Coming off the first lackluster defensive performance in this young 2010 season, the Baltimore Ravens will need to step their game up to come away with a win in a key road game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Many, including me, were surprised how well the Cleveland Browns ran the ball on theRavens last week. Were the Ravens looking past Cleveland? Maybe. Or, did the Browns success on the ground expose a weakness in the Ravens front seven? One way or another, we will have an answer after this week. The Steelers will certainly pound the rock, looking to make things as easy on QB Charlie Batch as they can. What will the Ravens do to slow the Steelers offense this week?
Against the Run: The Ravens front seven needs to come up big stopping the Steelers run game this week. The Steelers have had success at running the ball in their first 3 games. Rashard Mendenhall has averaged 110 yards per game while averaging 5.2 yards per carry. The Ravens have been surprisingly average at stopping the run this year, allowing an average of almost 128 yards per game and 4.7 yards per carry ( a high number against the Ravens). Those numbers are a bit skewed because of the Browns success in week 3. The Ravens were much better against the run in the previous weeks despite giving up some longs runs in both games. That will need to change this week. The Ravens need to bottle up Mendenhall and the Steelers backs and force Batch to beat them. Haloti Ngata and Kelly Gregg were pushed around by the Browns front last week. They will need to bounce back. Look for rookie Terrence Cody to get some time and have an impact this week. He will need to show why the Ravens drafted him in the second round. Another former 2nd round pick who could see extended time this wee is Paul Kruger. With Trevor Pryce gone and Cory Redding questionable to play, Kruger will be called on to make plays. The linebackers will need to step their game up as well. This group seemed to lack focus and passion last week. Against the Steelers the passion will be there, but will either Jameel McClain or Dannell Ellerbe step up and be consistent alongside Ray Lewis? And is this the week that Jarrett Johnson makes some big plays?
Against the Pass: The Ravens secondary will also be tested this week. The Ravens will need to commit more players to defend against the run, leaving the secondary in more one-on-one match-ups. So far the secondary has played well, limiting to less than 117 yards per game in the air and the defense has only surrendered 1 passing touch down. Charlie Batch put up good numbers against Tampa Bay last week, but it appeared the Bucs secondary did not make plays on the ball when they had the chance. It appeared that 2 of Batch’s touch down passes could have easily been picks. Batch could give the Ravens secondary opportunities to make plays, but they need to cash in. Ed Reed has been missed if for no other reason than his ability to catch the ball when he gets his hands on it. Dawan Landry and Tom Zbikowski have not made those plays yet, they will need to this week. The Steelers do not appear to be as strong at wide receiver as they have in years passed, but Mike Wallace is emerging as a more complete receiver, who needs to be covered all over the field with his ability to get deep. Hines Ward always makes plays, but the Ravens have been good at limiting receivers this year and they have the speed to match up. Josh Wilson and Lardarius Webb are improving each week. It is key that the Ravens tackle well in the secondary this week.
I expect the Ravens to step their level of play up this week. This is a huge game for both teams. The Steelers will want to show that they are the best team in the division and the Ravens have a great chance to steal a road game while Pittsburg is without “Big Ben.” I mentioned this on the podcast this week, but I feel whichever defense allows 2 touchdowns will come out on the short end. This is likely to be a low scoring game. I like the Ravens to win 17-9.