By Jeremy Hritz
Hritz 2012 Prediction Record: 7-2
Ravens at Steelers Rankings Breakdown
|Offense||15th (354.1)||15th (354.1)|
|Rushing||19th (104.9)||20th (103.8)|
|Passing||13th (249.2)||11th (250.3)|
|PPG||4th (28.2)||17th (23)|
|Defense||28th (390.2)||1st (265.7)|
|Rushing||26th (132)||5th (94.6)|
|Passing||26th (258.2)||1st (171.1)|
|PPG||11th (21.8)||7th (19.7)|
Ben Roethlisberger is out indefinitely. Troy Polamalu once again will not be in the lineup. Antonio Brown will miss his second straight game.
There is just no chance the Pittsburgh Steelers will beat the Baltimore Ravens this week, right?
Not so fast.
Sunday Night’s first regular season match-up between the Steelers and the Ravens will have a tremendous impact on the AFC North Division winner, playoff seeding, and confidence moving forward into the later part of the season. Everybody is aware of the history between these two teams, and the Steelers are still mindful of the thrashing they suffered in week one of 2011 at the wings of the Ravens and the heartbreaker in last November at Heinz Field. While a playoff rematch between the teams was anticipated last year, it never materialized after Tim Tebow pulled what appeared to be his last magic rabbit out of his hat. So at the conclusion of the 2011 season, the Steelers did not get a final opportunity to atone for the losses to their most-hated rival.
One year later, the memory of those losses have not faded, despite what has been said, and retribution will be sought Sunday night at 8:30 in Pittsburgh.
Baltimore is a much different team in 2012, as they are trying to overcome numerous injuries on the defensive side of the ball. Normally an impenetrable force, under new defensive coordinator Dean Pees, the Ravens rank 28th overall in total defense and have not demonstrated all season that they can slow down the running or passing games of opponents. Conversely, offensively, the Ravens have been solid, scoring points rather easily, though their offensive rankings are commensurate with those of the Steelers. With explosive playmakers in Torrey Smith and Ray Rice, in addition to the big arm of Joe Flacco, Baltimore has quick strike ability, yet while they have been outstanding at home, their performance on the road has been tenuous.
The last two performances of the Steelers and Ravens could not be more divergent as the Steelers struggled to move the ball against a bad Kansas City Chiefs team, scoring only 16 points and benefiting from some generous officiating calls, while the Ravens lit the Raiders up (whom the Steelers lost to) for 55 points.
While many are quick to count the Steelers out this weekend because of the absence of Big Ben, and are only willing to argue that they will only keep the game close, the “us-against-the-world” mentality has always been an attitude that has served the Steelers well when the odds seem too great. While Roethlisberger cannot be replaced, the Steelers can still play winning, team football, and that is exactly how it will play out.
The Steelers Will Win If…
The defense compensates for the absence of Roethlisberger and if the Steelers successfully run the football.
The last time the Steelers were without the services of Roethlisberger, they went 3-1, and the defense played impeccably. During the four game winning streak of the Steelers, the defense has stepped up its play and been much improved. While the sacks and interceptions have not been plentiful, the defense has played with a simple, no-frills mentality, limiting opposing offenses to meager yardage and point amounts. If they can add an element of explosiveness on defense, the defense will elevate itself to an exceptional level. Look for that to happen on Sunday Night against the Ravens because it has to. The Steelers know that their offense will be impacted in the passing game as a result of the absence of Roethlisberger, and they know that their ability to shut down the Ravens will ultimately dictate the outcome of the game. If the Steelers get an improved pass rush that results in sacks and picks of Flacco, the Steelers will improve to 7-3. Something to consider, in his last three games against the Ravens, James Harrison has accounted for six sacks. What better time for Harrison to elevate his play?
While Byron Leftwich can get the job done, there will inevitably still be rust, and timing with the receivers will be an issue. To take the pressure off of Leftwich, the Steelers will need to pound the football against a Ravens defense that has not shown that it can stop the run this season. If the Steelers can out-physical the Ravens defensive line and control the time of possession with Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Dwyer, and Isaac Redman, look for the crowd to get into the game, and for the Steelers offense to have success.
The Ravens Will Win If…
Leftwich turns the football over and if the Steelers defense gives up big pass plays to the tight ends and Smith.
The Steelers are not going to put Leftwich in a position where he is going to be throwing 30-35 times, and the emphasis will be on the running game. With that said, with the opportunities that they do give to Leftwich to throw the football, he must be careful and not try to force a big completion with his cannon arm. Additionally, with his extended throwing motion, he must be as quick as he can to get rid of the ball in the face of Baltimore pressure. The Steelers should be able to overcome one turnover from Leftwich, but if he loses the ball multiple times, the Steelers will struggle to get points.
The defense is going to be ready to play tomorrow night. However, the Steelers must be prepared to defend against Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, both of whom are capable of extending drives by converting third downs for the Ravens. The Steelers have not been particularly effective in stopping tight ends this year, and if Dickson and Pitta are able to get into favorable matchups with Harrison or Larry Foote in coverage, there will be some opportunities for big plays.
And everybody remembers what Smith did last year in the second game in Pittsburgh. Despite the high ranking of the passing defense, teams still believe they can go deep on the Steelers. If Flacco has too much time to throw, he will connect at least once on a big play to Smith, which could be the difference in the game. In no game this year has pressure on the quarterback been as important as it will be tomorrow night.
Roethlisberger or no Roethlisberger, the Steelers are always charged up for the Ravens. The defense will be ready Sunday night, and they will put their best effort of the year on display. I see Pittsburgh winning the battle of who is the most physical Sunday night in the run game and on defense. Throw in a home crowd that took Monday Night off along with the Steelers in preparation for the Ravens, and Heinz Field will be on fire. I’ll hold true to my prediction from this offseason that the Steelers would sweep the Ravens in both regular season contests this year. And based purely on gut instinct, I foresee Ryan Clark delivering a devastating yet clean shot on a Raven that shifts the momentum of this game.
No Gatorade bath this time.
Steelers 26 Ravens 13