The Sunday night game features one of my favorite rivalries in sports in the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Unfortunately in this one, it is not going to be “what it could be” as the Steelers super star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be watching the game from the sidelines in this one.
In gambling, quarterbacks are the main position that moves the betting line. Simply put, the better the quarterback, the more the line moves. When the game opened up, the Steelers were favored by 3.5 points. Since Big Ben will be out, the road team Ravens are now favored by 3.5 – a very significant shift.
These games are always decided by less than a touchdown, as both teams play physical, tough, defensive football. The big story line in this game will be whether backup quarterback Byron Leftwich can manage the game, and put the Steelers in position to win. The Steelers have always been a team that rises to occasion when one of their players goes down. The “next man up” has been a staple to the Steelers history for years, and will be no exception this Sunday against Baltimore.
Leftwich will be asked to move the chains and keep his team in it. History tells us that he is a capable back up after being a proven winner in the NFL with the Bucs and Jaguars. He’s not elite, or even great – but he’s a good back up quarterback with a big arm and is capable of winning a game. With some extra work in practice this week, and the emotion of a rivalry game upcoming, I give the Steelers a chance to pull this one out.
The running game for the Steelers will be crucial for them to win and take the pressure off Leftwich. They will have all three running backs getting touches, as Rashard Mendenhall will be active for the game. Look for them to run the ball against a defense that has looked vulnerable of late, allowing 132 yards a game.
The Steelers will be able to win this game if they can keep the ball on the ground, and set themselves up for 3rd and manageable situations where their qb can find safety blanket Heath Miller and Emmanuel Sanders. I don’t see Mike Wallace having a big game, but don’t be surprised to see him stretch the field and make a big catch late in the game.
For the Ravens, quarterback Joe Flacco will look to carry over his hot streak from last week into this one. Joe looked awesome throwing for 350 yards and four scores, including one on the ground in the blowout win. Unfortunately the Ravens offense has been brutal on the road and never seem to be able to run the same tempo.
The Ravens will need a steady diet of running back Ray Rice, who is a great fantasy play against the Steelers. If Rice is getting touches in the 4th quarter, it means the Ravens are moving the ball and maintaining a lead. It’s when they get behind to they abandon Rice and try to go vertical.
It will be refreshing for Flacco to have the edge at quarterback in this match up, now he has to prove himself against the division king pin. The Steelers have had a share of nice victories this year, but looked sloppy against the Chiefs on Monday night, and this contest doesn’t get easier for them.
The Ravens will need to score early in this game to put the pressure on Leftwich, who will be forced to make plays happen. I see the pressure getting to him, and making a couple mistakes late in the game to seal the victory for the Ravens. Flacco will look to move the ball on the ground, and mix in some play action to get Torrey Smith involved. If Rice can control the game, the Ravens win.
As expected, this will be a hard fought, very physical game start to finish with the Ravens getting the better of Pittsburgh in this match up. I still think they split their season series, but Leftwich will need more time to get acclimated to the starters role, and this is not a good match up for him. Ravens 20- Steelers 17