Pittsburgh Steelers 2012 Schedule Preview: Week 11 & 13 Analysis Versus Baltimore Ravens

Christopher DiMarino

This is another entry in a set of early looks at the teams the Pittsburgh Steelers will play in the 2012-13 season. The goal is to acclimate the average Steelers fan to the offseason changes each team has made. This will make the in-depth analysis in the week before the game more familiar and understandable.

Who: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers

What: Week 11 Regular Season Matchup

Where: Heinz Field

When: 8:20 EST Sunday November 18th, 2012

How: NBC

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Who: Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens

What: Week 13 Regular Season Matchup

Where: M&T Bank Stadium

When: 4:25 EST Sunday December 2nd, 2012

How: CBS

Key Free Agent Additions and Losses:

Key Free Agent Additions and Losses
PositionName2011 Team2012 TeamRole
QBCurtis PainterIndianapolis ColtsBaltimore RavensInjury Starter
WRJacoby JonesHouston TexansBaltimore Ravens1st String Backup
GBobbie WilliamsCincinnati BengalsBaltimore RavensStarter
CTony WraggeSt Louis RamsBaltimore RavensStarter
DT/DERyan McBeanDenver BroncosBaltimore Ravens1st String Backup
CBCorey GrahamChicago BearsBaltimore Ravens1st String Backup
SSean ConsidineArizona CardinalsBaltimore Ravens2nd String Backup
RBJalen ParmeleBaltimore RavensJacksonville JaguarsDepth
WRLee EvansBaltimore RavensJacksonville JaguarsStarter
GBen GrubbsBaltimore RavensNew Orleans SaintsStarter
DTBrandon McKinneyBaltimore RavensIndianapolis Colts1st String Backup
DECory ReddingBaltimore RavensIndianapolis ColtsStarter
DE/OLBJarret JohnsonBaltimore RavensSan Diego ChargersStarter
CBChris CarrBaltimore RavensMinnesota VikingsStarter
SHaruki NakamuraBaltimore RavensCarolina Panthers1st String Backup
SSTom ZbikowskiBaltimore RavensIndianapolis ColtsStarter
KShayne GrahamBaltimore RavensHouston TexansDepth
RBMatt LawrenceBaltimore RavensUFADepth
RBRicky WilliamsBaltimore RavensRetired1st String Backup
WRLivas PhillipBaltimore RavensReleasedDepth
TEKris WilsonBaltimore RavensUFA2nd String Backup
DEEdgar JonesBaltimore RavensUFADepth
DE/OLBMike McAdooBaltimore RavensInjury/Released2nd String Backup
CBDomonique FoxworthBaltimore RavensCUT/Retired1st String Backup

By all accounts, the Baltimore Ravens had a tough free agency. They lost 7 starting caliber players and signed only two low level replacements. Baltimore is in a tough situation with the cap and these types of offseasons are going to continue to happen as they sign their young talent to long term deals.

On offense, the Baltimore Ravens will be without Ricky Williams who retired (444 yards and 2 TDs) and Lee Evans (only 74 yards) who is now on the Jacksonville Jaguars. Baltimore signed Jacoby Jones (age 28) to replace Evans (age 31) and contribute on special teams. Jones had just over 500 yards receiving and just over 500 yards returning punts last season (3 total TDs) with the Houston Texans. To replace Ben Grubbs, the Ravens signed Bobbie Williams and added Tony Wragge for depth. Williams (35) is a downgrade to Grubbs and likely only a 2 year space holder at best.

There was a Rex Ryan type exodus of defensive players who followed former defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano to Indianapolis. DT Brandon McKinney, DE Cory Redding and SS Tom Zbikowski combined for 80 tackles in 2011. Redding (age 31) is the best of the trio and will be missed along the defensive line. Ryan McBean was signed to offset this loss but is serving a reduced 3 game suspension to open the season. Pernell McPhee had 6 sacks last season and will likely replace Redding as a starter. The biggest loss for the Ravens defense will be Jarret Johnson, who was the edge rusher opposite Terrell Suggs, who will miss considerable time this year with an Achilles injury. Baltimore lost a lot of depth in the secondary including Chris Carr and Haruki Nakamura.

