The Ravens have a chance to turn around the 2014 season after a difficult week to open the year.
The primetime Thursday Night Football game against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers has been circled on Baltimore calendars for months, and the Ravens hope to pick up their first win of the season.
Here are five things to watch in the matchup at M&T Bank Stadium:
Pass Rush vs. Big BenThe Ravens pass rush was quiet in the opener against the Bengals, as they were unable to generate any sacks on quarterback Andy Dalton and his quick release. The lack of a pass rush put increased pressure on the secondary against Cincinnati, and the Ravens hope to turn up the heat against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Veteran outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and Roethlisberger have met plenty of times over the years, and Suggs also seems to gear up for big games against the Ravens' biggest rival. Suggs has one sack in his last four games against the Steelers, and he certainly has his sights set on getting to Roethlisberger in the backfield.
Fast Start By OffenseThe Ravens offense never seemed to get into a groove during the first half against Cincinnati. Quarterback Joe Flacco was off the mark and the running game had a tough time finding holes in the defense. A stout red-zone defense kept the Ravens in last week's game, but the Ravens know they can't consistently start slow and expect to win many games. The Ravens will try to establish the run against a Steelers defense that allowed 183 yards on the ground last week to the Browns. If the Ravens can rack up some yards on the ground early, then that should create opportunities in the passing games for Flacco to capitalize.
Limit Steelers Run GameThe Steelers have a strong two-headed rushing attack with Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount, who are both physical downhill running backs. Bell carried the load last week with 21 carries for 109 yards and a touchdown, and Blount can also provide a spark in short-yardage situations. The Ravens defensive front has to make life difficult for Bell and Blount by clogging running lanes and winning the battle at the line of scrimmage. Starting defensive linemen Haloti Ngata, Chris Canty and Brandon Williams will play a critical role.
Big Plays In Return GameThe Steelers and Ravens both have explosive players in the return game. Pittsburgh's punt returner Antonio Brown can break open a big play at any point and Jacoby Jones has done just that in previous matchups with the Steelers. Jones nearly returned a kickoff return for a touchdown last year against the Steelers, but Head Coach Mike Tomlin interfered with the play and that led to Brown getting brought down before the end zone. Tomlin joked that he won't moonlight as a special teamer this week, and asked reporters to "Tell Jacoby he's safe." These rivalry games are often so close, and that means big plays on special teams can often make the difference.
New Blood In Classic Rivalry
For so many years, this rivalry was defined by players like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. Those players have all retired or moved on, and now there are some new faces getting their first taste of the rivalry. Veteran wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. has never been short on intensity, and he seems like a perfect fit for this AFC North showdown. Ravens first-round pick C.J. Mosley is also in store for his first experience with the Steelers, as the rookie linebacker will get an early taste of how fierce this kind of football can be.