Ravens vs. Steelers: 5 Questions with Baltimore Beatdown

Jared Wickerham

Torrey Smith's contract situation, Ray Rice's roster spot and the young players on the Ravens' high-powered defense, Baltimore Beatdown editor Jason Butt discusses it all.

Behind the Steel Curtain met up with Baltimore Beatdown editor Jason Butt for five questions surrounding the Ravens heading into this weekend's game. Jason's in his first season at the helm of Baltimore Beatdown, and his crisp writing and balanced approach has created strong content and a great read for any info pertaining to the Ravens.

1. Torrey Smith's breakout year puts him in the same vicinity as former Steelers WR Mike Wallace. What kind of contract would Baltimore be willing to give him after this season - provided they don't want to make him play into the final year of his deal?

Recent years would indicate Smith will be playing out the final year of his contract. They made Ray Rice and Joe Flacco do it in consecutive years. Cary Williams and Michael Oher didn't receive an extension offers they liked — Oher's now in the final year of his deal and Williams is in Philadelphia. The Ravens don't seem too interested in locking a player up to a big deal before the final year of the contract, at least in the last two years.

The last one of those that comes to mind is Haloti Ngata in 2011, when he signed his five-year, $61 million contract mid-season.

Therefore, there's a very reasonable chance that Smith is forced to play out his contract before negotiating. I do think Smith has earned a new deal before his final season, given that he's exceeded expectations and has become the team's No. 1 receiver. You don't trade away a receiver like Anquan Boldin only to let Smith go a couple of years later.

In terms of the numbers, a lot of that may depend on whether the Ravens restructure a deal with Ngata, Ray Rice, Terrell Suggs, etc. Smith doesn't deserve Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald money, but he's becoming a receiver comparable to Roddy White and Victor Cruz, and has performed better than someone like Miles Austin. Therefore a five-year, $40-plus million deal seems reasonable for someone like Smith.

2. Will Ray Rice be on the Ravens next season?

Here's the question no one in Baltimore wants to answer right now, that there is some likelihood Rice winds up in a different uniform.

His cap hit for 2014 is his most expensive at $8.75 million. This could have a restructuring scenario written all over it, or perhaps the Ravens wanting Rice to take a pay cut so they can afford other pieces to their team. If I'm Rice, I don't take a pay cut and I only restructure if I can get the same amount of money. The Ravens got five incredible years out of Rice and have implemented some schemes that have confused his offensive line. Now his statistics are taking a hit and that could wind up affecting his offseason. That's not on him. He deserves better than that.

If a similar situation plays out like it did with Anquan Boldin, then yes, I think he's gone. Restructuring the contract will likely be the first priority, however. If they can get that done, I'm sure he stays in Baltimore.

3. The first player the Ravens have selected in the last three drafts - S Matt Elam, LB Courtney Upshaw and CB Jimmy Smith - are the lowest ranked players on the Ravens' defense, according to Pro Football Focus. Are those fair performance measurements, or is this merely indicative of the growing pains of younger players in an otherwise outstanding defense?

There's certainly some merit to those stats. At the same time, those are your three youngest defenders on a team with a solid front three, Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Daryl Smith and others. Just because they're at the bottom, it doesn't mean there's anything glaring about their play. All three have had positive moments this year. They've also had some mistakes. But nothing has stuck out where the thought pops in that they should be benched, or anything of that nature.

Elam is actually playing free safety after being drafted to fill the strong safety position left open by Bernard Pollard's departure. Elam still has to improve on his coverage skills but he's been intimidating to receivers across the middle at times.

Upshaw has improved over the past year and has shown glimpses of being a starting outside linebacker. He's had his moments this year and has been lauded by the coaching staff.

Jimmy Smith has shown the most improvement on defense this year, but is still susceptible to the big play. That said, his instincts are beginning to act more naturally and he's not thinking too much on the field anymore. He's able to make plays like the interception he had against Green Bay last week.

It's still a learning process for these guys. The Ravens have been picking near the end of the first round the last few years so they're not getting the so-called can't-miss guys early on.

The advanced stats are great to look at it, but sometimes the eye test and watching these guys play the game outweighs any number someone can come up with in the most team-oriented sport there is.

4. If you are an offensive coordinator, what would your general game plan be in order to score 24 points or more against the Baltimore Ravens?

It's tough because I'd want to establish the run as an offensive coordinator, though that's the strength of the Ravens' defense. Buffalo and Green Bay were able to find success running the ball but that's about it in six games. And Green Bay got their yards early and at the end, relegating those stats somewhat misleading.

Therefore, I'd come out throwing the ball and I'd test the middle against Baltimore's safeties first. The Ravens have had a hard time defending athletic tight ends this year. I'd try to free up a tight end to churn out some first downs before hitting the outside receivers with hopes the safeties are now occupied inside.

Once the passing game is hitting, take it to the run to balance things out.

Green Bay actually opened run heavy and the secondary had a good game until late in third and early in the fourth quarter. But this is how I'd attack this year's Ravens team.

5. Outside of quarterbacks, who's the one Steelers player you feel would be most important for the Ravens to stop in order to win this game?

Defense has won all three of Baltimore's games this year so I'm going to stick with that side of the ball. With that in mind, stopping Steelers receiver Antonio Brown will be a big key for the Ravens, given that the defense should be able to keep Pittsburgh's running game in check.

Brown has big play ability and can get behind a defense at any time. The Ravens will want to make sure they pay plenty of attention on him.

Given Brown's special teams abilities as a returner as well, that's an area the Ravens need to be cognizant in. Special teams coverage units have struggled at times and have shown a tendency to be beat. Brown's the kind of player that could break open this game for Pittsburgh.

Check out Baltimore Beatdown for all the latest Ravens news heading into Week 7.

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