Tonight is the game I’ve had circled on my calendar since the schedule was released in April. It’s the game I circle on the calendar every season–Steelers-Ravens at Heinz Field. This is the reason to have season tickets. These are the games I live for as a Steelers fan. I don’t need to get into the history of this rivalry and what these games mean. We all know.
And I don’t really need to talk about what’s at stake tonight. This is a huge game. Just as recently as three weeks ago, this game didn’t look like it would matter as much as it does. Steelers-Ravens is always a big deal and the pride factor is always there, but three weeks ago the Steelers were reeling from an embarrassing loss in Cleveland. The Ravens were rolling after crushing the Tampa Bay Bucs (the same team who had beat the Steelers in Heinz Field at the end of the September). Things weren’t looking promising for the Steelers at the time. They had three home games in a row against three tough opponents–Houston, Indy and Baltimore. I was hoping for a 1-2 record, at best.
Now things have changed. The Steelers rebounded from the humiliation of losing to the Cleveland freaking Browns with a wild win against the Texans. Then last week Ben Roethlisberger played the greatest game of his life and the Steelers steamrolled the Colts, which had previously seemed like a near-impossible task. This happened right after the Ravens lost to the Bengals on a offensive pass interference call on Steve Smith which wiped the winning touchdown off the board with no time left.
Now the Steelers and Ravens are both 5-3 teams and tonight’s game is a big deal. The Steelers need the win more, being that they lost to the Ravens in their first meeting this season. Neither team has a terribly tough schedule remaining, though the Steelers still have to play the Bengals twice. The Ravens still have to play the Chargers (who have been pretty good this year) and the Saints in New Orleans (where they are unbeaten so far this year). Tonight’s game could be huge in the determining the balance of power in the AFC North.
Things to look for tonight:
*Jimmy Smith is out for the Ravens tonight. This could be a break for the Steelers. He played well against Antonio Brown in Week 2. AB finished 7/90 but I think Smith held him to 5/51 when he was on him.
*Steve Smith is going to be an absolute nightmare against the Steelers secondary, I can feel it. I can already see him hauling in two 70+ yard TD passes from Flacco.
*The Steelers continuing to score from the red zone. I can’t believe I just typed that sentence. But the addition of Martavis Bryant into the lineup has made a big impact already. All of sudden opposing teams have no idea who to cover in the red zone, with AB, Bell, Bryant, and Heath on the field at the same time. Add in Blount, Moore, or Wheaton on certain plays, and who knows where the football’s going to go. Heath being wide open in the end zone last week was a thing a of beauty. As were Bryant’s TDs. And Browns. Hell, they were all awesome.
Keys to a Steelers win:
*Just outscore them, baby! It doesn’t matter how bad the defense is playing if the offense can produce they way they did last week. And it automatically makes the defense better when they have time to rest during long offensive drives. After the Houston game, I mentioned I still wasn’t sold on the offense because they had trouble putting together long offensive drives resulting in touchdowns. They showed me by doing just that six times last week.
*Put. Pressure. On. Flacco. One of the best things the defense did last week was get consistent pressure on Luck. He was only sacked twice, but the Steelers’ D was able to get to him a lot. Flacco can be forced into mistakes, as we’ve seen in the past. If the Steelers can get to Flacco, they’ll have a much easier time getting a W tonight. I wouldn’t mind seeing this happen either:
*Stop taking dumb penalties. I could have wrote this literally for every game so far this season, because the Steelers have been so good at taking dumb penalties this season. It is the one area they’ve truly been consistent. They can’t afford to do that tonight. Steelers-Ravens games are usually low-scoring, close affairs and a dumb penalty could be the difference between a win and a loss.
Prediction: Steelers 30, Ravens 28.