Dissecting Crucial Matchups in Baltimore Ravens' Week 7 Contest with Steelers
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers led an injury-plagued roster to a 19-17 win, receiving additional help from his defense, which sacked Joe Flacco five times.
In order for the Ravens to rebound, they will need to win the battle in several key matchups when traveling to Heinz Field to face the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.
With their first win coming against the New York Jets last week, the Steelers hope to maintain momentum against a fierce division rival.
The two clubs split their contests last year, each winning by three points on the road. The first meeting included a Jacoby Jones punt return for a touchdown, as the Ravens edged the Steelers 13-10.
The second matchup featured 37-year-old quarterback Charlie Batch leading the Steelers to victory in Baltimore, capping a late-quarter drive with a field goal in a 23-20 victory.
The fact that the Ravens are 3-3 and the Steelers are 1-4 will have little effect on the outcome of this game. Expect another tightly contested battle with the final score being decided by less than a touchdown.
And these three matchups could be the deciding factor.
WR Torrey Smith vs. CB Ike Taylor
Leading up to the game against the Green Bay Packers, Torrey Smith was third in the NFL in receiving yards with 556. He had at least four receptions in every game this season and never had fewer than 92 yards receiving.
Smith proceeded to haul in one reception for 12 yards last Sunday, falling completely flat against a porous Packers secondary.
Although Joe Flacco was able to spread the wealth among players like wide receiver Tandon Doss and tight end Dallas Clark, the Ravens managed to only score on two fourth-quarter touchdowns in the losing effort.
Smith must get off to a fast start against the Pittsburgh Steelers, something the Ravens could not do last week when they went scoreless in the first half.
Cornerback Ike Taylor has played at a relatively mediocre level this year, recording 22 tackles, four passes defended and zero interceptions. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranks Taylor 73rd among all cornerbacks in the NFL in pass coverage and 70th overall.
The two players also have a history from last season, with the trash-talking Taylor trying to get inside Smith's head. The Ravens receiver claimed all the chatter didn't really bother him, even saying it was somewhat amusing.
According to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun, Smith had this to say about Taylor between matchups last year:
He's a great player, he talks trash... For me, somebody who doesn't talk, sometimes it will get to you a little bit. He talks about stuff outside the game, just stuff that completely has nothing to do with playing.
In order for the Ravens to pull out a win this week, Smith will need to put up a better performance than one week ago. Taylor will likely be the defender attempting to disrupt his effort, a key tipping point in the game's outcome.
OLB Terrell Suggs vs. OT Kelvin Beachum
Those who have not been following the state of the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line may initially say, "Suggs vs. Who?"
The seventh-round draft pick Beachum was selected 248th overall by the Steelers in 2012 and started last week at left tackle against the New York Jets in the team's first win of the season.
Beachum appears to be the likely starter on Sunday, with Levi Brown possibly out for the remainder of the year. That leaves a rather daunting task for the second-year player, fending off the aggressive pass rush of Suggs.
The Ravens outside linebacker is currently fifth in sacks in the NFL with 7.0 and tied for 18th with 46 combined tackles. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranks Suggs tied for fourth among all outside linebackers in a 3-4 defense.
However, Beachum appears up for the task, not backing down against Jets linebacker Garrett McIntyre last week. According to Beachum, via SteelersDepot.com:
Even on the one play I got a holding call down there, I finished that guy... I wanted to put his face in the dirt, I wanted to spear him, I wanted to make sure that he felt the Steelers offensive line. If I got a holding penalty, so be it. I don't think it was holding, but like I said, it's football.
While the play Beachum referred to was questionable, he had another holding penalty and false start in the contest. If that is the way he plans to defend Suggs, the Steelers are going to have a long day ahead of them against the Ravens defense.
QB Joe Flacco vs. SS Troy Polamalu
Joe Flacco has been inconsistent this year, yet his best performances in terms of passing yards have all coincided with losing efforts by the team.
In the Ravens three losses this season against Denver, Buffalo and Green Bay, Flacco threw for 362, 347 and 342 yards, respectively. The problem is he also threw seven interceptions in those games combined.
The success factor for Flacco will not be total yardage against the Steelers, rather his ability to keep the ball out of the hands of Pittsburgh defenders.
Most notably, Troy Polamalu.
The Steelers four-time All-Pro safety has not been quite up to form in the Steelers' 1-4 start to the season in terms of turnovers. However, Polamalu made a big impact on a tackle of wide receiver Stephen Hill late in the first half against the New York Jets.
Pittsburgh appeared to be inspired after the hit by Polamalu, and the Jets failed to score in the second half. Geno Smith was intercepted two times after the intermission and the Steelers rolled to a 19-6 victory.
Polamalu has yet to record an interception this season, but may carry over the energy from the team's win in New York. He still ranks as the third-best safety in the NFL, first against the run and tied for 12th in pass coverage, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Joe Flacco and the Ravens will march into Heinz Field determined to improve to 4-3 this season. The team still has the talent capable of a playoff run, despite the amount of turnover following a Super Bowl season in 2012.
If any player might get in the way of a Ravens victory in Week 7, it's Troy Polamalu. Few players possess his instincts or energy on defense, traits that Flacco will need to successfully navigate when dropping back in the pocket.
All statistics courtesy of ESPN.com, unless otherwise noted.
Matthew Stensrud is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter and Google+.
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