For the Baltimore Ravens, there are no bigger weeks in the season than their matchups against the Pittsburgh Steelers. They can say all they want about how every game is important, but there is something special about a Ravens-Steelers game.
This year, it's even more special because it's the nightcap to a day of Thanksgiving football. It promises to be the game that wakes us up from our turkey-induced slumber, and here are the key factors you should be watching out for.
Who Can Cover Antonio Brown?
The Pittsburgh Steelers had no qualms about letting wide receiver Mike Wallace walk away in free agency because they knew they had something better in Antonio Brown.
Brown has been outstanding this season, leading the league in receptions and trailing only Calvin Johnson in receiving yards (you know, that guy they call “Megatron”).
He hasn’t had a game in 2013 with less than five receptions, so you know he’s going to be a factor. The question is, can the Baltimore secondary contain ProFootballFocus’ highest-graded wide receiver (subscription required)?
Pittsburgh likes to get Brown involved with quick-hitters and screens, which allow him to use his elite acceleration to make defenders miss and pick up yards after the catch.
On this 3rd-and-11 play against the Detroit Lions, the Steelers call for a screen, and Brown is able to pick up all 11 yards after the catch and convert the third down thanks to some nice blocking by his teammates.
Later in the quarter, Ben Roethlisberger finds Brown again, and this time he makes two defenders miss in the open field and Brown takes it all the way to the house for a 34-yard touchdown.
Baltimore’s secondary will need to first and foremost wrap up well and not miss tackles. In addition, they need to be prepared for the different methods the Steelers use to get Brown the ball in space.
Bring Down Big Ben
It’s always a part of the Ravens game plan, but they need to put pressure on Roethlisberger. He has only been sacked once in the last two games, and he’s been demolishing defenses and leading a revitalized Steelers offense.
That offense uses a lot of quick passes and the no-huddle to keep defenses off balance, so Baltimore can’t afford for Roethlisberger to get into a rhythm. They need to get after him, make him uncomfortable and force him to make quick decisions.
The pass rush starts with stopping the run, something the Ravens had trouble doing in Week 7 against Le’Veon Bell. If they can stop the run and force the Steelers into obvious passing situations, they’ll be able to dial up creative blitzes and take Roethlisberger down.
Attack Ike Taylor
It’s strange to contemplate, but it seems that Ike Taylor has taken a step back this year. He’s always been a physical and smart cornerback, but he hasn’t been able to keep up with speedier wide receivers and was just torched by Josh Gordon last week.
Gordon hung a very under-the-radar 237 receiving yards on the Steelers, and Taylor was the one covering him for most of that outburst.
On this play, Gordon runs a simple curl route, but Taylor’s closing speed isn’t great, and he misses the tackle. Gordon picks up 42 yards instead of what should have been an immediate tackle and a 10-yard gain.
Later in that game, the Cleveland Browns were backed up near their own goal line, but Gordon was able to run right by Taylor, gain separation and make a 47-yard catch down the sidelines.
Taylor was aware of his limitations, as he sometimes backed off Gordon too much. On this simple hook, Taylor fears the double move and continues to drop back and guard against the defense. Of course, that means Gordon is wide open for an easy completion and a 16-yard pickup.
Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense have to test Ike Taylor early and often. That doesn’t mean throw at him, but test his coverage skills with a mixture of deep routes and quick-hitters.
Taylor has matched up well against Torrey Smith in the past but, judging from his performance last week against Josh Gordon, it will be a matchup the Ravens can take advantage of.