It's official: Steelers' Roethlisberger ruled out: http://tinyurl.com/cdnea9c
Now that that is out of the way...
The Pittsburgh Steelers invade M&T Bank Stadium to play the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday afternoon. The Steelers are healing from some of their injuries, but will be without their offensive leader, Ben Roethlisberger.
The Ravens haven't lost at home this season. They're perfect there in their last 15 regular season games in fact. Their last loss in the friendly confines? December 5, 2010 to the Steelers. However, that was with Big Ben. The Steelers are 0-5 against Baltimore and have lost the last three overall.
We had a feeling Big Ben wouldn't play this week, and were fairly sure that Antonio Brown and Troy Polamalu would. The Steelers' question mark this week is with left guard Willie Colon.
Per Steelers beat and Beaver County Times writer Mike Bires: "Left guard Willie Colon practiced. Unless he has any setbacks from today's workout, he'll play in Baltimore. We'll see how he feels tomorrow."
If Colon plays, then no major shuffling will have to occur on the offensive line. If he doesn't play, then Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey will play left guard, and backup Doug Legursky will fill in at center. As was brought out in the previous article, Pouncey last played guard in his freshman year at Florida.
As for who actually is starting on the offensive line this week, all eyes are on Kelvin Beachum. It also sets up the eight things that must take place if the Steelers expect to leave with another win in Baltimore.
THE RIGHT STUFF?
Beachum, the Steelers seventh-round draft pick out of SMU, will have his hand full Sunday as he will see quite a bit of Paul Kruger, the Ravens outside linebacker. Kruger gave fellow Steelers rookie Mike Adams all he could handle in the game at Heinz Field. In that game Kruger had two sacks and three quarterback hits.
To his credit, in the two games he's been in this season, Beachum hasn't allowed a sack and has only allowed one quarterback hit. As we mentioned in the last article, though, Beachum has had two holding penalties against him in his 27 total snaps.
One of those was last week against the Browns, when he was flagged for holding on Jabaal Sheard, negating a big pass completion from quarterback Charlie Batch to Heath Miller.
Such plays are the very lost or 'hidden yardage' plays that the coaches have talked about in the past. Such mental errors can end up being very costly, and Beachum needs to be able hold down that side without actually holding.
We've said before that to get him help the Steelers could employ some 12-personnel and use the fullback (as in 21-personnel) to chip block. Lance Williams of Steel Curtain Radio breaks this down even further here: http://steelcurtainradio.com/?p=350
RUN. THE. BALL.
Allow me to let you in on (not) a secret: the Ravens have trouble stopping the run. They're 21st in the NFL against the run, allowing over 128 yards per game and four yards per carry. They've gotten better over the last four games in how many yards have been allowed, but are worse in the average yards per carry.
The Steelers ran the ball 27 times for 134 yards (5.0 YPC) in their first meeting, with newly instituted starter Jonathan Dwyer rushing the ball for 55 yards on 12 carries.
As we'd alluded to before, the Steelers needed to get away from the running back-by-committee thing and settle on one runner so that he could get into a rhythm with the offensive line. Dwyer now has the opportunity to do so. Plus, there are three other healthy backs behind him. A strong dose of smash mouth to tire out the Ravens defense and to give them fewer opportunities to score will be crucial. - http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=8695446&utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter
THIRD'S A CHARM
Third down has been atrocious since Big Ben went down. This must change. One way to do it is to be more effective on first downs.
Ideally, you want to gain your yardage on approximately a 50/40/10 percentage clip. Charlie Batch only has a 48% completion rate on 3rd down with the Steelers. So, the fewer yards he has to convert, the better.
As many third and shorts (four yards or less) as possible will help to extend drives and keep the Ravens defense on the field.
HALE(Y) TO THE CHIEF
Todd Haley HAS to stop being so conservative.
What was a strong and consistent winning unit has become inept. Haley's comfort level with Big Ben has become an albatross around the neck of the offense. His play calling has just been bad since Big Ben has been out.