2012 Draft Analysis:

2012 Draft Recap
PositionNameRoundCollegeHeightWeight
OLBCourtney Upshaw2.3(35th)Alabama6\’2272
GKelechi Osemele2.28(60th)Iowa St.6\’5333
RBBernard Pierce3.21(84th)Temple6\’0218
C/GGino Gradkowski4.3(98th)Delaware6\’3300
FSChristian Thompson4.35(130th)South Carolina St.6\’0211
CBAsa Jackson5.34(169th)Cal Poly5\’10191
WRTommy Streeter6.28(198th)Miami6\’5219
DEDeAngelo Tyson7.29(236th)Georgia6\’2315

The Ravens had a pretty good draft. They traded down 7 spots (from a late first round pick to an early second) to add an early 4th round pick. With this early 2nd round pick, the Ravens were still able to grab Courtney Upshaw, who was at one time projected to be a top 10 pick. His poor combine and lack of elite level skills caused his drop, but he had a great college career at Alabama (16.5 sacks in final two seasons) and a strong Senior Bowl performance. Kelechi Osemele is a project out of Iowa St. He had a good combine which solidified his value as a late second round pick. His downside is that he\’s only played in a few games at a small school so it may take him some time to contribute in the NFL.

With Williams retired, it will be interesting to see who gets the rest of the reps in the run game. The Ravens drafted Bernard Pierce to fit in this position. While he is not a bruiser, he has good acceleration and runs with power. Unfortunately, he lacks elite open field speed and has had injury issues. Gino Gradkowski was a bit of a reach in the 4th round, as he comes from a small school and was originally considered a late round pick. It is rumored that his versatility led to his selection and he will be groomed to replace center Matt Birk.

Coaching Staff:

Steelers fans should be very familiar with Ravens head coach John Harbaugh by now. The Harbaugh family is deeply ingrained in coaching. His father Jack was an assistant under Michigan great Bo Schembechler and his brother Jim won the NFL coach of the year award last year in his first season. John began his coaching career as a special teams coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles for 9 years before he was changed to defensive back coach. Harbaugh became the Ravens head coach in 2008 after Jason Garrett turned down the job. Harbaugh has gone 44-20 in his 4 seasons and is considered one of the best head coaches currently in the NFL.

Cam Cameron continues his role as the Ravens offensive coordinator. He has been in this role since 2008 when Harbaugh was hired. This move was reciprocity for when Cameron hired Harbaugh to be an assistant at Indiana University years earlier. After his role as the head coach of Indiana, he became the offensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers for 5 years. He was then hired to be the head coach of the Miami Dolphins but was fired after only 1 season. After losing 13 games in a row to begin the season, his Dolphins defeated the Ravens (ironically) to get their only win.

After losing Pagano to the Colts, the Ravens had a vacancy at their defensive coordinator position. Baltimore chose to promote linebackers coach Dean Pees to this position. He\’s been with the Ravens for 2 seasons and previously coached for the New England Patriots. He was the linebackers coach for 2 years and the defensive coordinator for the rest of his 6 years with the Patriots. Pees has been coaching for 40 years and intends to build on the aggressive defense that Pagano maintained last year.

The Ravens have 2 new positions coches for the 2012 season. Former Colts head coach Jim Caldwell is their new quarterbacks coach and their new linebackers coach is the former Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Don Martindale. Jerry Rosburg is the current special teams coordinator and is also the assistant head coach. He has been with the Ravens for 4 years.

Last Year\’s Stats:

2011 Team Stats
OFFENSE
StatRavensRankSteelersRankNFL Average
Yards/Game338.715372.312346.8
Points/Game23.61220.32122.2
Pass Yards/Game213.919253.410229.7
Rush Yards/Game214.810118.914117.1
First Downs/Game19.51521.3919.5
Interceptions (2011)125151716
Interception Rate2.21%92.78%182.91%
Fumbles Lost (2011)1224132610
Sacks Allowed (2011)3312422337
Sack Rate6.07%137.79%236.82%
Avg Time of Possession30:35:001032:33:00230:00:00
DEFENSE
StatRavensRankSteelersRankNFL Average
Yards/Game288.93271.81346.8
Points/Game16.6314.2122.2
Pass Yards/Game196.34171.91229.7
Rush Yards/Game92.6299.88117.1
First Downs/Game16.8416.5119.5
Interceptions (2011)1517112416
Interception Rate2.80%192.08%242.91%
Fumbles Recovered (2011)11743010
Sacks (2011)483351737
Sack Rate8.97%36.60%186.82%
SPECIAL TEAMS
StatRavensRankSteelersRankNFL Average
Punt Return Avg For9.61910.5139.9
Punt Return Avg Against11.9248.4129.9
Kick Return Avg For24.9925.1823.8
Kick Return Avg Against29.23123.71623.8
Field Goals Made76.92%2674.19%3182.89%
EFFICIENCY
StatRavensRankSteelersRankNFL Average
Turnover Differential211-13280
3rd Down % Offense42.36%745.92%438.00%
3rd Down % Defense32.13%238.91%1938.00%
4th Down % Offense57.14%437.50%1943.26%
4th Down % Defense47.62%2161.54%2843.26%
Red Zone % Offense51.02%1750.94%1852.18%
Red Zone % Defense38.10%154.84%1752.18%

Baltimore had a very indicative statistical year. Their offense was above average. Their defense was again one of the best in the NFL, ranking top 5 in several categories. They had weak special teams play but pretty good efficiency. Their stats definitely look like those a 12-4 team would have. Their defense continues to excel and the offense has slowly climbed up the rankings.

