Well, here we go. The game that everyone circled when the schedule came out way back in April. Christmas Day, Baltimore Ravens at the Pittsburgh Steelers. Early on in the season, this looked like the game that might decide the AFC North title. Heading into the week eight bye, however, the Ravens sat at 3-4 coming off four straight losses including a loss to the lowly New York Jets and did not look like true division contenders. The Ravens have since rattled off five wins in their last seven games. Now they sit just one game behind the rival Steelers. Included in those five wins was a November 6th victory over these very Steelers.
Perhaps the greatest rivalry in the NFL, these teams really do not like each other. Whether it be Terrell Suggs joking about putting a bounty on Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, the Thanksgiving day meeting in 2013 where Steelers coach Mike Tomlin interfered and almost tripped Ravens return man Jacoby Jones stopping a would be return touchdown, or last year’s five win Baltimore season complete with a sweep over the rivals that almost kicked them out of the playoffs, this rivalry is not without fireworks. While this is not technically a winner-take-all matchup (the Ravens would still need a win or a Steelers loss in week 17), it essentially is and certainly has the feel of one. This is as much of a must win game as any and the Ravens must bring it to come out victorious. Here are the Baltimore Ravens week 16 keys to victory.
Baltimore Ravens Week 16 Keys To Victory
Stop Ladarius Green And The Rest Of The Supporting Cast
Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown is going to get his. That is just inevitable, especially if star cornerback Jimmy Smith has to miss another game. Brown is a truly special talent and perhaps the best receiver in the NFL right now as he continues to shatter records. While rookie cornerback Tavon Young has been spectacular this season only allowing 8.6 yards per completion, fifth in the NFL, he will have his hands full.
What the Ravens can control however, is the rest of the Steelers offense. Le’Veon Bell has played as well as any running back in the NFL since returning from suspension in week four. But even after taking into account the strange anomaly that was last week’s 169 yard rushing performance by the Philadelphia Eagles, the Ravens still rank second in the NFL in rush defense and tied for first in yards per attempt. It is worth noting also that Bell’s worst game all year by far came at the hands of these Ravens. The Ravens should be able to at least contain Bell.
This leaves the Steelers with tight end Ladarius Green and wide receiver Eli Rogers as the other big pieces in the offense. With Brown likely getting his and Bell likely not to, it looks as if the game might come down to whether the Ravens can stop these two secondary weapons. Baltimore has been pretty spectacular against tight ends this season thanks in part to Pro Bowl snub safety Eric Weddle. Prom Bowl selection C.J. Mosley has been spectacular in coverage in his own right. Green especially causes a matchup nightmare that not many other tight ends pose with his 6’6″ frame and 4.53 40 time. He is currently in the concussion protocol so he may not even play, but if he does look for him to be the X-factor for Pittsburgh. In order to pull off this victory, the Ravens must contain him and the other secondary weapons.
Run The Football!
Excuse the broken record feeling but every week this seems like a Ravens’ key to victory. That is because Baltimore just cannot seem to commit to the running game week in and week out. That MUST change this week however. In the last meeting between these two teams, the Ravens offense really was not able to muster much. Of the 21 points scored, only one came off an offensive touchdown, a 95 yard score to receiver Mike Wallace. A special teams touchdown, typical Justin Tucker brilliance, and a two-point conversion accounted for the rest of the scoring. While 21 points seems like a decent enough number, it is misleading to say the least. The Ravens won that game with defense and special teams, two things that are more difficult to count on against this opponent.
So how can the Ravens improve their chances to win on the offensive side of the ball? Well, the best thing the Ravens can do on offense is simply keep the ball out of the Steelers hands. Getting into a shootout with this Pittsburgh team and their weapons is begging for trouble. If the Ravens are able to run the football with any success they certainly have a shot on Christmas. Running backs Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon need to keep drives moving and setting the offense up with third-and-shorts. Dixon in particular, who has looked electric in recent weeks, must make an impact play or two. The Ravens simply cannot get away from the running game in this one and force quarterback Joe Flacco and company to go toe-to-toe with the Steelers passing game.
Just Keep Fighting And Keep Composure
This may seem like a strange time for a motivational quote. But now more than ever this applies to this Ravens squad. All year Baltimore has played in some tough games. Whether it be close losses to superior teams like the Dallas Cowboys or New England Patriots, or barely squeaking out wins against the massively inferior Cleveland Browns or Philadelphia Eagles just last week, these Ravens have built a sense of toughness and lack of quit. Games like last Monday night in New England where the Ravens kept fighting and fighting are likely to help this team as the season progresses.
This rivalry goes beyond the standings as these teams truly do not like each other. Add in the fact that this is a holiday primetime game and the division title on the line, and this game could get chippy. Keeping a level head while staying tough and fighting will be extremely crucial in a game like this one. The AFC North championship might just come down to which team is more mentally tough. If that is so, the Ravens might look back at this roller-coaster of a season with gratitude.
What Does Santa Have In Store?
Baltimore started this season with modest expectations. Coming off an injury-riddled and disappointing five-win season, it seemed as though only Ravens fans believed an AFC North title was in store. It sure as heck has not been pretty, but entering week 16 the Ravens still control their own destiny. A far cry from last year’s spoiler role, the Ravens are now playing for themselves this late in the season. The excitement and energy surrounding this game is electric. Two mortal enemies battling for a division title on Christmas Day, what more could a fan ask for? How about an AFC North title?
See you on Christmas Day, Pittsburgh.