Pittsburgh Steelers: 5 Keys to Victory vs. Baltimore Ravens
Pittsburgh Steelers: 5 Keys to Victory vs. the Baltimore Ravens
When the Pittsburgh Steelers face the Baltimore Ravens, you can typically account for several things: a close game, a big play and a key turnover, just to name a few. One thing that has become increasingly difficult is to predict the outcome of these games.
Rarely does one team sweep the season series and with the Steelers defeating the Ravens on October 20, history tells us that the Ravens will have the advantage.
With that being said, this rivalry has trended towards the unexpected since 2001. During that time, the series leans in Pittsburgh's direction with the Steelers winning 16 and Baltimore winning 12. This series is as even as they come in the NFL, and the product will certainly lend itself to mistakes in a short week.
If you are looking for a game with plenty of implications on the line, then this is your game. With both teams sitting at 5-6, the winner takes the driver seat for the sixth and final seed in the AFC playoff picture, while the loser will drop to 5-7 with a host of other teams and begin the process of hoping and praying for help from outside sources.
This rivalry doesn't need any additional fodder in terms of the players being amped up for the matchup, but when the potential playoff seedings are on the line, the game itself goes from big to huge.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have proven that they can defeat the Baltimore Ravens, and did so earlier this year at Heinz Field in October despite being the most inconsistent team in the AFC North at 1-4.
Here are the five keys to victory for the Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on Thanksgiving night.
Jeff Hartman covers the Pittsburgh Steelers for RantSports.com and also contributes for the Penguins and Pirates. Follow him on Twitter @BnGBlitz
5. Get An Early Lead
The Steelers have done a good job of playing with a lead in the past three weeks, and that is a strong reason why they have won those three games. When playing in Baltimore, the Steelers would benefit greatly from an early lead that will silence the M&T Bank Stadium crowd and allow the Steelers to settle into their game plan.
Look for the Steelers to take shots deep early and often and test a Baltimore secondary that has been inconsistent this season. The speed of Steelers wide receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders on the outside will certainly open up the middle of the field for tight end Heath Miller and Jerricho Cotchery to do damage against the Ravens' linebackers and safeties.
Any lead is significant in this matchup, and it is imperative that the Steelers claim the advantage early so they can stick to their game plan.
4. The Running Game
The Steelers are averaging 77 yards on the ground per game, and that is near the bottom of the barrel in the NFL. The Baltimore Ravens are giving up 103 yards rushing per game. The Steelers need to establish the running game, but Steelers fans shouldn't be shocked if you see the Steelers stick to what has been working, and that is using the passing game to set up the running game.
The usage of screens and quick-hitter passes will supplement the run, even though they are statistical passes. Yards gained are scarce in this rivalry, so they will take what they can get.
The running game isn't just merely about the Steelers' rushing offense, but also the Steelers' rushing defense. The Steelers must stop the Ravens' running attack of Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, and force Joe Flacco to have no other option than to throw the football over 35 times.
3. Get to the Quarterback
The Steelers' past three games have been successful in many different areas, and getting to the quarterback is one of them. The Steelers might not be sacking the quarterback, but they are getting to the quarterback and forcing them to throw the ball away or to misfire on other throws.
Joe Flacco is experienced enough to diagnose the rush, so the Steelers will have to get pressure without sending more than the usual 4-5 blitzers to avoid getting burned when the Ravens pick up the blitz.
Cam Heyward has been a bright spot for the defensive line in recent weeks, and that production will have to continue this week in pressuring the quarterback and shutting down the opposition's running game.
With Steelers' nose tackle Steve Mclendon out with a high ankle sprain, the nose tackle duties will fall to Al Woods or even Evander "Ziggy" Hood. Whoever steps in will be under a lot of pressure to get the job done against a Ravens team that is capable of moving the ball and taking time off of the clock.
2. Never Turn Down Points
Eight of the last 10 meetings between these two teams have been decided by three points or fewer. That fact alone should make it obvious that points are at a premium and should never be turned down. Fans always want to go for it at the goal line on fourth-and-goal, but with the Steelers and their pathetic short-yardage offense, sometimes kicking the field goal isn't a bad thing.
The hope is that the Steelers using the no-huddle offense and keeping a quicker pace to their style of play will only help produce more touchdowns in the red zone and fewer field goals, but remember that points are points, and unless it is the fourth quarter and the game is on the line, points should never be turned down.
1. The Splash Play
Looking back at the last few meeting with the Steelers and Ravens, there is typically one huge play that turns the tide.
Think back to the myriad of James Harrison strip sacks of Joe Flacco that altered the game in the Steelers' favor, or a huge return for a touchdown like Jacoby Jones' that tilted the game in the Ravens' favor last year at Heinz Field.
Splash plays can come in many different ways, but the team that wins those plays will most likely take the game. Was John Harbaugh right in calling for an onside kick after scoring points when the Ravens lost to the Steelers in October? Those are the plays that can make or break the game, and this rivalry is riddled with these splash plays. Who can forget the young Steelers WR named Antonio Brown catching a pass against his helmet in the AFC Divisional game that propelled the Steelers to the AFC Championship game against the New York Jets, and eventually to the Super Bowl?
The team that limits the splash play and takes advantage of the big play will ultimately be the team that wins this grudge match.
Any way you look at it, this game has the makings of a classic, and that is something we all can be thankful for on Thanksgiving night.