For the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens, it all comes down to one game. One game to determine the “King of the North”, and likely AFC North Division Champion. Considered by most to be the hardest hitting in all of professional football, it’s Ravens Week, Steeler Nation! If the Steelers want to clinch the AFC North they should follow the below keys to victory.
Two hated rivals. Two cities and franchises that despise each other, but at the same time, respect the manner in which the other operates and conducts their business. Strap up your chin strap and buckle up…it all comes down to this. If the Steelers don’t win against Baltimore, they’ll have a tough time getting into the playoffs and would need a Baltimore loss in Week 17.
Pittsburgh Steelers Keys to Victory Against the Baltimore Ravens
3 Killer B’s
Rather obvious, I know…but it cannot be overstated enough. Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell are the key components to any Steelers victory. But their importance is amplified tenfold against the Baltimore Ravens defense.
Le’Veon Bell was held in check when these two teams met earlier in the year. Bell was held to 70 total yards of offense (14 rushes – 32 yards, 6 receptions – 38 yards), his lowest output of the year. Since that game, though, and during the Steelers five-game win streak, Bell has averaged outrageous 191 total yards per game. He almost has 1,000 total yards (954 yards) during that five-game win streak.
The Steelers will be tested by Baltimore’s front seven, and they need to meet that challenge head on and not shy away from running the football. Bell needs to see in the area of 30-35 touches for a Steelers victory.
The Steelers offensive line must give Ben Roethlisberger enough time to throw the football downfield, as the Ravens will be without their top cornerback, Jimmy Smith. The number one corner has been out the last few weeks with an ankle injury and has not practiced all week leading up to the game. The Ravens are a much better pass defense with Smith in the game, so look for the Steelers to try and push the ball down the field to Antonio Brown if Smith can’t play.
Protect Big Ben and Rattle Joe Flacco
One of the more beautiful aspects of a rivalry game is that you and your opponent know each other inside and out. Sometimes that’s a good thing, and sometimes that’s a bad thing. Regardless, you know the best ways to attack your opponent.
In this rivalry, both teams know in order to win you have to sack and or rattle the opposing quarterback. Protecting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be paramount if the Steelers want to secure a victory. The offensive line has been doing an excellent job protecting Roethlisberger this year, as they’ve only allowed 17 sacks all season (second in the NFL). Terrell Suggs is the Ravens sack leader with eight sacks and has been a thorn in Roethlisberger’s side for years.
On the flip side, the Steelers will need to rattle Joe Flacco. Pittsburgh is tied for 12th with 32 sacks this season, while the Ravens have given up 30 sacks so far (T-17th). Even if the Steelers don’t sack Flacco, creating pressure on him is key. With five touchdowns to seven interceptions on the road this year, Flacco can be mistake-prone at times.
Historically, though, Flacco has a stout record at Heinz Field. Since 2010, Flacco is 5-3 at Heinz Field with multiple fourth quarter comeback victories. The Steelers will need to create pressure all game to make Flacco uncomfortable and hopefully force him into a few bad throws. The chances will be there, but the Steelers secondary must be ready to capitalize on those turnover opportunities.
Create and Defend Against Splash Plays
Once again, not going too far outside the box here with creating and defending against splash plays…but it becomes even more important in a rivalry game.
During their first meeting in Baltimore, the Steelers were able to create a few splash plays on defense. Artie Burns had his first career interception against Baltimore to go along with two passes defended. The defense was also able to create two forced fumbles as well (did not recover either).
Overall, the Steelers have done a pretty good job of creating splash plays on defense. They rank T-12th in the NFL with 32 sacks to go along with 11 interceptions. The ageless James Harrison leads the way in sacks with five, while rookie first-round pick Artie Burns leads the Steelers in interceptions with three. That trend will need to continue on Sunday if the Steelers want to win.
Burns along with the rest of the Steelers secondary has improved by leaps and bounds since the last game. Keeping Mike Wallace (64 receptions, 963 yards, four TDs) in check will be a priority, as he had a 95 yard receiving touchdown the last time these two played. And you can’t forget about the unaged Steve Smith Sr. either (60 receptions, 686 yards, four TDs), who has become a reliable target for Joe Flacco.
Prediction: Steelers 28, Ravens 27