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.
The Steelers must hope that the offense can pick up where it left off last week as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger commandeered one of the greatest performances in NFL history, leading his team to a 51-point outburst on six touchdown passes.
If Roethlisberger still has anything left of that ‘zone’, with Jimmy Smith out for the Ravens, Baltimore will have a tough time slowing down the aerial assault, which has become more varied in recent weeks.
Obviously, the emergence of rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant has had much to do with that, with his seven catches for 123 yards and three touchdowns. Most telling is the fact that he has receptions of 19, 35, and 52 yards, as well as touchdowns of five and two yards. Fades and go routes are his weapons for now, but they can be deadly.
Antonio Brown, of course, continues to be exceptional, even against Lardarius Webb, but it’s curious that the fifth-year All-Pro has yet to record a touchdown against the Steelers’ biggest rivals. He’s well on his way to having his best scoring season of his career, however, with seven touchdown receptions, as well as one via passing.
Le’Veon Bell, meanwhile, remains on pace for over 2000 yards from scrimmage, but he’ll have a tough go of it on the ground against the Ravens’ front seven. if he can open things up through the air and the Steelers can get out to a lead, getting Brandon Williams off the field, it may soften things up in the middle.
Of course, one of the major individual matchups in this game will be the Steelers’ offensive tackles against the Ravens’ pass rushers. In particular will be right tackle Marcus Gilbert versus Elvis Dumervil.
Dumervil beat Gilbert for two sacks in the first matchup between these two teams, but has settled down significantly since then.
However, he is also coming off a concussion that caused him to miss a week, while Dumervil and the rest of the Ravens’ pass rushers have not slowed down. It’s fortunate, then, that Kelvin Beachum may be coming off his best game in pass protection, because they’ll need him to be solid in that regard.