The Pittsburgh Steelers have a critical game against the rival Baltimore Ravens tomorrow night, once again in primetime. The last time these two teams met in primetime, the Steelers were steamrolled by a score of 26-6.
But these Steelers are not the same team that failed to even score a touchdown in Baltimore in the second week of the season. They’re better.
Sure, they have their fair share of warts left over, and then some, perhaps. But this has been a team in development for more than just this season, and they’re incorporating a lot of new parts this year that has taken time to some together.
For one thing, the wide receiver group is now more than just Antonio Brown. Markus Wheaton has had a half-season under his belt as a starter now, and is coming off a confidence-boosting five-catch performance that included his first touchdown.
This will also mark the Ravens debut of rookie Martavis Bryant, who has caught seven receptions for 123 yards and three touchdowns in his two games played, including receptions of 19, 35, and 52 yards.
Lance Moore, too, was injured at the time, and the Steelers have been finding success in juggling their wide receivers over the past two weeks, reflecting a new strategy not present in the first game.
Ben Roethlisberger has thrown 15 touchdowns versus one interception over the last six games since that Baltimore game, posting a quarterback rating of 100 or better in five of those six games. He took a big hit early in the last Ravens game and didn’t look right for the rest of the day in what was easily his worst performance of the year along with the second Browns game. He has settled down tremendously since then.
The offensive line, too, has settled down, especially right tackle Marcus Gilbert, who had a dreadful time going up against Elvis Dumervil in the last game. He is expected to return to the lineup.
So, too, is Steve McLendon, who missed a chunk of the first Ravens matchup. When he left that game, the Ravens ground game started to take off, and they put the game away. With him back and Stephon Tuitt logging more snaps, the run defense may be better prepared to survive Baltimore’s zone running attack.
The cornerbacks, too, are awfully different, with Ike Taylor out and Cortez Allen benched, leaving William Gay and Brice McCain in the starting lineup and Antwon Blake in the sub-package. The latter two did not play on defense against the Ravens, but will play a big role tomorrow night.
As will home field advantage. The Steelers score an average of 34 points when they’ve played at Heinz Field this year. They average nearly half of that on the road at jut 17.5. The Pittsburgh crowd, likely packed to see the retirement ceremony for number 75, will play its role in this game.