The Baltimore Ravens will travel to Heinz Field to face the Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday night. A bitter, but respected rivalry. Ben Roethlisberger described this type of game best in his post game interview after beating the Bengals. “AFC North football.”
For fans of the NFL, they know exactly what that means. Brutal, hard-nosed, cold weather, punch you in the mouth type of a game. It’s what we’ve all come to love so much.
The last time these two teams faced however, it wasn’t much a rivalry game. It was mostly one sided, in favor of the Steelers who won 26-9 at M&T Bank Stadium. They showed up to the Ravens home field and delivered a knock out punch in the form of Le’Veon Bell. There were several different factors as to why this was a one sided game though.
Two weeks earlier, in a Week 2 game against the Cleveland Browns, the Ravens saw Brandon Williams go down with a foot injury. In the offseason, they gave Williams a hefty contract. Any fans who were opposed to the signing were quickly silenced when he was no longer on the field. The Ravens dropped to the worst ranked run defense in the NFL. The big man makes that much of a difference. He deserves every penny of that contract, and we all realize that now.
Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell ran the ball down the Ravens throats, pounding them into submission with 144 yards on 35 carries and two touchdowns. Ben Roethlisberger barely played a part in the win, only throwing for 216 yards with both a touchdown and interception. He didn’t have to though.
Since Brandon Williams returned to the field, Baltimore has gone back to that stingy run defense we all know. They haven’t allowed a team to rush for over 100 yards in several games now, and have gotten their yards per carry back to under four. The franchise has never allowed more than that in a season. They have climbed to 16th in run defense, compared to last in the NFL.
They are currently playing like a top five unit in my opinion though. The few games without Williams really hurt the stats. They are currently 3rd against the pass, and lead the league in interceptions with 20. The defense is performing at a high level again.
The Ravens should not allow Bell to have the same type of performance this time. I predict they will just keep him right at, or just under 100 yards rushing. This will force Big Ben to air the ball out more, and the Ravens have an elite ball-hawking secondary.
What worries me the most is the absence of Jimmy Smith. Smith was having a career year, and had emerged as a top three cornerback in the NFL in many peoples opinions. Last week against the Detroit Lions, he tore his Achilles, effectively ending his magnificent season. Oh, and he was also suspended four games for taking performance enhancing drugs the following Monday, so we would have lost him anyway. Whether or not the drugs were for his lingering Achilles injury throughout the year has yet to be determined, but I doubt Jimmy thought he needed a boost in his game.
Without Smith, the Ravens will have to rely on rookie first round pick Marlon Humphrey and veteran Brandon Carr to limit Antonio Brown, who is having a terrific season. Brown currently has 1,296 yards on 88 receptions, and nine touchdowns. He is the best wide receiver in the NFL this year. The Ravens shut him down last game, but that was with Jimmy Smith.
Marlon Humphrey has definitely looked the part of a 1st round pick so far this year in his limited snaps, but he now faces a whole new bevy of challenges as a starter. When Smith went down last week, Humphrey struggled defending against the deep ball, which was his biggest knock coming out of college. Hopefully, he can correct his technique going forward, and Dean Pees will provide more help over the top with safety Eric Weddle.
This should definitely be a different ball game than the last time these teams faced. The Ravens have a chip on their shoulder, and have won three games in a row, most recently pummeling the playoff contending Detroit Lions 44-20. Brandon Williams is back, and the Ravens offense has possibly found a little life.
The Steelers will presumably be without their best linebacker, Ryan Shazier. Shazier scared fans everywhere when he led a hit with his helmet and went down holding his back, unable to move his legs against the Bengals Monday night. It was a scary sight for any fan of any team. We here at Baltimore Beatdown wish nothing but the best and a speedy recovery for Ryan. Some things are just more important than a rivalry in football.
That being said, with the absence of Shazier in the middle of Pittsburgh’s defense, Joe Flacco will surely target that area of the field. Flacco works best with throwing the ball deep, and attacking inside linebackers in the middle of the field in my opinion. I expect Baltimore’s passing game to look at least competent this week.
A win for the Ravens would put them at 8-5 and give them an even higher chance to make the playoffs via the 6th seed and final Wild Card spot. It will surely be a Sunday night game to remember, and hopefully the Ravens can exact some revenge.
While writing this, news has broken that Steelers rookie wide reciever JuJu Smith-Schuster has received a one game suspension for his illegal hit on Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict. This helps the Ravens secondary, as Smith-Schuster has proven to be a reliable weapon for Ben already. This match up is beginning to look favorable for Baltimore.