It’s Week 16 and the Steelers, riding a five game winning streak, host their biggest rival, the Baltimore Ravens on Christmas Day. This matchup, regardless of records or time of year, always brings intrigue. The Ravens have owned the Steelers in the last several meetings and a home win for the Black and Gold is far overdue. Plus, a win for the Steelers guarantees them the AFC North crown and a playoff spot. That being said, I’ll walk you through how this could happen, or how the Ravens could win and ruin the Steelers’ playoff hopes.
Why the Steelers will win:
On offense, once again it starts up front. In the first meeting, the Steelers only managed 36 total rush yards. Credit Baltimore to some degree, as their defense is in the top-5 against the run, but the Steelers have a lot invested in the big men up front. The offensive line is healthy, they have a Hall of Fame position coach in Mike Munchak, and they’ve been playing very well for the last several weeks. Todd Haley has also committed more to a run-heavy offense and put in the personnel to help accomplish this, often adding an extra lineman as a tight end to pave the way for Le’Veon Bell. I have no illusions of Bell running for 200 yards against the Ravens, but this offensive line is too talented for him to be bottled up all afternoon.
Eli Rogers, Cobi Hamilton and Jesse James have to step up. I don’t believe that Ladarius Green will be in the lineup and Darrius Heyward-Bey is questionable at best. The Ravens will do their best to contain Antonio Brown (a feat that is now more difficult without cornerback Jimmy Smith) but Ben Roethlisberger needs to find Brown throughout the game. I look for Rogers to have a solid game and keep the Ravens’ secondary honest. Getting Bell some looks as a receiver will help as well.
On defense, the Steelers need to bring the same approach they used in the second half against Cincinnati in Week 15. Stop the run and get some pressure on Joe Flacco. The Pittsburgh secondary has matured light years since Week 9 and I really don’t foresee the types of mistakes that allowed Mike Wallace a 95 yard catch and run. Rookies Artie Burns and Sean Davis are playing with more confidence and swagger in their game, and making plays. Yes the pass interference by Burns in the end zone last Sunday was bad and eventually Cincinnati cashed in on getting the ball at the 1-yard line, but otherwise the youngster has been a solid corner and keeps improving with each week. Joe Flacco has a strong arm and likes to go deep. The men in the secondary need to stay with their assignments and stay disciplined. If they can do this, they can frustrate Flacco, Steve Smith and company to force some three-and-outs and maybe some turnovers.
Why the Ravens will win:
If special teams kick and punt coverage break down, the Ravens will capitalize. The Steelers’ special teams coach and gum chewing champion needs to fix what has haunted his team all season or the Ravens will make them pay with big returns for field position and possibly points.
Penalties need to be kept to a minimum or the Steelers will be forfeiting field position, their own drives will stall, and the Ravens’ drives will keep gaining momentum. Yes, there are times when the refs can’t stop throwing the yellow laundry around. The Steelers need to control what they can in terms of individual discipline on the field. Holding calls and false-start penalties make fans (and coaches) crazy. These can be controlled. Personal fouls as well. On any given pass play, interference fouls can be called on either the receiver or the defender. Keeping the blatant interference or defensive holding to a minimum is the goal.
The bottom line is, the Steelers have been finding ways to win each week. The team is getting into a rhythm and are playing some of their best “team” football of the season. Some key players may be missing from this matchup, particularly for the Steelers. The men who are given a helmet on game day need to be focused and disciplined and not try to do too much. If the offense can get any kind of rhythm going, and if the Pittsburgh defenders can stay in their lanes, they’ll get this win. But too many mental errors will destroy their chances and the Ravens will take advantage.