All Steelernation wants for Christmas is an AFC North division title, especially one that happens to come at the expense of the Baltimore Ravens. Let’s face it, amything that comes at the expense of the Ravens is sweet, like the 2008 AFC Championship. Lately though, things haven’t gone so well against Baltimore, with the Steelers having lost six out of the seven games. On the surface it might appear that the Ravens have made this a one sided affair over the last seven games, but in reality, the Steelers have been close. If not for Josh Scobey, injuries to Ben Roethlisberger and others, along with a little bad luck over the last few years, the recent history of this rivalry would be looking alot different.
Forget about the last seven games because they mean nothing. They have no bearing on who wins this game, and provide no just cause to fear the Ravens. The Steelers are the better team and are looking to do more than win a division title in front of the home crowd on Christmas. They are also looking to send Baltimore a message, that the road to the AFC North once again goes through Pittsburgh, and that conservative play is going out the window. With the Ravens already weak secondary having to play without cornerback Jimmy Smith, expect Ben Roethlisberger to be in full on attack mode, challenging them, much like he did during the fourth quarter in week 9 when the Steelers put up 14 points in about five minutes.
LeVeon Bell is the type of running back who can shred the Ravens defense, but not when he is constantly having to run up into an eight or nine man front, like in the first meeting. This time around things should look a little different for Bell, who will be lining up behind a healthy Ben Roethlisberger and offensive line. With 713 yards rushing over his last 5 games, Bell has certainly found his rhythm, and will do much better than the 32 yards he got the first time around. Bell is due for a big game against Baltimore, and what better time for it than Christmas day in front of the home crowd, because it can happen through the air as well as on the ground.
Antonio Brown has been Ben’s weapon of choice over the last four years, and he should have a big day going against a depleted Ravens secondary that will be without Jimmy Smith. As dangerous as Brown is, Eli Rogers could be a huge factor underneath, out of the slot. With Brown sure to see his share of double coverage, Eli has the ability to make the Ravens secondary pay. What the Steelers need for things to really open up for them on offense is a big play to Cobi Hamilton early. The Steelers lost that deep ball threat when Coates broke his fingers against the Jets, but Christmas is a time for miracles, and Hamilton is primed to deliver one.
The Steelers are as healthy for a Ravens game as they have been in a while, and this one is for the division title. Ben, Brown, Bell, and the offensive line are all ready to do what they do, but this time, the offense is bringing a much improved defense with them to the table. Rookies Artie Burns and Sean Davis have really come on over the last six weeks (4 interceptions and 1.5 sacks between them) and give the Steelers one of the most athletic secondary’s in the NFL. Since his return, Bud Dupree has provided the defense with even more athleticism and a boost to the pass rush. In four games, Bud has 13 tackles and 2.5 sacks, and with fresh legs, he should provide plenty of additional harassment for Joe Flacco. With Tuitt questionable, another rookie, Javon Hargrave will have more pressure on him to clog up the running lanes, where he has proved to be more than capable.
The important thing that the defense must do is to tackle the catch and keep the receivers in front of them. With a lack of a viable running game, the Ravens will have a hard time keeping up with Ben and his weapons. With a much improved defense, the Steelers will have a much better time of making the points they score stand. The Steelers are better on paper, and are playing at home. When it comes to big games with the Ravens, with a title of some sort on the line, the Steelers are 2-0. After today they should be 3-0. Don’t be surpised if the game isn’t close, in the Steelers favor. The Steelers will be aggressively deliberate. They will dictate the action to the Ravens, who won’t be able to keep up. Steelers 31 – Ravens 17.