Pittsburgh Steelers Friday 10 Spot: Week 11 Edition
With the elements bearing down on them, the Steelers offense had a hard time moving the ball on a team who held a lead longer in this game than the entire rest of the season. More importantly, they've lost their starting quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, for an extended period of time.
This week, the Steelers stay on prime-time football as they take on their division rival Baltimore Ravens. Let's take a look at 10 things you want and need to know for this AFC North showdown.
1. Sizing Up This Pivotal, Prime-Time Matchup
Another NFL season and another matchup between the Steelers and Ravens for bragging rights and the top spot in the AFC North. Fans have waited all season long for these two powerhouses to meet and the day has finally arrived.
Both teams are entering this game amongst the best in the AFC and they're both red-hot. Pittsburgh is the winner of its last four games and Baltimore rocked the Raiders last Sunday, piling 55 points on the helpless Silver and Black.
A game that many consider to be the best rivalry in the NFL today is shaping up to be another instant classic, and with the Ravens handing the Steelers two losses last season, Pittsburgh has to be looking forward to this one.
On NBC's Sunday Night Football, the 7-2 Ravens will head into Pittsburgh to take on its bitter rivals, the 6-3 Steelers. You won't want to miss this.
2. The Best Rivalry in the NFL Might be a Little Different this Year
The Steelers and Ravens have quite the storied rivalry. Some call it the best in the game right now. But, to be completely honest, it's not a very long one.
Every year since 1996, the Steelers and Ravens have faced off at least twice a season, making for some very memorable games. Last season, the Ravens swept the Steelers, including a 35-7 opening day beatdown in Baltimore.
But don't think sweeps happen too often in this series.
Only six times since the teams first met 16 years ago has one team had a full season of domination over the other. The biggest sweep came in 2008 when the Steelers beat the Ravens three times including in the AFC title game, sending Pittsburgh to the Super Bowl.
The first meeting between the two teams happened on a sunny September day in 1996. Rod Woodson opened the game with a 43-yard interception return for a touchdown. Quarterback Mike Tomczak threw two touchdown passes while Jerome Bettis ran in another, leading the Steelers to a 31-17 victory. Pittsburgh is currently 21-14 all-time against its rivals.
Throughout the 35 games these two teams have played in 16 years, the most common theme throughout has been the faces that have been so prevalent, namely on the defense. And that's why this year is going to be so different.
Think about it. No Ben Reothlisberger. No Troy Polamalu. No Ray Lewis. A banged up Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata. The list of injured or retired legends of this game goes on and on. But that could be a good thing. This is an opportunity for new faces to emerge as the new stars of a rivalry.
It all just depends on who they are.
3. Specifics of Big Ben's Injuries
Obviously this is a trying time for all Steelers fans across the country. At first glance of the hit Big Ben took against the Chiefs, it appeared he may have had some sort of wrist injury. Later diagnosis showed that Roethlisberger was suffering from a sprained shoulder.
But it wasn't until after the game that it became clear just how serious the quarterback's injury was.
On Tuesday, it was reported by team officials that the Steelers quarterback had a rare rib dislocation that could allow the floating rib to puncture Roethlisberger's aorta and, in turn, kill him.
Ben is in an obvious amount of pain. He, himself, graded the pain on a scale of 1 to 10 as being somewhere around a 9. But that's not the only worry he'll have.
Ben's biggest problem may come from not having enough rest with the injury. The pain from the rib and shoulder injuries force Roethlisberger to sleep upright in a chair. It has been reported that Ben has stated he has only been getting about four hours of sleep per night, not nearly enough to help heal his injuries.
As I said earlier, the injury is quite rare and will force Roethlisberger to the sidelines for quite some time. According to The Sporting News, the closest things doctors can compare it to is what Rams receiver Danny Amendola went through earlier this season. His injury forced him to the sidelines for four weeks.
No timetable is set for Roethlisberger's return, but it sounds like he'll miss both contests against the Ravens this season and more. The key is getting him healthy and hope the team can stay in contention without him.
4. Byron Leftwich in a Nutshell
For those of you who don't know Byron Leftwich, well, he has been around a while.
Leftwich may be most well known for a college game he played at Marshall University where he finished off a fourth quarter comeback while being carried down the field by his offensive linemen due to a broken leg.
The big-armed MAC quarterback caught a ton of scouts' eyes, including those of the people in Jacksonville. In 2003, the Jaguars made Leftwich the seventh overall pick in the draft and the heir to what Mark Brunell had left behind.
Leftwich came into Jacksonville and started 13 games his first season, posting a 5-8 record and throwing 14 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
In his next two seasons with the Jags, Leftwich would post a 16-9 record but would struggle to stay healthy. In 2006, the then 26-year-old Leftwich would start just six games before an injury cost him a starting job to David Garrard that he'd never get back.
