The Pittsburgh Steelers Week 17 win against the Cincinnati Bengals guaranteed them a playoff game at home but it was not without its warts. The Steelers will now host the Baltimore Ravens in Pittsburgh during wild card weekend. Every meeting between these two teams promises to be a slugfest considering the very real rivalry that has existed between them for over a decade.
The Steelers got absolutely smoked by the Ravens in the second game of the season and returned the favor by dropping 43 points on the Ravens in their second meeting. This is by no means the same Ravens team of 2012, riding an offensive hot streak on their way to a second Lombardi trophy. However, if the Steelers want to go deep in the playoffs they have a formidable Ravens squad standing in their way.
The Steelers secured the win on Sunday night but Andy Dalton and the Bengals went out of their way to implode and hand the game over as well. There are a lot of positives to take away from week 17 but in order to beat Baltimore, the Steelers are going to have to patch a few leaks on the ship.
One of the biggest questions the Steelers face right now is the run game. It was reported through several media outlets Monday that Le’Veon Bell did not suffer ligament damage but it’s still uncertain if he’ll be available for Saturday’s game.
If Bell can’t go it’s likely going to be the Josh Harris show. The undrafted rookie ripped off a big run against the Bengals but had it called back due to a Ramon Foster holding call. Can he carry the load against a stout Ravens defense? Ben Roethlisberger had virtually all day to throw against the Bengals but unless the Steelers show they can run on the Ravens, he’s going to be under siege with Elvis Dumervil, Terrell Suggs, Timmy Jernigan and Haloti Ngata breathing down his neck. Even if Bell is able to go it’s unlikely they can lean on him for 20-25 carries.
Besides the running game, pass protection from the rookie backs could be a major problem. Dri Archer isn’t even a speed bump on the way to Big Ben. Harris is larger but a scouting report on him coming out of Wake Forest noted in particular that he could stand to improve in pass protection awareness and effort. Yikes. Without Bell in as a pass protector, huge running threat, and outlet receiver the Steelers could be hurting when they go to a high quantity of pass plays.
Another problem could be run defense. The Steelers defense was excellent in defending the run at times against the Bengals but they allowed Jeremy Hill to have some explosive runs and he ended up with 100 yards at 4.3 yards per carry. The Ravens offensive line is hurting right now, but Justin Forsett just averaged 7 yards per carry against the Cleveland Browns. The Ravens have previously been able to gash the Steelers with zone running and then capitalize on play action.
Punting is another area in need of improvement. The Steelers aren’t cutting Brad Wing but his play has to improve. Joe Flacco is not Dalton. If Wing kicks a couple JV punts against the Ravens, Flacco is going to capitalize on great field position. The Ravens passing attack isn’t exactly the Greatest Show on Turf but Torrey Smith has some history against the Steelers and Owen Daniels got some big gains against them the first time these teams met.
You can only fix so many leaks on a ship while it’s sailing. The Steelers coaching staff and players don’t have to turn themselves into a juggernaut with less than a week of preparation. They just have to keep this thing steaming on into the divisional round.