Now that the NFL season is here, I'm putting a twist on my weekly Blogger on Blogger series. Each week, I will enlist a blogger who regularly writes about the Ravens' opponent to help me break down the game. This week, I exchanged emails with Dave Bryan, who blogs about the Steelers for Steelers Depot.
MV: After dropping a pair of games following their Week 7 win over the Ravens, the Steelers have won three straight games to get back into the playoff picture. What has been the biggest difference for this Steelers team over the past few weeks?
DB: I don't think that you can point your finger at any one specific thing. The offense, however, has been helped some by the use of more no-huddle and in addition, they are not turning the football over like they were earlier in the season. While the running game hasn't been great, it has been enough of a threat that it keeps defenses honest. Not falling behind early in games also helps. As far as the defense goes, while they are still giving up more than their fair share of double explosive plays (40 yards or more), there aren't as many missed tackles as of late. In conclusion, there have been a lot of little things that have been improved that has led to this three game win streak.
MV: The Steelers forced just six turnovers in their first eight games and had trouble getting to the quarterback. But their defense has recently started to buck that trend. Where were those impact plays earlier in the season and how big have they been?
DB: The Steelers front has finally been able to get more consistent pressure over the course of the last few weeks. Defensive end Cameron Heyward is really becoming the player they thought he would be when they drafted him and fourth-year linebacker Jason Worilds has really played lights-out in the past two games at left outside linebacker while filling in for the injured LaMarr Woodley. Five of the eight turnovers in the last three games have been forced fumbles and Troy Polamalu is responsible for two of those just this past week against the Cleveland Browns. Being behind a lot on the scoreboard early in the season allowed opposing offenses to be more conservative and thus not as predictable. The Steelers defense thrives on stopping the run first and that in turn, along with getting leads for a change, has helped some in getting sacks and a few interceptions.
MV: Like Baltimore, Pittsburgh is still struggling to run the ball, though rookie back Le'Veon Bell and the Steelers did have success against the Ravens in Week 7. Is there anything they can take away from that game and apply to Thursday's game?
DB: Right guard David DeCastro was solid in that game in his ability to get off of his first combo block and to the second level. It was probably the best game of his young career. It probably helped that Ravens linebacker Josh Bynes missed that game and that it was also the first game back for fellow linebacker Jameel McClain. If memory serves me, the Ravens defensive line was also a little banged up heading into that game. The short week this time around might play a big factor in this game. As we have seen all season, tackling during the Thursday night games hasn't been spectacular.
MV: Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been on fire over the past four weeks, throwing 11 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He has had a lot of success throwing to Antonio Brown. Why are those two guys clicking right now?
DB: Those two have been clicking for a few seasons now, but with Mike Wallace now gone and Heath Miller slowed at the start of the season, the offense has been clearly running through Brown this year. Brown has really improved his route-running over the course of the past few seasons and he's not making the mental errors that he once was when it comes to adjustments and reads that he was making early on in his career. In addition, he is catching 70 percent of the balls thrown his way and Roethlisberger has a ton of trust in him as a result.
MV: This game is the biggest game yet for both teams -- a virtual must-win. Give me one thing that gives you confidence that the Steelers will win Thursday's game and give me one thing about the Ravens that make you nervous about the outcome.
DB: The thing that scares me the most is the big play factor that I mentioned above. This Steelers team has already surrendered 13 double explosive plays so far this season. The Ravens offense comes into this game with 13 double explosive plays to their credit and that is second best in the league. As far as liking the Steelers chances, not turning the football over is huge, as it is with most teams. In four of the games they have won this season, they haven't turned the football over. No turnovers against the Ravens will end in a win. It really is that simple.
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