RAVENS @ STEELERS (-2 ½)
OVER/UNDER @ 40 ½
It was once viewed as the most vicious rivalry in all of sport but as of late the luster has dulled on the semi-seasonal showdowns between the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Both teams are struggling with their offensive lines and that has placed pressure on the passing games of each team and on the respective defenses, which have been asked to pull up the slack for offensive inefficiencies.
On Sunday something has to give.
Since John Harbaugh became the Ravens head coach in 2008 the clubs have squared off 12 times with the Steelers winning 7 of those contests, 2 of which were in the postseason. Remove the Ravens 35-7 dominant performance over the Steelers to open the 2011 season and the remaining 11 games have been decided on average by four points.
Eight of those 11 games were decided by 3 points, including the last 3 contests. The Ravens do have a three game winning streak at Heinz Field.
Sunday’s game at Heinz promises to be another defensive struggle that will go down to the wire with the winner likely decided by which quarterback can deal best without the presence of a running game. The Ravens rushing attack is ranked 27th while the Steelers is 31st.
WHEN THE RAVENS HAVE THE BALL
Joe Flacco brings a career QB Rating against the Steelers of 74.2 to Heinz Field although he’s been better over the last 3 seasons with an 84.6 rating. If Flacco is to have success against the Steelers the Ravens will need to be somewhat effective running the ball against the league’s 22nd ranked rushing defense and to that end they may want to loosen the Steelers a bit with first down passes.
Despite the fact that the Steelers have only 7 sacks this season, four by LaMarr Woodley, Dick LeBeau is likely to put pressure on the A Gap with delayed blitzes from their linebackers, something that Ravens center Gino Gradkowski has struggled with. Consequently the Ravens will need to avoid 3rd and long situations, particularly as the visitor.
Flacco has enjoyed success as a first down passer with a 94.4 rating and when he’s had positive yards of 3 or more on second down he’s chucked it to the tune of a 111.0 QBR. But on third down Flacco has struggled, posting a 52.0 QBR. Against the 4th rated passing defense, it would be naïve to think that the Ravens will be any better passing on third down if they aren’t productive on first and second downs.
WHEN THE STEELERS HAVE THE BALL
Roethlisberger faces the league’s 17th ranked pass defense, one that has given up a league high 10 plays of 40+ yards. His career rating against the Ravens during the Harbaugh era is 74.1.
On defense the Ravens need to eliminate the big play. They will likely see Roethlisberger getting the ball out quickly in order to neutralize Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil and test the perimeter with bubble screens and slants as part of an effort to get the Steelers speedy receivers an opportunity for YAC against a secondary that sometimes struggles to tackle.
Turnovers often dictate the outcome of these physical battles. The Ravens come into the game with a (-3) differential while the Steelers are at (-9).
The Ravens will need to start fast and that means allowing Joe Flacco to do what he does best – run the sugar huddle offense. He’ll also need to have a big game from a receiver not named Torrey Smith who will likely be shadowed by the underrated Ike Taylor.
In the end, LeBeau will find a way to take advantage of the struggling Gradkowski and force a Flacco fumble that will prove costly – something we’ve seen all too often when these clubs go at it.
Meanwhile Roethlisberger will at some point break containment and connect downfield with the likes of Emmanuel Sanders or Antonio Brown against a secondary that is too often generous.
The Ravens Heinz Field streak ends…
STEELERS 16, RAVENS 13
Last Week: 0-1 v. Winner, 1-0 v. Spread
Season Total: 2-4 v. Winner, 3-3 v. Spread