The Steelers have lost four in a row to the Ravens and six of seven dating back three years, including a home playoff defeat two seasons ago.The Ravens haven't won a road game since Sept 25. They are 0-4 away from home since then. Their road wins were against the Browns and Jaguars. I think the Steelers are improving and the Ravens aren’t getting better down the stretch.
Run the ball and stop the run . . . how many times have we heard this phrase as the key to winning in football? This week’s match-up epitomizes this adage, but with a little bit of a twist. How committed the Ravens will be to running the ball will reveal if they believe they can take advantage of a defensive line missing both starting defensive ends. Joe Flacco has more pass attempts than anyone except Drew Brees. Flacco ranks 27th in the NFL in yards per passing attempt (6.54) and 25th in quarterback rating (84.8) and his 13 interceptions are tied for the seventh most in the league. They also are the second most he's ever thrown in a season. Even after Marty Mornhinweg replaced Marc Trestman, the Raven have remained a pass-oriented team.
Last week, the Ravens ran the ball for over 100 yards as a team, with Terrence West picking up 77 yards on 13 carries, but a large chunk of the Ravens rushing total came from one long run by West and a 39-yard jet sweep by wide receiver Michael Campanaro.
I believe the Steelers defense will continue to play sound defense against the run, tackle well, and be successful in the red zone. This combined with the Ravens proclivity to pass will result in the Steelers limiting the Ravens to 23 points, two touchdowns and three field goals. Sacks by Dupree, Harrison and Hargrave; interceptions by Ryan Shazier and Sean Davis.
Even though the Ravens rank high in run defense, cracks are beginning to show. The Ravens gave up 95 yards rushing to New England and the Eagles pounded them for 169 yards on 38 carries, enabling the Eagles to win the time of possession battle by 13 minutes. The Steelers are going to stay committed to the multiple tight end formations and the running game. Half of Le’Veon Bell’s carries this season have come with at least two tight ends and about one-third of those carries occurred from a three tight end formation. Look for this trend to continue, even without LaDarius Green.
The Eagles hardly threw the ball down the field last week, but the Ravens played most of the game with a two high safety look, almost daring the Eagles to run. If they play the run this way against the Steelers, look for large rushing numbers to be put up by Bell and others. If they bring a safety into the box, especially without Jimmy Smith at corner, look for a couple of big plays downfield. In fact, I think Sammie Coates gets behind the defense for a long TD pass.
A friend of a friend tells me the Steelers have worked on formations featuring Bell & Williams in the backfield, including one with Nix as well. They can run as well as pass out of it, with Bell and/or Williams (or both) motioning out, and one variation that looks like the triple option. I think we are going to see a lot of outside zone runs, and pulling guards getting to the second level. Look for at least one DeCastro on Suggs slobberknocker. The Ravens defensive lineman are very big and a couple of reports I have read say they appear to be wearing down.
The absence of Jimmy Smith will make passing very tempting to Haley & Ben. If Smith misses his second straight game, the Ravens will replace him with Shareece Wright, who has allowed six touchdowns in 10 games, according to Pro Football Focus. The last time Steelers played the Ravens with Roethlisberger, Bell and Brown in the lineup at home, Roethlisberger threw for 340 yards and 6 touchdowns. Jimmy Smith didn’t play in that game. I won’t predict that type of performance, but I believe the Steelers will put up 34 points, 4 touchdowns and two field goals. Touchdowns by AB, Bell, Coates and Xavier Grimble.
The Steelers earn their 600th win as an NFL franchise, as well as the AFC North title, 34 – 23 over the Ravens.