The Pittsburgh Steelers will face off against the Ravens late on Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field for the 38th time since the ol’ Cleveland Brownies left the mistake by the lake for ‘greener pastures’ in Baltimore. The Steelers lead the all time series 22-15, but the Ravens have tipped the scales slightly by at least splitting the series since 2009 and sweeping the Steelers in 2011. Both teams are currently struggling to pull out W’s each week, but the rivalry is just as strong as it has ever been. It’s an important game for both teams. The Steelers (1-4) are trying to climb out of an 0-4 start and at lest keep pace within the division because they certainly will be hard pressed to secure a Wild Card spot come December. The Ravens (3-3) are also trying to keep pace with the Bengals (4-2) and are also looking for a chance to bury the Steelers’ hopes of turning their season around right there in the turf of Heinz Field. There’s quite a bit to look for during the contest, but here are two key matchups that very well could heavily influence the outcome of this game.
Steelers C Fernando Velasco vs. Ravens NT Haloti Ngata
Ngata could be having the worst season of his career and he would still find a way to be a thorn in the Steelers side two times a season. He always shows up for the games against the Black & Gold. The Ravens defense is ranked 8th in the league in holding up the run. Ngata and his ability to penetrate the offensive line is a big part of their success. With the Steelers Pro Bowl center, Maurkice Pouncey, out with his brutal knee injury, Fernando Velasco has been taking the snaps at center. He’s been doing fairly well thus far, but Ngata will be his biggest challenge this season. Ngata has a way of making his presence known in the first half and discourage teams from continuing the run as the game wears on. The Steelers rank 31st in rushing the football. It could be a rough day overall for the offense if they can’t get some semblance of the run game going, and it will be up to Velasco to keep Ngata at bay. Ngata is listed as questionable with an elbow injury, but I fully expect him to be on the field for this game.
Steelers OLB’s vs. Ravens Tackles
In order for the Steelers secondary to have any success in keeping the Ravens wide receivers from blowing up the scoreboard, LaMarr Woodley and the combination of Jarvis Jones (should he play) and Jason Worilds need to apply pressure and cause quick pocket collapses on Ravens QB Joe Flacco. Woodley leads the defense with four sacks and surprisingly could have had more. The Truffle Shuffle will need to gain the edge on Michael Oher, who has struggled most of this season. On the other side of the line, Jones and Worilds will need to find a way around Eugene Monroe. Monroe started for the Ravens last week and had a solid start. Should Jones (questionable) get playing time, Monroe will have to deal with Jones’ speed and angle off attack, which has improved over the last several games. Worilds will need to continue his improved play from last week. Worilds recorded his first sack of the season and added five more tackles against the Jets last Sunday. If both or even one of these guys struggle to put quick pressure on Flacco (and I mean quick), then the defense will struggle to get off the field as the Ravens will be sure to exploit the soft D using the ‘dink and dunk’ method. We all know and have seen that once pressure is placed on the pocket and Flacco has to scramble, his good decision making and accuracy go way down.
One other thing to keep an eye on
Heath Miller is back. And by back, I mean he is making big plays and become Big Ben’s security blanket down the middle of the field once again. The Ravens defense in the middle of the field has struggled all season and struggle to cover TE’s across the middle or down field between the hashes. Miller could have a big week against the Ravens and be the X Factor to a Steelers’ victory.