Sunday, November 18, 2012

Week Eleven: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens Preview

Old and slow. The Pittsburgh Steelers defense. At least that's what we were told through the first handful of weeks of the NFL season. Right division. Wrong team. The Baltimore Ravens, the mighty Baltimore Ravens, have been struggling mightily on defense all season. Given, injuries have been a big reason for that. They started the year without Terrell Suggs and by the time he came back, Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb were sidelined. But as much as they want to use that as an excuse, they can't. The Steelers have dealt with the same problems with James Harrison, Troy Polamalu, and the occasional injuries from Ryan Clark and LaMarr Woodley. This is an important game for both teams as it always is. But it's going to take on a different look compared to those battles in the past.

Steelers Offense vs. Ravens Defense: I sort of buried the lead in my introduction to this game. The biggest story is certainly the fact that Ben Roethlisberger won't be on the field after almost getting killed on Monday night. That leaves Byron Leftwich as the starting quarterback who believe it or not, has never started a game for the Steelers. Largely because he has had injury problems of his own. In any case, Leftwich is a solid back up. One of the best in the league. Off the top of my head, I can only think of about five backups I'd rather have. But that doesn't change the fact that the game plan is going to have to drastically change with him behind center.

First of all, the running game doesn't necessarily has to change but it has to be effective. Rashard Mendenhall is going to start today after dealing with his rash of injuries. Mike Tomlin has been saying that he would ride the hot hand. Well neither Isaac Redman or Jonathan Dwyer were very hot on Monday night against the Chiefs. So that puts Mendenhall on the field against the league's 26th ranked rush defense.

If Monday wasn't proof that the passing attack needs to change with Leftwich, then I don't know what is. Todd Haley came to Pittsburgh on a platform that he didn't necessarily have a system and that he called plays to his personnel's skill set. That means that the dink and dunk offense is going to have to go away for a few weeks. Leftwich just can't do that. He's not quick enough. The wide receiver screens and short passes that have had so much success this season were failing miserably on Monday night. However, when Leftwich was given the opportunity to throw intermediate to deep passes, he looked pretty good. Of course, changing the style of passing puts more pressure on an offensive line which has had an unexpectedly large amount of success this year, but it's the only way.

Steelers Defense vs. Ravens Offense: It is certainly a fact that the Ravens are now an offensive team rather than a defensive one. That remains true despite the enormous amount of credit that Joe Flacco receives for essentially no reason. The only time he has been the best quarterback on the field over the course of this rivalry have been the games in which Roethlisberger hasn't played. Unfortunately, this will be one of those games.

Even though Flacco is going to be the best quarterback on the field on Sunday, it doesn't change the fact that he shouldn't be the focal point of the Ravens offense. The Ravens have a tendency to fall in love with their weapons in the passing game and totally forget about the fact that they have one of the top five running backs in the NFL. For the Steelers sake, they should hope that this is one of those games where they will put it on Flacco. This defense is better defending the pass than they are the run, especially with the emergence of Keenan Lewis. Kansas City proved how the Steelers run defense can be gashed. It's up to the Ravens to take advantage of that.

Maybe the biggest key for the Steelers defensively is the fact that Clark is going to play. He sustained his second concussion in a matter of three weeks in the last game but he has been cleared to play. While that terrifies me and I really wish he wouldn't play for his own well being, from a pure football standpoint it is fantastic for the Steelers. He has played at an All-Pro quality with his partner in crime in the secondary out for most of the season.

Prediction: A lot of Steeler fans are taking the bridge with Roethlisberger's injury being a big problem. I don't think it's as bad as a lot of people think. At least not for this week. I will probably be singing an entirely different tune when the Steelers travel to Baltimore in two weeks. But at home, in this situation, I think they can do enough to keep the game close and pull it out in the end. That being said, I don't think it's going to happen. They will keep it close but I don't think it is going to be enough. Ravens 19, Steelers 17

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