The divisional rivalry between the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5) and the Baltimore Ravens (9-2) has reached its second round. What was a significantly more intriguing match-up earlier in the season is now likely to be the playoff-clinching win the Ravens require.
Pittsburgh’s chances largely hinge on the health of quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger. If he can suit up and play at a high level, and that is a big if, will go a long way to determining Pittsburgh’s fate in the match.
It seems unlikely that former third-string quarterback, Charlie Batch, the Steelers’ run game and its defence can win on the road when back-up quarterback, Byron Leftwich and the Steelers’ running-backs and defence could not do so at home two weeks ago.
Playing in Baltimore has not been easy for the Steelers, especially of late. To be in with a chance, the Steelers require a healthy quarterback that can move the ball against a Ravens defence that has fallen from its former heights but still remains solid. Earlier this week, Steelers’ coach, Mike Tomlin said Roethlisberger was “50-50 to play”. Since then, comment from offensive coordinator, Todd Hailey have implied that the Steelers will not risk bringing their franchise player back so soon and have him reinjure himself.
If that’s the case, the Steelers will require a strong ground game more than ever. Running back, Jonathan Dwyer has been named as starter. He and fellow backs, Rashard Mendenhall, Issac Redman and Chris Rainey will have to avoid the costly fumbles that were a significant contributor to last week’s loss in Cleveland.
Going the other way, the last time the two teams met, the Steelers were largely effective in shutting down quarterback, Joe Flacco and half-back, Ray Rice. Flacco was only able to pass for 164 yards and Rice only gained 40 yards on 20 carries on the ground but was able to collect a further 53 yards through the air. However, the Steelers were able to keep both players (and all the rest of the offense) out of the endzone, only allowing a touchdown on a punt return. This week, with the crowd behind them, Flacco and Rice are likely to be significantly more effective. Look for the two to connect on check-downs, screens and designed short passes out of the backfield.
In the last encounter between the two teams, the Steelers shifted their focus from wide receiver, Anquan Boldin to fellow Raven receiver, Torrey Smith. By putting their best cornerback, Ike Taylor on Smith and generally rolling safety coverage his way, Pittsburgh was able to remove Smith from the game and largely limit Boldin’s impact. They will have to continue to do so this week, if they want any chance at coming away with the win.
Look for the Steelers to lose whether Roethlisberger plays or not. The Ravens are too good at home and the Steelers have not shown that they can win there in quite some time. The game will be shown on CBS at 4:25 PM EST. It will be the late CBS game for most of the nation, with only Denver, Ohio, Kentucky, and parts of northern California and Nevada missing out on the grudge re-match.