3TFO: Steelers @ Ravens, Week 13
The Pittsburgh Steelers come into the Thanksgiving Day game against the Baltimore Ravens on the back of a three-game winning streak. Both teams come into this game tied with a whole host of other teams at 5-6. If the Ravens lose this game it will be tough for them to be able to make the postseason, as they would lose the tiebreaker against the Steelers.
The last four games between these two have been decided by 3 points, so its safe to assume that we will have another tightly fought contest between two squads tying to get back to the playoffs.
Let’s take a look at three matchups that could be the deciding factor in this game.
The Continuing Saga of Antonio Brown
The former sixth-round draft pick from Central Michigan is having his best season to date. Antonio Brown has become the focal point in the passing game for the Steelers, he leads the league in catches with 80 and and is second in the league in yards at 1,044. Also, Brown has the fourth-highest wide receiver grade for us at this point. While Brown may have the most catches in the league, he is not the product of just wide receiver screens (even though he has been used a lot in the screen game). On passes over 20 yards Ben Roethlisberger has targeted Brown 20 times. That connection has produced nine catches, 277 yards and four touchdowns. On the surface it sounds like Brown would have had some success on ‘go’ routes, however Roethlisberger and Brown have struggled to connect, hitting 5 of 18 with 150 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and a QB rating of 59.3.
Brown’s strengths clearly outweigh his weaknesses this season. He has had a particularly strong season when used on hitches, having only a pair of incompletions on 15 targets and giving Big Ben a QB rating of 139.3. Brown has also been a quality weapon on slants where he is 15 of 19 for 175 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT and a QB Rating of 100.7. If Roethlisberger and Brown can keep their strong connection going it could produce enough offense to win the game for the Steelers.
Offensive Line Play
While both teams have a few players playing well, as a whole both are fielding units that have been disappointing. In the recent PFF Offensive Line Rankings the Ravens came in 25th (-29.6), and the Steelers at 20th (-13.8).
When the Ravens traded for Eugene Monroe they could not have expected how well he ended up playing. In just six starts he has become the 13th-highest graded tackle this season. The only other positive graded player for the Ravens’ offensive line is Marshal Yanda (+6.0). While these two players show the bright side of the Ravens’ offensive line it doesn’t help that Gino Gradkowski is the second-worst graded center this season, and next to him is A.Q. Shipley who performed well as a center last year for the Colts but has moved to LG after Kelechi Osemele went down for the season. While Shipley has struggled this season, after the Bears game it looked like he may have started to figure things out with a +2.2. Against the Jets it was back to form for Shipley with a -3.8 to bring his season grade to -16.3. As a unit the Ravens haven’t been a good pass blocking team, however it has been even worse as a run blocking unit.
The Steelers have received good play from both of their guards in 2013. David DeCastro, who has only had one game this season where he has graded below -0.3, is now the ninth-highest graded guard in the league. DeCastro is the only starting Pittsburgh offensive lineman to be graded positively for run blocking. While their run blocking has been poor, the pass blocking the Steelers have fielded has been adequate. They are ranked 18th in Offensive Line Pass Blocking Efficiency. If the Steelers do struggle in pass blocking against the Ravens it could be down to Elvis Dumervil. In 3-4 Outside Linebackers Pass Rushing Productivity he leads the leagues with a 16.0 PRP.
One of the biggest reasons for the Ravens’ Super Bowl run last season was the play of Joe Flacco. With Flacco we always have to take the great play with the bad. When the Ravens played the Bills in Week 4 we saw the worst of Flacco. However, over the past two weeks we have seen some of the form that made him the Super Bowl MVP and a very rich man.
Last year Flacco produce good numbers on passes over 20 yards, especially in the middle of the field and on the right side. In 2012, on passes in the middle of the field on throws over 20 yards he was 19 of 37, 651 yards, and seven TDs, QB Rating of 136.5 and a grade of +8.8. This season however, he has produced 5 of 17, 270 yards, one TD, three INTs, and a QB Rating of 59.2, for a grade of -1.3. When he struggles it is when he performs bad under pressure. The key for this game could come down to Flacco and how does he deal with the pressure the Steelers throw at him.