After being gashed by rookie running back Le’Veon Bell during the loss to Pittsburgh in October, the Ravens defense’s main priority will be making sure that doesn’t happen again. While 19 carries for 93 yards doesn’t sound very impressive, they were very effective yards, constantly grinding out first downs, keeping the Ravens defense on the field.
Coming into Thursday’s matchup, the Raven’s have the 11th-ranked run defense, so they definitely have the tools to do so. Signing with the Ravens this past offseason, the former Giant Chris Canty told Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun what it is going to take to shut-down Bell and the Steelers running game:
He’s a patient runner. Those blockers want to lay on you to create alleyways for Le’Veon Bell to take advantage of it. He does a great job of finding space, finding where you’re not and really being able to hit that hole and accelerate. It’s going to take 11 hats swarming to the football to bring down Le’Veon Bell.”
Le’Veon Bell has had a fairly mediocre rookie season, but at times he has looked exceptionally good at waiting for holes to develop, and in the Ravens game, he did his best job of this all season. Of course, David DeCastro also played the best game of his young career, but Le’Veon also had a great game. In all honesty, I believe the running game will not be the path to victory for the Steelers.
The Ravens seem to be set on stopping Le’Veon Bell and the Steelers run game that they were unable to stop in week 7, but in my opinion, their biggest concern should be the Steelers passing game.
On the Steelers current three-game winning streak, Ben Roethlisberger has thrown one interception and seven touchdowns for a passer rating of 99.7. When the Steelers have needed him to be a game manager, he has done just that, but when Roethlisberger has been asked to win games through the air, he has done that as well.
One of the biggest reasons the Steelers seem to have a shot at the postseason is because of the man they have under center. Ben Roethlisberger has played at a high level, and there is no reason to believe he couldn’t continue on Thanksgiving night against the Baltimore Ravens.
It also helps when you have a group of receivers like the Steelers do. The current statistics of their top three receivers:
1,044 receiving yards
503 receiving yards
561 receiving yards
Each of these three receivers have reached career highs for touchdowns and will continue to add to these numbers in the following weeks. Why should this make the Ravens concerned? Even with the 11th ranked pass defense, this trio will present problems for Baltimore’s secondary.
Top corner Lardarius Webb will of course be locked on Antonio Brown who is experiencing a very special season. With 80 receptions for 1,044 yards, Brown leads the NFL in receptions, and is only second to Calvin Johnson in the receiving yardage category. While the matchup with Lardarius Webb appears to be a daunting task for Antonio Brown, the matchup with Joe Haden looked quite daunting as well, and look who came out on top. Webb will win some, and Brown will win some, but the Steelers are counting on Antonio Brown to win a large majority of the time.
Recently a touchdown machine, Jerricho Cotchery has become Ben Roethlisberger’s Heath Miller this season. Cotchery has been extremely reliable on 3rd-downs, as well as in the redzone. While he may not be a speedster, Cotchery could very well play a big role in the success of the Steelers offense.
Emmanuel Sanders has never been a touchdown machine, but he is a matchup issue with his short area quickness and burst. Sanders will most likely be matched up against Corey Graham quite often, which is a matchup he should be able to win quite often. He looks to have the game changing play this time around since he missed out on it by a few inches, stepping out-of-bounds on a kick return for a touchdown late in the game.
On top of this troublesome trio, the Ravens will also have to deal with the surging Heath Miller. Since returning to the lineup in week 3 against the Chicago Bears, Miller has had mediocre numbers with 382 receiving yards, with his sole touchdown coming against the Ravens in week 7. Heath Miller still doesn’t seem to be 100 percent, but he could still be helpful in moving the chains, with maybe even a touchdown. Heath Miller may not be the force that he was last season, but he still forces the Ravens to account for him.
For the Steelers sake, I’m sure they hope the Ravens focus on the run game come Thursday night, because if they do, Ben Roethlisberger and the trio of Brown, Cotchery, and Sanders could pave the way to a .500 record on the season, at 6-6 overall.
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