By Christina Rivers
The Pittsburgh Steelers will face a very familiar foe when they travel to Baltimore on Sunday to take on the AFC North Division-leading Ravens. The Ravens claim they changed their game plan and haven't made any big roster moves, so play against them should be much the same as it was two weeks ago. The biggest challenge will be for the Steelers to get the right players to take their play to the next level if they want to keep the game close at all.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco spent last Sunday leading the Ravens from behind the San Diego Chargers in an overtime win. He had good communication with his receivers. He ran a fluid offense. Against San Diego, Flacco completed 30-of-51 passes for 355 yards. In order for the Steelers to contain Flacco, they will need their defensive front to be fully engaged. The Steelers' defense has been playing at game-changing levels for the past few weeks only to see their own offense struggle. If Flacco isn't disrupted, he could blow the game wide open. Torey Smith is Flacco's top target.
Running back Ray Rice has shown to be able to turn a game into a win, time and time again. Against the Chargers, Rice had a 30-yard catch on a fourth-and-29 play. It kept the Ravens in the game. He was able to get the Chargers focused on him and that opened up passing to Anquan Boldin and tight end Dennis Pitta. Going into this weekend's game, Rice may have caused a discourtesy that won't be forgotten by the Steelers or their fans. As he walked off of Heinz Field the last time these two teams met this season, Rice draped a 'Terrible Towel' over his head. The act threw Rice into the hot-seat, mainly with Steelers fans who see the golden towel as an icon and those who 'abuse' it as enemy number one. Rice said he meant no disrespect, and when Cameron Heyward was asked about Rice's actions, Heyward said that Rice's action "shows he just wants to be a Steeler." Rice admitted he's heard all about his 'Terrible Towel' incident, mainly from Steelers fans. "You aren't going to catch me out there burning the towel or doing anything to disrespect their organization," said Rice. "I don't regret doing anything that I did with the towel because I didn't disrespect it. I don't do that kind of stuff. I actually traded a fan my gloves after the game for the towel."
When Rice was interviewed about a possible turn in tide in the Ravens/Steelers rivalry, he said, "They won many Super Bowls. That is a testament to them...I don't think the tide will change until we win our Super Bowls." Rice said that the Steelers' win-loss record "never really matters because [the Steelers' team] always finds a way to creep back into the hunt." Steelers offensive lineman Willie Colon recently made a comment that the Ravens have built their team to beat the Steelers, to which Rice said, "Any time you are trying to get where the top dog of the division is you are going to build a team around how to beat those guys. You have to be a team that can compete with the Steelers. I think we've done that over the past few years, and I think we've done pretty well at it."
With the Steelers' top-ranked defense in the league (statistically), the Ravens will have a battle. Ryan Clark, Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote have all been having consistently good games. On the Ravens' side, they have seen an improvement in their defense over the past couple of weeks, but they've lost some of their overall toughness.
The Steelers and other teams have shown that the Ravens are vulnerable against the run. With Jonathan Dwyer named as the starter and the new top running back for the Steelers on the depth chart, the Ravens will have to contend with his ability to get extra yardage at the end of the play. The Ravens will not be able to just focus on Dwyer, however, because the Steelers will play other offensive backs as needed. The Ravens will count on Bernard Pollard, their team's best tackler this season with 82, to contain the running game and Ed Reed to prevent any long passes downfield.
What hurt the Steelers two weeks ago when they lost to the Ravens at home was special teams. The Ravens are showing why they are considered one of the best special teams units in the National Football League. Jacoby Jones, who returned a kick against the Steelers for a touchdown and created just enough distance in the score for the Ravens to hold on for the win, has three total returns for touchdowns this season. Kicker Justin Tucker is 22-of-24 in field goal attempts going into Week 13. The Steelers need to improve their ability to prevent run-backs and pin the Ravens deep in their own territory.
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh weighed in on the game and how he is preparing his team to meet the Steelers for the second time in three weeks. "The good news is there's not as much volume of work," said Harbaugh. "Both teams know each other so well, it's a little more detailed that way." Harbaugh said that the Ravens aren't focusing on who will be the signal caller for Pittsburgh come Sunday. As for predicting who will start and at what position, Harbaugh stated, "To get caught up in who might be playing is something that wouldn't be of any value to us. We just don't have time to do it and it won't get us anywhere." "We don't know who's going to be under center," said outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. "If [Roethlisberger is] in there, he's in there – it definitely changes things." Suggs stated that the Ravens will be prepared for whomever the Steelers start at quarterback.
Harbaugh admitted they would be keeping an eye on Steelers receiver Antonio Brown and the possible return of strong safety Troy Polamalu. "[Brown is] a playmaker," Harbaugh admitted. "He's a guy that can score from any part of the field." The changes that the Ravens' offense will make if Polamalu plays will focus on defending their individual positions. "Troy has a little more leeway in terms of changing the defense on the run. He does that and does a great job of communication that to the other defensive backs...He's a guy you really have to track and can't really be certain about where he's going to be playing."
"Troy is a great player, and he has his little things, he just has a good knack for the game of football," Flacco said. "He just has a feel for the game. While you try to combat that and account for him, there is always a certain amount that you really can't account for what he is going to do."
"Our goal every week is to try to be 1-0 for the week," Harbaugh insisted. "This week it's against our biggest rival and against our toughest opponent, and that's our goal again this week."
Fast Stats – Ravens
- Joe Flacco has completed 236-of-392 passing attempts through Week 12 for 2,850 yards. He has thrown for 14 touchdowns but has been intercepted seven times and sacked 26 times, giving him a passer rating of 87.0.
- Ray Rice has rushed 186 times so far this season for 794 yards and seven touchdowns. As a dual-threat, Rice also had 50 receptions for 404 yards.
- Torrey Smith leads the Ravens in receiving with 39 catches for 699 yards and seven touchdowns. Tight end Dennis Pitta is second with 44 receptions for 423 yards and four touchdowns. Anquan Boldin has 50 receptions for 669 yards and one touchdown.
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Christina Rivers is freelance journalist and photographer with a life-long love of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Credentialed with the organization, Christina provides a unique perspective gained through her knowledge and understanding of Steelers history, the Rooney family and relationships with past and present players. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.
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