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Inside the Steelers: Steelers vs Ravens Preview

It is one of the fiercest rivalries in all of sports. At the conclusion of every contest in which the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens play in, pain killers and ice baths are a requirement to even move the next day. The hate between the two franchises is legendary. Mention the names of Hines Ward, Ben Roethlisberger, James Harrison, or Troy Polamalu in Baltimore, and you’re likely to get a death stare in return. The same goes for saying Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, or Joe Flacco in Pittsburgh.

This Sunday night at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, both teams will face off with identical 5-3 records and a chance to put themselves in good position to win the AFC North Division crown.

In week two, the Ravens prevailed 26-6. The Steelers were able to move the ball early in that game, but could never cash in on the opportunities available. An early fumble by Justin Brown on a drive inside Ravens territory turned the momentum towards the Ravens, and from that point on, the Ravens never relented.

Since that game, the Steelers stumbled along, winning one, then losing one, and repeating, before stacking consecutive victories against Houston and Indianapolis. The loss to Tampa Bay was brutal by all stretches, but the true kick to the gut was the 31-10 thumping at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, a team that the Steelers owned. It looked as if the season was lost at that point. The entire team looked in disarray. For the first 25 minutes of the Houston game, it looked as if the Steelers may not have the capabilities to win another game at all. Trailing 13-0, the Steelers ripped of 24 points in 2 minutes and 54 seconds. They held on to defeat the Texans 30-23.

Still, confidence was not high for the team. If it weren’t for that three minute stretch of handouts by the Texan’s offense, this team could have been 3-4. The high powered Colts were coming to town. Most, including yours truly, expected a Steelers loss due to the offensive ineptitude of the Todd Haley led offense. A team featuring the talent base of a great quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, to go with running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown, who are both considered as among the best at their respective positions, should not be struggling to put points up on the board.

Simply put, this offense isn’t designed to succeed when it’s called upon to dink and dunk sideways passes for 70 and 80 yard drives.

Todd Haley and Mike Tomlin must’ve gotten the message, because the Steelers came out in full out attack mode against the Colts. The emergence of rookie Martavis Bryant, exiled from the inactive list, has been a huge upgrade to the offense. So has contributions from veteran wide out Lance Moore. Roethlisberger and company had an historic day against Indy, as Big Ben went 40-49 for 522 yards, six touchdown passes, and wasn’t sacked one time. It was night and day compared to the previous seven games, save for the first 30 minutes against the Browns in the season opener.

One can only surmise that this will be the type of offense Pittsburgh wants to employ if it expects to keep rolling along. I’m sure Ben Roethlisberger is in full agreement with that assessment.

The previous few night games at Heinz Field have slightly subdued with the alarming number of no-shows. That won’t be the case against Baltimore, in which the stadium is always filled to capacity when the Ravens visit. It will be a special night, as perhaps the greatest player in Steelers history in Mean Joe Greene will have his #75 jersey retired during a halftime ceremony.

Roethlisberger will be looking to pick up where he left off last week in getting the ball down field. Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Lance Moore, Markus Wheaton, and Heath Miller all have to be excited about the newfound vertical opportunities given to them last game. Le’Veon Bell continues to be a threat both running and receiving the ball. Bell is 2nd in Total Yards from Scrimmage, behind only Dallas star DeMarco Murray.

Though the defense gave up 400 yards passing to Andrew Luck, the biggest surprise was the amount of successful blitzes and hurries they reigned down upon the Indianapolis offense. Luck was sacked just twice, but was physically punished almost every time he dropped back to throw the ball. It was a welcomed sight from the Steelers defense, and hopefully a sign of of a team jelling at the right time. If the Steelers are able to put that type of pressure on Joe Flacco, the Ravens could be in for a long night, because let’s face it, there’s no confusing the offenses of the Ravens compared to the Colts.

