On Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers travel to Baltimore, MD to take on their AFC North rivals, the Baltimore Ravens. Last week, the Steelers beat the Dallas Cowboys 20-13, while the Ravens defeated the Washington Redskins 24-10.
The Steelers and Ravens are locked in a race to the finish for the AFC North crown. The Steelers stand at 10-3, and have a one game lead over the 9-4 Ravens. If the Ravens win on Sunday, the two teams will be deadlocked at 10-4. If this should occur, it actually favors the Ravens, who have a slightly easier schedule the rest of the way.
In week 16, the Steelers have to travel to Tennessee to take on the 12-1 Tennessee Titans. The Titans have the best record in the NFL, and are the only AFC team that has already clinched their division. The Ravens, on the other hand will be traveling to Dallas to take on the 8-5 Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys are locked in the midst of T.O. drama (no surprise there), and seem to be intent upon imploding as the season draws to a close.
In week 17, both teams will conclude their season with home games. The Steelers will play the 4-9 Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field, while the Ravens will play the 4-9 Jacksonville Jaguars at M&T Stadium.
The Steelers’ remaining opponents have a combined record of 16-10, while the Ravens’ opponents are 12-14. That is why winning this week is so important for the Steelers.
As we look at the two teams, we see teams that are very similar. Both are defensive powerhouses, with mediocre offenses. The Steelers’ defense comes into the game ranked #1 in the NFL. The Ravens’ defense is right behind them, ranked #2 in the NFL. Contrarily, the Ravens’ offense is ranked #19 in the NFL, while the Steelers offense is ranked #25. Neither offense is going to keep the opposing defensive coordinator awake at night. The defenses on the other hand……. Let’s just say that both offensive coordinators have probably been drinking Maalox as though it were orange juice this week.
Looking at the two defenses, we see defenses with slightly different strengths. The Steelers are very good at getting pressure on the quarterback. They have generated 45 sacks as opposed to only 28 by the Ravens. The difference is primarily attributable to the Steelers dynamic duo of outside linebackers, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. Harrison and Woodley have combined for almost as many sacks (26.5) as the entire Ravens defense (28). The pressure that the Steelers are likely to apply to Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco has likely been the focus of Ravens’ offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. He has likely had his running backs and tight ends practicing blocking schemes to support the offensive linemen. Everyone’s primary responsibility will be to keep Joe Flacco on his feet instead of on his butt.
The Ravens defense poses a slightly different challenge. What Bruce Arians has been focusing on is probably how to deal with the Ravens tremendous ability to generate turnovers. Unlike the Steelers, the Ravens don’t dominate teams by sacking their quarterback. Instead, the Ravens’ strength is in their secondary. They are exceptional at generating interceptions. In fact, as a unit, the Ravens lead the NFL in interceptions. Troy Polamalu may be the individual interception leader, but the Ravens lead as a unit. Moreover, they are very good at turning those interceptions into scores.
Bruce Arians has probably spent a lot of time this week with Ben Roethlisberger coaching him on being careful with his passes and making sure that he doesn’t try to force passes into coverage or to throw passes when he is under pressure. Untimely interceptions can be devastating when playing a team like Baltimore. The Steelers’ defense can probably control the Ravens’ offense, but a pick six or two by Big Ben could prove to be disastrous.
When the #1 defense in the NFL squares off against the #2 defense, it’s not likely to be a high scoring affair. A final score of 6-3 is not out of the question. 3-2 might even be possible. We don’t think it will be that bad, but 49-42 is highly unlikely.
If When the Steelers win this weekend, they will break a 5 year drought in Baltimore. We predict the Steelers will begin a winning streak in Baltimore on Sunday with a 17-7 victory.
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