With the conditions at Heinz Field expected to be nasty Saturday night in the AFC Wild Card Game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens, the outcome very well could be decided by just one explosive play. In the case of the Steelers defense, they’ve done a good job of not allowing explosive plays in the final two weeks of the regular season.
After giving up 59 explosive plays of 20 yards or more for an average of 33.19 yards per play in their first 14 games of the 2014 season, the Steelers defense only allowed two such plays in their last two games of the regular season. In fact, they only allowed 3 of 10 passes thrown more than 15 yards past the line of scrimmage to be completed in those final two contests and all three of those completions came up one yard short of the 20 yard mark.
Regardless of how well the Steelers rebuilt secondary has played to close out the regular season, you can probably expect Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco to test their deep coverage skills even in the rain. In the previous two games that the two teams have played against each other, however, Flacco only completed just one of his six deep passes against the Steelers defense and that was a 35-yard touchdown to wide receiver Torrey Smith in Week 9.
Flacco hasn’t been great with his deep passes over 15 yards this season as he comes into Saturday night’s game with a 36.5 completion percentage for 2014. Also, in the last three games of the regular season, Flacco only completed 6 of 21 (28.6%) of the deep passes that he attempted.
Not only will the Steelers have the onus of attempting to not give up explosive plays through the air to the Ravens Saturday night, they’ll also have to make sure not to give them up on the ground as well. The Ravens had 24 runs during the 2014 season that went for 20 yards or more and that was tops in the league. Ravens running back Justin Forsett led the league in explosive runs with 17 of them and they accounted for 40.5% of all of his yards gained on the ground this season. The Steelers defense gave up 11 such runs of 20 yards or more this season, in case you’re curious.
Explosive plays and turnovers often decide the outcome of games in the NFL and if the weather winds up being as nasty as many forecast it will be Saturday night at Heinz Field, just one allowed by the Steelers defense could very well result in their season coming to an abrupt end.