5 Baltimore Ravens To Watch During Game Against Pittsburgh Steelers
Ravens-Steelers Part 1
It's finally here: Part One of the annual meetings between the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers. There's something about this rivalry that gets me choked up like no other. Two teams where the records mean absolutely nothing. Two teams and cities that have general disdain for one another. Two teams where the mission is not only to win on the scoreboard, but to physically beat down the other opponent to a pulp. While the records don't hold the same mystique as they normally would for both sides at this point of the season, this game has large implications for both the Ravens and Steelers. For Pittsburgh, this could mean a 1-5 start to the season, and in all likelihood, another year missing the postseason barring a tremendous setback in the AFC North.
As for the Ravens, 3-4 heading into a bye week and preparing for a better-than-you-think Cleveland Browns team is a task that Ravens head coach John Harbaugh doesn't want to prepare for. You have to wonder what is going through his mind after dropping an ugly 19-17 game at M&T Bank Stadium to the Green Bay Packers. Baltimore was in the game, despite not putting together a full 60 minutes. However, this team hates losing at home and hasn't been the sexiest road warrior in recent memory. That being said, Harbaugh is 21-6 when following a loss during his tenure as Ravens head coach. Something has to give.
Ravens safety Matt Elam has had some struggles thus far, and has had to endure growing pains associated with being a rookie in the NFL. Maybe it's his lack of height hurting him at free safety. Maybe it's his inability to learn the entire defensive playbook thus far. Maybe it's not taking the proper alignment for his assignment or not knowing what that assignment is. Whatever the case may be, Elam has to know that when playing Pittsburgh, it is crucial to stop wide receiver Antonio Brown. With a speedster like Brown, the main focus he should have is keeping everything in front of him and finishing tackles.
For some reason or another, teams have been looking to test the ACL of Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb. More often than not, Webb has come out the victor in those matchups. Whoever Webb faces on the left side of the field this weekend, whether it is Brown or Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, I think Webb has an advantage, in that he can stay with these guys step-for-step unlike some corners. Sanders is prone to dropped passes, so if he is on Webb's side, expect a quiet day from Pittsburgh's No. 2 wideout.
I am one that doesn't like to blame the running backs for what is an offensive line issue for the Ravens. I'm a firm believer that the only thing holding running back Ray Rice back from greatness this season is the group blocking for him. He still may be dealing with that lingering hip injury as well, but if there is a game that the Ravens could use a solid effort from Rice, it is this one against Pittsburgh, where running the football and playing good defense have been staples for these two franchises since their inceptions.
This is a game where Haloti Ngata will have to contribute significantly. A lot of people criticize Ngata for his inability to make the big play, but those that do, seem to forget the position he plays. For a guy who has played through numerous lower body injuries in recent years, Ngata still commands double teams from opposing offenses and should give the lackluster Steelers' offensive line a fit.
I wrote this about Tandon Doss earlier in the week. While I'm not saying that Doss is going to be the best option for the Ravens coming out of the slot, I do think he has show enough strides offensively to garner some serious consideration. His hands are still questionable, but the same can be said for every other receiver the Ravens trot out there. With defenses keying on Torrey Smith week in and week out, expect a few curl and slant routes underneath to Doss to keep defenses honest and maybe move the chains on a more consistent basis than their 2-14 performance on third downs against the Packers last week.