Leftwich also played in just one playoff game in Jacksonville, a 28-3 loss to the New England Patriots. Overall, Leftwich finished 24-20 as a starter in Jacksonville.
The opportunities weren't great in free agency for Leftwich and he signed with the Atlanta Falcons. There, he started two games for the Falcons, losing both.
Leftwich then made his first stop in Pittsburgh and appeared in five games for the Steelers in 2008. He left the Steelers following that season for a stint in Tampa Bay in which he started three games for the Bucs, losing all. In 2010, Leftwich returned to the Steelers where he has been ever since.
Oddly enough, Leftwich has never had a start with the Steelers. As a starter, he's 0-5 since leaving Jacksonville and played in the playoffs once in 2008 when the Steelers beat the Chargers. Leftwich threw one pass, an incompletion.
5. The Injury Bug Sinks Its Teeth into the Ravens, as Well
Steelers fans know all too well what the injury bug looks like and they don't like it one bit. Pittsburgh has seen tough injuries to its biggest stars like Troy Polamalu, James Harrison, Rashard Mendenhall, Antonio Brown and most recently, Ben Roethlisberger.
But the Steelers aren't the only team who has been plagued by injuries. In fact, they need look no further than their division rivals, the Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens have been hammered with injuries this season and it has hit them in what was once the strength of the team, the defense. Before the season, Baltimore lost star outside linebacker and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs to a torn Achilles.
By the time Suggs made it back on the field, the defense was already without some of its other star pieces. Cornerback Lardarius Webb and linebacker Ray Lewis both ended their season in the same game and defensive lineman Haloti Ngata has been battling injuries all season.
Ed Reed has also been dealing with some typical Ed Reed injuries throughout the course of the year.
But another big blow just came this week when it became known the Ravens would be down yet another corner for an extended period of time. Second-year cornerback Jimmy Smith underwent groin surgery on Thursday, putting him out for at least Sunday night's game.
Smith's injury means Baltimore will be left with Cary Williams and who knows who else, playing corner against a receiving corps that is known as one of the deepest in the league.
The Ravens could also be without defensive end Pernell McPhee also against the Steelers as he missed last weeks game dealing with an injury of his own.
The most amazing thing about both of these teams is that, even with all the injuries to key players, they're still two of the most competitive teams in the conference. Injuries will catch up with one of these teams. The question is which one?
6. Did the Ravens Favor Leftwich over Terrell Suggs?
According to Jamison Hensley, AFC North blogger at ESPN.com, the Baltimore Ravens were set to move up and select Byron Leftwich in the 2003 NFL draft.
Per Hensley's report, Baltimore supposedly completed a last-minute trade that would have allowed them to trade up to the Minnesota Vikings pick and select the Marshall QB. But when the Ravens attempted to alert the league office of the deal, they received a busy signal on the other end.
Because of this, time ran out on the pick, allowing the Jacksonville Jaguars to pick up Leftwich at seventh overall and Baltimore stayed put and selected OLB Terrell Suggs at 10th.
Leftwich, apparently, was sure he was going to be a Raven as well.
"I remember having phone talks with Ozzie [Newsome], and it was pretty much set in stone," Leftwich said. "I guess the debacle happened during the draft and everything. I remember being at the draft. I think I had three teams with my name on a card trying to shove it in. I remember that part, because I was at the draft. I thought I would be a Raven, really, when I first came up, but it didn’t happen that way.”
Suggs and Leftwich's careers have obviously taken different routes since that day in 2003. Leftwich is now a glorified backup and will always be known as a guy who couldn't get it done while Suggs is currently the best player on the Ravens defense and their all-time sack leader.
Makes you think what could have been for the Ravens.
7. Pittsburgh's Season Outlook Without Roethlisberger
It's pretty strange when the biggest story heading into the weekend of a Steelers/Ravens game isn't about how the offenses can beat the defenses. But this week, that is the case.
The biggest story, maybe in the NFL, heading into Week 11 has to be the injury suffered by Ben Roethlisberger that will cause him to miss significant time. But the question remains as to how the Steelers can play in his absence.
I doubt that Roethlisberger will miss the rest of the 2012 season, but he is going to miss a significant portion and some big games, especially considering the fact that the Steelers have five games remaining in the division.
So let's take a look at a potential five-game stretch the Steelers could go through without their star quarterback.
Week 11 - Baltimore
Sunday night's contest against the Ravens is actually a very winnable game, even without Big Ben driving the machine.
The Ravens usually stout defense has been riddled with injuries, causing the team to be ranked 27th in the league against the run. This all with the Steelers coming in running the ball well and getting healthy at the halfback position.
