Heading into Pittsburgh’s most recent game versus Baltimore, it looked like the Ravens possessed an enormous matchup-edge in the pass rushing department. With Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil starting, as well as the up-and-coming Courtney Upshaw in the rotation, Baltimore’s edge rushers appeared primed to feast upon Pittsburgh’s inexperienced offensive tackles in the forms of Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert.
In what proved to be some of the most pivotal matchups of the evening, Beachum and Guy Whimper, who took over for Gilbert after he left early in the first quarter with an injury, kept Suggs and Dumervil at bay and largely in check as pass rushers.
Overall, Baltimore’s top three edge crashers racked up a combined 1.5 sacks (Suggs: 1.0, Dumervil: 0.5, Upshaw: 0.0) and Ben Roethlisberger looked extremely comfortable in the pocket while he went 17-of-23 for 160 yards and passed for a touchdown. While members of the Ravens’ defense were kept on their heels due to the Steelers’ strong ground attack in that game (Le’Veon Bell: 95 yards and Team: 141), Beachum and Whimper more than held their own on the outside.
Tonight’s game however could feature a different and more “pass happy” mode of attack for Pittsburgh’s offense than Baltimore saw during their first matchup of the 2013 campaign. “Big Ben” is fresh off of three straight solid performances, an AFC Offensive Player of the Month award for his efforts, and the offense has employed a more aerial-based hurry-up attack.
If Todd Haley and Roethlisberger do decide to sling the ball around tonight in Baltimore, they will need strong performances once again from their offensive tackles and a steady diet of side cars and chipping blockers on the outside. As of now, the Ravens rank tied for first in the league in sacks with 37.0, and Suggs and Dumervil have led the charge all season long for their defense.
Suggs has tallied 9.0 sacks, Upshaw has chipped in 1.0, and Dumervil is the team’s current leader with 9.5 of his own. By that same token, their efforts on the outside have allowed others like Arthur Jones (4.0), Daryl Smith (3.5), Pernell McPhee (2.0), Chris Canty (2.0), and others to shine this fall as well.
Keeping a clean pocket for Roethlisberger, even when he is dinking-and-dunking, will be of the utmost importance if the Steelers wish to escape with an important road win tonight. Thus, the task will be up to Beachum and Gilbert, along with possibly Mike Adams, Whimper, and an assorted amount of chippers, to keep Baltimore’s best pass rushers from wreaking havoc.
Make no mistake, Pittsburgh has the offensive firepower at their skill positions to do a significant amount of damage to defenses around the league. For them to operate at their highest efficiency as a unit though, “Big Ben” must be able to distribute the ball confidently and without being constantly harassed.
If the Steelers can neutralize the Ravens’ edge rushers, they will improve to 6-6 and their postseason heart will continue to beat for another week. If they cannot however, the long, cold winter will begin in Pittsburgh when the final gun sounds.
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