Uncle Charlie's comfort level with the offense matters too, but Haley needs to revert back to what he had them doing when No. 7 was in there: pass on first down, more short and medium passes, run the ball to set up the play action. Get creative with it, also, now that Antonio Brown is back. - http://blog.steelers.com/2012/11/29/coordindators-corner-haley-lebeau/
HE WHO THINKS BY THE INCH AND TALKS BY THE YARD WILL GET KICKED BY THE FOOTE.
The NFL is a game of inches and Ray Rice gained a first down by only one on a controversial 4th and 29 play against the San Diego Chargers. That was a microcosm of what Rice is capable of as a running back and offensive player. Larry Foote, James Harrison and the rest of the unit of linebackers must stop Rice once again. - http://tinyurl.com/bm7ombs
Not much else needs to said on this. Faithful readers to this blog know that we preach gap control. Maintaining gap containment on Rice keeps the Steelers solidly in this game. Period.
There have been comments made that Troy shouldn't be brought back in, that the defense is playing well together and they shouldn't mess with that.
Stop it. Just...just stop.
As LeBeau said, "He makes plays only he can make." Will Allen has been playing well, yes. But, it's absolutely ludicrous and asinine to suggest to keep one of the (still) best defenders in the game on the bench if he is available.
Continuity that Allen has developed over five or six games pales in comparison to the Ryan Clark has with Troy over the LAST FEW YEARS. They have nearly a telepathic relationship together and, even if Troy does only play on a limited basis, it will be good to see the hair back. - http://tinyurl.com/br46346
MAKE A BIG SPLASH
John Steigerwald tweeted from his personal Twitter (@Steigerworld) account that, "Since 1978 when the Steelers win the turnover battle, they are 229-31."
When the Steelers sack Joe Flacco four times or more, they are 4-2 against the Ravens.
Getting splash plays on defense, turnovers and sacks, is essential for the Steelers. That can't be stressed enough. There can be no, NO, hangover from last week's disgusting display. NONE.
"TIME IS THE FIRE IN WHICH WE BURN."
If you've ever had an actual or cyber conversation with me, you've probably heard me criticize Mike Tomlin for his questionable timeout and game management. There are several examples of it over the last few years, including the last time the two teams met.
He used two timeouts at non-crucial points in the game which eliminates the ability to stop the clock when needed.
The forced fumble by Foote against the Browns was missed by the officials. But because the Steelers had no timeouts left, they couldn't challenge. It may not have led to a comeback win, but it doesn't matter because they didn't even have the ability to challenge it. (Which is one of the worst rules in the game, by the way. They have all this technology that can show definitively that it was a fumble, but they can't do anything about it??? *spread cheeks, remove head*)
If the Steelers can do most of those things, they might actually be able to pull off a hard-fought and close victory in Baltimore. Might.
TIDBITS: Practice/Injury Report - Steelers: DNP: Mike Adams (out), Willie Colon (questionable), LaMarr Woodley (out), Casey Hampton (probable), Byron Leftwich (out); LIMITED: Ben Roethlisberger and Cotchery (out); FULL: Antonio Brown, Troy Polamalu and Max Starks.
Ravens: CB Jimmy Smith (sports hernia surgery) is OUT; TE Ed Dickson (knee) is DOUBTFUL; LB Dannell Ellerbe (ankle/foot/thumbs), CB Chris Johnson (hamstring), DE Pernell McPhee (thigh/knee) are QUESTIONABLE.
Ray Rice on Steelers and Terrible Towel-gate via CBSSports.com:
On Ravens maybe surpassing Steelers: "I wouldnt call it a tide turn. I don't think the tide will change until we win our Super Bowls. Any time you are trying to get where the top dog of the division, is you are going to build a team around how to beat those guys. You have to be a team that can compete with the Steelers. I think we've done that over the past few years, done pretty well at it.
"This rivalry has never been soft. I don't buy into the whole thing that you shouldn't be cool after the game. We went to war with each other. We're hitting each other like car crashes, so why not embrace the moment after? 'Hey, man, what's goin on? I wish you well. And stay healthy.' When the game is over, you aren't going to go around and hate a person just because he was a Pittsburgh Steeler."
"You aren't going to catch me out there burning the (Terrible Towel) or doing anything to disrespect their organization. I am a respectful guy. When my child gets older, I will get to show her. She will ask, 'Daddy, who is that?' I will say, 'It's the Pittsburgh Steelers.'"