The Pittsburgh Steelers will play their eighth game of the 2018 regular season Sunday afternoon against the Baltimore Ravens in what figures to be another exciting AFC North division game for both teams. Below are five key things that I believe the Steelers will need to do in the game to come away with their third road win of the 2018 season Sunday afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
Spare the dime well on possession downs – In the Steelers Week 4 loss to the Ravens in the Pittsburgh, the team’s defense allowed 8 of 17 third down opportunities to be converted against them. while 5 of those 9 third down stops came in the second half, the Ravens still followed four of them up with field goals thanks to long drives into the Steelers end of the field. The dime personnel the Steelers will field on Sunday in Baltimore will look a lot different from the one they used against the Ravens in Week 4 as not only will slot cornerback Mike Hilton and sub package veteran safety Morgan Burnett both play in this game as part of that grouping, but so will inside linebacker L.J. Fort. That threesome of sub package players played great on sub package downs in week 8 against the Cleveland Browns and especially on key possession downs (3rd downs).
Power-up Conner early – If there’s one main negative related to the season that Steelers running back James Conner is currently having it would be that he hasn’t been overly effective running the football early in games as evidenced by his lower success rate and especially in his first five carries of every game to date. Against the Ravens in Week 4, Conner only carried the football nine times in total for 19 yards with a long run of 4 yards. That kind of stat line simply won’t cut it in Sunday’s rematch. To perhaps get Conner off to a quicker start Sunday in Baltimore, perhaps the offense should come out with some pulling linemen right away instead of running their usual inside and split zone plays with the straight forward blocking schemes. Conner has run very well behind pulling offensive linemen so far this season and that includes several explosive carries of 20 yards or longer.
Tackle Baltimore’s injury ravaged offensive line – Due to injuries the Ravens will be without both of their starting tackles, Ronnie Stanley and James Hurst against the Steelers on Sunday and that means we’ll likely see Jermaine Eluemunor and Orlando Brown Jr. start at left and right tackle, respectively. The two players have four combined starts entering Sunday and that should be a huge advantage for Steelers outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree. The Steelers defense only managed to sack Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco twice in the Week 4 on his way to registering 363 passing yards and 2 touchdown passes. Ravens starting left guard Alex Lewis is also questionable for Sunday’s game and thus that could result in Hroniss Grasu needing start again. A Steelers four-man rush with a few nicely executed twist/stunts should be able to get home a few times on Sunday with a few others forcing Flacco off his spot in the pocket. It will be very disappointing if the Steelers defensive front doesn’t register a high number of pressures on Sunday against the Ravens expected offensive line unit.
Give it to them in their end – The Steelers offense has managed to start just 6 possessions on their opponent’s side of the field in their first seven regular season games and three of those came in the win over the Atlanta Falcons several weeks ago. Since that home win over the falcons the Steelers best starting field position has been their own 45-yard-line. In the Steelers Week 4 loss to the Ravens the Steelers offense never started a drive in Baltimore territory and their best staring field position in that contest was their own 34-yard-line and it was their first drive of the second half. With Ravens punter Sam Koch being so very good at his job, the Steelers defense will likely need to provide a turnover or two to get the team’s offense at least one possession to start in Baltimore territory. The Ravens defense is very good this season and thus the Steelers offense isn’t likely to produce many long-drive scores on Sunday.
More Pittsburgh Brown than Baltimore Brown – A player with the last name of Brown certainly had a big game in the Week 4 game between the Steelers and the Ravens and it wasn’t the one who plays for Pittsburgh. Instead, Ravens wide receiver John Brown was the top pass catcher back in Week 4 at Heinz Field as he caught 3 passes from Flacco in that game for 116 yards and a touchdown. Two of that Brown’s receptions went for 33 and 71 yards, respectively, and were the two longest plays registered by the Baltimore offense in that contest. As for Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, he only caught 5 passes for 62 yards and a touchdown in that Week 4 game against the Ravens. It’s also worth noting that the Steelers’ Brown has never had a 100-yard receiving game against the Ravens in games played in Baltimore and just one receiving touchdown. On Sunday he might not have to face cornerback Marlon Humphrey as the Ravens young defensive back might miss the contest with an injury. Additionally, veteran Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith hasn’t been all that great so far this season since returning from his four-game suspension.