There is always something a little special in the atmosphere when a heated division rival comes to town. In recent history there really has been no bigger rivalry than The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens. Both cities are known for their tough, blue collar, bring your lunch pail to work type backgrounds. Both teams try to represent that ethic on the field. Pounding running attacks, hard hitting defense, and a relentless style of play.
We really are looking at mirror images here when comparing the Steelers to the Ravens. In Joe Flacco’s career he has played the Steelers twelve times and owns a 6-6 record. In the last three head to head match ups the greatest margin of victory was three points. Both teams run a version of the 3-4 Defense. In the home opener the Ravens defense struggled at times to contain the running game, as did the Steelers woes against the Browns. Both Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco threw for well over 300 yards, both threw a TD pass, and both threw an interception. Neither the Baltimore defense, nor the Steelers defense recorded a turnover. Both teams had to wait until the final minutes of the game before their fate was sealed. The Steelers capitalized on their opportunity when Shaun Suisham kicked a game winning field goal. The Ravens squandered their only hope as Joe Flacco was sacked on a 4th down play.
So what can we look forward to on Thursday?
STEELERS PASS OFFENSE VS. RAVENS PASS DEFENSE : EDGE STEELERS
“Big Ben” has always been a tough individual and has been a clutch performer in the past. With no sacks coming from the Ravens against the Bengals, no interceptions, and question mark as to how healthy Lardarius Webb will be, I have to give the edge to the passing attack of the Steelers. Antonio Brown could cause some severe problems for our secondary. They present a well rounded attack as second year receiver Markus Wheaton is emerging as a weapon, Heath Miller can always be counted on for a crucial catch, and Le’Veon Bell is a legitimate weapon as a receiver out of the backfield. Perhaps the only good news is that Lance Moore will not be active which takes away another deep threat and big play making option.
STEELERS RUSH OFFENSE VS. RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: EDGE RAVENS
Le’Veon Bell is establishing himself as one of the better running backs in the game and it is exactly what the Steelers needed to go along with a traditionally stout defense and a good passing attack. Bell ripped up the Browns defense and ran for over 100 yards for a TD in just 21 carries. While the Ravens looked shaky at times against the Bengals they did manage to contain their ground game to just 79 yards and no touchdowns. Time and time again the defense came up with a big stop when the Bengals went with the rushing attack. The revamped defensive line and line backing crew featuring the speed of C.J. Mosely and the swarming Daryl Smith got the job done. Bell and the Steelers offensive line will be a tough assignment but I think the Ravens will contain the ground game.
RAVENS PASS OFFENSE VS. STEELERS PASS DEFENSE: EDGE STEELERS
The Steelers 3-4 defense has always been known as a tough scheme to play against. They usually defend the rush well, disguise their pass rush well, and could make you pay by forcing a turnover. Troy Polamalu may not be the same player he once was in pass protection, but he still swarms around the ball and isn’t afraid to make any tackle. The Steelers did record 3 sacks against the Browns. The Ravens had issues last season with the offensive line and new pieces Jeremy Zuttah and Rick Wagner are about to get a wake up call about how tough the AFC North is when Pittsburgh comes to town. The line protected Flacco fairly well until the most crucial time of the game. The new offensive system by Gary Kubiak saw receivers routinely getting open. The issue was that while they were open they didn’t exactly catch the football. Steve Smith had 4 drops by himself. Jacoby Jones, Torrey Smith, Dennis Pitta, and Owen Daniels all had drops as well. I think the unit will respond better and secure the ball this week. In the end I think the pressure the Steelers can bring just might be too much for the offensive line for the Ravens.
