3TFO: Ravens @ Steelers, Week 7
This AFC North contest finds the 3-3 defending Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens going on the road to battle the 1-4 Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite the Ravens having two more wins than their black-and-gold rivals, it’s the Steelers who are coming off a victory against the New York Jets. The Ravens sputtered at home against the Green Bay Packers last week despite their defense holding Aaron Rodgers and company to only one TD.
While Baltimore did win it all last year, they couldn’t sweep the Steelers. These two teams played twice in three weeks in 2012 with the road team winning each — unsurprisingly, both contests were decided by a field goal. It’s worth noting that Ben Roethlisberger didn’t play in either game.
Here are three key match ups in this grudge match.
Monroe and Oher vs. Woodley, Jones and Worilds
Six games in, and reigning Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco’s PFF passer rating drops dramatically when he’s under pressure, from +2.4 to -6.6. The responsibility of keeping Flacco clean will largely fall upon his two tackles, newly acquired LT Eugene Monroe and RT Michael Oher. Monroe was brought in to replace struggling and infamously lazy LT Bryant McKinnie, and started his Baltimore career nicely by putting two pass rushers on the ground in the first quarter (7:12 and 5:49). However, he would go on to allow two hurries and a strip-sack that led to a Packers field goal at the end of the first half. Oher did not give up a sack or knockdown, but still conceded five hurries.
Their challenge will be a mostly three-man rotation between veteran 2008 Super Bowl Champion Lamarr Woodley, rookie Jarvis Jones, and former second-round pick Jason Worilds. Woodley has rebounded so far this season after an injury-filled/lackluster 2012 effort with the second-best Pass Rushing Productivity Rating among 3-4 OLBs (which includes a sack, a hit, and three hurries last week). He will primarily be against Oher, whom he should have the advantage against. Ex-Steeler James Harrison’s spot is more of a concern, with Worilds and Jones taking over. Worilds also had a sack last week, but otherwise only has a hit and hurry to show for the season in terms of pass rushing, which is very important to Dick LeBeau’s defense. Jones, on 26 more blitzes than Worilds, has two hits (including one last week that led to an interception), and five hurries. Yet that still hasn’t been adequate production and it was recently discovered that Jones suffered a concussion in the last week.
Steelers WRs vs. Ravens Cornerbacks
This will be one of the most important matchups in this contest. The Ravens’ CBs were tested against Aaron Rodgers last week, and arguably Baltimore’s best CB, Lardarius Webb, came out looking the worst of this group. Webb was targeted the most in that game — nine times — and conceded six passes for 128 yards, including a 64-yard TD off a play-fake to Jordy Nelson. Webb did have a nice PD vs. Nelson in the end zone, but still the stats slightly flattered him as one of those incompletions, a slant in the red zone to Nelson that would have been at least a first down, was dropped. Slot defender Corey Graham fared a little better, but still has the second-worst coverage grade on this unit to date. The worst coverage grade belongs to Jimmy Smith, who actually had the best coverage grade among DBs in last week’s game (+0.2). Smith allowed only one of five passes to be completed and even picked off an end-zone pass to Nelson. Once again the stats flatter, as the lone completion he surrendered went for 43 yards thanks to his missed tackle, and one of the incompletions would’ve resulted in a first down except for an errant pass from Rodgers.
The Steeler WR the Ravens should be most worried about is Antonio Brown, who has caught 41 of 50 passes thrown to him for two-yards shy of 500, two TDs (coming in a great performance against Chicago), four forced-missed tackles, and just one drop. That one drop would have been a TD catch against the Jets last week though. Emmanuel Sanders is also a threat and finally scored this year on a 55-yard catch-and-run against Antonio Cromartie last week, but he also fumbled in that contest. The other notable WR is Jerricho Cotchery, who didn’t catch a pass last week but also has two scores, 248 yards and a significantly better receiving grade than Sanders so far this year.
Steelers Running Game vs. Ravens Run Defense
The Steelers’ running game has been abysmal this season. The only Pittsburgh RB with a non-negative running grade is Jonathan Dwyer, who was cut prior to the first game only to be brought back after injuries. Rookie Le’Veon Bell scored the team’s only rushing TDs in Week 4 against the Vikings, but on 16 carries in that game still couldn’t earn a positive rushing grade. To be fair, some of the blame belongs to the Steelers’ injured-and-reshuffled offensive line, but regardless of blame, the inability to effectively run the ball continues.
As a unit, the Ravens currently have our sixth-best run defense grade (behind the Packers). Terrell Suggs has played a major role in that with 21 Stops in this area and the highest Run Stop % among his 3-4 OLB peers. On the opposite end of that spectrum is new addition ILB Daryl Smith, who has the worst Run Stop % among inside linebackers with at least 93 run defense snaps. Overall, the whole unit has struggled a bit in two of the past three weeks. In the Buffalo loss, they allowed Fred Jackson to pick up 87 yards on 16 carries (5.4 yards-per-carry) including a 16-yard TD run where first-round pick Matt Elam whiffed. They weren’t tested in a close game vs. the Dolphins (who ran the ball 11 total times), but they were against Green Bay. Nearly all the damage was done by rookie Eddie Lacy, who averaged 5.2 yards-per-carry and busted three runs for at least 10 yards. Can the Steelers have similar success?
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