Scouting report for Ravens-Steelers game Sunday at Heinz Field

RAVENS PASSING GAME: Joe Flacco’s wish for more aggressive play calling was granted against the Detroit Lions, and he responded with his best game of the season. The Ravens were more assertive throwing the ball on first and second downs and got the ball downfield more. Flacco still isn’t putting up big numbers, but he’s limiting his mistakes, throwing only three interceptions over the past six games. The Ravens are dropping too many passes. Mike Wallace needs to capitalize against a secondary prone to big plays.

STEELERS PASSING GAME: After a slow start, Ben Roethlisberger is back to form. He’s thrown 12 touchdown passes over his past four games after throwing seven in the team’s first six. He’s been sacked only 16 times behind an offensive line that is one of the league’s best. Antonio Brown leads all NFL wideouts in catches and receiving yards and is tied for the league lead in touchdowns. He’s eclipsed the 100-yard mark in three straight games. JuJu Smith-Schuster’s suspension likely means bigger roles for Martavis Bryant and Eli Rogers.

EDGE: STEELERS

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RAVENS RUNNING GAME: A relative unknown to Pittsburgh when these teams met in October, Alex Collins is now being used in every situation. His role has expanded in the passing game, and he’s taken over goal-line duties with four rushing touchdowns in the past three games. Collins is 11th in the league with 705 rushing yards, but every back ahead of him has at least 36 more carries. The Ravens are trying to get Danny Woodhead more involved. He has 19 touches in three games since returning from a hamstring injury.

STEELERS RUNNING GAME: No NFL back has been carrying a bigger load than Le’Veon Bell, and he is seemingly getting stronger. Bell has 366 combined carries and receptions, 65 more touches than any other player. The NFL’s leading rusher, Bell has over 100 all-purpose yards in four straight games. In his past two against the Ravens, he has rushed 55 times for 266 yards and three touchdowns and caught seven passes for 57 yards and one score. Center Maurkice Pounce and right guard David DeCastro pave the way.

EDGE: STEELERS

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RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: The Ravens gave up 173 rushing yards to the Steelers in the first meeting, but they didn’t have defensive tackle Brandon Williams for that game, and they’ve had a completely different run defense since his return. Last week marked the fifth straight game in which the Ravens didn’t allow 80 rushing yards. The Ravens rank 16th in the NFL in stopping the run after they were last following seven games. Top tackler C.J. Mosley has been slowed by myriad injuries.

STEELERS RUSH DEFENSE: The Steelers have been a hard team to run against as they’re allowing just 98.8 rushing yards per game, which ranks eighth in the NFL. Cameron Heyward, who is having an All-Pro type season, and Stephon Tuitt are a handful inside. The Ravens struggled to block both players in the first matchup, and they were held to just 82 rushing yards. Pittsburgh lost its top tackler when Ryan Shazier went down with a spine/back injury last week. His replacement, Tyler Matakevich, was also hurt.

EDGE: STEELERS

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RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: Teams have found openings in the Ravens secondary the past few weeks, but this group is making up for lapses by forcing turnovers. The Ravens have four more interceptions than any other team in the NFL. Rookie first-round draft pick Marlon Humphrey will be tested early and often as the Ravens begin life without Jimmy Smith, their top corner. Terrell Suggs has sacks in four consecutive games, but he’s been held without a sack in seven straight games versus Pittsburgh.

STEELERS PASS DEFENSE: Pittsburgh is second in the league with 40 sacks and four players have at least five. They bring pressure from everywhere. Inside linebacker Vince Williams and cornerback Mike Hilton are frequent blitzers. Injuries have hurt the secondary as the defense has given up a lot of big plays in recent weeks. They’ve allowed eight passing touchdowns in the past four games. Playing for injured corner Joe Haden, Coty Sensabaugh was benched last week in favor of Cameron Sutton.

EDGE: RAVENS

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RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS: Heinz Field is of the toughest stadiums to kick in throughout the NFL, but Justin Tucker and Sam Koch are at the top of their game right now. Tucker has made 23 of his past 24 field-goal attempts, and his one miss during that stretch was blocked. Koch has put an NFL-high 31 punts inside the 20-yard line. Michael Campanaro still leads the AFC in punt return average and Chris Moore is settling in nicely as the kick returner. Special teams play often looms large when these teams meet.

STEELERS SPECIAL TEAMS: Chris Boswell doesn’t get the attention or the accolades that Tucker gets, but he’s stabilized the kicker spot for the Steelers. The reigning AFC Special Teams Player of the Week beat the Cincinnati Bengals last week with a last-second field goal, and he has kicked three game-winners in three of Pittsburgh’s past four games. He’s 28-for-31 on field-goal attempts this season. Bryant has flashed big-play potential the past few weeks as the kick returner.

EDGE: RAVENS

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RAVENS INTANGIBLES: The Ravens are starting to gain a little confidence and belief that they’re peaking at the right time. They’ve won three straight games and four of their past five. They’ve played far better on the road this year than in the past two seasons, and they’ve proven that they’re not intimidated by playing at Heinz Field or against the Steelers. John Harbaugh’s team has won six of their past nine matchups versus Pittsburgh. The Ravens are the healthier team, too.

STEELERS INTANGIBLES: This has been a tough week for the Steelers, who are still coming to grips with Shazier’s scary injury. They also had a short week to prepare after suffering several injuries in a physical game against the Bengals. However, it doesn’t take much for the Steelers to get up for a game against the Ravens. That a victory would give them the AFC North crown and hurt the Ravens’ playoff chances is more than enough motivation. The Steelers have won seven straight.

EDGE: STEELERS

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PREDICTION: The Ravens don’t have to win this game to make the playoffs, but it’s a significant opportunity to stamp themselves as the team the AFC heavyweights want to avoid in January. The timing of the game works in the Ravens favor as the Steelers are beat up physically and emotionally. But when it comes down to it, the Steelers have a Hall of Fame quarterback and probably the best running back and wide receiver in the sport while the Ravens are still trying to find themselves offensively. Steelers, 23-20

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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