What’s Going to Happen When the Steelers Have the Ball
Not much has changed on the offensive side of the ball for the Steelers since last year.
Rahard Mendenhall had over 1200 yards on the ground and 13 touchdowns. He isn’t the threat out of the backfield Ray Rice is, but he is not asked to be, nor does he have to be. The Steelers have receivers who can get open and catch.
Isaac “Redzone” Redman is the short-yardage back, and when the Steelers want to throw out of the backfield, Mewelde Moore has decent hands.
Hines Ward is virtual lock for the Hall of Fame and returns for his 14th season in the Black and Gold. His gritty, hard-hitting style of play serves him well in the Steelers’ scheme and has rubbed off on younger receivers Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, and Emmanuel Sanders.
Arnaz Battle, Heath Miller and newly acquired Jerricho Cotchery round out what might be the best receiving corp in the NFL. I ask you, who would you cover if you see Ward, Wallace, Miller, Brown and Cotchery lined up in an empty backfield set? Replace Cotchery with Sanders. Does that change what you would do?
None of this means the Steelers will be passing on first down all the time (right, Bruce Arians?). They are still going to try to run the ball because that is what Mike Tomlin likes to do.
The formula to beating the Ravens is remarkably similar to beating the Steelers. If you can throw the ball well and run when you can, you will win. The Ravens have a few of great playmakers on their defense including the aforementioned Ngata, Terrell Suggs, and future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
When throwing the ball against the Ravens, you must, must, MUST account for those four men. Any one of them has the ability to turn the game with a single play. They have and they will, if you give them the chance.
Thankfully, once you get past those four guys, the rest of the defense consists of a bunch of guys who could be extras from the movie The Replacements. I’m not saying they aren’t good. You have to be good to be in the NFL. I’m just saying the guys you have to gameplan for are the “Big Four.”
The Steelers seem to match up well to the Ravens on paper, but we all know the game is not played on paper. The Ravens will play the Steelers tough, as they always do, but I like the Steelers to put up 24 offensive points on them, but will have a turnover that will cost them points.
What’s Going to Happen on Special Teams
If this article were about any other team, I wouldn’t bother to talk about special teams, but because we love our Steelers, I have to talk about kicks and punts.
In the return game, the rule pushing the ball position for kickoffs would seem to help the Steelers. Even a kicker with mediocre leg strength can get a ball seven yards deep in the end zone to force a touchback. One of the most glaring weaknesses of the Steelers, the seeming inability to cover kicks, was addressed by the NFL rules committee. Thanks, guys!
P Daniel Sepulveda looks to have all of his leg strength. He was booming punts in the preseason. God knows he hasn’t played enough to be tired.
The real concern will be on punt coverage. We can thank our lucky stars that Lardarius Webb is not Joshua Cribbs, but with the Steelers’ shaky coverage, I could probably average 15 yards/return. I don’t know what the solution is, but I trust Coach Tomlin will have done whatever needed to be to ensure we don’t watch return men running up and down the field on our beloved Steelers. That being said, my spider-sense tells me the Ravens are going to run a punt back for a touchdown on the Steelers.
I’m not sure who Swayze Waters is, but he deserved a roster spot just because he has the best name ever! Alas, he did not get one and K Shaun Suisham will be booting the ball for the Steelers. While he is far from an elite kicker, he makes the kicks he is supposed to make, and that is really all you can ask of a kicker in the funhouse known as Heinz Field.
W2W4 (What to watch for)
Watch for the Ravens to try to run and not be able to. They will then try the passing game (probably because they will be behind), and will rack a few yards. They will be unable to score touchdowns, though.
Watch for the Steelers to run when they have to, but not get too much out of the running game. The Ravens are going to be ready to stop the run, but will get burned in the passing game.
Watch for the Steelers to give up a punt return for a touchdown.
Watch for Polomalu and Reed to each have a pick, leading to a year-long competition between the two best safeties in the league for most interceptions.
Watch for Woodley to force a fumble.
Watch for the Steelers to win 31-20.