Breaking down the Ravens vs. Steelers Thanksgiving matchup
By By Jeff Zrebiec
Nov 27, 2013 at 9:00 PM
RAVENS PASSING GAME: Quarterback Joe Flacco played one of his better games this season in a 19-16 loss to the Steelers on Oct. 20. He completed 24 of 34 passes for 215 yards and one touchdown and no interceptions. Since that game, he's thrown as many interceptions (six) as touchdowns. Flacco was sacked just once by the Steelers in the first matchup, but only the Miami Dolphins' Ryan Tannehill has been sacked more this season. Torrey Smith, the Ravens' top receiver, will likely see a lot of cornerback Ike Taylor.
STEELERS PASSING GAME: Ben Roethlisberger has gotten hot at the wrong time for the Ravens, and his recent strong play has coincided with the Steelers' decision to go more with a no-huddle offense. In his past four games, he has thrown 11 touchdown passes and three interceptions. The most pleasing development for the Steelers is that he's been sacked just once over the past two contests. Wide receiver Antonio Brown leads the league with 80 catches and is second in the NFL with 1,044 receiving yards.
RAVENS RUNNING GAME: Without the Chicago Bears defense to push around, the Ravens' running game crashed back to Earth last week against the New York Jets' top-ranked run defense. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce were held to 30 yards apiece and the Ravens averaged just 2.2 yards per carry. In his career against the Steelers, Rice has hit the 100-yard plateau twice in 10 career games. It will be interesting to see what role backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor has on offense this week.
STEELERS RUNNING GAME: While the Steelers have improved steadily in many facets this season, their running game is not one of them. They average just 77.3 rushing yards per game, which ranks 30th in the NFL. The Ravens are one of the few teams that the Steelers have run the ball against, as Pittsburgh gained a season-high 141 yards on the ground in the previous matchup. Rookie Le'Veon Bell rushed for a season-high 93 yards in that game, and his patience and shiftiness gave the Ravens all sorts of problems.
RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: The Ravens have permitted more than 100 rushing yards in five of the past six games, but they really haven't allowed teams to dictate the play with their running games. They've also allowed next to nothing on the ground in the red zone. They've surrendered one rushing touchdown all year, and that was back in Week 4. One of their worst performances came in the early-season loss to Pittsburgh, when they were repeatedly gouged up the middle by Bell.
STEELERS RUSH DEFENSE: The Steelers haven't been their usual stout selves against the run, though they were all over Rice and company earlier this season. The Ravens had just 82 rushing yards that game and averaged 3.2 yards per carry. For the season, the Steelers are allowing 118.8 rushing yards per game, which ranks third in the NFL. Right inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons leads Pittsburgh with 108 tackles. Nose tackle Steve McLendon will miss the game with an ankle injury.
RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: Quietly, it's all starting to come together for the Ravens secondary, which is getting strong cornerback play from the trio of Jimmy Smith, Lardarius Webb and Corey Graham. The Ravens have five interceptions during the past three games after having only four picks in their first eight. Terrell Suggs has been held without a sack three straight games. As usual against the Steelers, getting pressure on Roethlisberger and containing wide receiver Brown will be the focuses.
STEELERS PASS DEFENSE: A big reason for the Steelers' recent turnaround has been their ability to get pressure on quarterbacks and create turnovers, two things that Dick LeBeau's group uncharacteristically struggled with early on. During its three-game winning streak, Pittsburgh has created eight turnovers and recorded 10 sacks. Safety Troy Polamalu might not be his old self, but he still flashes the ability to make big plays. Pittsburgh is allowing just 224.4 passing yards per game, 10th-best in the NFL.
RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS: Don't think the Ravens weren't reminded this week about the special-teams breakdowns that contributed to the loss to the Steelers earlier this season. Since then, the Ravens have been more disciplined with their coverage teams. Punter Sam Koch seems to have corrected what was ailing him. Pro Bowl return man Jacoby Jones finally got loose for 108 punt-return yards last week. Kicker Justin Tucker has been a constant with 22 consecutive successful field-goal tries.
STEELERS SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Shaun Suisham made his first 15 field goals to start the season, including the game-winner against the Ravens. He's now in the midst of a streak of nine consecutive makes. Brown ranks second in the AFC in punt-return average. The Steelers' coverage teams have been strong this year, particularly on kickoffs. Jones beat Pittsburgh with a punt-return touchdown last year, so Mat McBriar probably will try to keep the ball from him.
RAVENS INTANGIBLES: The Ravens know that any realistic shot at staying in the AFC North race and making the postseason hinges on beating Pittsburgh. John Harbaugh's team is healthy and it appeared to gain some confidence with the victory over the Jets. Under Harbaugh, the Ravens have won 10 straight November home games, but they are 2-3 at home against Pittsburgh. The Ravens' struggles in close games this year doesn't bode well, as four consecutive matchups with the Steelers have each been decided by three points.
STEELERS INTANGIBLES: Coach Mike Tomlin has steadied his team after an 0-4 start, and the Steelers look like the most dangerous of the six AFC teams that are 5-6. But they are not without their flaws. They struggle to run the football and to stop the run. But they understand what it takes to beat the Ravens, going 6-5 against them over the past 11 regular-season meetings. They also won a game at M&T Bank Stadium last December.
PREDICTION: Certain things are predictable about this matchup. There will be a ton of big hits, there will be precious few big offensive plays and it will ultimately be decided by a field goal. Everything else, including the winner, is much tougher to predict. However, there is little doubt that the Steelers are peaking at the right time. They are taking care of the ball and their quarterback on offense, and creating turnovers on defense. As tough as it is to pick against the Ravens at home, they've rarely beaten Roethlisberger in a late-season game with major playoff ramifications. And the bet here is that they won't tonight. Steelers, 20-17