AFC Wild-Card Playoff: Baltimore Ravens 10-6 at Pittsburgh Steelers 11-5, Heinz Field
TV: NBC Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth
Radio: Steelers Nation Radio, WDVE Bill Hillgrove, Tunch Ilkin, Craig Wolfley
Line: Baltimore +3
AFC North: Cincinnati at Indianapolis on Sunday, Cleveland-Season Over
The Pittsburgh Steelers won their 21st division title last weekend by defeating the Bengals. That earned them a home game and a third and final game for 2014 with the Baltimore Ravens.
While the rivalry may have lost some luster in recent years, it’s still Steelers-Ravens and that means a war is coming. Here’s what we need to see in order for the Steelers to advance to Denver.
1. Run Well Without Bell. Steelers superstar Le’Veon Bell has not practiced this week and I still believe he won’t even dress on Saturday night. That said, the Steelers dominated the Ravens last time they met without much of a contribution from Bell.
Regardless, I will not be a bit surprised to see Josh Harris have a nice game running the ball. If he can average four yards or more per carry that will go a long way towards keeping the Ravens from constant pressure on Ben Roethlisberger.
While I don’t expect much from newly-signed Ben Tate, I can see a scenario or two where he gets a few carries. One way or another, the running game has to do “just enough” without Bell in the line-up.
2. Check the Ravens Deep Threat. Much like the swallows returning to Capistrano the same day every year, you can guarantee the Ravens and Joe Flacco will go deep on the first series of the game. As Mark Kaboly of the Trib tweeted, the Ravens lead the NFL in pass interference penalties drawn in 2014.
Last week, the Steelers secondary did a very good job of limiting the deep balls to A.J. Green and that has to continue this week. Torrey Smith and Steve Smith will press Antwon Blake, William Gay and Brice McCain much more than did the Bengals.
One way to combat this is to get pressure on Flacco from the get-go whether it comes in the form of the blitz or just pressure from four pass rushers. To me these are cheap points and the Steelers can’t allow any.
3. Big Ben has to be Patient. In their last meeting, Ben Roethlisberger threw six touchdown passes. As fans, we need to remember that doesn’t happen everyday and we need to temper our expectations.
So to does Big Ben because if Bell can’t go, he’s going to have to be patient with those who are is check-down receivers. A major part of Bell’s game is being the dump-off when receivers down-field aren’t open.
Look for Heath Miller to be a factor but don’t be surprised to see Markus Wheaton or even Lance Moore become a factor in shorter routes to make up for the loss of Bell. Either way, Roethlisberger can’t force it.
Marc Uhlmann writes for and co-owns www.steelcityblitz.com. Follow him on Twitter @SteelDad and the website @SCBlitz. Check us out on Facebook at facebook.com/steelcityblitz and on Fancred.com. You can hear him weekly during the season on game day on the Trib-Live Radio Steelers Pre-Game
photo courtesy wbaltv.com