If Sunday’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens were an episode of Sesame Street, it could’ve been brought to us by the letter “B,” primarily because the factors necessary for the Steelers to win this game would be found in the catalog under that letter.
In all honesty, the fact that so many of the following individual factors begin with the same character is far less important than realizing that they are now also in play at the same time. That is something that hasn’t happened for the Steelers in more than two full calendar years; coincidentally, the last time the Steelers beat Baltimore.
November 2, 2014 was the last time the Steelers faced the Ravens with their full offensive capability and each member of the offense healthy and available. While this matchup won’t completely mirror that – Martavis Bryant is serving a season-long suspension, Kelvin Beachum is now a Jacksonville Jaguar and Heath Miller has since retired – this is probably as close as it will get before next season, but the following combination of ingredients is still enough for the Steelers to win at home on Christmas Day.
– Ben: Having Ben Roethlisberger at full capacity instead of returning at least a week too early from a knee injury should put the Steelers in a much better position than they were in during the 21-14 loss in Baltimore in Week 9. Roethlisberger did not look like himself and the coaching staff did not fully allow him to open the offense until the fourth quarter. But having him healthy and starting at home – where he is markedly better in nearly every important category – should provide a much better opportunity to win.
– Brown: Having Antonio Brown always gives the Steelers an advantage against most defenses, but that advantage becomes even bigger since Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith has been ruled out with a high ankle sprain, removing the man who would be trusted with limiting Brown. Smith also missed the 2014 meeting at Heinz Field with an injury, and Brown caught 11 passes on 16 targets for 144 yards and a 54-yard touchdown that broke the game wide open. He could have a day similar to that if all goes well.
– Bell: Few running backs can make an impact against the Ravens’ defense despite a low rushing total, but Le’Veon Bell has been there and done that, catching five passes for 38 yards and a touchdown at Heinz Field in 2014. This season his impact in the passing game has been magnified (90 targets, 72 receptions), and when Bell is split wide he provides another component of the Steelers’ offense that makes the Ravens’ job of stopping them even harder.
– Blocking: Besides Beachum, the same four remaining offensive linemen who started against Baltimore two seasons ago will also start Sunday: Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, and Marcus Gilbert. The front five didn’t keep Roethlisberger’s jersey completely clean (they allowed three sacks), but they still gave him enough time to complete 25 of 37 passes for 340 yards and six touchdowns.
The Baltimore pass rush isn’t as formidable as it was two years ago, but Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and Timmy Jernigan are still there. Add in Brandon Williams on the interior and they become a front line that anchors the league’s no. 2 run defense. Finding space for Bell won’t be easy, but with his vision, patience and explosiveness the smallest crack can become an open running lane.
– Butler: The Steelers will likely be without Stephon Tuitt and possibly Ricardo Mathews Sunday, but defensive coordinator Keith Butler must use more of his creativity to come up with a gameplan that can still disrupt the Ravens’ offense. Joe Flacco has been sacked 28 times this season and has already thrown 13 interceptions, both more than each of the last two seasons.
Center Jeremy Zuttah is Baltimore’s best lineman, but is also listed as questionable on the injury report. Any opportunity to exploit a weakness up front and get to Flacco is critical – he has been sacked 45 times with eight interceptions against the Steelers in 16 career games against them, and the Ravens are 3-4 in games where he has been sacked and intercepted at least once.