Prediction: Steelers 24, Ravens 20
Week 12 - @ Cleveland
The Cleveland Browns are playing hard, especially at home. But the matter of the fact remains, they're a dreck football team.
If you shut down Trent Richardson, you'll have a really good chance at shutting down the Browns offense. Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden has struggled holding on to the ball and doesn't perform well under pressure.
Prediction: Steelers 21, Browns 10
Week 13 - @ Baltimore
The Steelers' second game against the Ravens probably won't go as well as the first.
It's very rare to see one team completely dominate the other in these season series between the two and this year should be no different. The Ravens are one of the best teams at adapting to change. After seeing Leftwich and the new-look Steelers offense two weeks before, they'll be more prepared at home.
Prediction: Ravens 23, Steelers 13
Week 14 - San Diego
Let's be completely honest, the San Diego Chargers aren't a very good football team.
They've fallen apart late in some games and quarterback Philip Rivers doesn't seem to have what he had two years ago. Running back Ryan Mathews can't stay healthy, and although the defense has played better, they're still not up to par.
Prediction: Steelers 27, Chargers 17
Week 15 - @ Dallas
I actually predicted the Steelers would lose this game with Roethlisberger at quarterback. My mind hasn't changed with Leftwich running the show.
Dallas is a good football team and, despite the way they play sometimes, could probably beat anyone in the league. Rob Ryan has had great defensive game plans all season long and that shouldn't change against the Steelers.
Prediction: Cowboys 17, Steelers 13
So there you have it. The Steelers have a good shot at going 3-2 without their franchise quarterback, leaving them at 9-5 when he'd return. That's not too bad considering the shape of the AFC.
8. How the Steelers Offense Will Change under Leftwich
It's no secret that Byron Leftwich and Ben Roethlisberger are two different quarterbacks. One of them fits very well into offensive coordinator Todd Haley's system.
That's not Byron Leftwich.
Leftwich's long delivery makes it very difficult to get the ball out of his hands quickly, something that Haley's offense is based around going back to his days in Arizona. So without question, the offense will have to change to accommodate a new style of quarterback. The question is how?
Pittsburgh will most likely run the football a lot more and, with all three of its backs now healthy, they could be very effective at it. Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman are all going to touch the ball, especially this weekend.
That rushing attack, if performed well, could open up some big things for Leftwich and his strong arm.
The play-action pass is something that the Steelers utilized well under former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and they may have to take a page out of that playbook again. With the arm strength Leftwich possesses and the speed the Steelers have on the outside, Pittsburgh could be in line for some big plays down the field.
But all of this hinges on the Steelers being able to run the football and run it well.
9. The Book Is Out on How to Beat the Ravens
Over the years, the Baltimore Ravens have traditionally been one of the toughest defenses to figure out and beat.
2012 has been a different story.
Now, to be fair, there are reasons behind this. Star cornerback Lardarius Webb and linebacker Ray Lewis are both out for the season with various injuries. Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata are playing through injuries, but it has been tough. And they're just getting Terrell Suggs back to full strength.
But teams have been able to take advantage of the Ravens' injured defense, especially on the ground. Baltimore ranks 27th in the league at stopping the run and 26th against the run, yet they're only giving up 21 points per game.
With the way the Steelers have been able to move the ball on the ground over the last four games, they could have a real advantage over the Ravens. And with cornerback Jimmy Smith missing time after groin surgery, the play-action pass could be in effect as well.
The Ravens are a 7-2 football team so make no mistake about it, they've made things happen when they've had to. But use the 43-13 beatdown by the Texans as a bench mark, this team is very beatable.
10. Week 11 Injury Report
The Steelers have been one of the leagues most injury-prone teams in 2012 and they lost a big in Monday night's win over Kansas City. Let's take a look at what names show up on the Week 11 report.
Ben Roethlisberger / Ribs & Shoulder / Out
- It has been reported that, to add to a sprained shoulder suffered against KC, the Steelers franchise quarterback dislocated a rib that is potentially life threatening. He'll be out for quite some time.
Antonio Brown / Ankle / Out
- According to the Steelers site, Brown again missed practice on Thursday and is on track to miss his second straight game.
Troy Polamalu / Calf / Doubtful
- In his weekly press conference, head coach Mike Tomlin listed safety Troy Polamalu as doubtful after hope he'd be ready for this week's contest.
Ryan Clark / Concussion / Probable
- Clark has been a participant in practice all week and needs to pass a concussion test before he's eligible to play. He should be ready to go Sunday night.
Rashard Mendenhall / Achilles / Probable
- Not only will Mendenhall most likely be available for the Steelers on Sunday night, but it looks like he'll even draw the start.
Chris Carter / Abdomen / Out
- As reported earlier yesterday, linebacker Chris Carter has been placed on IR with an abdominal injury.
Further injury report can be found here.
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