How the Steelers Can Regain Control of AFC North in Showdown Against Ravens
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder, rib) has already been ruled out, leaving the offense in the hands of backup Byron Leftwich.
The Steelers are underdogs at home in this division tilt, and the Ravens have mostly had their way with Pittsburgh when Roethlisberger doesn't play.
However, if the Steelers want to regain control of the AFC North, they'll have to check off the following tasks Sunday night against the Ravens.
Run the Football
The Steelers may not have a running back with more than 300 yards this season (in comparison, Ray Rice has 657), but that doesn't mean Pittsburgh can't run the football. In fact, it's been the offense's go-to punch the last month.
Over that four-game stretch—all wins—the Steelers have averaged 140 yards on the ground. That kind of game-controlling dominance must continue if Pittsburgh is going to beat the Ravens.
Two factors that favors the Steelers accomplishing this: The Ravens are 26th in the NFL in stopping the run, giving up 132 yards per game, and Pittsburgh is expected to start Rashard Mendenhall, who has recovered from an Achilles' tendon injury, at running back.
Without Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers have to win with their current strength beating the Ravens' obvious weakness. Mendenhal, Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman have the ability to do that.
Win the Turnover Battle
It's obviously a cliche, but the Steelers can't expect to lose the turnover battle and win the game Sunday night. A season ago, the Ravens won the turnover battle each game (7-0 in Week 1, 2-1 in Week 9) and swept the series.
Byron Leftwich will be at the center of the turnover discussion.
Save for very rare occasions, backup quarterbacks are not asked to win games. However, they can't lose games with bad decisions and turnover-causing plays.
If Leftwich is able to stay within the confines of the offense and lean a little on his defense on the dangerous downs (third and long), the Steelers will be in Sunday's game until the end. A bevy of turnovers from the backup will result in the Ravens getting one step closer to locking up the division.
Get Pass-Rushing Production from OLBs
The Steelers must have pocket-collapsing efforts from Lamarr Woodley and James Harrison Sunday night.
The two combined for just two overall quarterback disruptions (two hurries from Woodley) over 38 total pass-rushing snaps against the Chiefs Monday, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). That kind of production simply won't cut it against a Ravens offense that has slowly but surely become a more vertical unit.
Quarterback Joe Flacco threw for 341 yards in Week 10 against the Oakland Raiders, with most of it coming on downfield targets. In fact, he hit five receivers for receptions of more than 25 yards.
If Harrison and Woodley aren't successful in beating the offensive tackles Sunday night, Flacco could hurt this defense vertically. A rebound game gives the Steelers' defense a really good chance of keeping this offense in the high-teens, low-20's on the scoreboard.