Baltimore Ravens (7-2) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3)
Sunday, Nov. 18, 8:20pm – Primetime
At: Heinz Field
These two teams meet not a full strength. Both have suffered key injuries and for Pittsburgh they may have lost quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for a few games due to a shoulder sprain, suffered on Monday night. Though both teams have endured injuries, and struggled at times, the AFC North title remains a contest between the Ravens and Steelers. The year started out slow for Pittsburgh due to injuries at the offensive line and running back position, and getting used to a new offensive coordinator, Todd Haley. Until the injury to Roethlisberger, the team had been picking up steam. If Big Ben can’t start (questionable) this Sunday, the team has indicated they will start Byron Leftwich.
The Ravens, obviously are just about flawless at home, but on the road look like a different team, a struggling team. This Sunday night they play a rival and formidable opponent–they need to play better on the road.
CHALK-IT UP/KEY MATCH-UPS:
RB Ray Rice vs. Steelers Run D:
Jump starting the run offense will be key with the Steelers ranking 6th versus the run. The Ravens are starting to call more balance plays (run calls) and are staying patient with the run. The Ravens have employed more toss plays this year with pretty good success. Rice has the speed to turn the corner and it could be an effective call against the Steelers blitz packages.
LT Michael Oher vs. OLB James Harrison
Keep an eye on pressure off the edge. The Ravens O-line have struggled against better pass rushers this season. Left tackle Oher and Right tackle Kelechi Osemele, who will be up against LaMarr Woodley (3 sacks), need to play well in this contest. If QB Joe Flacco has time he can make the throws and his arm will be relied on heavily if the run game is slowed down by Pittsburgh’s stout run defense. Flacco has been sacked 19 times this season– keeping him upright needs to be a priority.
Ravens Speedy Receivers vs. Steelers Secondary:
The Raven are utilizing their speed at the wideout position by getting Jacoby Jones and Torrey Smith downfield. The Ravens have done a nice job of streching the field this year and they have had more explosive passing plays from years past. We go back to pass protection, because that will be key against Pittsburgh’s zone-blitzing schemes. The Steelers pass defense ranks 1st overall (171.1 yards).
CB Jimmy Smith/Corey Graham vs. WR Mike Wallace:
The Steelers have much talent at the wide receiver position. Receivers Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders will be the biggest threat to the Ravens secondary. We might see Corey Graham who played well against Oakland last week. Smith was out do to injury (groin). Wallace (42 receptions for 539 yards, 6 touchdowns), is explosive so you can expect the Ravens to roll coverage his way. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley employs quick passing plays, still, the deep threat of the Steelers is a major weapon.
OLB T-Sizzle vs. LT Matt Starks:
One area that the Ravens could expose is Pittsburgh’s pass protection. The Steelers have suffered key injuries and have sifted players around at the offensive line. The past few weeks, the Ravens have been going with some new wrinkles. Last week, they showed a variety of looks, inserted rookie Courtney Upsahw at DE so that Paul Kruger and Suggs play their normal position OLB’s. The mix has worked so far. If Suggs and company can siege Big Ben or Leftwich, they stand a better chance at slowing down the Steelers passing attack. Roethlisberger has been sacked 18 times this season and with Byron Leftwich possibly starting the Ravens will have more opportunities.
Ravens Run D vs. Steelers Run Game:
Fact is the Steelers will rely heavily on the run game if Roethlisberger can’t start. The Ravens run defense has been a weak link at times ranking 26th (132 yards a game). Lately they have played better, but the unit can’t afford a lapse in this match-up.