RAVENS RUSH OFFENSE VS. STEELSER RUSH DEFENSE: EDGE RAVENS
While Bernard Pierce never seemed to get himself going, Justin Forsett came off the bench to rush for 6.4 yards a carry and had a nice 13 yard TD scamper. Pierce will probably start the game but look for Forsett to get his fair share of carries in week two. Forsett seemed more patient in allowing the blocks to set up and then finding the right hole and bursting through. The offensive line seemed adept at opening up lanes for Forsett to work with. FB Kyle Juszczyk didn’t factor into the offense by the stat line, but he got some good lead blocks in and was also was slotting out wide in some formations and running routes. He was targeted a couple of times, so it is only a matter of time before he gets a catch. The Steelers defense had no answer for any running back the Browns put in the backfield. Terrence West, Ben Tate, and Isiah Crowell all rushed for well over 5 yards a carry and totaled 183 yards and two touchdowns. If the Steelers prove inept against the ground game this week the Ravens could have a great day.
SPECIAL TEAMS: EDGE STEELERS
The normally reliable Justin Tucker missed a FG and the coverage unit for the Ravens missed some tackles. They also failed to set up decent blocks on kick and punt returns. That being said, Jacoby Jones is always a threat to run one back. Sam Koch; who has been a very good punter in his career, hasn’t quite looked the same last season and in week one had a very short punt. The Ravens actually brought in a rookie punter to challenge Koch in the off season. Meanwhile the Steelers have a steady unit and while Suisham has had accuracy issues in the past, he’s been at 90% or better in the past two seasons which is impressive when you consider his home field. Dri Archer; Pittsburgh’s primary kick returner looks like he will miss this game. LeGerrette Blount and Antonio Brown are listed as the back ups on the depth chart. Blount is actually a good return man and could present a big problem for a Ravens unit that struggles to wrap up in tackles so they can’t afford to sleep on him.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
For the Ravens: On offense they need to establish the running game, catch the football, and protect Joe Flacco. See if the Steelers corrected their mistakes on run defense. Flacco has proven he can win games as long as he avoids the silly mistakes. On the defense they simply have to make the tackles. They can’t afford to miss a back like Bell. They need to get bodies on Roethlisberger and force turnovers. A big plus to the Ravens is getting Webb back in the secondary.
For the Steelers: As long as Bell is getting over 100 yards a game they can’t ask for much more. Roethlisberger has to continue to be a tough leader and just deliver the ball to his play makers. On defense the Steelers have to stop the running game and continue to sack quarterbacks. Eventually that kind of pressure will lead to costly mistakes for their opponents.
It is usually always close for these two teams and the outcome normally comes down to the last play on the field. The Steelers were cruising to a victory and then all of a sudden almost blew it late against the Browns. The Ravens looked completely lost on offense while the defense shut down the Bengals before the offense finally woke up a little too late. Taking everything into account I am going with the Ravens; 23-18 in another tough, hard hitting match up.
PR STAFF PREDICTIONS:
Phil Gentile – Purple Reign Director @ihatejjredick: Ravens 23 Steelers 21
Lindsey O – Purple Reign Show Co-Host @lindseyyok: Ravens 21, Steelers 20
Tim Horsey – Co-Host, Purple Reign Show @TimHorsey: Steelers 24, Ravens 21
Will Grabill – Purple Reign Draft Writer & Contributor @DraftRavens: Ravens 23-20 behind a rebound performance from the receivers and another breakout game from Justin Forsett.
Slater Jackson – Purple Reign Contributor @b_money28: Ravens 13, Steelers 10
Ethan Felderstein – Purple Reign Contributor, efelderstein14 : Steelers 24, Ravens 20
Nick Meriwether – Purple Reig Contributer, @ngatabigdeal92: Ravens 17, Steelers 14
PROBABLE: RG: Marshall Yanda: Nursing a foot injury he sat out Monday’s practice but was a full participant on Tuesday and Wednesday. He should be good to go.
QUESTIONABLE: CB: Lardarius Webb: Suffering from an injured back it was thought he could have played week one but would have been less than 100%. He’s been a full participant in practices on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. So far looks like he will be starting against the Steelers.
OUT: RB: Dri Archer: Recovering from an ankle issue; the rookie is mainly a return specialist.
OUT: WR: Lance Moore: Suffering a groin injury; Moore looks to be out this week. A known weapon and big play maker in the past the Steelers will miss him but will look for Markus Wheaton to step up again.