Scouting report for Ravens at Steelers

The Ravens end a stretch of four road games in their past five, going 2-2 heading into Sunday's Steelers game.

PASSING GAME

RAVENS: The matchup with the Steelers has brought out the best in Joe Flacco, who has thrown 10 touchdown passes and one interception and averaged 221.8 yards passing over the past eight games against Pittsburgh. Flacco's thrown two interceptions in consecutive games after throwing three in the first six weeks. Torrey Smith's struggles have been well-documented but Marlon Brown and Jacoby Jones have combined for just nine catches and 98 yards. The Ravens need more from them.

STEELERS: Behind the red-hot Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers have the NFL's fourth-ranked passing offense, averaging 291.1 yards per game through the air. Most impressive about his 522 passing yards last week against the Indianapolis Colts, Roethlisberger wasn't sacked in 49 drop backs. The Ravens know all about Antonio Brown, who has convinced many that he's the NFL's best receiver. But rookie Martavis Bryant has been a revelation with three touchdown catches in past two weeks.

EDGE: STEELERS


RUNNING GAME

RAVENS: Justin Forsett missed some practice time this week with a sore ankle but it's not expected to affect him against the Steelers. Forsett had 56 yards rushing against Pittsburgh in the first meeting but on just eight carries, his second fewest this year. With his two rushing scores last week, rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro continues to push for more touches. His emergence has spurred even more questions about Bernard Pierce. Pierce was inactive last week and his role is unclear.

STEELERS: Despite all the talk about Roethlisberger and the Steelers' receivers, the Ravens' primary focus is containing Le'Veon Bell. The second-year player is third in the league in rushing yards (691) and second among NFL backs with 42 receptions. He has at least 100 all-purpose yards in every Steelers' game this season and he's averaged 114 yards per game in three career games against the Ravens. He's a threat from everywhere. Backup LeGarrette Blount has just 50 carries this season.

EDGE: STEELERS


RUSH DEFENSE

RAVENS: The Ravens continue to suffocate opposing ball carriers and move up the NFL rankings in run defense. They are seventh, allowing just 90.4 rushing yards per game. They've not allowed an individual rusher to gain more than 68 yards in a game this season. They've also gone 18 consecutive games without allowing a 100-yard rusher. Inside linebackers C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith are fourth and sixth in the NFL in tackles with 76 and 70, respectively.

STEELERS: Pittsburgh's run defense was a major issue earlier in the season as the Steelers were gouged for 348 rushing yards by the Cleveland Browns and Ravens over the first two weeks of the season. But the Steelers have been much letter of late, holding four of their last six opponents to under 100 yards rushing. Their defensive line could get a boost with the expected return of big defensive tackle Steve McClendon. Inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons is Pittsburgh's top tackler.

EDGE: RAVENS


PASS DEFENSE

RAVENS: An already vulnerable group was made considerably weaker with top cornerback Jimmy Smith's foot injury. Dominique Franks and Chykie Brown, who have both struggled, will inherit bigger roles. The Ravens are giving up 256 passing yards per game, which ranks 22nd, and they've surrendered 31 pass plays of 20 yards or more, third most in the NFL. The Ravens have sacked Ben Roethlisberger more than any other team and they'll need Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil more than ever.

STEELERS: The Steelers have had similar problems as the Ravens with an inconsistent pass rush and spotty secondary play. They are allowing 250.1 passing yards per game and they've given up 13 touchdowns through the air. Signed to a contract extension recently, cornerback Cortez Allen has struggled so badly that he's lost his starting job. Veterans William Gay and Brice McCain are the Steelers' starting corners and neither strikes fear in the Ravens. Top pass rusher Jason Worilds has two sacks.

EDGE: EVEN


SPECIAL TEAMS

RAVENS: Entering a matchup defined by close games, Pro Bowl kicker Justin Tucker has been reliable in the clutch, making seven game-winning field goals in his career. Sam Koch's directional punting will help the Ravens limit the opportunities of dangerous Steelers' punt returner Antonio Brown. With Michael Campanaro out with a hamstring injury, Jacoby Jones will likely resume being the primary punt returner. He scored on a punt return touchdown two years ago in Heinz Field.

STEELERS: Kicker Shaun Suisham has found a home in Pittsburgh, missing just one field goal in 15 attempts this season and connecting on 109-of-124 field-goal attempts since joining the Steelers in 2010. He has nine career game-winning field goals. Rookie Brad Wing is averaging 44.1 yards per punt, which ranks 27th in the NFL. The Steelers are getting just 16.1 yards per kickoff return, the second lowest average in the NFL. Their coverage teams, however, have been among the league's best.

EDGE: RAVENS


INTANGIBLES

RAVENS: Coach John Harbaugh raised some eyebrows in Pittsburgh this week when he said that the Ravens are comfortable in this rivalry and comfortable playing at Heinz Field. The recent results support that claim. They've won two of their last three games in Pittsburgh and five of the past seven games overall between the two teams. But the team's inconsistent play on the road — evident in losses in Indianapolis and Cincinnati — remains an issue.

STEELERS: Pretty much left for dead after an embarrassing 31-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns, the Steelers have turned their season around with consecutive wins, spurred by an explosive offense and an opportunistic defense. The Steelers are 3-1 at Heinz Field this season and 44-16 there in the regular season during Mike Tomlin's tenure. They are getting healthier with the expected return of offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert among others. Their 73 penalties lead the NFL. The retirement of Joe Greene's number will only add to a raucous environment.

EDGE: STEELERS


PREDICTION

Both teams need this game badly. The Ravens can't afford to lose consecutive games to AFC North rivals, especially when a loss, coupled by a Browns' win, would leave them in last place heading into Week 10. The Steelers' division title hopes would take a huge hit if they were swept by the Ravens. Ten of the past 15 games between the two teams have been decided by three points or less and Sunday figures to follow that trend. The Steelers, though, have the hotter and better offense and they're at home. Until the Ravens start closing games out against quality opponents on the road, it's going to be tough to pick them to win matchups like this one.

STEELERS, 27-23

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