3TFO: Ravens @ Steelers, Week 11
After finally delivering the dominant performance that their record was lacking, the Baltimore Ravens head to Pittsburgh full of confidence. Quarterback Joe Flacco, who has thrown the game-winning pass in his past two visits to Heinz Field, comes into the game after his best performance all season.
The Pittsburgh Steelers don’t have that luxury at quarterback, with Ben Roethlisberger missing at least this week, and probably more, after an injury on Monday night. That puts more pressure on the defense and a running game that has performed well so far this season.
Almost always a close fought, psychical matchup, let’s take a look at the key areas to focus on in the first of two games between these teams over the next three weeks.
Ravens Pass Rush vs. Steelers Offensive Line
The good news for the Steelers is that this is as bad a Ravens pass rush as they will have seen in a long time. Terrell Suggs continues his comeback from injury, but after looking like his old self in his return against the Houston Texans, his performances against the Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders have been less impressive. Elsewhere at outside linebacker Paul Kruger and Courtney Upshaw have offered little with Pass Rushing Productivity (PRP) Ratings of 7.4 and 5.1 respectively. Injuries have slowed down last season’s Secret Superstar Pernell McPhee, while Haloti Ngata’s own injuries have caused a dip in form after a strong start to the season. The Ravens best pass rush threat actually comes from inside linebacker, where Dannell Ellerbe has a PRP Rating of 22.5, with 14 total pressures from 51 snaps as a pass rusher.
With Roethlisberger sidelined, keeping pressure away from backup Byron Leftwich, who saw the field for the first time since Week 17 of the 2010 season on Monday night, becomes even more important. As a whole, the Steelers offensive line ranks 16th, with a Pass Blocking Efficiency (PBE) Rating of 80.4. Most of that pressure has come from the outside, with left tackle Max Starks allowing 31 total pressures compared with the 24 combined allowed by starting guards Ramon Foster and Willie Colon, and center Maurkice Pouncey. At right tackle, rookie Mike Adams has continued to fill in for the injured Marcus Gilbert and, while he has allowed five sacks, a hit and 11 pressures, his performances have been much better than his preseason outings suggested he would be.
Ravens Wide Receivers vs. Steelers Cornerbacks
Torrey Smith’s last outing in Pittsburgh included the highlight and lowlights of his rookie season. He pulled in the game-winning pass as time ticked away, but that couldn’t take away from his four dropped passes — the same number of drops he had combined throughout the rest of the season. This year, Smith has become an even bigger threat downfield, with his five touchdowns on passes 20 yards or longer the most among wide receivers. The Ravens added Jacoby Jones, who has provided an extra deep threat on the roster with three receptions of more than 20 yards of his own. In the slot, Anquan Boldin continues to be a reliable target for quarterback Joe Flacco, averaging 1.26 yards per route run, and has at least 68 yards through the air in each of his last four regular season games against the Steelers.
At cornerback, the Steelers are getting as good a performance as they’ve had in the past few years with both Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis allowing a reception once every 10.1 snaps in coverage. Taylor has improved as the season has gone on and hasn’t allowed a touchdown in the past three games, after allowing five in the first six. Lewis has equalled Taylor with 29 receptions allowed while allowing just a single touchdown. He too has upped his game as the weeks have passed, breaking up 10 passes in the past five weeks after breaking up none at all in the first four. Last season’s fourth-round draft pick, Cortez Allen, has impressed in the slot, breaking up five passes and not allowing a touchdown so far this season.
How hurt is Ed Reed?
Normally the thought of a backup quarterback having to deal with safety Ed Reed would make for a long night for the signal-caller. However, after a rough day against the Raiders, you have to wonder if Reed is healthy enough to be out on the field. Responsible for the long touchdown reception by Darrius Heyward-Bey on Sunday, after a poor attempt at a tackle, Reed came out of the game not long into the second half. Reed has been able to get it done in coverage while playing hurt previously, with three interceptions and seven pass breakups so far in a season that has included fine performances against Cleveland Browns and New England Patriots. His inability to make the tackle has now gone past the point of concern, however, and, with an average of one missed tackle every 5.4 attempted, he’s tied for 53rd among the 61 safeties who have played at least 50% of their team’s snaps in that regard. In a game that traditionally is won by a four points or less, the Ravens can’t afford for another mistake like the one Reed made on Sunday.
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