The Ravens can completely take over the AFC North with a win on Sunday against the Steelers. A lot of things look good for the Ravens heading into the contest, but the Steelers certainly won't just roll over and give up. They will push the Ravens.
Here's a few predictions on what could happen in the game on defense:
1. The Ravens will be more aggressive with their pass rush, trying to put more pressure on quarterback Charlie Batch-- When the two teams last met and Byron Leftwich ran the Pittsburgh offense, the Ravens turned up the heat more as the game went on. Leftwich isn't very mobile -- never was, even in his best NFL days -- and Batch might be better, the Ravens don't have to worry about him in ways they do about Big Ben.
2. Pass coverage is going to continue to improve--This is an area that really had problems earlier in the season but has improved in a big way recently. Despite losing three key defensive backs, the Ravens have gotten good performances from safeties Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed, better play from cornerbacks Corey Graham and Cary Williams and others. Better pass coverage takes pressure off the pass rush, something that would help the Ravens.
3. The Ravens will create turnovers to help their offense-- The Steelers had an amazing eight turnovers in last week's loss to the Browns. That will not happen again, of course, but the defense should cause trouble since the Steelers have so many people at key positions who just don't have a lot of playing time and experience. That's a recipe for a defense to come up with interceptions and fumbles, all of which help the offense.
Prediction: Ravens 24, Steelers 10-The Steelers are missing too many people, and the Ravens have recovered from their injury problems to get in a good groove defensively. That's going to prove to be too much for Pittsburgh to overcome
The final word is in. Big Ben won't be playing Sunday, and Charlie Batch will be the quarterback. The Steelers also are still battling a lot of injuries in the backfield, and all of that leaves one big question.
What will the Steelers do on offense?
After a poor performance by the offense in last week's loss to the Browns, the Steelers are in a tough spot. Batch, despite being a veteran, hasn't played much in recent years although he was a starter earlier in his career. But Pittsburgh needs to win this game and can't afford the number of mistakes that happened last week.
Eight turnovers will not help a team win many NFL games. In fact, the Steelers were very fortunate they didn't lose by a lot more.
But the Steelers also are battling a lot of injuries in the backfield. So who do they turn to in this game?
Here's guessing the Steelers will still try to lean on the running game. That's something they always seem to do. If they can find some success running the ball, then that would give them some control over the clock.
This is what they did in the game two weeks ago. The Steelers finished with 134 yards on the ground, a solid number, and that helped them control the ball for almost 33 minutes of the game.
However, the only really long run they had was quarterback Byron Leftwich's 31-yard touchdown run on the first series. Other than that, no other Steeler ran for more than 11 yards, so the Ravens stopped them there.
In the end, it's doubtful that the Steelers would put the whole game in Batch's hands. He just hasn't played in so long. They'll probably try to run and control the clock and pass when needed. But if the Ravens can jump out to an early lead and force the Steelers to throw, it could change a lot.
The Ravens and Steelers meet for the second time in just three weeks on Sunday. These two teams are so familiar with each other that there's little they can hide-- plus they've each played so many times.
Still, each game is a little different due to the various issues that come with it. Both teams are really hurt by injuries, but Pittsburgh's suffering more coming into this contest it really needs to win. Here's a few informal predictions of what we might see from that game:
1. Charlie Batch might wish he was watching from his safe spot on the sidelines-- The Ravens will make life not very fun for the third-string quarterback at times in this game. Batch really had problems in last weekend's 20-14 loss in Cleveland where the Steelers had nine turnovers. If guys like Terrell Suggs and Paul Kruger get going, he'll have a long afternoon.
2. The Ravens' offense will do better this time around-- In the win at Pittsburgh two weeks ago, the Ravens couldn't accomplish much on offense, scoring just six points. Still, for whatever reason, they play better at home, and guys like Joe Flacco and Ray Rice should play a role in giving the offense more punch this time around. If that doesn't happen, it opens the door for the Steelers to stay close.
3. The Ravens won't overlook the Steelers-- Just because there's no Big Ben and the Steelers have been really hurt by injury problems, the Ravens know this game won't be a piece of cake. Pittsburgh still has plenty of good players and injuries are a big reason for their recent troubles. The Steelers have a good team, and they'll be playing with intensity as this loss would end their chances of winning the AFC North this season. It's truly a do-or-die game for them.