3TFO: Steelers @ Ravens, Week 13
With three straight shaky performances, and two straight losses, to go along with a rash of injuries, the Pittsburgh Steelers head to Baltimore trying to right the ship and avoid a free fall at the worst possible time. With questions still looming over who will start at quarterback the team will be a little nervous to rely too much on the running game after last week’s fumble-fest in Cleveland.
For the Baltimore Ravens, the ability to wrap up the AFC North so early in the season will come as a surprise. That’s exactly what will happen if they win and the Cincinnati Bengals lose to the San Diego Chargers and, riding divisional and home winning streaks, they’ll be confident of keeping to their end of the bargain on Sunday.
There’s something that just feels right about a Ravens-Steelers game with playoff implications in December and, despite playing just two weeks ago, both teams will be ready to try and dent the others postseason goals. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the key areas to focus on in the AFC North rivalry.
Steelers Pass Rush vs. Ravens Offensive Line
Given their lack of ability to get to the passer so far this season, it’s particularly concerning that it doesn’t look like Lamaar Woodley, who has been their best pass rusher in 2012, will be able to play. With a Pass Rushing Productivity (PRP) Rating of 11.3, coming from 24 total pressures from 168 snaps as a pass rusher, he leads all Steelers outside linebackers. His replacement, Jason Worilds hasn’t been too bad, generating four sacks, four hits and five hurries on 106 pass rushes for a PRP Rating of 10.1. However, the biggest concern, and not just for this season, is the play of James Harrison. Once one of the most feared pass rushers in the game, he has a PRP Rating of just 7.2, with a mere 15 total pressures from 166 snaps as a pass rusher.
While he isn’t playing at the level of the likes of Duane Brown in Houston, Michael Oher has improved enough for the Ravens that he’s not as big a concern as he was a year ago. Allowing four sacks, eight hits and 20 pressures in 2012, he has a Pass Blocking Efficiency (PBE) Rating of 94.1. On the right side, rookie Kelechi Osemele has a PBE Rating of 94.5, with 27 total pressures allowed from 411 passing plays. He’s had his struggles as a rookie, but has played with much more consistency from Week 6 onward. These games are often decided by late turnovers, so keeping Joe Flacco clean from Pittsburgh’s outside rushers will be the key.
Steelers Wide Receivers vs. Ravens Cornerbacks
The good news for the Steelers is that Antonio Brown, their best all-around wide receiver, is expected to return to the field for this week’s game. He hasn’t been as explosive this year as he was a year ago, with his yards per catch average dropping from 15.9 in 2011 to 11.9, but he has still provided a pair of safe hands with just two drops all season. The struggles of Mike Wallace, who has seen his Yards Per Route Run average drop from 2.15 last season to 1.42 this year, has led to the potential for Emmanuel Sanders to replace him in two receiver sets, according to head coach Mike Tomlin. He has averages 1.54 Yards Per Route Run, giving him the edge over Wallace by 0.12.
The Ravens reported earlier this week that Cary Williams was leading all AFC cornerbacks in the Pro Bowl voting. While his play over the course of the season, despite picking off four passes, doesn’t quite warrant that, he has played at a much higher level over the past month. In the past four games he has allowed only one touchdown, while picking off one pass and breaking up three more. After struggling in his first start since replacing the injured Jimmy Smith, Corey Graham has played much better, with an interception and four pass breakups in the past two weeks. That being said, neither have shown they can play at a high level consistently, and with Brown coming back into the line up in Pittsburgh they need to be at the top of their game.
The Emergence of the Ravens Receivers
While you can question Flacco’s ability to perform at a consistent level, the same can’t be said of his receiving corps, who have been solid all season. Veteran Anquan Boldin has dropped just the one pass and forced nine missed tackles, giving Flacco a reliable target from the slot. On the outside, second-year man Torrey Smith continues to grow and had his best game as a complete receiver on Sunday. That showed that he can be more than just a deep threat, despite his best play coming on a long reception on a back shoulder go route that set up the winning field goal in overtime. Finally, third receiver Jacoby Jones has been the Ravens’ best offseason pickup, and not just because of his return skills. With five of his 22 receptions going for 20 yards or longer, he has added another deep threat to the Ravens’ offense.
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