By Christina Rivers
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, Thanksgiving night may prove to be the most critical game of the 2013 NFL Season as they face a Baltimore Ravens team that is hungry to end their three-week winning streak. With playoff potential on the line, as well as bragging rights, the game will be everything it is billed to be, and more.
The 2013 NFL Season didn’t look pretty for the Pittsburgh Steelers early on. Struggling to find an identity, the Steelers worked every week to discover themselves and a way to win. After a 27-11 win against the AFC North Cleveland Browns on Sunday and a strong showing by a Steelers defense that dominated and created turnovers, the Steelers are riding a three-week winning streak into Thursday night’s game against the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens finished off the New York Jets last weekend moving themselves into a tie with the Steelers for second place in the division behind the Cincinnati Bengals. With a wild-card playoff spot on the line, both teams will turn up the heat in an already fiery rivalry on Thanksgiving night.
The Steelers lost cornerback Curtis Brown and nose tackle Steve McLendon against Cleveland. Brown, who has an ACL injury, has been placed on injured-reserve and is lost for the remainder of the season. Isaiah Green was re-signed to the practice squad in his place. McLendon will be out for the Ravens game after suffering an ankle sprain. As for the assorted group of Steelers players with various injuries, head coach Mike Tomlin said on Monday, “We will see where the week takes us. Their participation and how their body responds to practice participation will be our guide in terms of roles and whether or not we allow those guys to participate at all.” That list includes defensive end Brett Keisel, linebacker LaMarr Woodley, offensive guard Ramon Foster, linebacker Stevenson Sylvester and safety Shamarko Thomas.
Big Ben on Ravens Rivalry
On Tuesday, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger addressed media questions regarding the recent surge by the Steelers and his views of the Ravens rivalry. When asked about favorite moments involving play against the Ravens, Roethlisberger said, “Some [memories] are painful. Some are good memories … There have been a lot of great games between these two teams.” Without Ed Reed and Ray Lewis on the Ravens roster, Roethlisberger pointed out how the Ravens have utilized a younger defense. “They’ve got some young guys doing some really good things,” said Roethlisberger, “but they still have [Terrell Suggs] and Elvis [Dumervil] over there. They still have some guys that can wreak some havoc and this is going to be another week and another tough test for us.”
Roethlisberger gave credit to the offensive line for offering him the protection he needed to turn the offense on full speed last weekend, as did offensive coordinator Todd Haley. “The guys up front are doing a great job,” Haley said on Tuesday. “There is some cohesion happening. You can see it happening … starting with Fernando Velasco and some of the identification things.”
Haley admitted that the comfort level along the offensive line has gotten better. “We had figured out the guys that replaced the (injured) guys and figured out strengths and weaknesses … and things (are) looking good, at least out here on the practice field.”
During the Tuesday presser, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau was his usual self, admitting progress in the Steelers defense without the illusion of perfection. When asked about the nose tackle situation and Al Woods’ play at nose tackle following the injury to McLendon, LeBeau made it clear that the Steelers are prepared for such situations. “We always have a progression in case any of our players are injured. It’s just normal procedure,” said LeBeau. “I think he [Al Woods] can be (a nose tackle and a defensive end), and those players in that role, you want them to be able to play more than one position. We thought that he had the anchor ability certainly to sit down in there and police the middle … he did a good job last week … but, I think he does a good job at end too.”
LeBeau has backup plans in place in case Keisel and Woodley miss Thursday’s game. Ziggy Hood will be an option to replace Keisel. Jarvis Jones and Jason Worilds will continue their rotation at outside linebacker and LeBeau admitted they have further plans. “We’ll just keep the rotation as normal in there,” said LeBeau. “Chris Carter has good experience there and we should get [Stevenson Sylvester] back this week. We’ve got good depth, as long as they don’t all not make it.”
LeBeau will have his full secondary back this week as well. “They’ve got not two, but three very adept deep receivers on the outside,” said LeBeau of the Ravens offense. “I would say any able-bodied defensive back would be very welcomed against those guys because they’ve got a great deep passing quarterback [in Joe Flacco] with guys with a lot of speed.”
The Steelers will be watching for deep balls as well as the outside-bounce running style of Ray Rice. The defense will also prepare for Tyrod Taylor who has been used in wildcat-type offensive plays nearly 16 times by the Baltimore offense.
LeBeau’s take on the rivalry is that history reveals the type of game it will be. “It’s always going to be pretty close, and I think the history of the two franchises is involved in that,” admitted LeBeau. “It’s two very proud football teams, proud franchises in the same division, same conference, and we know each other.”
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Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a reporter and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied exercise physiology and sports psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. Her work can be found on