. Pittsburgh has a good pass rush with James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. Flacco will not be able to do his job, no matter how prepared he is, if he is on his back every play.
The offensive line must hold up, early on especially because if Joe has time the Raven have enough weapons this season to be deadly on offense. This group will also need to straiten out their zone blocking schemes on run plays. Last week against the Raiders they allowed way to much backside pressure, making it impossible for running back Ray Rice to cut back and find holes if they were not initially there.
3) Dean Pees:
With Big Ben sidelined and Byron Leftwich stating his first game in three years it will be on defensive coordinator Dean Pees to find ways to create pressure that will confuse the back up quarterback. He will need to find ways to use the pass rushers he does have effectively and I would assume the Ravens would submit more blitz packages. With Leftwich having little to know in game action over the past few years and considering his accuracy has always been somewhat of an issue it would behoove the Ravens to bring more players after him with less in coverage.
Although Leftwich struggles with footwork in the pocket and accuracy he does have a big arm. With fast, down-field threats like Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, if given the time, I would not be surprised if the Steelers let Byron air it out if the proper pass protection allowed it. He has a long slow motion and will need the time to get the ball down field. this is where a healthy Ed Reed would be perfect. An inexperienced quarterback with hopes of the big, down-field play. That sounds like a match made in heaven for the ball-hawking safety.
Ravens' defensive line:
The Ravens D line has been a disaster all season. Ngata is banged up. Before Suggs' return the pass rush was non-existent, and still leaves a bit to be desired, but most importantly the run defense has been horrid. Once the staple of Ravens defense, the run defense has become, maybe, the weakest aspect of the team.
Pittsburgh is going to run the ball and run it a lot. the Ravens must figure out how to stop it. Players like Terrence Cody, Paul Kruger and Courtney Upshaw need to show their early round pedigree this week. Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and Bernard Pollard must lead them on and off the field. In order to stop the run everyone has to be on the same page and flow like a unit to the ball carrier. That is what Ray Lewis always did so well. He made sure every one knew their assignment.
With Lewis out, that responsibility will fall on Jameel McClain and Danell Ellerbe. This is not a job for one particular player. The entire defense needs to get together on this and do it fast. We take away the run and the Steelers will have to rely on the strong but slow arm of Byron Leftwich.