The 2012 Baltimore Ravens defense has struggled more than usual with containing the running game of their opposition. The Ravens are giving up 128.5 yards per game this season. Although they have been playing better of late, this number is way too high for a team this defensively talented. Injuries have been a concern so far as the they started the season without the reigning Defensive Player Of The Year Terrell Suggs and have lost their defensive leader Ray Lewis for much of the season. Haloti Ngata has been playing hurt for much of the season as well.
However, this team has shown incredible resilience despite the adversity they have experienced this season. Just a month ago they got run over in Houston by Arian Foster and company and were on the verge of a breakdown and now here they sit at 9-2 and they seem to be coming together on both sides of the ball just at the right time.
This weekend they will face the Pittsburgh Steelers for the second time this season and for the second time this season they will be facing them with out starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. In the first game the Steelers started back up quarterback Byron Leftwich and only managed one touchdown at home against the Baltimore defense, a first quarter rushing TD in which Ravens players seemed to give up because they thought he was heading out of bounds. (totally inexcusable by the way) After that play the defense tightened up and did not allow the Steelers to reach the end zone again.
This time they will be facing Charlie Batch at M&T Bank stadium fresh off a multiple interception game. With Leftwich, Pittsburgh was at least a bit more comfortable with throwing the ball. With Batch, you can bet it will be a running attack all day and the Ravens had best be ready for it. The Steelers have four running backs capable of carrying the ball at the NFL level. Jonathan Dwyer, Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman and Chris Rainey. You can bet the Ravens will see a good amount of all four backs. If the Ravens are able to shut down the run they can force Batch to throw the ball on long third downs and hopefully cause some turnovers. If Pittsburgh is able to run the ball successfully you can bet they will continue to do it all game. This will be the biggest test for the Ravens. they must sell out for the run but be ready for the occasional deep pass as the Steelers also have speed on the outside.
For a team that has had trouble against the run, this game may not be as simple as many Ravens fans hope it will be. It will be up to the Ravens offense to put up some early points and force their opponent to put the ball in the air and try to score quickly. The game needs to be put out of reach quickly or the wrong bounce of the ball could hurt Baltimore in the long run. With Roethlisberger out this game is now a must win for the Ravens, which means they must stop the run.
So as happy as the many casual fans are that Big Ben is not playing, they will be equally as sad if the Ravens decide to take a mental bye week and cough one up to their hated rivals because they were looking past them. This team has shown they can win the tough games but sometimes the "easy" wins can prove to be the hardest to attain.