The Pittsburgh Steelers have on their hands a critical game against their chief rival, the Baltimore Ravens, which may prove to be one of the more meaningful matchups between the two at Heinz Field in recent years.
Both teams sit tied for second in the division at 5-3, with the Ravens coming off a loss and the Steelers nursing a fragile two-game winning streak. The Cincinnati Bengals, at 4-2-1, hold a small lead based on winning percentage, while the Cleveland Browns are also 4-3.
The Bengals and Browns, however, have seeming softballs coming their way this week, and seem assured of victory. Should that prove to be the case, the loser of this game between the Steelers and Ravens will likely find themselves at the bottom of the division as the only team with four losses.
It will likely be the Steelers knocking at the chamber door of the basement if the offense can’t deliver in high numbers, because the defense hasn’t been overly impressive this year, particularly at home.
That could have something to do with all the high scoring the offense has been doing at Heinz Field, but the fact remains that, through four home games, the Steelers have allowed 118 points, or nearly 30 points per game. Fortunately, the home team has averaged 34 points, and has a home record of 3-1.
The return of nose tackle Steve McLendon will be big in trying to force the Ravens to be one-dimensional. Baltimore has found surprising success on the ground thanks to journeyman running back Justin Forsett. If Cam Thomas spends much time at nose tackle, things could get out of hand quickly. McLendon missed the latter stages of the first game, and the ground game started to pick up.
Outside linebacker Jason Worilds has been getting a lot of pressure on the quarterback over the last two weeks, despite the fact that he hasn’t notched a sack in that span. Joe Flacco hasn’t exactly been ‘Joe Cool’ in the backfield of late under pressure, either.
Meanwhile, James Harrison has been picking up steam against the pass as well, notching two sacks in the last game and drawing a holding call. Arthur Moats, too, has been drawing pressure.
But it’s been the increase and variety of blitz packages that has further opened up pressure. The return of Ryan Shazier opens up more rush possibilities up the middle. He did draw one pressure last week.
The most obvious difference between this game and the first game between these two teams, however, will obviously come at cornerback, where neither Ike Taylor nor Cortez Allen are likely to see time on defense. Taylor, of course, is injured, while Allen has been demoted from starter to sub-package player to reserve.
William Gay, Brice McCain, and Antwon Blake will be the cornerbacks for this contest, and while they are all under 5’11”, they likely offer the Steelers the best chance to win right now, given whatever Allen is currently going through.