By Christina Rivers

The Pittsburgh Steelers came out of Sunday’s game at Heinz Field with a small victory over the Cleveland Browns, but sentiment that the win wasn’t enough continues to run its course during the short week before meeting AFC North rival Baltimore on September 11 during CBS’ Thursday Night Football. The Ravens had issues of their own as they squandered opportunities to take the game from the Cincinnati Bengals only to walk off the field looking defeated. The turntable of events in the division has the Steelers and Ravens heading into a primetime game that should not only live up to its billing as one of the biggest rivalries in modern NFL history, but a game that forces both teams to make a statement about their identity for a 2014 season.

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Gary Kubiak’s new offense in Baltimore left a lot of questions on the field for the Ravens. While quarterback Joe Flacco managed 345 yards on a career-high tying 62 passing attempts, he rarely found a receiver on the other end that could hang onto the pass. Flacco himself took back-to-back sacks on third and fourth down when the Ravens could have tied the Bengals in the fourth quarter. Running back Ray Rice was absent from the offense on Sunday due to a league suspension for abusive conduct towards his now-wife, Janay Palmer.

News this afternoon out of the Ravens front office sends notice to new starting running back Bernard Pierce, who failed in his first outing to meet expectations with just 14 yards on six carries and a fumble, and journeyman Justin Forsett that they have to step up their play. The Ravens officially cut Rice from their roster Monday after new video emerged showing him punching and then knocking out Palmer. If the Ravens felt that the two-game suspension leveled by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell against Rice cast a dark spell on their offense, they’re quickly trying to eliminate the lowering storm clouds now.

Baltimore isn’t just struggling on offense, but also with a younger defense with some new faces. Cornerback Lardarius Webb, who was listed as questionable for the Bengals game despite being a full participant in practice, didn’t see any playing time. Webb believes he’ll play against Pittsburgh, but following the game, coach John Harbaugh declined to reveal anything that may give the Steelers an advantage. With Webb out of the game, Chykie Brown stepped into the starting roll and got burned by A.J. Green late in the game. Overall it wasn’t the defensive backfield that hurt the Ravens – it was their lack of pressure from the defensive line.

The Steelers must make necessary adjustments to their run-stop defense that has looked pale, clean up defensive penalties and beef up their red zone stopping power during the short week if they want to successfully handle Baltimore. They also have to stay sharp and make tackles on passing plays in order to keep the Ravens’ receivers contained. One of the bright spots in the nickle defense was the play of William Gay who showed great coverage skills. Jarvis Jones and Jason Worilds look to be on track to continue pressuring quarterbacks as well.

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The Steelers rotated defensive linemen into the game against Cleveland and that appears to be the approach the team will take against Baltimore as well. “Until people distinguish themselves as being core components, or reasons why we win regardless of circumstance, we are going to cast a big net and play all of the guys in a helmet,” said Tomlin.

When asked about how Pittsburgh plans to address the fact that the run defense allowed a 183-yard game on the ground, head coach Mike Tomlin said, “A lot of it is schematic. A lot of it is communication, and a lot of it is just technique…more than anything, we have to be good fundamentally, we have to exercise good technique, we have to play the defenses called, we have to communicate those defenses, and as coaches we have to put (the team) in the best possible position to defend the plays.”

Surprisingly, these two teams are dealing with relatively similar issues on both sides of the ball, scrambling to find answers as they prepare for a game that usually helps decide who will end up the leader of the AFC North at the end of the season. It may seem premature to be looking that far forward when teams try to play one game at a time, but it will definitely motivate both teams to fix what is broken sooner rather than later.

For more Steelers news and updates, visit Steelers Central.

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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
Examiner.com.