By Christina Rivers
After a stunning win over the Indianapolis Colts at Heinz Field on Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers will get right back into a gridiron smack-down with the Baltimore Ravens on November 2. Joe Greene’s jersey will be officially retired by the Steelers on a night when this AFC North rivalry could decide the fate of either team in the AFC North division. The Ravens took one on the chin when they lost, 24-27, to the Cincinnati Bengals in week eight. This rematch will showcase two teams that will give anything to not only beat the other, but push for a successful second half of the 2014 NFL regular season.
The Ravens are a team moving in the wrong direction, losing on Sunday, only to see the Steelers standing in their way putting together back-to-back wins decisively. For the second time this season, Baltimore came clawing back after going down double-digits against the Bengals only to regain the lead and give it away. The Bengals were able to take advantage of tackling and coverage issues that have plagued the Ravens defensive secondary, and without top cornerack Jimmy Smith, Dominique Franks and Lardarius Webb were targeted by Andy Dalton. Quarterback Joe Flacco had a poor game, throwing a pair of interceptions, but kept his team in a position to win. When receiver Steve Smith, Sr., was called for offensive pass interference on an 80-yard touchdown catch, negating the final drive that would have put Baltimore on top. It was back-to-back defensive turnovers that helped them get to that position. With a myriad of injuries, the Ravens will be spending the week preparing for Pittsburgh by calling on players to pull together at the insistence of head coach John Harbaugh.
Offensively, the Ravens will be evaluating injuries to wide receivers Torrey Smith (head) and Michael Campanaro (hamstring) as well as linemen Kelechi Osemele (eye), Eugene Monroe (undisclosed) and Marshal Yanda (knee). Smith passed the concussion protocol and was able to return to the game but did not receive a catch. Monroe has missed the last four games due to knee surgery, but was able to enter the game for one series before being replaced by James Hurst. Rookie John Urschel filled in at both right and left guard for Osemele and Yanda.
Despite Baltimore having to move on without some key players, the Ravens are still a dangerous team for the Steelers. Flacco didn’t impress against Cincinnati, but he has shown the ability to lead the offense downfield series after series this season, making him a target the Steelers defense will need to hit frequently. Flacco saw a steady pass-rush and injuries to the offensive line weren’t the reason he threw two picks. Flacco forced passes into heavily-defended receivers and the result was that the Bengals capitalized. Cincinnati dropped their linebackers into mid-coverage and the Steelers could take a look at how they can take similar advantages in their pass protection packages. Flacco showed earlier this season, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, that he can bounce back from a bad showing to put up a five-touchdown effort. Whether he has the personnel around him to do that against Pittsburgh remains to be seen.
Harbaugh isn’t the type of coach that backs down from challenges — ever. He will push his team to go for extra yardage, to take risks for potential reward. Seen by many in the league as an extremely competitive coach, Harbaugh’s style is aggressive and he asks for the same out of every player on his roster. He’ll ask Terrelle Suggs and his defense to pressure the Steelers offense and he’ll expect his own offense to take every inch of yardage possible, even if it means going for it in tough situations.
The way to combat this coaching style is for Mike Tomlin and his staff to put the personnel on the field who are up to the challenge. After taking a beating on Sunday, Cortez Allen should be moved back on the depth chart at cornerback in favor of Brice McCain and Antwon Blake. Utilizing the players who have been the most consistent and have shown the personal drive to win will be key. Allowing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to open up and spread the offense will be critical to success.
The Steelers lost the first meeting with the Ravens on September 11 by 20 points. With back-to-back games where the Pittsburgh offense was able to dominate, putting up at least 24 points in the second quarter, the Steelers know where their own soft spots are and need to take advantage of any weaknesses the Ravens show. This game will show which team has the teeth to chew the heels of the Bengals for dominance in the division. Never one to be missed, this Sunday’s game was chosen by Joe Greene as his (jersey) retirement game for one reason – it will be a gladiator’s arena where the victor survives all challenges.
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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