Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers Preview
If the (7-5) Baltimore Ravens want to keep their win streak and playoff aspirations alive, a win in Heinz Field against the (10-2) Pittsburgh Steelers would make a statement in the AFC.
After a brutal Monday night game in week 13 when the Steelers got the win over the Bengals, they did not leave that game without significant injuries. Ryan Shazier suffered a severe back injury and underwent spinal surgery on Wednesday. His injury goes beyond football and he will be missed on and off the field this season. Their backup middle linebacker Tyler Matakeivich also suffered a shoulder injury that kept him out of the rest of the game and did not practice this week. Antonio Brown played with a toe injury on Monday and even though he did not practice this week, I expect him to play and tough it out another week. Joe Haden was out Monday with a fibula injury and did not practice this week as well. This is according to the official Thursday injury report from both the Steelers and Ravens.
— Kyle P. Barber (@BB_KylePBarber) December 7, 2017
The Pittsburgh Steelers get back two starters for this Sunday night matchup against the Ravens.
Both safety Mike Mitchell and tight end Vance McDonald were out the previous week with ankle injuries but were in full participation in practice so I expect them to play. Rookie T.J. Watt was limited for the Steelers this week with a knee injury but with the other injuries and the 1 game suspension of rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, the Steelers are thin at linebacker and wide receiver for Week 14. Vince Williams and L.J. Fort are projected to start at inside linebacker while Eli Rogers and Darrius Heyward-Bay switch off as the 3rd wide receiver for the Steelers on Sunday.
The Baltimore Ravens have been relatively healthy the past few weeks despite the Jimmy Smith injury that occurred last week.
For the Ravens, rookie offensive guard Jermaine Eluemenor was limited due to a shoulder injury but is expected to come back this week. Linebacker C.J. Mosely was in full participation in practice with a neck injury while Jeremy Maclin did not practice with a back injury and linebacker Za’Darius Smith did not practice with a shoulder injury. I think Maclin does play but if Smith is questionable, the Ravens could give more snaps to rookie Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams. Even if Maclin plays, I think Michael Campanaro will be active over Breshad Perriman. Due to the Jimmy Smith injury (torn Achilles), rookie Jaylen Hill will most likely be activate as well.
Here are some keys to the game if the Baltimore Ravens want their 8th win this season with playoff implications.
Joe Flacco has to get into a rhythm early and take advantage of the secondary with Joe Haden out.
If Coty Sensabaugh or one of their rookie cornerbacks is on the outside other than Artie Burns, look for Flacco to target him throughout the game. With the style of game the Ravens are playing, turnovers have to be limited to an explosive offense like the Steelers. Last week, Flacco played like a different person as he had his best game as made some nice throws with anticipation and touch. He had a 105 quarterback rating as he threw for 269 yards and 2 touchdowns with a 63.9 completion percentage. If Flacco has a game like last week against the Detroit Lions, the offense could be productive once again as Flacco will probably look for the deep throw a few times if the offensive line can hold up against a good Steelers defensive line/ pass rush.
Mike Wallace could have a big impact in the passing game, whether or nor Jeremy Maclin plays or is limited in this game.
Wallace has been the most consistent Ravens wide receiver. He had a big game against the Steelers in week 4 with 6 catches for 55 yards and a touchdown. Chris Moore could have a chance to get a bigger role if Jeremy Maclin is limited at all in this game as another deep threat next to Wallace other than being a special teamer. Ben Watson could have some mismatches in the middle of the field against the linebackers/ safeties. Danny Woodhead has not had a breakout game yet. This could be a game where Woodhead is targeted more than usual as a receiver to move the chains or out of the backfield.
Alex Collins has run into the end zone four times in the last three games. He is a revelation for the Ravens in the running game.
The running back group of Alex Collins, Javorius Allen, and Danny Woodhead should be the focal point on offense. The running game overall has been much better than expected this year. Collins had a big game when they played the Steelers in week 4 with 9 carries for 82 yards. He should get a lot more carries than that as he is getting 15 carries or more each game against a top 10 run defense (8th) in Pittsburgh. Collins has emerged as the leading back for the Ravens and will be tested against a good run defense. Woodhead could have a big game as the 3rd down back and Allen will complement Collins as well.
The Ravens pass rush needs to harass Ben Roethlisberger to disrupt the offense as a whole if they want to win at Heinz Field.
Roethlisberger had a decent game against the Ravens in week 4. Throwing for 216 yards on 18 completions out of 30 pass attempts, 1 TD, and 1 INT. With RT Marcus Gilbert still suspended, expect Matthew Judon to a have a big game against Chris Hubbard. He has been the complement pass rush next to Terrell Suggs. So far, Suggs has 10.5 sacks and Judon has 6 sacks on the season. If they are consistent this week like the last few weeks, they are sure to notch a few sacks on Roethlisberger.
The Ravens need to contain Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant without Jimmy Smith in the secondary this week.
Without Jimmy Smith, the Ravens secondary takes a big hit as they prepare to take on a big task in containing mainly Antonio Brown. Brandon Carr will most likely be covering Martavis Bryant. Maurice Canady/Jaylen Hill will help cover the other wide receivers. In week 4, when the Steelers played the Ravens in Baltimore, Bryant actually was the main target. Brown was contained to 4 catches for 34 yards only. Carr is expected to step up with a big receiver like Bryant. I expect a few double teams with Eric Weddle and Marlon Humphery on Brown. Weddle had an interception in week 4 when these teams last played. He also had one last week against the Detroit Lions in week 13.
If Le’Veon Bell gets the big running plays and abuses the Ravens run defense, the Ravens will not get a win on Sunday.
Le’Veon Bell had a field day against the Ravens run defense in week 4. Bell had 35 carries for 144 yards and 2 rushing touchdowns. This is unacceptable if the Ravens want the win Sunday night. Although the Ravens run defense struggled, especially when Brandon Williams was out for a portion of the season, the Ravens run defense has slightly improved from one of the worst to the middle of the pack so far this year (#16). Michael Pierce and Carl Davis will have to make some plays. Willie Henry has been impactful on the defensive line the past few weeks. C.J. Mosely, Patrick Onwuasor, and Tony Jefferson will also need to make some plays stopping Bell in the run and in coverage. Stopping Bell has to be the #1 priority for the Ravens defense this week.
The biggest matchup for this game will be rookie cornerback Marlon Humphery against veteran wide receiver Antonio Brown.
In limited snaps, Humphery has shown his impact on the field as a rookie. Now he will be starting against one the best wide receivers in the NFL. This in only his 2nd official start in week 14. In week 11 and 13, Humphery snatched interceptions near the end of those games and has 8 pass deflections. He struggled when filling in for Jimmy Smith last week against Marvin Jones Jr. Thus he let up some big completions that set up touchdowns to make that game closer than what it was. I think this week is different because he will get more reps. He will be the #1 cornerback now and will be more prepared than last week. As a rookie, I expect a few completions let up but I want to see improvement in the deep ball. Also looking at his reaction against one of the best wide receivers in the NFL.