Ravens can't afford to take a step back against the Steelers

October 14, 2013|Mike Preston

The Ravens can do more than just beat the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. They can bury them for the remainder of the 2013 season.

The Steelers, one of the NFL's most storied franchises, breathed a sigh of relief by defeating the New York Jets, 19-6, Sunday for their first win of the season. Desperate teams look for something to cling to in gloomy situations, so this is a good time for Pittsburgh to play the Ravens.

The Steelers (1-4) are at home and if they win, they could get back into the AFC North race. But if the Ravens (3-3) want to stick it to their old rival, they win Sunday and quash any serious attempt by Pittsburgh to climb into the title picture.

"Right now our focus is on the AFC and Pittsburgh, and we're going to take care of business this week and get rested and get healthy, and we'll be ready to go," Ravens defensive end Arthur Jones said.

It's not a situation where the Ravens can overlook Pittsburgh, or any other team, even though the Steelers are in last place in the division. The Ravens are two games better, but both teams trail the first place Cincinnati Bengals and the Ravens are tied for second with the Cleveland Browns.

That's still tough to comprehend (both Cleveland and Cincinnati). But before the Ravens travel to Pittsburgh, they have their own problems to solve.

They are still miscommunicating in the secondary and the offensive line can't pass (19 sacks) or run block (72.2 yards per game). A team which once prided itself on running the ball has become a bunch of nomads looking for an identity.

"We just have to execute," said Ravens running back Ray Rice of the team's offensive struggles. "We've got to execute at a high level. It's a problem that we have to get fixed and we've got Pittsburgh next week. [Green Bay] played a good game and the defense played a heck of a game for us."

"We would have loved to have helped those guys out, but things didn't go our way," Rice said. "As crazy as it sounds, we still have a shot at our division. We've got to go to Pittsburgh and that's the most important thing right now."

The Ravens and Steelers have a lot in common with the most interesting parallel being both teams gave lucrative contracts to quarterbacks who are good, but can't carry teams. Unlike a Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, they don't make other players around them better. Both teams are starting to see the fallout from not having other vital parts.

Pittsburgh, though, has been struggling longer than the Ravens. The Steelers don't have a proven running back and use a tandem of Le'Veon Bell and Felix Jones.

Pittsburgh has the No. 31 rushing attack in the NFL averaging only 61 yards per game, and the Steelers are No. 27 in points averaging 17.6. Antonio Brown is the No. 1 receiver with 41 catches for 498 yards, but Pittsburgh doesn't stretch the field much except to occasionally try to sneak Emmanuel Sanders down the field.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has completed only 126 of 192 passes for 1,495 yards, and has been sacked 19 times because of a poor offensive line play.

Sound familiar?

Roethlisberger was once known for his late game comebacks, but he hasn't had one of those in years. He is now known more for turnovers than last minute heroics.

No one fears the "Blitzburg" defense anymore. Gone are anchors like nose guard Casey Hampton and outside linebacker James Harrison. Before the Jets victory, the Steelers had registered only four sacks and didn't force a turnover. They've still got some big names like linebackers LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons, but safeties Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu have been around for more than a decade. Before Sunday, Pittsburgh had given up five plays of 51 yards or longer.

The Steelers are in trouble. They have a glimmer of light now after winning Sunday, and they'll be all jazzed when the Ravens come to town.

But opportunities like this don't always come for a rival. They get a chance to beat them, and at the same time bury them.

"It's big. It's a big rivalry," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We look forward to playing there. We have tons of respect for them."



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