By Daniel Benjamin
The Pittsburgh Steelers return home for yet another prime time game as they host the recently hot Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field on Sunday night. Kickoff is slated for 8:30 p.m. ET.
The Steelers earned their seventh straight victory with a hard-fought, come-from-behind 23-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday. The game against the Bengals was ugly, as both teams suffered major injuries and the game was littered with yellow flags. The Steelers will be without inside linebacker Ryan Shazier (back) for the foreseeable future.
Baltimore (7-5) enters the contest on a season-high three-game winning streak, and has won four of five overall. It marks the Ravens’ first three-game winning streak since the start of the 2016 campaign. Baltimore is coming off a 44-20 victory over the Detroit Lions. With the win, the Ravens slid into sole possession of fifth place in the AFC playoff race.
Pittsburgh won the first matchup of the season 26-9 (Oct. 1) at M&T Bank Stadium as Le’Veon Bell ran wild, racking up 134 yards on 35 carries and two touchdowns. The Steelers have won two straight in the series and now hold a 26-21 edge.
Baltimore, which went into the game against Detroit ranked 31st in total offense, accumulated a season-high 370 yards to go along with a season-high 44 points. The Ravens are averaging 30 points over the last five games.
Joe Flacco threw for a season-high 269 yards and two touchdowns versus the Lions. Flacco has been much more consistent lately, despite not throwing for a lot of yards.
Tight end Ben Watson is the team’s most consistent pass catcher and leads the team with 45 receptions. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin is a solid possession receiver and has the most catches among receivers with 34. Mike Wallace is Baltimore’s top big play threat and averages 14.3 yards per catch on 34 catches.
Baltimore has had one of the top running attacks all season. The Ravens rank 12th in the league with 115.5 yards a game, as they have attempted the eighth most rushing attempts. The Ravens have surpassed the 100-yard mark eight times.
Alex Collins and Javorius Allen generally split the snaps. Collins leads the team with 64.1 yards per game and Allen produces 35.2 a game. Allen is used more as a receiver out of the backfield than Collins, and has 42 receptions for 204 yards. Danny Woodhead is also a good pass catcher out of the backfield.
As usual, the Ravens defense is the team’s bread and butter. They have been solid all season, but they have been even better of late. The Ravens have surrendered just 59 points over the last five games, which includes two shutouts.
Baltimore has posted three shutouts and are third in scoring overall, allowing only 17.3 points a contest. The Ravens rank seventh in the league in total defense, giving up 311.7 yards per game. The Lions accumulated 376 yards last week, which is the fourth most that the Ravens have permitted all season.
Baltimore’s pass defense is excellent, while they are merely average against the run. The Ravens are permitting 217.7 yards through the air, which is the third fewest, and 112.7 yards on the ground, which ranks 16th in the league.
The Ravens have forced a whopping 11 turnovers in the last three games and 29 overall.
Players to watch: Running back Alex Collins and linebacker Terrell Suggs
Collins, who is dealing with migraines, could cause the Steelers some problems if he is able to go. Collins ran for 75 yards and two touchdowns against the Lions on 15 carries. He has totaled 135 yards along with three touchdowns on 31 carries over the last two games. Collins tallied 82 yards on nine carries against the Steelers in the earlier meeting this year,
Suggs is an absolute amazing specimen. The 35-year-old has over a third of the team’s 33 sacks with 10.5, and six of those have come in the last four games. He is a pass rushing specialist, though he is also strong against the run. Suggs has been dominant against the Steelers over his career, registering 14.5 sacks and 31 tackles along with two interceptions in 26 games.
Outlook: Steelers 24, Ravens 17
This game has major playoff implications as both teams need wins to maintain their playoff positions. With a win, the Steelers would wrap up the AFC North division title as well as maintain their edge over New England. Baltimore would remain fifth in the playoff chase with a win. The Ravens would also cut the Steelers’ division lead down to two games with three left.
The keys to the game for the Steelers
First, the Steelers will need to protect the ball and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh has turned the ball over four times in the last two games. Roethlisberger, who has thrown three picks in the last two games, has been protected pretty well by the offensive line this year, although getting pressure on Roethlisberger is the best way to force him into mistakes. He has been sacked 16 times all year.
The Steelers also need to get Antonio Brown involved early and often. Brown will look to continue his torrid three-week stretch against a Ravens secondary that will be without standout cornerback Jimmy Smith, who tore his Achilles on Sunday. Brown has 28 catches for 414 yards and six touchdowns over the last three games. The NFL’s top receiver has had moderate success against the Ravens during his career, hauling in 78 catches and three touchdowns.
Pittsburgh will also be without wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. Smith-Schuster was issued a one-game suspension for his hit on Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict.