The Pittsburgh Steelers notched their first victory of the 2013 regular season with a 19-6 win over the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium last Sunday afternoon.
Unfortunately for the Steelers, they will not be able to bask in the glow of their first victory for much longer since they are set to square off against the Baltimore Ravens this evening in a crucial AFC North matchup.
How do I see today’s matchup between the hated rivals? You’ll just have to keep reading to find out, “Steeler Nation:”
Pittsburgh’s Offense vs. Baltimore’s Defense
The biggest matchup of this weekend’s game will occur on the edges between Baltimore’s most potent pass-rushing threats (Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, and to a lesser extent Courtney Upshaw) and Pittsburgh’s offensive tackles (Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert).
The Steelers are not likely to find much success on the ground against the Ravens’ stout front-seven led by Haloti Ngata, Chris Canty, Arthur Jones, and Daryl Smith. Nobody on Pittsburgh’s roster has accumulated 100 rushing yards during the team’s 1-4 start, and the Steelers rank 31st in rushing yards per game (61.0). Pittsburgh might have to “pass to set up the run” for Le’Veon Bell, Felix Jones, and Jonathan Dwyer this weekend, so stellar efforts much come from Beachum and Gilbert.
Baltimore has racked up 22 sacks through their first six game, and Suggs (7.0) and Dumervil (5.0) have combined to record 12.0 of them. If Beachum and Gilbert can keep the veterans from crashing the edges, Roethlisberger should be able to find the multitude of pass-catching weapons he has at his disposal.
Antonio Brown is on pace to set single-season franchise records for receptions and receiving yards, Heath Miller looks like his old “security blanket” self, and Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery are some solid secondary options for “Big Ben” to look for in the intermediate game.
Even if the Steelers are able to move the ball though, they must contend with the Ravens’ stellar red zone defense. Baltimore ranks tied for first in red zone touchdown percentage (25.00%) through their first six games, and Pittsburgh will need “sixes” instead of “threes” if they wish to keep pace with Baltimore’s offense today.
Baltimore’s Offense vs. Pittsburgh’s Defense
Like the Steelers, the Ravens have struggled mightily to move the ball on the ground consistently this fall. Unlike Pittsburgh’s issues though, Baltimore’s problems have been a bit of a surprise when one considers that they have one of the most talented “one-two punches” at the running back position with Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce.
The Ravens have combined to rush for only 2.7 yards per carry (31st) so far this season, and their 72.7 rushing yards per game average (27th) has been nothing to smile about either. To be fair to Baltimore’s running backs, their offensive line has sustained some changes this fall.
Gino Gradkowski has had to replace the unit’s anchor, Matt Birk, and his play from the center position has been inconsistent at best. In addition to Birk’s retirement, the Ravens had to demote veteran left tackle Bryant McKinnie for his poor-play and traded for Eugene Monroe.
Desperate for competent play from the blind-side, Baltimore sent two draft picks to Jacksonville for Monroe to shore up the position. It also has not helped that Marshal Yanda, Kelechi Osemele, and Michael Oher have not played to the level they did during the previous postseason as well.
Luckily for the Ravens, Pittsburgh’s defense has had trouble stopping the run this fall. The Steelers rank 22nd in rushing yards per game allowed (114.8), and this could very well be the weekend that Rice and Pierce break out if Baltimore’s offensive line can win the battle in the trenches.
While their running game issues have been well-documented, Joe Flacco has been harassed this season in the pocket and not lived up to the lucrative contract he inked during the offseason either.
Flacco has not been well-protected this fall, so it will be up to Pittsburgh’s best pass-rushers to make him pay if he tries to push the ball down the field. The Ravens have allowed a combined 19 sacks during their first six games, and it will be up to LaMarr Woodley to lead the pass-rushing brigade against the “Unibrowed Wonder.”
If Pittsburgh cannot create the necessary amount of pocket-collapse to rattle Baltimore’s signal-caller though, then Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, Dallas Clark, Ed Dickson, and rookie sensation Marlon Brown could eat the Steelers secondary alive.