RAVENS PASSING GAME: The bye week certainly came at a good time for new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who had a chance to add more of his ideas into the offense, and for struggling quarterback Joe Flacco, who got some much-needed rest after taking a beating the past couple of games. The best news for Flacco is the starting offensive line is now healthy and intact. The Ravens are converting just 32.4 percent of their third downs, the second worst mark in the league.
STEELERS PASSING GAME: Even with Ben Roethlisberger missing one game and part of another, the Steelers have the NFL's eighth-ranked passing game. Roethlisberger and backup Landry Jones have combined to throw 17 touchdowns. Only the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints have more. All the focus has been on Roethlisberger's health, but the Ravens still have to deal with a cadre of offensive weapons, led by wide receiver Antonio Brown. Pittsburgh has allowed only 11 sacks, the second fewest in the NFL.
RAVENS RUNNING GAME: Just when you thought the Ravens' ground game was improving, they were held to a franchise-low 11 rushing yards on 11 carries in the Oct. 23 loss to the New York Jets. The dismal performance leaves them 26th in the NFL in rushing yards per game (86.3). Offensive coaches worked extensively on the run game during the bye week. Terrance West, who seems fine after hurting his ankle against the Jets, remains the starter, but expect rookie Kenneth Dixon to be more involved.
STEELERS RUNNING GAME: The Steelers have run the ball pretty effectively, averaging 4.5 yards a carry. However, they haven't put up big rushing numbers because they haven't run the ball a whole lot. Their 164 rushing attempts are more than just three teams. That figures to change with Le'Veon Bell now up to speed after being suspended for the first three games. Bell, a significant threat in the passing game as well, is still waiting for his first touchdown. His backup, DeAngelo Williams, has four of them.
RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: After becoming the league's top-ranked run defense, the Ravens were gashed for 155 rushing yards against the Jets. They currently are ranked fourth against the run, allowing 81.9 rushing yards per game. Terrell Suggs' return from a torn biceps injury should help as the Ravens struggled to set the edge — one of Suggs' assets — versus the Jets. The Ravens will have to be disciplined and fly to the ball against Steelers' standout back Le'Veon Bell, who is elusive and explosive.
STEELERS RUSH DEFENSE: Steelers coach Mike Tomlin hasn't been pleased with his run defense in recent weeks. Statistically, Pittsburgh is in the middle of the pack in stopping the run. But in their Oct. 16 loss to the Miami Dolphins, the Steelers gave up 222 rushing yards (204 of them to Jay Ajayi) and three scores on the ground. A week later against the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh allowed 140 rushing yards and two touchdowns — both by LeGarrette Blount. The return of defensive end Cameron Heyward should help.
RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: Top cornerback Jimmy Smith did a nice job on the Jets' Brandon Marshall two weeks ago and his reward is likely shadowing Antonio Brown, arguably the top wide receiver in the NFL. Smith and the Ravens have done a reasonably good job on Brown over the years, holding him to one touchdown reception in 13 career meetings (including playoffs). The rest of the Ravens' secondary has to keep receivers in front of them, a major problem the past two games. Getting pressure up front is imperative.
STEELERS PASS DEFENSE: This unit has been Pittsburgh's Achilles' heel. The Steelers have had some issues on the back end, allowing 283.4 passing yards per game. That ranks 26th in the NFL. They have just three interceptions. Only the Indianapolis Colts have fewer. Their eight sacks are also the fewest in the league. Tenth-year veteran William Gay is Pittsburgh's most accomplished cornerback and the team also has rookies Sean Davis (Maryland) and Artie Burns playing prominent roles in the secondary.
RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Justin Tucker has been the Ravens' most valuable player so far, converting on all 18 of his field-goal attempts and making 25 straight dating back to last year. Twelve of the past 16 Ravens-Steelers games have been decided by three points or fewer, so Tucker might give the Ravens the advantage if the game comes down to a field goal. There remains concern with return man Devin Hester, who has fumbled four times this year. Punter Sam Koch will avoid kicking to Brown if he can.
STEELERS SPECIAL TEAMS: The Ravens have made some big plays in special teams over the years against the Steelers. Pittsburgh's current units haven't done anything particularly noteworthy this year. Second-year kicker Chris Boswell has converted 7-of-10 field-goal attempts this season and his career 85.7-percent accuracy ranks second in Steelers' history among kickers with at least 30 attempts. Jordan Berry has landed 13 of his 30 punts inside the 20. Former Raven Fitzgerald Toussaint has been the Steelers primary kick returner.
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RAVENS INTANGIBLES: The Ravens beat the Steelers three times last calendar year and Pittsburgh hasn't won in Baltimore since 2012. The Ravens seem to elevate their game whenever they face their archrival. Ravens coach John Harbaugh's team is 6-2 after a bye week and it should get back several top players from injuries. However, the Ravens went 0-for-October and they've morphed into a shaky mistake-prone team that's struggled to defend its home field.
STEELERS INTANGIBLES: The Steelers have lost two straight games, but they still lead the division despite Roethlisberger's injury, the suspensions to Bell and Martavis Bryant (out for the year) and several defensive players missing time. Like the Ravens, the bye week gave Pittsburgh an opportunity to get healthier. They've spent all week hearing about the Ravens' recent dominance over them, so you'd expect to see a fired up and focused team. Pittsburgh has committed the fifth fewest penalties in the NFL.
PREDICTION: Their season hasn't officially reached the midpoint yet, but this game already has a last stand type of feel to it for the Ravens. It's inconceivable that the Ravens can lose five consecutive games — including three straight at home — fall two games back of the Steelers and still make a playoff run. I'd expect their effort level and sense of urgency will match the circumstances. However, it won't make up for the significant edge in offensive firepower the Steelers have over the Ravens.
Steelers 24, Ravens 23