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Ravens-Steelers Will Boil Down to the Defenses

By now you know that Ben Roethlisberger is not going to play Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens or anytime in the near future for that matter. Antonio Brown is still on the shelf as is Marcus Gilbert. Amazingly, their absences might actually place more emphasis on the defenses for Sunday Night’s match-up.

The Ravens and their coaches can talk until they’re blue, errrr purple, in the face about how Roethlisberger being out isn’t going to change things. His absence will change things in a huge way for a defense that is no longer as dominant as it once was and is quite frankly pretty bad.

Baltimore ranks 27th in total defense in the National Football League and 29th and 26th against the pass and the rush respectively. The slide didn’t start with the injuries to Ray Lewis and Ladarius Webb either because the defense had already shown severe cracks even with them on the field.

With their top three running backs healthy, the Pittsburgh Steelers will no doubt attempt to pound the ball and the Ravens into submission in an effort to control the clock and in order to protect Byron Leftwich who makes his first start since 2009. You may have caught a glimpse of the game-plan in the second half of Monday’s win over Kansas City as Leftwich routinely dumped the ball into the flats. I expect more of that especially with the return of Rashard Mendenhall.

The remaining stalwarts of the Ravens’ D are Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata and neither guy is what you would call “100%.” If the Steelers find early success running between the tackles then all bets are off and suddenly Reed will be forced up into the box exposing the weakened secondary to play-action and deep throws to Mike Wallace.

The Steelers’ Defense is once again in familiar territory ranked number one in the league in total defense. They are ranked first and sixth against the pass and run respectively as well. Unfortunately, there are cracks in this defense too so in my opinion the numbers don’t a damn thing for either defense.

The Chiefs may have done the Steelers a tremendous favor on Monday night by pounding the ball at the left side of the Steelers’ defense in an effort to cutback against it or get to the edge before the Steelers’ could set it. The blocking schemes used by the Chiefs were very similar to those used by Baltimore back in week one of the 2011 season where the Ravens whipped the Steelers 35-7. Much of that win, besides the turnovers by the Steelers’ offense, was set up by the running of Ray Rice who looked awfully similar to Jamaal Charles this week in terms of cutting back.

This should give defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and his defense time to adjust and be prepared for the Ravens. Being prepared and being able to execute are two different things altogether though because Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood must do a better job of controlling blockers. This allows the linebackers to find the seams and make the tackles. Over-pursuit creates gaps and that is something that both LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison must be careful of as well as Hood and Keisel.

Neither defense is getting much done in the pass rush department and the sack totals bear that out. Neither the Ravens nor the Steelers have a guy in the top 40 in sacks in the league and the leader among the two teams is Paul Kruger with 3.5 sacks to his credit. The one difference for the Ravens is that Terrell Suggs’ return will create more opportunities for other Ravens’ defenders as teams will frequently double or chip on Suggs. If those players or Suggs himself can generate pressure on Leftwich often, the Steelers will be in serious trouble.

To say that the Steelers have struggled to get to the quarterback would be an understatement. Larry Foote leads the team with 3.5 sacks while LaMarr Woodley and Jason Worilds each have three. You’ll notice the absence of the name ‘James Harrison’ there and that has to change. This is not a strong Baltimore offensive line and both Harrison and Woodley have had success against the Ravens in the past, but have been limited this year. If ever there were a time for these two to get to the QB this is it.

Steelers’ fans love to hate on Joe Flacco and certainly there is much to hate on but this guy is a good NFL quarterback. If he has time to sit in the pocket and go through his reads and deliver pressure-free passes then this game might as well be over. What the Steelers have going for them in this regard is history and the fact that Flacco has been awful on the road this year.

As always, the defenses that create turnovers, stop the run and get pressure on the QB are the ones that win in the NFL. On Sunday night this will hold true. As much as everyone wants to discuss the offenses, it’s the defenses that will settle this one in Pittsburgh.

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