The Steelers suffered one of the worst losses in recent memory during Week 1, when the Baltimore Ravens throttled them 35-7 in a game that, to many, proved that the Steelers were washed up, old and going to be unable to make a true playoff run.
Half the season later, the Steelers are 6-2, back in first place in the AFC North and the conference as a whole. They are no longer old and slow. They're dangerous and looking like a team headed for something special.
Here's a look at five things the Steelers needed to learn from Week 1 so that they can avenge that loss on Sunday.
You can’t sleep on the guy. The Steelers probably weren’t sleeping on him during the Week 1 game, but they did terribly trying to stop him.
Rice isn’t an easy player to contain because he can do so many different things. He’s an inside and outside runner, a great receiver and a fast mover all rolled into one body. He’s one of the league’s most explosive players.
One key to stopping the Ravens this time is at least limiting the damage. They weren’t able to stop him in Week 1. If they can stop him from being an effective runner, they can force Joe Flacco to throw more and remove one of the biggest threats the Ravens pose…
That threat is play action passing. Joe Flacco is very good at it. He attempts a ton of passes each season through that style and has great success.
Those numbers are down this year. Why? Teams are starting to realize what it means to their offense. Flacco hasn’t been as good on pure passing plays or obvious passing situations because teams are removing the threat of Rice completely.
Look at the Jaguars defense against the Ravens two weeks ago. They took Rice out of the game. That killed the play action pass as a threat. Joe Flacco fell apart. He succumbed to pressure, lost focus and couldn’t lead the Ravens down the field with any consistency.
Play action is the key to Flacco’s game. Take that away, and he’s just another okay quarterback. If that fails, they can always try the strategy they used last week…
That strategy was to take the ball out of the opposing offense’s hands by controlling the clock with their offense. The Steelers could barely possess the ball in their first meeting with Baltimore and Baltimore used this strategy to beat them.
The first drive of the season lasted over half a quarter. The Ravens kept doing it too and used drives of 10-plus plays and long gobs of time to keep Ben Roethlisberger off the field and his receivers on the bench.
The Steelers used this to beat Tom Brady for the first time since 2004. They can do it to the Ravens too. The longer they can extend drives against a secondary that’s good but not stellar beyond Ed Reed, the better chance they have of taking home the victory.
Controlling the clock will be essential, but play selection on offense is going to be key too…
The Steelers have been a better passing team than a running team, and I would expect that to continue this week against the Ravens.
Baltimore did a wonderful job of bottling the running game and using that ineffectiveness as a club with which to swat at Bruce Arians’ game strategy and play calling. Passing more might have done more damage.
The types of passes are important too. The deep balls won’t be as easy against that pass rush, but the quick routes, slants and go routes will work wonders. Doing enough of that will give Rashard Mendenhall room to run. Then the Steelers can open up play action themselves, something Ben Roethlisberger does well.
The big key? No huddle. If you get something going, put the screws to the Ravens defense and keep them on their heels. Points will be at a premium. Scoring when you have the chance will be essential. But perhaps nothing is more essential than what’s inside…
And that means what motivates this team. The Ravens clearly were more motivated, more ready to play in Week 1. They were tired of being beaten down by the Steelers game after game, two and three times a year. They were determined to tear them apart.
And so they did.
The Steelers have to approach this game with that mentality. This is the game that will go a long way to determining who wins the AFC North. The winner of this game will have a big lead.
This is also personal. This is about revenge. Getting the Ravens is always priority one on Pittsburgh’s mind whenever the season begins. The two teams have a grudging respect for each other that is surrounded by an underlying feeling of intense avarice.
The more the Steelers can let those emotions carry them, the better equipped they are to deal with a team that is much, much more about the emotion than about the talent and skills and fundamentals required to get there.
If they didn’t learn that from Week 1, they didn’t learn anything of value.