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Surveying the Enemy: Q&A With Behind the Steel Curtain

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We catch up with our familiar foes.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Ravens and the Steelers go hand-in-hand with each other. The two rivals have built up an impressive mutual hatred and respect for each other in just twenty short years. Ravens-Steelers is arguably one of the best rivalries in all of sports, but it just isn't the same this time around. The Steelers are expected to pound the injury-riddled Ravens with their top-tier offense. Most are saying it won't even be a contest, but you just don't know what will happen when these two teams meet.

For more info on the Steelers' squad, I went to Jeff Hartman, Editor at SBNation's Behind the Steel Curtain.

After the Steelers benched Antwon Blake in the second half, things really changed for the secondary. Fans also seemed really pleased as well. Was Blake really that big of a burden to the Steelers' secondary?

Antwon Blake is not a very good cover cornerback. His forte would be in run support, but a thumb injury, and possibly another injury, have hindered his tackling. For these reasons and much more, fans have been clamoring to see more Brandon Boykin on the field. Mike Tomlin finally put a defensive back rotation into practice in Week 13, but Blake continues to be the weak link of the group. For some reason, Tomlin won't simply make the change from Blake to Ross Cockrell, who both play the outside, and allow Boykin to do his thing in the slot where he is most comfortable.

Most fans will point to Boykin being inserted into the lineup for the second half against Denver as the reason for the unit's success, but the reality is it was the pressure applied by the front 7 which was the difference. Find the games where the Steelers secondary was gashed, and you will see a front 7 which couldn't get consistent pressure on the QB. Games where the secondary looks solid, pressure is applied regularly. The two go hand in hand.



The Steelers may have tightened up on defense in the second half, but is there concern that this team can't hang with dominant offenses in the playoffs if they field a "first half" defense?



The defense is the one concern for this team moving forward, assuming they make the postseason. The teams who are represented in the playoffs don't have offenses which seem to be able to blow the doors off, but the Steelers can't always come back from a 17-point deficit like they did against Denver. The one good thing the Steelers have on their side is the offense. Ben Roethlisberger and company are as good as they get in the NFL, and no deficit seems to be too great for them to come back from. However, in the playoffs the last thing you want to do is spot quality teams leads. Yeah, the defense is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde...and no one knows which will show up on any given game day.




Is Antonio Brown the best receiver to ever don the black and gold? With recent performances, you could make an argument for Brown against guys like Ward, Swann, and Stallworth as the best Pittsburgh receiver ever.


It is always tough to compare eras. After all, when Lynn Swann and John Stallworth were playing, defensive backs were allowed to essentially murder you before the ball got to the receiver. Just google Swann nearly being decapitated by Jack Tatum from the 1970s, that isn't allowed in today's game. Brown is more athletic and a much more polished receiver than Ward, and his skill set makes him nearly unstoppable with today's rules. If I am looking at a complete receiver, route running, speed, agility, hands, spacial awareness, and having to pick the best...I pick Brown as the best in franchise history.




How are those draft picks looking? Have guys like Bud Dupree and Chickillo lived up to the hype thus far?



Bud Dupree has done something a Steelers rookie rarely did under Dick LeBeau - contribute. Dupree came out of the gates fast and has accounted for 4 sacks on the season. He is raw and athletic, but Keith Butler is putting him in position to succeed. It also helps that he is playing opposite James Harrison, who even at 37-years-old still draws protection schemes to slide his way. Other than Dupree, the rookie class has been as expected. Some bright spots (Dupree, Jesse James, Anthony Chickillo and Doran Grant as special teams players), and some who were underwhelming (Sammie Coates). This group still looks to be major contributors to the team in 2016 and beyond. A great draft class, in my opinion.




Score prediction?

I'm sure the fine folks at Baltimore Beatdown will appreciate this, but I don't see this game being close. Maybe the Ravens keep it close through the first quarter, but eventually Pittsburgh's offense will simply overwhelm the beat up and battered Baltimore defense. It is a shame the Steelers vs. Ravens rivalry has been reduced to injured reserve reports, but that is the state of the rivalry in 2015. I like the Steelers in this game, to clinch a playoff berth at M&T Bank Stadium. My final score? Steelers - 45 / Ravens - 24.