Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens – 8:25 p.m.
All-Time Record: Steelers lead 23-16 (3-0 postseason)
Last Meeting: November 28, 2013 – Baltimore 22, Pittsburgh 20
The Steelers are on Thursday night football pretty early this season. Typically I could turn around a normal preview for a Thursday night game but with some stuff going on that just will not be possible. I won't be able to throw as much stuff into the preview this week but I think we all know what this game is going to be like. Games between these two teams are always close and no matter how bad or gone one or both teams are this game comes down to the wire.
There is a lot at stake for Baltimore in this game. The Steelers were able to squeak away with a week one victory over Cleveland but Baltimore was not able to do so against Cincinnati. They fell behind early and despite coming back they were beat by Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. That makes this game even more important. The Steelers would be able to survive at 1-1 after two week weeks but if Baltimore falls to 0-2, with both of those losses in the division and both at home, that would just be a huge hole to dig out of so early in the season.
The Ravens were not overly good last week. Joe Flacco threw the ball 62 (!!!) times and completed only 35 of them for 345 yards, a touchdown and a pick. His first half play was awful and if it weren't for the Bengals total incompetence to find the end zone (five field goals) they would have been out of the game before the half instead of down only 15-0. Flacco's main targets were Steve Smith and Dennis Pitta, who each had 15 targets, with Smith finishing with 118 yards on seven catches and Pitta catching 10 passes for 83 yards. Of Smith's 118 receiving yards 80 of those came off an 80 yard touchdown catch which Flacco made after getting flushed from the pocket.
The Steelers struggled in a big way against the no-huddle from the Browns and while the Ravens have played it in the past against the Steelers I would be shocked if they didn't do it more frequently against the Steelers. The Ravens didn't run any no-huddle against the Bengals outside of the final minute or two of each of the second and fourth quarters but after the Steelers got gashed last Sunday I would expect to see it more.
The Ravens running backs ran the ball only 17 times with Justin Forsett getting 70 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries while Bernard Pierce had 14 yards on six carries. I would assume the Ravens threw the ball as much as they did because they were behind but it was a game that was never really overly out of reach. Steelers/Ravens games typically are more traditional football games with a little more balance so expect Pierce to get the ball. Forsett is a nice change of pace back and if he is getting fed the ball then I would anticipate that meaning the Steelers were doing a decent job at stopping the run. That being said the Steelers allowed Terrance West to run for 100 yards on only 16 carries in his first NFL game so if the Steelers are gashed then I wouldn't be surprised.
The Steelers defense was largely atrocious in the second half of the game against Cleveland. The problem with that is that Cleveland was missing its best back (Ben Tate), two best receivers (Jordan Cameron, Josh Gordon), and had Brian Hoyer at quarterback. The Ravens are going to have much more talent on the field for the Steelers to deal with and if they didn't learn anything form last weekend then it is going to be a really long game for the defense and the offense is going to need to score at least 30 points to win.
The Steelers offense is going to have some opportunities to get to the Ravens. Lardarius Webb is still on the mend from a back injury so that leaves Chykie Brown to fill-in and he did not have a good showing last week, eventually getting beat on the Green 77 yard game-winning touchdown catch. If Antonio Brown is lined up opposite Chykie Brown then Ben Roethlisberger would be foolish not to exploit that. I doubt that the Ravens would let that happen but lets cross our fingers and hope.
The Steelers have the weapons to put up some points. Marcus Wheaton almost put up a 100 yard receiving game and Le'Veon Bell rushed for 109 yards and caught six passes for 88 more yards. The Ravens defense is predicated on causing havoc and flying to the ball but if the Steelers are able to spread them out that could stem some of the pressure that Roethlisberger sees and hopefully give him a little bit more time to make plays. The Steelers offensive line wasn't overly good in week one against Cleveland but the Steelers answered that, in the first half at least, with a lot of quick passes to get the ball out of Roethlisberger's hand quick. I would expect to see that again this week since the Ravens love to hit him and put him on his back as much as possible.
The big news of the week was the Ravens cutting ties with running back Ray Rice. As you know Rice had the altercation many months ago with his then fiancé and knocked her out. Well this week the elevator video came out leading the team to cut him and Roger Goodell to say that he was suspended indefinitely. That storyline is still playing out and is going to be the talk of every kind of news and sports so for the coming weeks. It would be foolish to think of this as not having an impact on the Ravens team but it is really hard to say how much of an impact. I am sure it will be nice for those players to get on the field and not have to think about the situation but how much preparation has been lost due to this? I am not sure how much that means since these teams know each other so well but who cares. This situation has spiraled so out of control. The whole situation is disgusting.
Prediction: The Steelers go down to Baltimore and get the win. It will be a three point victory or less because these games just are never more than that. The defense is going to have to be a whole lot better than what it showed against Cleveland but I think the offense is going to put some pressure on the Baltimore offense and Flacco has proven that he will make mistakes. Pittsburgh 27, Baltimore 24.