There was a time in the rivalry between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers that when one team got to 17 points it was considered a “high-scoring” game. Things are not once they once were in this rivalry and this Sunday’s game could be a perfect example despite some better than expected defensive ranks by the Ravens.
Ravens’ Defensive Rankings: Overall: 2nd, Passing: 5th, Rushing: 3rd
Steelers’ Offensive Ranks: Overall: 20th, Passing: 15th, Rushing: 24th
While the Ravens’ offense on been on the struggle bus all season, the defense has actually been respectable at times. Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees gets as much out of this group as anyone could. For him, it starts with Brandon Williams on the nose. He is an important part of the Ravens’ strength up the middle. C.J. Mosley is the key inside backer and he leads the team with three interceptions. While in the back is veteran Eric Weddle who many thought was going to come to Pittsburgh this past offseason.
How do the Steelers Attack?
With Ben Roethlisberger on track to start, I still think this game should be about the run first. Do not mistake that for lining up with three tight ends and powering the ball down-field. Todd Haley needs to do to Baltimore what many teams do to the Steelers’ defense. He needs to stick with three wide receivers, a tight end and Le’Veon Bell in the backfield. This is what we call ’11’ personnel.
With this in mind, the Steelers have to win on first down and that’s something they’ve struggled to do. They rank 27th in the NFL in yards gained on first down. The reason for this is because the Ravens have been excellent on third down. They are the second best defense in the NFL at stopping teams from converting on third down. They give up a first down only 33% of the time.
The good news for the Steelers is that they are seventh in the league at converting third downs (43.3%) and that falls back to gaining four or more yards on first down.
By spreading out the Ravens, it allows the Steelers’ receivers to work underneath especially on crossing routes. If those aren’t there, then Jesse James (and dare I say Ladarius Green?) can sit down for dump offs.
The Ravens have have had decent success keeping Antonio Brown out of the end zone. That doesn’t bother me as long as the Steelers can get other guys the touchdowns. I expect Brown to get some looks Sunday. Haley has had plenty of time to figure out how to deal with the double-coverage Brown has faced most of the season. While Roethlisberger hasn’t forced the ball to Brown as he did last year, I think he goes to him more often on Sunday.
The bottom line is that the Steelers’ offensive success will ride with Bell and the offensive line. Pees has done an excellent job in confusing the Steelers up front by bring pressure from a variety of places and disguising his looks well. Bell’s success running the ball however can limit some of that.
The Ravens’ D has fattened up on poor competition. The Steelers can do some things that should put them in their place.