Apologies to the Guess Who, the Canadian rock group who scored big-time in the early '70's with the hit "No Time"… but that song defines exactly the defensive mission of the Baltimore Ravens (5-6) as they host the Pittsburgh Steelers (5-6) in a short-week "must-win' Thanksgiving Day night game.
If the Ravens give Ben Roethlisberger "no time" to run around and improvise plays downfield, they will beat the Pittsburgh Steelers.
And yes, it's up to the Ravens defense now to win games. It has come full circle. Ravens' fans are at the point now where they must rationally accept the fact that the Ravens' offense is missing too many parts (offensive line, tight ends, depth at wide receiver) to rely upon Joe Flacco's spread offense to pull off any sort of dominant performance.
The tide has turned.
Jim Colony of 93.7 the Fan in Pittsburgh joined Scott & Jeremy of WJZ-Sports in Baltimore on Monday to preview the Thanksgiving match-up between the Ravens and the Steelers.
Scott opened up by asking Jim what has changed over the last seven games for the Steelers. “It really has been more of the Steelers team that the people in Pittsburgh expected… The offensive line is coming together enough, and they are trusting Ben Roethlisberger more.”
Jim also emphasized that the Steelers have already played in a playoff-like atmosphere this year. “This is just like the game the Steelers played against the Browns, same record same stakes.”
Obviously the Pittsburgh fan contingent is confident that the Steelers have the momentum and the edge required to outscore the Ravens.
After an 0-4 start to the season, the Steelers have won five of their last seven and three in a row.
That's the momentum part of the story…
In their Week 7 matchup, Pittsburgh was 1-5 and the Ravens had a chance to squash their rival’s playoff hopes before the midpoint of the season.
But the Steelers came away with a 19-16 victory at Heinz Field and they have now won five of their last seven games, including three in a row, to get back into the thick of the AFC playoff picture.
“That team is hot,” running back
The Steelers (5-6) are now tied with the Ravens and four other teams chasing the No. 2 wild-card spot. They have found a rhythm in recent weeks with wins over Buffalo, Detroit and Cleveland. Led by an opportunistic defense and the play of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers have come to life.
“Ben Roethlisberger has his mojo going again, so to speak,” defensive lineman
During their current three-game winning streak, Roethlisberger has thrown for seven touchdowns and just one interception, averaging 262.6 passing yards per game. The defense has also looked like the classic Steelers defense, forcing eight turnovers in the last three games.
“I don’t think we’re doing things differently, we’re just doing things better,” Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin said during his press conference Monday.
Roethlisberger, who was the subject of trade rumors a few weeks ago, has been at the forefront of the Steelers’ turnaround. He threw nine interceptions in the team’s six losses earlier in the season, but has tossed just one since then.
He has jump-started an offense that has averaged 29 points a game the last three weeks compared to just 17.6 points per game the last time the Ravens faced them.
“They’re playing complementary football,” Canty said. “They’re looking like the Pittsburgh Steelers of old, so we’re going to have our work cut out for us Thursday.”
Another area where the Steelers have improved is in the running game. Running back Le’Veon Bell has come on strong in his rookie campaign, and he leads the team with 455 rushing yards on 143 carries.
“It's going to take 11 hats swarming to the football to bring down Le'Veon Bell,” Canty said.
The improved performance from Pittsburgh’s offense and the ability of the defense to be opportunistic has the Steelers again in the hunt for a playoff spot with this week’s critical Thanksgiving matchup at M&T Bank Stadium.
“It usually seems like it always plays out to be like this [where] we’ll be playing that other team for the division,” tight end
As the Steelers have changed, Tomlin also noted some differences in the Ravens. He pointed specifically to increased production from the tight ends and signs of life from Rice and the running game.
“I do see some things evolving for them,” Tomlin said. “Baltimore is 2-2 since the last time we played them, but 2-0 at home. We realize how difficult it is to go into their place and get a victory.”
Well, it's clear to me that to beat the Steelers right now you have got to get major pressure on Big Ben from every conceivable angle on the field. This means dialing up everything you have, not just in terms of blitz but also in terms of four-man rush…and you must contain the edges to bottle him up. It also means blowing up the Steelers run game…which is easier said than done. If you can contain the Steelers' running game, then Big Ben becomes almost average as a passing threat. Funny how that works… but like Chris Canty said, it's "complementary football'' that enables Big Ben and the Steelers to succeed on offense. So removing one or both "complements" in either the running game or pass-protection game of the Steelers should render them highly exposed to a state of extreme frustration .
The rest would then be left up to Joe Flacco's opportunistic strike ability and also special teams (which has played great of late) to fill the vacuum and seal the deal.
I expect a tough fight and a very entertaining game.