This game might be more important to the Steelers than it is the Ravens because a loss by the Steelers almost assures them not winning the AFC North division. If the Ravens lose, they are just one game back, where as if the Steelers lose, they are two back on head-to-head tie breakers The Steelers lost in week 4 on a last minute touchdown by wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh and the Steelers offense blew a chance to put the Ravens away late bin the game by committing crucial penalties and failing to convert just one more first down to run out the clock. This will be a measuring stick for the Steelers for sure in front of a national television Sunday night audience and below are what we deem to be 7 keys to the game for the Steelers to beat the Ravens in week 13.
Big Foot – Is it broken, is it not broken? Is it a new injury is it an old injury? The only thing that matters is if Ben Roethlisberger can be his normal self with a bum foot. He will likely wear a special cleet and get a shot before the game, but if it affects his mobility or escapability, it takes away quite a bit of what he can do. Backup quarterback Byron Leftwich has not taken any snap in the regular season and should Ben not be able to go the full game, the Steelers better hope they have the lead and the defense is strong enough to hold when he exits. His mobility or lack there of, will be easy to see Sunday night.
Not A Worry About Ngata – Haloti Ngata is a great nose tackle and is without a doubt one of, if not the most important player on the Ravens defense. That said, the Ravens can be run on and they can be run on up the middle and to the right, this is the strength side of the Steelers offense. The Ravens rush defense is giving up on average 101.7 rushing yards a game and 4.19 yards a rushing play. On 52 rushing plays up the middle this year, they have allowed 4.52 yards per carry, so Ngata is more of a concern in the passing game as he has 5 sacks on the year along with numerous pressures and hits. Controlling Ngata in the running game as well as on the pass rush is crucial. The Steelers must be able to run Sunday night and protect the less than 100% Roethlisberger and that will rest in the hands of Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster and Chris Kemoeatu.
Deebo Vs Blind Side II – In the first meeting between Steelers right outside linebacker James Harrison and Ravens left tackle Michael Oher this year in week 4, Oher held Harrison to no sacks on the day. He also seemed to get away with some holds as well, but it is something Harrison deals with weekly. He must put pressure on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco this week and a few sacks could go a long way in this game. Oher gets a jump like no other left tackle in league and often times seems to get away with starting too early. Harrison must beat him to the edge on passing downs and bother Flacco all night if the Steelers want to win this game.
Underneath Stuff – The Steelers pass defense has shown it is most vulnerable underneath this year. In the wins against the Steelers this year, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and even Flacco at some point were able to move the ball down the field using underneath pass plays, most noticeably in the short middle and short right part of the field. In the middle, the Steelers are allowing a 71.8 completion rate for an average gain of 7.77 yards. That is 31st in the NFL in completion rate and 29th in the NFL in average gain. They are giving up only an average gain of 5.19 on the short right, but the completion rate is 65.9 and there have been a whopping 179 pass plays to that area of the defense. It is very noticeable where teams try to attack the Steelers and it is in these two areas of the field. The Steelers corners and linebackers must do a better job underneath.
Fried Rice – Like it or not, Ray Rice might once again be the most important player on both sides of the field. The Steelers held him to just 29 total yards in week 4 when he was banged up. He has been most dangerous once again this season out of the backfield as he has caught 47 balls going into this week which ranks him 2nd on the team behind Anquan Boldin and 2 ahead of veteran Derrick Mason. The Steelers must not forget he can run as well as he is averaging an even 4 yards a carry on the ground this season as well. If Rice totals over 125 yards in rushing and receiving Sunday night, it means the Steelers probably have lost.
Go Deep Young Men – The Ravens defense is not above being beaten deep despite safety Ed Reed being one of the best in the game. If the Steelers want to attack the Ravens deep down field, it must be with good play action and likely will be to the deep middle or more likely the deep left. On the left side, the Ravens right side, the Steelers defense need to attack Josh Wilson and try to single up either Mike Wallace or Emmanuel Sanders up on him and pick on that side. Ben must use pump fakes and his eyes to try to move Reed around at free safety as much as he can.
3rd Down Conversions & Get Offs – The first time these two teams met in week 4, both teams were 4 of 11 on 3rd downs. Of course the Steelers were short Roethlisberger in that game and Ben is one of the better 3rd down quarterbacks in the league. This stat along with the ever popular turnover stat will likely tell the story of this game. The Steelers have statistically been better than the Ravens on 3rd downs on both sides of the ball this year and it must continue Sunday night.
Steelers Ravens Game Prediction – These games usually come down to the 4th quarter and I see this one as no different. I do not think either teams offense will be able to blow out the other teams defense and the game will once again come down to late game execution. If the Steelers do not turn the ball over and stay away from the untimely penalties that have plagued them as late, I could see a big turnover or punt return playing a big part in this game late. The Steelers must be able to take the pressure off of Roethlisberger by running the ball well and getting 7\’s instead of 3\’s in the redzone. I think they win the 4th quarter this time, unlike they did in week 4.
Final Score: Steelers 20 Ravens 17