Pittsburgh Wants To Ditch Conservative Game Plan And Take It To Ravens
The city of Pittsburgh has had it.
The Ravens have won four straight games against the Steelers, six of the past seven and the last two at Heinz Field, including one in the playoffs.
"They not only have the Steelers' number, but they also own them," wrote Pittsburgh-Post Gazette's long-time writer Ed Bouchette.
How do the Steelers plan on reversing the trend?
Well, Head Coach Mike Tomlin isn't exactly handing out Sunday's playbook, but Bouchette believes it's time for Pittsburgh to drop its "conservative" game plan.
"Whatever they do, the Steelers need to ditch that offensive game plan they used Nov. 6 in Baltimore when they lost, 21-14," he wrote. "They did not open things up until they fell behind, 21-0, in the fourth quarter, and it became readily apparent that handing the ball to Le'Veon Bell was not going to work.
"If the Steelers are going to win this one, it will be on the arm of Roethlisberger," Bouchette wrote. "[I]t will be on Roethlisberger to outplay Joe Flacco, bring home another AFC North Division title and put his team in position to make a run for the Super Bowl."
In the last meeting, Baltimore held Bell, the league's third-leading rusher, to a season-low 32 yards. And at the same time, the Ravens' vaunted defense also held receiver Antonio Brown, the NFL's third-leading wide receiver, to two receptions for 9 yards well into the fourth quarter. Brown then caught fire and finished with seven catches for 85 yards and a touchdown.
When Brown was asked what happened and why he was bottled up for most of the game, he said Baltimore triple-teamed him. The tape proves he wasn't exaggerating.
That should have opened things up for Bell, right? Nope, the Ravens put eight defenders around the line of scrimmage to contain him too, per Bouchette.
Wait, that doesn't seem possible.
That many resources to two guys? Shouldn't that leave holes all over the rest of the field?
"You would think so," Roethlisberger said yesterday. "We're used to teams having at least one, sometimes two and maybe a third guy keeping an eye on A.B. We need other guys to step up and be big this week, for sure."
"So if the Ravens defense comes in with the same script — and, again, why wouldn't they? — who might be one of those other skill players who can step up?" asked Bouchette.
The answer is complicated. Receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey has missed the past six games after injuring his foot in the last Ravens-Steelers meeting. Tight end Ladarius Green is in concussion protocol and may not play.
So, Bouchette pointed to receiver Sammie Coates as the person to step up as he's finally overcoming a hand injury. ESPN's Jeremy Fowler is looking at receiver Eli Rogers, who has 38 catches, 449 yards and three scores this season. Rogers notched the game-winning touchdown Sunday in Cincinnati.
Whoever it is, Pittsburgh fans would like to see their team ball out.
"Make the Ravens stop you instead of worrying about keeping the game close and playing for a 13-10 victory," wrote the Pittsburgh's Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac. "Take it to 'em. Don't play down to their level, which is what they did in Baltimore earlier this season."
For that to happen, the game rests upon the arm of the Steelers' two-time Super Bowl champion and five-time Pro Bowler.
"The Steelers need Roethlisberger to have a game like he had more than two years ago when he last beat Baltimore, Nov. 2, 2014, at Heinz Field," Bouchette wrote. "He passed for 340 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. He had a 136.6 passer rating, and the Steelers won, 43-23.
"It is time for Ben Roethlisberger to find the Baltimore Ravens' number again."
In Baltimore, All Eyes Rest On Flacco
Just as Pittsburgh is looking to Roethlisberger to carry the Steelers to victory, Baltimore sees Flacco as the key to a Ravens win.
"The noise has surrounded Flacco from the first day of training camp, when there were questions about his ability to return from a significant left knee injury," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec. "Since then, Flacco has had to defend his play and his passion, his relationship with former Offensive Coordinator Marc Trestman and his decision-making under current one Marty Mornhinweg, and most recently, his ill-fated throw against the Philadelphia Eagles.
"On Sunday afternoon, the noise will reach a zenith when Flacco leads the Ravens (8-6) into Heinz Field for a matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5)."
It's been a season of ups and downs for the nine-year quarterback, and he could use a familiar place to get and keep things on track. Flacco has had several career-defining moments at Heinz Field, where he has thrown game-winners to stun the crowd and notched a playoff win to advance his team.
He owns a 5-6 record in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers enjoy one of the league's best home-field advantages, per Zrebiec.
With first place in the division on the line, Flacco sure could use another one of those defining moments on Christmas Day.
"Flacco, of all people, knows how much a strong finish can erase an otherwise disappointing season," Zrebiec wrote. "He struggled at times during the 2012 campaign, when offensive coordinator Cam Cameron lost his job late in the year because of the offense's inconsistency.
"As much as Flacco and the offense has struggled to this point, the narrative would change quickly if the Ravens went into Pittsburgh on Sunday and pulled out a win with their veteran quarterback leading the way."
Ravens-Steelers Rivalry Compared To … Cold War?
Steelers safety Mike Mitchell described what it was like coming from the Carolina Panthers locker room to Pittsburgh as a free agent in 2014.
"When I got here, it was just, 'You don't like Baltimore,'" he said. "It was kind of like growing up in the Cold War or something; you don't like Russia."
Well, that is an interesting analogy, except Mitchell has it a little twisted. If "Rocky IV" has taught us anything, it's Pittsburgh who takes the role of the big, bad Russians – not Baltimore.
After all, it's the Ravens who are considered the underdogs (the Steelers opened as 5.5-point favorites), just like Rocky Balboa. And it's the Ravens who have to travel to the opponent's bitter, cold and hostile homeland … on Christmas Day.
The Steelers are even talking confidently like the Russians.
"This game is going to be ours; it's at our field," offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert said earlier this week.
Maybe by the end, the Ravens can turn those Terrible Towel twirlers into Baltimore fans and have them cheering for the purple and black. If Hollywood's Rocky could do it, mayb– … eh, that's not going to happen. The Ravens just want to win.
Smith & Mitchell Bite Tongues … For Now
While Mitchell provided a great Cold War analogy, he bit his tongue when it came to providing more fodder for Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr.
The two have been feuding since last season, and Mitchell continued it on Thanksgiving day when he looked into a TV camera and said, "[W]e're coming for you, Steve."
But, Mitchell is taking it easy with the trash talk this week.
When asked yesterday about playing against Smith, Mitchell simply said, "I look forward to playing in the AFC North championship."
Meanwhile, the fiery Smith is also playing it cool.
The 37-year-old receiver was asked if he a had a holiday message for Mitchell.
"You have to be a little more savvy than that," he replied to the reporter.
Wright Up To Challenge With J. Smith Out
The Ravens are mum on the status of top cornerback Jimmy Smith, who has now missed four straight practices with an ankle injury.
It would be a miraculous return for the Steelers game, which is why Smith's best friend and fellow cornerback, Shareece Wright, has been thrust back into the spotlight. Wright is expected to start opposite rookie Tavon Young Sunday.
Wright knows what's expected of him and that he has big shoes to fill, but said yesterday that he is up for the challenge.
"[Wright] has struggled at times this season," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Edward Lee. "He has surrendered six touchdowns (including five in a three-game span), sat out four contests because of back and hamstring injuries, lost his starting job to [Young] and slid to No. 4 on the cornerback depth chart.
"But in Sunday's 27-26 win over the Philadelphia Eagles – his first start since Nov. 27 – Wright helped hold wide receiver Jordan Matthews to six catches on 11 targets for only 27 yards and zero touchdowns. … The difficulty meter will rise dramatically against the Steelers' Antonio Brown."