The Ravens offense ranked 15th in Total Yards and First Downs, and was just outside the top 10 in Sacks and Points Allowed. The one caveat of this offense was its high amount of Fumbles lost, as Joe Flacco fumbled 9 times. Although Flacco fumbled a lot, he threw very few interceptions.

The Ravens defense was great once again in 2011. It was so good that it ranked in the top 5 in every category except interceptions and fumble recoveries. While the defense didn\’t finish ranked 1st in the league, there is no real ranking system that uses all of the categories shown here. When you look at the broad spectrum, it\’s debatable that Baltimore had one of the best defenses in the NFL last year.

The Ravens were not very good on special teams. Several players split Kick Returns, but David Reed had the most attempts and had an average of just shy of 30 yards. Lardarius Webb was the primary punt returner and had a 10 yard average (scored 1 touchdown). The Ravens were not good at covering and while they ranked near the bottom of the league in both, kick coverage was especially bad. Everyone probably remembers Billy Cundiff\’s miss to launch the Patriots into the Super Bowl. This miss makes sense because Cundiff was a paltry 75.7% kicking on the season, including 2 misses from 30-39 yards.

Final Remarks:

The Ravens have always been bitter rivals of the Steelers. I\’ll admit that I\’m not a historian, but in the recent decade or two I would label the Steelers Ravens rivalry as one of the best and most public. It is documented how the current core of the Steelers is talented and successful, especially in the post season. While the Ravens appear to have the pieces to match, they hadn\’t really performed at an elite level until last year.

The Ravens offense suddenly became clutch enough to perform at the end of games. Baltimore\’s defense is as strong as ever and their charismatic head coach has enough traction to establish himself for a long time. If this team was able to freeze time and keep its exact roster from last year, they might have eventually won a Super Bowl. Unfortunately, the cap seems to be the only enemy of the Ravens bigger than the Steelers.

The Ravens had a decent draft but lost quite a bit in free agency. Upshaw should be able to start and will eventually perform at the level Johnson did, but missing Suggs for most of the year will hurt this defense. Grubbs was a big loss, and a lot of quality depth is gone in both the secondary and on the defensive line. The Ravens appear to have the core set of players to experience prolonged success, but the ulterior pieces will determine if they can win a Super Bowl.

While the Ravens arguably have a championship caliber roster, they are not well prepared for major injuries like that of Suggs unless players really step up. Albeit a good draft or 2 will propel this team to become Super Bowl favorites once again, I have the feeling that last year was the best this team will be for a while. Locking up their young players to contracts didn\’t cripple this team, but it severely limited their growth. Unless young players excel, or the current stars overachieve, I think last year\’s performance is the ceiling for this team in 2012.

Key Stat:

Full Circle. In the 2008 season, the Steelers set a precedence by defeating the Ravens in both regular season games as well as a playoff matchup. These two powerhouse teams were typically noted for splitting the regular season matchups. In 2009 and 2010 the teams fell back to the norm by each winning one regular season meeting. However, the Steelers beat the Ravens in the playoffs of the 2010 year. Last season, the Ravens beat the Steelers in both regular season games for the first time since 2006. So while the trend of the Steelers supremacy over the Ravens in the playoffs perseveres, the dominance in the regular season has tilted towards Ravens. This could be cyclic and shift back to an even regular season split, but the fear is always there that the Ravens are surging while the Steelers slowly withdraw.

Follow me on twitter @chrisdimarino

  • http://twitter.com/e8plumer eric plumer

    As a Ravens fan this is a fair article. But don’t underestimate all the Ravens young talent on D: J Smith,T Cody, L Webb, C Upshaw,P McPhee,P Kruger, C Williams, J McClain and A Jones. 2 or 3 of these guys will be pro bowl caliber this year. Avg age of D other than Ray and Reed: 25.8. Considering our injuries and schedule I predict a 10-6, 11-5 type season but no Super Bowl appearance.