Thanksgiving night marks the 36th game between the Ravens and the Steelers, by far Baltimore’s most common opponent.
As you’re likely aware, most of these games result in extremely close scores no matter where the game is being played. The last four games in this series have all been decided by three points.
The total combined score in those four games: Baltimore 72, Pittsburgh 72.
This one is a de facto elimination game for the loser and a strong step toward the AFC North title for the winner. As usual, the stakes are high.
Although they don’t take the field, another integral element to this rivalry is each team’s head coach. Both John Harbaugh and Mike Tomlin have won Super Bowls within the first five years as their team’s head coach.
How often does that happen, much less twice in the same division?
Furthermore, they’re both among the best at winning games. Harbaugh ranks 3rd (64.8 percent) and Tomlin ranks 6th (63.6 percent) in career winning percentage among current head coaches.
Here’s how Harbaugh and the Ravens can add to that winning percentage on Thanksgiving night.
1. Smash them in the mouth
This shouldn’t be hard to figure out. Each team knows the other team’s tendencies and schemes. This game and rivalry has always been about who’s more physical and who wants it more.
Baltimore’s offensive line has a big challenge and opportunity in front of them, considering they’ve struggled knocking defenders off the ball this year.
Speaking of smashing the opponent in the mouth, Haloti Ngata literally did just that when the two teams played in Baltimore during the 2010 season.
2. Sack Roethlisberger
The Ravens are tied for the league lead in sacks (37) and the Steelers are ranked 28th in the league in sacks allowed (37). If you’ve ever watch Roethlisberger play, you know a pressure or a hit really doesn’t mean much. If you’re defending him, you need to sack him.
In 2006, Bart Scott may have delivered the most painful sack Roethlisberger has ever experienced.
3. Bracket Brown
Six weeks ago I had this as one of my keys to the game when the Ravens played in Pittsburgh. I wrote: “Antonio Brown is Pittsburgh’s biggest offensive threat, so it would seem to be worth devoting an extra defender to cover him.”
In that game, Brown had six receptions for 50 yards. That’s a win for the defense.
The good news is the Ravens have had recent success against Pittsburgh’s best offensive player. The bad news is that player leads the NFL in receptions (80) and ranks 2nd in receiving yards (1,044).
The Ravens cannot afford a single lapse in coverage or focus against Brown, like this one that cost them a real shot at Super Bowl XLV.
4. Protect Flacco
When Flacco has time to throw, he’s among the best in the game at delivering the ball to anywhere on the field in a hurry. But when he has constant pressure in his face, it’s another story.
Remember that time Troy Polamalu came unblocked off of Flacco’s blind side in 2010? Here’s the clip to refresh your memory.
I still for the life of me cannot fathom how anyone, much less a potential Hall of Fame safety, runs scot-free to the quarterback. It’s completely inexcusable and unacceptable.
5. Pick on their corners
It’s been known for a while that although Pittsburgh’s defense is always tough, any weakness would be found when looking at their cornerback position. Ike Taylor is a big name, but he gets called for penalties more often than a player of his repute should.
As a comparison, Corey Graham had more interceptions last week against the Jets (2) than Ike Taylor has had in his last 27 games (1).
If you were in need of more proof that the way to attack the Steelers defense is through the air, check out Joe Flacco lead his team to a thrilling, come-from-behind win at Pittsburgh in 2011.
Prediction: Ravens 20, Steelers 16
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!