Baltimore Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers Week 11 Preview: Who Has the Advantage?
Baltimore Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers Week 11 Preview
In Week 11, the football world will see the continuation of a heated rivalry between the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers. These bitter rivals are only one game apart in the AFC North standings. This could change dramatically in the near future since they will meet again in Week 13.
The Ravens (7-2) are winners of six of their last seven games, with their last victory being a 35-point blowout. This will be Baltimore’s fourth divisional game of the season, and have yet to lose to a divisional opponent.
The Steelers (6-3) are in a much more critical situation. Even though they are on the high of a four-game winning streak, the have only faced an AFC North foe once, and this marks the first of five more divisional games in their remaining seven games of the regular season.
The one thing that may bring Pittsburgh down even more from their string of victories is having the face of the franchise, Ben Roethlisberger, sidelined indefinitely with injuries to his throwing shoulder and ribs. This leaves the ball in the hands of Byron Leftwich.
Baltimore handed the Steelers their only two divisional losses last season, and are hoping to do the same so that they could have some breathing room atop the close AFC North.
This game has the makings to be a nail biter. With the injury to Roethlisberger, the clear advantage on offense should to the Ravens, but on the defensive side of the ball, Pittsburgh has once again shown their dominance in the league rankings.
Let’s take a further look, shall we.
The unfortunate situation of having quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sidelined with injuries to his shoulder and ribs definitely put the Steelers at a disadvantage at this position. Backup quarterback Byron Leftwich hasn’t started a game since 2009, and looked like he needed to knock off a lot of rust in last week’s game. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco isn’t necessarily putting up big numbers this season, but he is 11th in the league in passing yards and has a respectable quarterback rating of 88.3 to go along with his 13 touchdown passes this season. Even though Flacco will be up against the best pass defense in the league, he should still outplay Leftwich
The unpredictability of Pittsburgh’s running back by committee concerns me. Facing Baltimore’s 26th ranked run defense would make many think that the Steelers will have a field day on the ground, but the same thing was thought last week and Pittsburgh’s running backs only tallied 77 yards. Ravens running back Ray Rice is 13th in the league in rushing with 657 yards and will have to run through the teeth of Pittsburgh’s sixth ranked run defense. However, Rice is a duel threat receiving the ball out of the backfield, and should not be forgotten in the passing game as well.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
The Steelers will more than likely be without one of their top receivers for the second week in a row, so that will make things a little more difficult for Leftwich in the passing game. Fortunately, for the Ravens, they don’t have this problem. Ravens wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith are one of the best receiving duos in the league. Boldin and Smith each have 548 receiving yards on the season. Smith is tied for third among all wide receivers with seven touchdowns. Pittsburgh’s pass defense will present a challenge, but Baltimore has more talent in their receiving corps than the Steelers do right now.
In looking at both teams’ ability to protect the passer and open holes for ball carriers, the Ravens and the Steelers both look virtually identical. The offensive lines of Baltimore and Pittsburgh each have surrendered 19 sacks on the season, and have given up nearly the same number of yards on the ground. The Ravens’ 944 rushing yards and average of 104.9 yards per game barely trumps the Steelers’ 934 rushing yards and 103.8 yards per game average. Even with an injury to one of the Ravens’ offensive linemen, the comparison between the two offensive fronts shouldn’t change the dynamic of how both lines match up.
In know that it is cliché to say, “In football everything starts up front.” No matter how many times you’ve heard this, the fact remains that this is true. The sack totals from both teams’ defensive lines are not high, with the Ravens’ front line tallying 3.5 sacks while the Steelers’ first line of defense has gotten to the quarterback five times. What puts Pittsburgh’s defensive line over the top is the fact that they are a big reason why the Steelers are giving up an average of 94.6 yards per game on the ground. The Ravens’ run defense has struggled all season long, allowing a gigantic average of 132.0 rushing yards per game.
The Ravens’ linebacking corps does have a slight advantage on the Steelers when it comes to sacks. Baltimore’s linebackers have a total of 12.5 sacks this season, compared to Pittsburgh’s 11 sacks on the year. The linebacker units of both teams can get after the quarterback pretty well, and should be up against the same level of competition when facing their opposing offensive lines. Nevertheless, just like Pittsburgh’s defensive line, the Steelers’ linebackers are an important part in stopping the run, and a big reason why Pittsburgh has one of the league’s best run defenses. I think they will contain Ray Rice.
Big-play ability is what sets apart the defensive backs of the Ravens and the Steelers. Even with their top cornerback out for the season, Baltimore’s secondary has managed to record eight of the team’s 10 interceptions, and has returned two of them for touchdowns. In addition to the picks, the Ravens’ defensive backs have showed their involvement in the pass rush with three sacks of their own. Pittsburgh’s secondary hasn’t come close to the production of what Baltimore has done in the first half of the season. Even though the Steelers have the best pass defense in the league, the ability to create points out of turnovers can make the difference in a game.
Pittsburgh’s return game has taken a step back with their top punt returner sidelined with an ankle injury. Last week’s inability to break a long return hurt their field position, and made it more difficult for their offense to get into scoring range. The Steelers have kicked 15 touchbacks on kickoffs this season, but booting the ball deep in the end zone might not matter this week. The Ravens’ return specialist Jacoby Jones just might have sealed up his spot for this season’s Pro Bowl with his kickoff returns of 108 and 105 yards for touchdowns in Weeks 6 and 10 respectively.
This game is arguably the biggest rivalry in the league today. Both teams have displayed success season after season with long postseason runs. The coaches of these two teams know very much what the other is thinking, considering the fact that they have squared off twice a year over the past four regular seasons. Both coaches know how important this game is to their team, and how big of an impact this could have on who wins the AFC North and on the overall playoff picture. Both teams will be well prepared by their coaches, especially knowing that this is the first of two meetings within the next three weeks.
Follow me on Twitter @ClydeASpeller
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