Mike Zappone’s Saturday Steelers Blog: Nov. 17, 2012
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Do we really even need to blog about injuries for tomorrow’s Steelers-Ravens game?
I think there aren’t even people under rocks who haven’t heard that Ben Roethlisberger is out of this week’s game with a sprained shoulder and a rib injury that could potentially rupture his aorta if he takes a hit in the wrong way before it completely heals.
That being said, the Steelers actually dodged an injury that would’ve been just as big this week. Ryan Clark IS expected to play after passing his concussion testing for the second time in three weeks.
Clark has easily been the Steelers’ best defensive back, and maybe their best defensive player overall, this season. With Troy Polamalu continuing to miss games with his calf injury, it is vitally important for the Steelers to keep Clark healthy.
He and Will Allen have teamed up to settle things nicely at safety for the Steelers, but they will definitely be tested this weekend with the serious deep threat the Ravens bring in Torrey Smith.
Controlling the deep game and limiting big plays could be the difference with the Steelers offense being forced to play more of a ball-control game.
With Byron Leftwich at quarterback, there actually ARE a few things working in the Steelers favor. For one thing, Rashard Mendenhall is expected to return after practicing all week and appearing to be clear from his Achilles injury.
With a full complement of running backs, the Steelers can be dangerous on the ground. But just as important in Todd Haley’s offense, Mendenhall’s pass-catching ability can be just as big a factor in keeping the immobile Leftwich upright as a checkdown option.
In fact, Todd Haley’s offense is loaded with checkdown options for Leftwich keeping the chances better he can avoid taking too many shots in the pocket.
Leftwich may also benefit from the fact that the Ravens are a bit of shell of their dominant defenses of the past.
Without Ray Lewis, who is out for the year, Dannell Ellerbe has been struggling to stuff the run and sift through blockers on the inside. That is part of the reason the Ravens are allowing over 130 yards per game on the ground.
It’s also one of the reasons they may have to bring Strong Safety Bernard Pollard up the line if the Steelers start having some success running the ball early.
If that happens, they are suddenly vulnerable to the big play. Even with Antonio Brown still out with his ankle injury, the Steelers can still exploit that with Leftwich’s rifle arm airing it out to Mike Wallace.
That brings up one last area where the Ravens’ defense is thin. They are down to their third cornerback on the left side after losing Jimmy Smith who underwent surgery for a hernia this week. He was already filling the hole left by Lardarius Webb’s season-ending injury.
So, the blueprint is there for the Steelers if they can stop Baltimore’s offense and keep the game tight. Sure Ben is out, but there are enough issues in the right spots of the Ravens’ defense to see the formula for the Steelers to surprise the division leaders tomorrow at Heinz Field.