November 27, 2013 in What to Look For
Ravens-Steelers. There are few rivalries that can match the intensity and quality of games produced each time these two play. Proof? Ten of the last thirteen games played between the two (including two playoff games) have been decided by three points. Eight of the last nine regular season matchups have been decided by three points.
Earlier this season, these division rivals played in Pittsburgh to a final score of 19-16 with the Steelers victorious. It was a typical Ravens-Steelers game as each team only scored one touchdown, both teams where held under 20 points and the margin of victory was three points.
This week, the rivalry gets a Thanksgiving flavor — turkey to be exact. The Steelers head to Baltimore for the night game on Thanksgiving. Two years ago, the Ravens hosted the San Francisco 49ers on Thanksgiving night and won 16-6.
For the second time this season, the Ravens will wear their black jerseys — just like they did against the 49ers. The Ravens also wore these jerseys earlier in the season against the Green Bay Packers. This time around though, the Ravens will be wearing black pants as well, to go for the all-black look.
1. Contain Ben Roethlisberger
At quarterback for the Steelers is Roethlisberger, a veteran who has been their starter since early in the 2004 season (his rookie year).
Against the Ravens in week seven, he went 17-of-23 for 160 yards with one touchdown, zero interceptions and a quarterback rating of 107.2. Nothing spectacular, but he led the Steelers to a victory — the most important thing.
The new breed of NFL quarterbacks are dual-threats. They can run the ball or pass the ball. Roethlisberger is not a running quarterback. Entering this season he was averaging 112 rushing yards per season, which is about average for a quarterback. What he can do however, is move around in the pocket and buy time for his receivers to get open down field.
At 6'5", 241 lbs, he is a load to bring down. More often then not, he doesn't go down on first contact. When he is at his best, he is moving around in the pocket, avoiding pass rushers and extending the play. Of course, the Steelers would prefer it if this didn't have to happen, but the performance of their offensive line over his career has necessitated it.
At the beginning of the month, he had been sacked 406 times in his career — the most of any quarterback in the last 10 years. This season, the Steelers have allowed 37 sacks (over three per game) which is tied for the fifth most in the NFL.
The Ravens' pass rush is currently tied for first in the NFL for the most sacks (37) with four other teams. In week seven, the Ravens mustered three sacks — one apiece by Terrell Suggs and Brandon Williams and half-a-sack from Haloti Ngata and Elvis Dumervil.
Suggs, who is second on the team with nine sacks (Dumervil has 9.5), hasn't recorded a sack in the last three games. Playing the Steelers now is a probably a good thing for him as he has had success against them during his career. He has sacked Roethlisberger 15.5 times in his career which is one of, if not, the highest sack total by a single player on Roethlisberger.
Over the years, he has burned many teams with this ability to extend plays and the Ravens are no exception. It will be key for the Ravens to take him down right away. The less he is able to scramble around, the more likely a team is to beat the Steelers.
2. Stop the Run
One of the main reasons that the Steelers were able to win a few weeks ago was because they successfully ran the ball against the Ravens.
As a team, they ran for 141 yards on 29 carries (4.9 yards per carry). Doing most of the carrying was second-round pick Le'Veon Bell. He took 19 handoffs for 93 yards (also 4.9 yards per carry). His longest rush of the game was only 11 yards, so his numbers aren't inflated by one big run. He was constantly gaining small chunks of yardage on the normally stout Ravens' defense.
These numbers from the last game are even worse from the Ravens perspective when the season-long numbers are looked at. The Steelers are one of the few teams that are just as bad as the Ravens this year at running the ball. The Steelers are 30th in the league in rushing yards (850), yards per game (77.3) and yards per carry (3.3). The Ravens' run defense is the 11th, 11th and 5th best is these categories respectively. They shouldn't be getting gashed by the Steelers' run game.
If the Ravens want to win their rematch against the Steelers, they can't let this happen to them again. Good run defenses shouldn't be giving up 141 yards against the third-worst rushing team in the league.
Stopping the Steelers' rushing attack, will make the Steelers' offense one-dimensional. When this occurs, the Ravens can fully commit to defending the pass — something the Steelers are much better at.
3. Run the Ball
Like the Steelers, the Ravens' offense has struggled to run the ball all season long. However, the Steelers' run defense isn't exactly top-notch.
Normally strong against the run, they are having a down year. They are tied for 23rd in yards allowed (1,307) and yards per game (118.8) and rank 21st in yards per carry (4.2).
Their best defender is middle linebacker Lawrence Timmons who has 90 tackles on the year and had a whopping 17 against the Ravens in week seven. The next best Steeler had eight in week seven and the best Raven (Daryl Smith) had nine.
More from week seven, the Ravens ran the ball 26 times for 82 yards (3.2 yards per carry). Starting running back Ray Rice had 15 carries for 45 yards (3.0 yards per carry) and backup Bernard Pierce had six carries for 13 yards (2.2 yards per carry). The sad thing is that this was one of the more successful games for the Ravens this year running the ball.
An advantage that the Ravens will have this week that they didn't have last time they faced the Steelers will be Steelers' nose tackle Steve McLendon being out with an ankle injury. This is a key blow to the Steelers' run defense.
Last week, the Ravens brought in backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor who is one of the dual-threat quarterbacks talked about earlier. Taking snaps at quarterback and wide receiver, he ran the ball four times for seven yards, caught one pass for six yards and had his only pass attempt dropped. His longest run of the day was for 17 yards, but losses of six and seven brought down his total yards.
This set of plays for Taylor provided the run game with a little spark early, but the New York Jets' defense quickly caught on. Starting quarterback Joe Flacco has made it clear this week that he isn't a fan of the Wildcat formation that brings Taylor in at quarterback. Due to these comments, it will be interesting to see what offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell does. Will he listen to Flacco or not?
While the Ravens may not see success right away running the ball, they need to keep pounding the ball against he Steelers. Eventually, the Ravens will get bigger chunks of yards as the Steelers' defense gets tired.
When games are decided by a few points, turnovers are usually a deciding factor. Especially when you have two historically good defenses facing off.
Naturally, there are exceptions to the rule as the week seven matchup saw the Steelers produce the only turnover (a Heath Miller turnover), yet they still won. However, you can't continually win close game while losing the turnover battle.
This year both the Ravens and the Steelers have negative turnover differentials.
At negative three, the Ravens are slightly above the Steelers who are at negative four. Neither of these numbers are something to be proud of though.
The Ravens have forced 16 turnovers (nine interceptions and seven fumbles) while turning it over 19 times (14 interceptions and five fumbles). Flacco is the cause of this as he has already set a new career-high in interceptions — not what the Ravens envisioned when the signed him to a record-breaking contract extension this offseason.
The Steelers have forced 14 turnovers (seven interceptions and fumbles) and have turned it over 18 times (10 interceptions and eight fumbles). These eight fumbles are the second-worst in the AFC. There isn't one player who has dropped the ball per say; it is a collective failing by the team.
In a what is expected to be a close game, turnovers are going to be one of the main deciding factors in who wins the game. Whoever wins the turnover battle will win this game.