Enemy Intel: Baltimore Ravens
In the AFC North’s most heated rivalry, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens will look to bounce back from embarrassing losses last week on Sunday afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, MD. The Steelers were shocked by the Chicago Bears on Sunday, 23-17 in overtime, while the Ravens were walloped 44-7 in London by the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Steelers have not won in Baltimore since 2012 and Ben Roethlisberger has not won a start in the Charm City since the 2010 season. So lets look into this week’s matchup.
Joe Flacco has not launched off the tarmac yet this year, after recovering from a back injury in training camp. As a matter of fact, Flacco had his worst game of his career on Sunday against the Jaguars as he threw for just 28 yards, two interceptions and a robust 12.0 passer rating. In the first three games, Flacco has had only three completions of 20 or more yards, a 65 passer rating and 5.3 yards per attempt. All categories are lowest in the league.
As for the running game, Terrence West, Javorius Allen and Alex Collins spearhead a running back by committee approach to Baltimore’s attack with effective results. All three have rushed for over 100 yards on the season on the way to the fifth ranked rushing attack on the young season. Look for the Ravens to use the same approach that the Bears used last Sunday when they used the outside stretch play to the tune of 220 rushing yards. If successful, the Ravens could finally open up a play action passing attack for Flacco to hit former Steeler Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin.
Part of Flacco’s issues may be attributed to the loss of a All-Pro guard Marshall Yanda, who was instrumental to giving him a clean pocket to let his speedy receivers to get separation and for Flacco to throw his patented deep ball.
The Baltimore defense got shredded last week by the Jaguars in the running game and the passing game. Blake Bortles threw for four touchdowns and the Jaguars had 166 yards rushing last Sunday. This came after the first two games when the Ravens forced as many turnovers as they had points allowed (10). Newcomers Brandon Carr, Tony Jefferson and rookie Marlon Humphries were acquired to improve the secondary and so far the results have been mixed on the season.
The modus operandi is the same for the Ravens when they play the Steelers: Stop Le’Veon Bell and hit Ben Roethlisberger as much as possible. Roethisberger has been sacked 52 times in his career against the Ravens, with 17 1/2 at the hands of 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs.
As for Bell, he is averaging 108 yards from scrimmage and has scored five touchdowns (three rushing) in seven career games against the Ravens. What will complicate the Ravens game plan is that they will be without their big nose tackle Brandon Williams (foot) for Sunday’s game as well as defensive end Brent Urban, who has been put on IR with a Lisfranc injury in his foot.
One X-factor that the Steelers have is tight end Jesse James. The Ravens gave up three touchdowns to the Jaguars Mercedes Lewis and with the attention being paid to Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant, James could see good opportunities, especially in the red zone on Sunday.
Both teams are reeling from last week, but Baltimore is suffering from a few more critical injuries, especially on defense. Perhaps that can maybe get Bell out of his early season slump. If he can help the Steelers control the game late in the fourth quarter in their four minute offense, that will be the difference. I’m picking the Steelers to beat the Ravens 20-17.