This game will hinge on how well rookie free safety Matt Elam plays. Football is a team game and the Ravens’ secondary has been playing better lately, but Elam will have a daunting task in front of him with the way Ben Roethlisberger has been orchestrating Todd Haley‘s passing offense.
The free safety has a tremendous responsibility for any defense, but Elam has had to overcome a lot of adversity this season given the circumstances provides. Sure, he was the 2013 first-round pick for Baltimore, but he didn’t think he’d have to start at free safety. At 5-foot-10, Elam had issues adjusting to covering some tight ends and bigger receivers earlier in the season, but he has learned the position well. A guy who was a cornerback/strong safety at the University of Florida, more so a strong safety, didn’t expect this to be his role, but he has improved on the toughest job to do as a defensive back and that’s play assignment football.
At times, the 22-year-old still finds himself out of place on the field, but everybody makes mistakes. One thing that has been pretty sure in regards to Elam has been his open-field tackling ability. He was known as a hitter at Florida and that has translated. Obviously, as a guy who plays free safety, and the first replacement to Ed Reed, Baltimore wants him to be more of a ball hawk. However, some guys just don’t play to that characteristic and Elam isn’t one of those guys. He, along with strong safety James Ihedgibo, are better at hitting than defending the pass, but both have improved their pass-defending abilities each and every game.
Tonight, having to face a guy like Antonio Brown is scary for Baltimore. Brown is first in the NFL in receptions with 80 and second in receiving yards with 1,044. The Ravens held him to six catches and 50 yards last time these two opponents faced, but he’s certainly not a guy the Ravens can sleep on. He and his counterpart Emmanuel Sanders have the ability to get behind anyone in the secondary, it’s just a matter of hauling in the deep throws at times. Also, Pittsburgh’s receivers are dangerous in space underneath, so Elam will have to buzz his feet and make sure to not go for the big hit, rather, the right hit.
I don’t expect Elam to get a turnover, but if the Ravens keep everything in front of them and finish plays better than they did last time, expect Baltimore to come away the victor. It starts and finishes with Elam tonight.