It’s Steelers week.
If you’ve been around Baltimore for any amount of time, you know what this game means. It’s a physical, nasty, tense, closely-contested game. There is no bigger opponent. There is no more important game, at least to Ravens fans.
For Baltimore to win this game means they go to 4-3 (2-0) heading into their bye week with two more divisional games immediately following. There’s very little margin for error.
Speaking of margins, you’d probably guess that this has been a close series, and you’d be right.
Since the Harbaugh era began in 2008, the Ravens’ record in Pittsburgh is 3-4. Every game has been decided by nine points or less. The total combined score: Pittsburgh 144, Baltimore 131.
So going by the average score, Pittsburgh should win, 21-19.
The current spread in Vegas favors Pittsburgh by 1 ½ points. Go figure.
Although this is one of those games where film study might be less important than it is against other teams (due to familiarity), it still helps to identify goals that will help you win.
Here are five goals the Ravens should have on Sunday.
1) Start fast
It’s no mystery that the Ravens have been getting off to horrible starts recently. In the first quarter of their last five games, they’ve scored only three points – total.
That obviously won’t cut it, especially in Pittsburgh when having to deal with such a raucous crowd.
Something that will help Baltimore start fast is to focus on early downs, so as to not get behind in the down and distance, like they did so often last week.
The Steelers defense isn’t as good as it has been, but those men can still make life miserable for opposing offenses. The Ravens can’t afford to start slowly and let the Steelers gain momentum.
2) Fire off the ball
This game is about who wants it more. Whose will is greater?
Especially on the offensive line, the Ravens need to “fire off” and jolt the Steelers. This is less about X’s and O’s and more about desire.
The Ravens have it in them. We saw it last year with basically the same offensive linemen (except for Matt Birk, who retired in the offseason, and Eugene Monroe, who is an upgrade over Bryant McKinnie).
The Ravens are ranked 27th in rushing, gaining an average of 72.7 yards per game. The Steelers’ rush defense is barely better (22nd), giving up an average of 114.8 yards per game.
As hard as it’s been to establish the run lately, there’s an opportunity for the Ravens to turn things around on Sunday.
3) Bracket Brown on third down
Antonio Brown is a small player with big-time ability.
He’s currently second in the league in receptions (41), sixth in receiving yards (498) and fourth in receiving yards per game (99.6).
I can’t tell you how many times the Ravens have had Ben Roethlisberger in their collective grasp, only to see him escape and find Antonio Brown for a first down. If the Ravens don’t pay Brown proper respect, he will shred their pass defense.
Whether it’s bracket coverage or not, Baltimore needs to enforce the middle of the field, where Brown likes to “sit down in the zone.” If it were me, I’d bracket Brown with cornerback Corey Graham and linebacker Arthur Brown.
Besides, Brown is Pittsburgh’s biggest offensive threat, so it would seem to be worth devoting an extra defender to cover him.
4) Sack Roethlisberger
One thing the Ravens have been doing extremely well this year is sacking the quarterback. Their 22 sacks rank second among all teams. On the flip side, the Steelers are struggling to protect the passer, as they’ve given up 19 sacks through five games (ranking 26th).
We know Ben Roethlisberger’s trademark is escaping sacks. At 6’5”, 241 pounds, he’d be hard to sack even if he wasn’t running around.
Enter Terrell Suggs.
There’s something about playing the Steelers that brings out the best in Suggs. In 18 career games against the Steelers, he’s recorded 18.5 sacks.
There are players who say they don’t get into rivalries, and then there’s Suggs, who embraces rivalries—particularly this one.
Fortunately for Baltimore, they also have stars like Elvis Dumervil (5.0 sacks) and Arthur Jones (3.0 sacks) who can rush the passer from different positions.
5) No emotional penalties
As badly as the Ravens want to win this game, getting caught up in the emotion of it will not help them do so. Sure that’s easier said than done, but by mentally preparing for adversity and taunting by the opposition, they’ll know how to act when that moment comes.
Obviously no team wants to commit a penalty, but emotional penalties almost always come with a price tag of 15 yards.
In a game so tightly contested as this one, field position is crucial.
So is poise.
Prediction: Ravens 16, Steelers 15