Win, lose, or draw, the results of tonight’s game against the Baltimore Ravens do not alter the immediate stakes of next week’s game for the Pittsburgh Steelers. A week from now, they will face the New England Patriots. If they win, they will control the top seed.
But losing is never an acceptable option, especially when it comes to the Ravens, the Steelers’ biggest rivals for about two decades now. The Steelers just secured their first victory over them in Baltimore in years, and now they are looking to go for the season sweep en route to an 11-2 record, their best pace since the 15-1 season of 2004.
While they are riding a seven-game winning streak, the Ravens have also won their past three games and are picking up some momentum, regaining their defensive edge in pressure and turnovers, and the offense is showing signs of life, but on the ground and in the air.
In their win over the Lions last week, Joe Flacco threw two touchdowns to zero interceptions and Alex Collins ran for two touchdowns, with Justin Tucker adding a trio of field goals. They also had an interception returned for a score by Eric Weddle to add to what turned into a 44-20 rout.
The Ravens were able to hit on multiple deep passes to Mike Wallace last week. And the Steelers have been susceptible to the deep passes for most of the season by this point. If this area of the Ravens’ game is coming along, then this has to be an alert.
Collins also has to be somebody to be accounted for, as he has since established himself as compared to his status when these two teams last met. The run defense was ugly last week even without allowing a carry long than 13 yards, and we know Collins is a long threat.
Though he might not seem like much, Danny Woodhead is a weapon they’ve gotten back who can contribute in all phases, including in pass protection. He has made a career out of exploiting those who underestimate what he is capable of doing.
While the Steelers have had some of the best pass protection in the league, the Ravens have been productive pass-rushers, and that includes Terrell Suggs, whose next sack will put him into double digits. Due to injuries, we could see their two rookie rushers log more time as well.
Brandon Williams is back at nose tackle and playing like his price tag demands that he should, so it could be a long day for Le’Veon Bell and his fullback, Roosevelt Nix. Their star inside linebacker, C.J. Mosley, has been battling injuries lately.
Offensively, I think it makes sense to attack the rookie, Marlon Humphrey, starting for Jimmy Smith. Of course, the Ravens will also be attacking Cameron Sutton. And Arthur Moats or Sean Spence, in place of Ryan Shazier.
A special mention to the kick return unit, and Martavis Bryant, who has taken over the primary return role. He has had two strong returns in two weeks now, even if one was negated, but the Ravens have one of the best special teams units.