If there is one person that the Ravens will be focusing on, it will be corner Cortez Allen when he trots onto the field of play. Right now, Allen has been passed on the depth chart by Brice McCain and Antwon Blake, but will almost certainly see playing time on Sunday night. Allen has to “lick his wounds” as coach Tomlin put it, and get his head on straight. Allen has shown flashes of great potential in the past, but must find a way to deal with the adversity he is currently facing. Such is life in the NFL, as it is an unforgiving business.

Flacco and the Ravens 9th ranked offense have some nice talent offensively. Justin Forsett has taken the reigns as the team’s featured back. Lorenzo Taliaferro has assumed the role of short yardage back away from Bernard Pierce, who was inactive last week. Steve Smith leads the team with 41 catches for 675 yards and four scores. Torrey Smith as been Flacco’s 4th favorite target behind Forsett and tight end Owen Daniels, who more than likely will miss the game Sunday. Crockett Gillmore will replace Daniels if he does not play.

Defensively, the Ravens will be without corner Jimmy Smith, who suffered a sprained foot in their loss to Cincinnati last week.

What a difference a week makes. To be successful in today’s NFL, one must employ an offense that can put up points when called upon. Last week, the shackles were taken off of Ben Roethlisberger, and the team thrived. The Steelers cannot afford to lose this one to the Ravens, as a defeat will give Baltimore the advantage of owning any tiebreakers against them. The Bengals have been struggling of late as well. With games against the Jets and Titans forthcoming, Pittsburgh is in prime position to make a major move in the AFC Playoff picture. A few years ago, the John Harbaugh and the Ravens pleaded with the NFL to not schedule anymore night games against the Steelers in Pittsburgh. They will wish that the NFL had adhered to that request, as Baltimore will once again leave a night game at Heinz Field with their tails between their legs.

Prediction: Steelers 31  Ravens 17

 

Game Information

Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3) vs Baltimore Ravens (5-3)

Venue: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA.

Game-time: 8:30 PM

TV: NBC

Weather: 30% Chance of Rain Early, then Partly Cloudy with a low in the mid-30’s.

Vegas Line: Baltimore (-1.5)

 

Game Notes

* Steelers lead the overall series against the Ravens 20-17, including 11-7 at home.

* Steelers are 3-0 against the Ravens in the Postseason.

* Troy Polamalu is one interception returned for a touchdown to match Chad Scott and Jack Butler (4) for the second-most INT-TDs in team history.

* Heath Miller will move into sole possession of fourth in Steelers team history for most receiving touchdowns with his next scoring grab.

* Le’Veon Bell will set a single-season career-high for rushing yards with 171 (860 in 2013).

* Antonio Brown with at least five catches and 80 yards on Sunday, will join Michael Irvin (first 9 games in 1995) as the second player in NFL history to open the season with five for 80 in each of the first nine games of a season.

 

Injury Report (10/31/2014)

Pittsburgh Steelers

Out: CB Ivan Taylor (forearm), S Ross Ventrone (hamstring)

Doubtful:

Questionable:

Probable: T Marcus Gilbert (concussion), DE Brett Keisel (not injury related), DT Steve McLendon (shoulder), TE Heath Miller (not injury related), S Michael Mitchell (groin), S Troy Polamalu (not injury related), LB Ryan Shazier (knee), TE Matt Spaeth (hamstring), S Shamarko Thomas (hamstring)

 

Baltimore Ravens

Out: WR Michael Campanaro (thigh), CB Jimmy Smith (foot)

Doubtful:

Questionable: DE Chris Canty (wrist), TE Owen Daniels (knee), G Marshal Yanda (knee)

Probable: RB Justin Forsett (ankle), DT Haloti Ngata (shin), LB Terrell Suggs (neck), CB Lardarius Webb (not injury related)

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Mike DrakulichYour source for Pittsburgh sports!
From Midland, "The Basketball Capital of Pennsylvania", located 35 miles NW of Pittsburgh along the Ohio River. This former steel town was home to storied athletes such as Dave Alston, Norm Van Lier, Simmie Hill, and the legendary 1965 Midland High School Basketball Team.

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