Ravens vs. Steelers: Players Who Must Outperform Expectations
Pittsburgh and Baltimore are two teams with a lot in common. Both are physical franchises with talented players on both sides of the ball, both are well coached and both have been battling several key injuries this season.
But unlike many teams this year with injuries, these two teams still sit in perfect position to make it to the playoffs.
We know what to expect from the two teams on Sunday, but here are three players who need to outperform everyone's expectations.
No Ben Roethlisberger means the Steelers will look to Charlie Batch to save the day. Batch couldn't play worse than he did last Sunday, right? With a total quarterback rating of 20.8 and three interceptions, the simple answer is no.
Against an equally talented defense in hostile territory, he is a candidate to provide another clunker of a performance.
But if the Steelers expect to walk away with a victory, Batch has to outperform his low expectations.
I'm not suggesting that he needs to have four touchdowns and 300 yards passing. But I am saying that he has to protect the football, which he didn't do against Cleveland. He also needs more zip on his passes, he has to read defenses better and he has to check it down if the long ball isn't there.
Batch did none of these last Sunday against Cleveland, and he was one of the many reasons why Pittsburgh fell short.
Todd Haley could have made it easier on him by opening the playbook or settling with a rushing attack, but Batch missed throws and missed reads. Plain and simple.
He has to play better for Pittsburgh to have any shot whatsoever.
Joe Flacco is awfully lucky his Ravens are winning football games this year. If they were around .500, people would be all over the fifth-year quarterback.
Flacco has accounted for 2,850 yards passing, 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season. In what will most likely be a low-scoring game against the Steelers, Flacco has to make the plays when it counts.
He will be labeled the better quarterback in the game just like he was two weeks ago in Pittsburgh, but he has to play better than his 164 yards passing and no-touchdown performance.
Remember, Flacco isn't a game manager. He isn't a guy who relies on his defense to solely win games. He said he was the best quarterback in the NFL.
It's time for him to play like the best.
A solid running game is the perfect remedy for a struggling quarterback. Last week against the Browns, Pittsburgh had lousy quarterback play compiled with running backs who couldn't hang onto the ball.
Every Steelers running back fumbled last week. Can you say, "Where is Baron Batch?" Maybe he could have been the guy to hold onto the football, but the Steelers parted ways with the running back when they signed veteran wide receiver Plaxico Burress.
Jonathan Dwyer has proven to be the best running back for the Steelers this season. He has accounted for 98 rushes and 429 yards, and he will be going up against the 26th best rush defense in the NFL.
Dwyer has to hold onto the ball while making an impact on the ground. Any production he can provide will only help Batch in the passing game.
The Steelers are a dangerous team when the run game is clicking. Right now, Dwyer gives the rushing attack the best opportunity to succeed.
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