Three months certainly can change an awful lot. The last time the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens played a game, on October 1, the Steelers were without their Super Bowl-winning franchise quarterback. Now the shoe is on the other foot. Neither have their starting running backs.
These two teams will look noticeably different when they take the field in Baltimore on December 27, and not doubt that will result in a different outcome as well, after the Steelers lost in overtime after a late tying field goal in the fourth quarter.
Of course, field goals were a major theme in that contest, and the kicking position has been a narrative all season in Pittsburgh. A kicking change typically isn’t a headline, but it is in this case, after Josh Scobee missed two field goals, either of which would have put the game away. Chris Boswell has made 26 of 28 kicks since being signed during the week following that game.
Naturally, that was also the first of four games that the Steelers were without Ben Roethlisberger, who suffered an MCL sprain and a bone bruise. Pittsburgh was without its intended backup quarterback due to a preseason injury and was forced to bring in Mike Vick and bring him along, and the offense limped along with him under center.
Not that Joe Flacco was spectacular in that game, throwing for just 189 yards and a touchdown, also throwing an interception and losing one of three fumbles as the Steelers defense mounted five sacks. As good as the defense played, however, the Vick-led offense asked it to come up with one too many stops.
That game, Justin Forsett ran for 150 yards on 27 carries, the best rushing performance against the Steelers this season. But, like Flacco, he is on injured reserve. Le’Veon Bell is on injured reserve for the Steelers, but unlike the Ravens, they have had DeAngelo Williams at their disposal, who has more than ably stepped in, chipping in nine rushing touchdowns.
Baltimore didn’t have Eugene Monroe in that game, and they won’t have him this time either after the Ravens put him on injured reserve. His replacement is now Kelechi Osemele, who was a starting interior lineman, but James Hurst proved an unsatisfactory replacement.
In contrast, the Steelers have been able to get by after losing their own tackle, Kelvin Beachum, to an ACL tear. Alejandrio Villanueva has certainly had his growing pains, and he has given up some sacks, but he has not been a detriment to what the Steelers are able to do on offense.
Among those missing for the Steelers in that game was Ryan Shazier, who just recorded his first career interception, which helped lead to Pittsburgh’s game-winning drive against the Broncos on Sunday. He has had his own battles to contend with this year, but they are a better team when he is healthy.
I would say that these teams are trending in opposite directions, but considering the Ravens were 0-3 prior to that game and have lost 7-of-10 since, it seems they are still headed where they have been all along. Meanwhile, the Steelers have won five of their last six, and stand a good chance of making it seven of eight.