Ravens vs. Steelers: Breaking Down Pittsburgh's Game Plan

Curt Popejoy@@nfldraftboardContributor IOctober 17, 2013

Dec 2, 2012; Baltimore, MD, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) is tackled following a catch by Baltimore Ravens cornerback Corey Graham (24) at M&T Bank Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports
Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers not only put together a solid performance last Sunday against the New York Jets, but also found a way to get their first victory of the year.

And they did it on the arm of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and an inspired performance by the Steelers defense.

This week, the Steelers return home for an AFC North clash against the Baltimore Ravens.

This is a fascinating matchup for a number of reasons. Obviously, positioning within the division is a part of the equation, but it goes deeper than that.

These are two teams that really don't like each other at all. Records and rankings really don't apply when the Steelers and Ravens get on the field. It is always physical. It is always exciting. And it usually gets pretty ugly.

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 02: Quarterback Charlie Batch #16 of the Pittsburgh Steelers hands the ball off to wide receiver Antonio Brown #84 during the first half against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on December 2, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland.
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Breaking down the two teams, there are some similarities. Both teams have struggled to run the football and so will lean on their star quarterbacks to carry their offenses.

On the flip side, the defenses are very much contrasts. The Ravens rank eighth against the run but only 17th against the pass, while the Steelers are fourth against the pass and only 22nd against the run. This looks to be an advantage for the Steelers.

As mentioned before, both teams are carried by their quarterbacks. Here's how Roethlisberger and Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco compare so far this season:

Quarterback Comparison
Ben Roethlisberger1921261,49565
Joe Flacco2351361,70278

Flacco has had to put the ball in the air 43 more times, but that's yielded only 10 more completions on the season. 

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 15:  Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers speaks with quarterback Joe Flacco #5 of the Baltimore Ravens following the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Heinz Field on January 15, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvan
Nick Laham/Getty Images

Flacco and Roethlisberger each have an exceptional weapon in the passing game. Flacco has wide receiver Torrey Smith, who has 28 catches in six games for 568 yards. On the other side, wide receiver Antonio Brown has a staggering 41 catches in only five games for 498 yards. Obviously, Smith has been utilized as more of a deep threat, but he has been targeted 56 times this year to Brown's 53 targets.

But enough about the numbers, let's look at the game plan the Steelers need to beat the Ravens.


When the Steelers are on offense

I understand that the Steelers offensive line is a dumpster fire right now. Regardless of that fact, the Steelers must continue to push the football down the field.

Last Sunday, the Steelers tried to come out very conservative, using running back Le'Veon Bell heavily and a passing game primarily parallel to the line of scrimmage. It became apparent that the Jets defense was too fast for that, and the same can be said for the Ravens.

Oct 13, 2013; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Heath Miller (83) is tackled by New York Jets inside linebacker David Harris (52) and free safety Antonio Allen (39) during the game at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: William Perlma
The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

This is why the Steelers coaches need to let Ben be Ben, so to speak.

Read those safeties and attack. When the Ravens show two deep safeties, check to quick runs or crossing routes. When the Ravens show one deep safety or even Cover 0, go after those cornerbacks deep with Brown, fellow wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and tight end Heath Miller.

They have to use the aggression of the Ravens defense against Baltimore with smart play-action passing and throwing behind it in those intermediate voids.

Nevertheless, of course, none of this matters if the Steelers offensive line can't do its job. The Ravens front is talented but no better than the Jets. The Jets were able to get to Roethlisberger on Sunday; however, it didn't impact the final outcome of the game.

The difference is, the players the Steelers had to contend with on the Jets were primarily linemen. For the Ravens linebackers, Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and Arthur Jones are the players to watch. This means that the Steelers offensive line has to go from preparing for one type of rusher to the antithesis of that player this Sunday. 


When the Steelers are on defense

The key to last Sunday's win was creativity and execution. This week needs to be more of the same. Multiple defensive sets, aggressive pressures and precise execution will win the day.

The Ravens are sure to try to balance the run and pass, but that shouldn't impact the Steelers' plan of attack. The Steelers need to continue to crowd the line of scrimmage with their linebackers, keep safety Troy Polamalu moving all around the formation and count on the secondary to keep plays in front of it and tackle.

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 02: Defensive back Cortez Allen #28 of the Pittsburgh Steelers breaks up a pass intended for wide receiver Torrey Smith #82 of the Baltimore Ravens during the first half at M&T Bank Stadium on December 2, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryla
Rob Carr/Getty Images

If there is a player the Steelers need to account for, it's Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith. His speed is elite to a tune of 20.3 yards per catch this season. The Steelers should bracket Smith with cornerback Ike Taylor and safety Ryan Clark.

Clark has given up some plays this season, so if there is a spot the Ravens can exploit, it might be this one. 


Predictions and implications

First, the prediction. The Steelers are coming off an emotional win, and the Ravens a loss just as powerful. This, paired with a return to Heinz Field, gives the Steelers a significant edge. The Steelers are going to come out swinging, the Ravens are going to come out slow, and the Steelers will put them away late.

As for what getting to 2-4 would mean for the Steelers, it's all about baby steps. The Steelers can't control what the other AFC North teams do, but they can't let a division game slip away. 

Falling to 1-5 would in essence end the Steelers' season. The AFC isn't strong, but a team can only fall so far behind until it gets to a point where it cannot catch up. The game breaks the season if the Steelers lose and keeps the life support plugged in with a win.


All stats provided by ESPN.com.


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