Saturday, October 19, 2013

Steelers Look For 2nd Win In "Grudge Match" Against Ravens


“It’s a grudge match. It really is. It always seems to be close." - Brett Keisel on rivalry with Ravens.

Whether it could be labeled a "grudge match," a blood bath or the 'best rivalry in the NFL' (to which it is often referred), one thing is very certain - these teams just don't like each other.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers and the defending world champion Baltimore Ravens take the field Sunday afternoon, one player new to the rivalry may not be able to get himself acquainted.

Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones was diagnosed with a concussion early this week and is listed as questionable for the game Sunday. He practiced fully on Friday but must still pass a concussion test.

If he is unavailable, fellow outside linebacker Jason Worilds will start in his stead. Something with which defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is just fine.

"If you look at the video and, really, the team record," said LeBeau, "you will see that Jason {Worilds} played pretty dag gone well last year....Jason has always been excellent at {the point of attack}. He is a good, growing young player. We are glad we got him."

Be it Jones or Worilds, they will need to get to quarterback Joe Flacco and to stop running back Ray Rice. While Bernard Pierce has been a valuable compliment to him, Rice is still the main man to stop.

Since the start of 2011, when Rice gets 20 or more touches (carries and receptions) in a game, the Ravens have a 22-2 record. However, when Rice gets fewer than 20 touches the Ravens are only 7-11.

Rice's value is undeniable. The Steelers run defense, unfortunately is ranked 22nd in the league, giving up 114.8 yards per game. What helps is that Rice is only averaging 2.8 yards per carry this season providing a dynamic that might lean in the Steelers favor.

While the Steelers still must contain Ray Rice if they expect to win, it doesn't end there. As LeBeau also said, they have "a good corps of wide receivers that can go deep. They kind of live on that big play..." Point blank, the Ravens have the weapons to hurt the Steelers by going deep.

They are led by wideout Torrey Smith who is fourth in the NFL in receiving yards with 568, including a 20.3 yard per catch average. Another player to watch out for is rookie Marlon Brown. His three receiving touchdowns are already fourth most by a rookie in team history.

The Steelers secondary would seem to be up to the task as it is ranked fourth best in the NFL allowing just 196 yards per game.

Speaking of wide receivers, the Steelers have their own who's leading the league in receiving categories.

Antonio Brown has been targeted 53 times by Ben Roethlisberger this season resulting in 41 catches and 498 yards. He is second in the NFL in receptions, behind Andre Johnson of the Houston Texans - who haven't had their bye yet. AB average 12.1 yards per catch and 99.6 per game. He is also second amongst all wide receivers, again minus Houston's Johnson, with 27 receptions for first downs.

“...He's our No. 1 guy,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley said on Thursday. “When Mike {Wallace} left, {AB} knew he had an opportunity to step into that role. He's embraced it, he's worked hard and he's making plays. That's tough to do when you're ‘the' guy because that's the guy that generally sees double coverage.” -

Truth. Case in point was the play that led the Steelers' lone touchdown scored against the Jets last Sunday.

On the 55-yard strike to Emmanuel Sanders last Sunday, the Jets were in the old "46 defense" with strong safety Dawan Landry cheating over to Antonio Brown's side, while free safety Antonio Allen was in the box for a blitz or hot read. i.e. AB was doubled covered which allowed Manny to take Antonio Cromartie one-on-one.

Teammates have even said that AB is even better and that he isn't taking any downs off. Manny had previously been the better route-runner of the two (especially three), but AB has been running his routes with greater precision than ever before, leading to possible record-breaking numbers.

AB is currently on pace for 131 receptions and 1,593 yards, which would decimate his previous career highs of 69 catches for 1,108 yards (in 2011), and would rearview mirror Hines Ward's team record of 112 catches in a season and Yancey Thigpen's team record of 1,398 yards.

With all that said, two things still need to be considered going up against the Ravens Sunday: the fact that, as successful as they were with them last week against the Jets, don't expect the Steelers to run as many screens against Baltimore, and Le'Veon Bell must continue to get better.

While Bell has battled injuries, after making his debut he’s become the clear top option for the Steelers. Though having a slow start as a runner, averaging only 2.84 YPC, he has shown promise and has done a very nice job as a receiver catching all seven of the passes targeted his way for 100 yards. He has also shown his blocking skills with no pressure being surrendered on his 16 pass-block snaps.

Yet, Bell is capable of offering more to this offense. With the ZBS and outside-run blocking, if he trusts himself and his teammates and displays a little more patience, he can be very good for this team for a very long time.

The Steelers will be up to the task regardless, though, as linebacker Terrell Suggs knows all too well.

"This is a team," Suggs told NFL Network's Aditi Kinkhabwala, "they're never going to say die."

A team facing its bitterest rival. And it all resumes Sunday afternoon.


TIDBITS: Jarvis Jones (concussion) practice participation was adjusted to "limited" Friday; listed as questionable for Sunday. Still must pass concussion test.
The rest of the Injury Report is as follows: Keisel, Gilbert, Heath all probable; Wheaton, Gordon both out

Ravens: ILB Josh Bynes (hand), Out; NT Ngata (elbow), OLB Upshaw (foot), CB Webb (thigh) all limited on Friday and all listed Questionable.

The Ravens have added linebacker Jameel McClain to their roster, the club said Saturday.


"@MarkKaboly_Trib: Did you know that the OL the #Steelers put out for the 2nd half of the season opener last year is 100% different than it is right now"