It's a daunting task, but the Steelers are capable of pulling off an upset of the division-leading Baltimore Ravens in Week 13.
As Vince Lombardi said, "the measure of who we are is what we do with what we have."
Who are the Pittsburgh Steelers? A team heading into Week 13 against division-leading Baltimore without its quarterback, a primary running back and a slew of injuries.
A team riddled with injuries and the choice to make those injuries an excuse. Win or lose, this season goes on after this game, and injuries are a part of that game. It doesn't mean rookie right tackle Kelvin Beachum can lean on an excuse. Nor does it empower Maurkice Pouncey to complain if he ends up starting at left guard.
It doesn't give Mike Wallace an excuse to run lazy routes and not compete through every millisecond of every play.
Those things in mind, the Baltimore Ravens are not invincible - even at home. The Steelers can win this game.
The Steelers have done damage defensively this year on inside fire blitzes, bringing some combination of inside and outside linebackers through the offensive A gaps. Creeping to the line of scrimmage is an early indication of that blitz; when timed well, it's tough to get throws off, but when recognized early, it's easy for a receiver to run hot and pick up a quick 6-8 yards, maybe more. The Steelers defense has an advantage hat-on-hat against the Ravens offensive line. Keeping the element of surprise, especially on third down, can widen that advantage even more.
The Shortest Straw
There's something to be said about teams forced to reach higher together. Don't buy into rhetoric about the strength of Baltimore's victories this season. At worst, it only shows the fact the Steelers' Week 13 opponent has shown an ability to win close games in a multitude of ways. The Steelers may be down on their luck from an injury perspective, but they can not only use that as motivation (keep in mind the desire of the back-ups to prove their worth), they can exploit the fact the Ravens don't have much film on this version of the Steelers. They don't have an idea of what offensive coordinator Todd Haley's tendencies are when Pouncey is at left guard. They don't know what the Steelers offense looks to do with Charlie Batch under center unless the running backs fumble once every three carries. They have the ability to turn their weakness into their biggest strength in this game.
The Struggle Within
Statistically speaking, it'll be quite a while before the Steelers turn the ball over eight times in a game. Cleveland gave them several opportunities to win despite their best efforts to lose in Week 12. It shows the level of ability of this defense - something that's been evident over the last six games. Baltimore won the Week 11 meeting fairly, but to suggest the Steelers defense was not the most impressive unit on the field in that game is simply ignorant. The internal battle between offense and defense is clearly being won by the defense, but the Steelers offense simply needs to eliminate the unforced errors and give the defense a chance to be the dominant unit it is.
It's acceptable to paint broadly and suggest more quarterbacks put up better statistical performances at home vs. on the road. The delta between Ravens QB Joe Flacco's home and road performances has got to be steeper than any other quarterback in history with comparable experience as he has. Flacco has thrown seven touchdown passes of 15 or more yards this season, fourth-highest in the NFL, but overthrows his receivers 42.4 percent of the time on the road, as opposed to 25 percent of the time at home. All that being said, the Steelers have allowed just one out of three throws of 15 yards or more to be completed, regardless of where they're playing. Flacco could very well have one of this Good Flacco performances, but the Steelers' defense has suffocated six consecutive quarterbacks (including Flacco) for a reason.
Seek & Destroy
The pressure here is really on the Ravens. They're the eight-point favorites, they're locked in the heated battle for home field advantage in the playoffs (Baltimore will struggle to beat a combination of Houston, New England and Denver on the road). Assuming Baltimore does not complete tank the final four games of their season, it's virtually impossible for them to not win the division title at this point, so they're ultimately playing for playoff positioning. But their goal is not winning the division (or at least it shouldn't be); it's to keep pace with Houston and to stay ahead of New England and Denver, thus guaranteeing a second-round playoff home game.
Win or lose, the Steelers are still pretty much going to have to win their final four games to clinch a wild card spot. Again, barring an epic collapse down the stretch by the Ravens, that's the only way they're getting into the playoffs. That takes the pressure off the Steelers this week, and allows them to simply go out and compete without the pressured expectations their opponent has.