Baltimore Ravens

With Jimmy Smith likely out, Steelers might come out throwing Sunday

Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was just minutes into his conference call when a reporter asked him if the Steelers were going to try to run the ball like they did in Week 9 against the Ravens or will they come out throwing?

Roethlisberger didn't give a hint.


"This sounds like a coach. Is this Coach Pees [Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees] talking? You can't pull a Rex Ryan on me," Roethlisberger said, laughing.

The Steelers' game plan remains one of the most-intriguing aspects of Sunday's game against the Ravens at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.


In the showdown in Baltimore on Nov. 6, Pittsburgh stuck with an unsuccessful running game for nearly three quarters. It produced just 36 yards on 18 carries, before the Steeler turned to Roethlisberger, who had a 23-yard touchdown pass and a 4-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

In that game Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin might have been trying to protect Roethlisberger, who had missed extended time recovering from major knee surgery. Roethlisberger has never used that as an excuse.

"Yes, well, I had major surgery [three weeks before], and I went back out there a little early," Roethlisberger said. "But I don't ever make excuses. If I wasn't able to get out there and play … I still ran for a touchdown. It was not a real long scamper or anything, but I was able to move around and what not. You want to be as healthy as you can against these guys, because that is how good this defense is."

The Ravens will get a healthy Roethlisberger Sunday — at least as close to 100 percent as he can be this time of year. The 13th year pro out of Miami of Ohio has completed 304 of 476 passes for 3,540 yards and 26 touchdowns. He has thrown 11 interceptions, but has a completion rate of 63.9 and a QB rating of 94.9.

Pittsburgh has been balanced on offense, rushing 359 times for 1,564 yards, led by halfback Le'Veon Bell's 1,146 yards on 241 carries. After failing to run the ball against the Ravens in the 21-14 loss earlier in the season, the Steelers might opt to go with Roethlisberger and the passing game.

Why not?

The Ravens have struggled against top quarterbacks all season, beating only Roethlisberger, who was coming off of an injury, and the Bengals' Andy Dalton, who was without star receiver A. J. Green. The Ravens have lost to quarterbacks Derek Carr (Raiders), Tom Brady (Patriots), Kirk Cousins (Redskins), Dak Prescott (Cowboys) and Eli Manning (Giants).

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"They present so many challenges and matchups across the board. They're playing outstanding football," Ravens safety Eric Weddle said of the Steelers. "They've won five in a row. They're running the ball efficiently. Ben is playing outstanding, making plays inside the pocket and outside. We just have to play each play like it will determine if we win or lose, in all honesty. If we give up a big play that may be the difference."


The Ravens, ranked No. 10 in pass defense, allowing 230.5 yards a game, will probably be without veteran Jimmy Smith (ankle), the team's top cornerback. Pittsburgh has the league's No. 5 passing offense led by receiver Antonio Brown, who has 85 catches for 1,173 yards and 10 touchdowns. Bell is second on the team with 72 catches for 601 yards and receiver Eli Rogers has 38 receptions for 449 yards. But of course, all the attention goes to Brown, and the Ravens may not have Smith.

"Well, he is a tremendous cornerback," Roethlisberger said. "He is long. He runs. He is smart; he knows how to play the game. He is a good football player, so if he is not going to be out there, you take away one of the best in the business. Of course it is a little different, but they are still the best defense — one of the best defenses — in the NFL. They are going to have other guys that they are ready to plug in and make up for it."

The Ravens have had their share of success against Roethlisberger, who is 9-8 against them. But his 349 completions, 4,170 yards passing, 28 touchdowns and 33 pass plays of 25 yard or more are all first among quarterbacks against the Ravens in regular season history.

It's seems clear that the Steelers need to rely on Roethlisberger's arm to win the game, but you never know. Tomlin might fall into the macho trap where he decides to dig in and go toe to toe against the Ravens with his running game.

And the Ravens would be more than happy to oblige him. They'd prefer that then Roethlisberger throwing over the top.