After looking great in one half and terrible in the other half the Pittsburgh Steelers escaped their home opener with a victory. Week two is already coming on Thursday night against AFC North rivals, the Baltimore Ravens, who did not look great in week one losing to the Cincinnati Bengals 23-16. The 1-0 Steelers have a huge early season opportunity to seriously damage the Ravens divisional championship aspirations, while also putting themselves in the great position of being 2-0 with two division victories. Here are some keys players to watch for when the Steelers head to M&T Bank Stadium on Thursday night.
Let’s start off with a Ravens player first. Obviously I didn’t see much of the Ravens vs. Bengals game since it was also played at one o’clock last Sunday. But every time I saw the score and stats go across the bottom line, I was shocked at what was happening to the Baltimore offense. The obvious was the fact that the Bengals lead 15-0 at the half but Joe Flacco completed 10 of 23 throws in the first half for only 78 yards. He finished the game throwing for 345 yards while throwing 62 total passes. After watching the highlights though it looked like he only made one play, the 80 yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith in the fourth quarter. Flacco had a rough season last year and it certainly seems like he is still struggling with his consistency during the regular season. 62 passes is an awful lot for a Ravens team that has always been built similarly to the Steelers. Only giving their running backs 17 carries, is a strange ratio. In 2013, Flacco played his best against the Steelers, completing 69.6% of his passes (his highest % against any opponent) and he threw two touchdowns in the two games with no interceptions. It will be interesting to see how Flacco does against a Steelers defense that struggled against Brian Hoyer last weekend.
Last season against the Ravens, the Steelers did not force a single turnover in their two games against their hated rival. In week one against the Browns, Troy Polamalu and the rest of the defense were unable to create a turnover. Polamalu made 11 tackles against the Browns but he failed to deflect any passes and on a few plays he missed tackles. Personally, and it pains me to say this, but in week one it looked like Polamalu was a step slow on multiple plays. If my memory serves me correct, there was one play in the third quarter which Terrance West was running out wide and Polamalu came at him in the open field. I assumed Polamalu was going to tackle West behind the line scrimmage for a loss because that’s just what Polamalu does. Whether he misjudged the angle or West’s speed, Polamalu missed the open field runner and the Browns got a first down on the play. That was only one play and it was only one game, and since he didn’t play all that much during the preseason hopefully it was just a little rust coming off. I hope Polamalu shuts me up and has a big game against the Ravens.
I wanted to name a specific player, but it’s safe to say that everybody on the defensive line and the linebackers needs to improve when it comes to stopping the run. If your two safeties lead the team in tackles during a game that is probably not a good thing. Against the Browns, Polamalu recorded 11 tackles, while Mike Mitchell made seven. The Steelers let up 183 rushing yards against the Browns, the majority of which came in the second half without Ben Tate even in the game. The Steelers defense began to struggle once the Browns went to their hurry-up offense. It would not be surprising at all if the Ravens attempt to do the same thing against the Steelers on Thursday night. Against the Bengals, the Ravens ran for 91 total yards on only 20 attempts. If the Steelers plan on getting a win in Baltimore they have to be better than allowing 6.1 yards per carry and that will take everybody on defense to accomplish that.
Le’Veon Bell had a spectacular start to his second NFL season, producing 197 total yards and scoring one touchdown. His rushing touchdown was a great 38-yard run, in which he made a lot of Browns defenders miss. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry, much better than his 3.5 average last season. The leaner, quicker Bell consistently found holes against the Browns defense. Bell also played a huge role in the passing game, catching six passes for 88 yards (a career high). This week the Ravens defense will pose a tougher challenge than the Browns defense. Against the Ravens the Bengals only averaged 3.0 yards per rush. The Steelers offensive line will need to help Bell succeed on ground, but if he can have another big game on the ground it will certainly help Ben Roethlisberger and the passing offense, giving the Steelers a much better chance of earning victory number two.
There you have it Steelers Nation. Who else should we keep an eye on during the Ravens game?