Steelers looking for sixth straight win

A history lesson, tape review, prediction, complete breakdown and much more in this Ravens-Steelers game day preview.

MEMORABLE SERIES MOMENT

Steelers 43, Ravens 23

Nov. 2, 2014 at Heinz Field

If the Ravens jump out to an early lead, Steelers fans needn't worry because they jumped up 7-0 in this game two years ago and it became a runaway Steelers win, their only win in the last seven meetings between the teams. Ben Roethlisberger went on a rampage that day, completing 25 of 37 passes for 340 yards and six touchdowns as his main target, Antonio Brown, caught 11 passes for 144 yards to overcome the lack of a running game. Le'Veon Bell rushed 10 times for only 20 yards, just off the pace of leading rusher LeGarrette Blount's 10 carries for 23 yards. The Steelers went on to win the AFC North Division that year with an 11-5 record, which would be the same result and likely the same record if the Steelers win today. But keep in mind the Steelers today don't have the array of weapons Roethlisberger had at his disposal here two years ago. Bell, Brown, Heath Miller, Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant were all in the starting lineup.

TALE OF THE TAPE

"I'm more afraid of their defense than I am their offense. The key for the Steelers is controlling Brandon Williams. He is a load. For a very large nose tackle he's very athletic. He's got a great first step, his hands are great. All of their down linemen bring their hands from the ground into the chest of the offensive linemen so they have great lockouts, and when you lock out you keep the offensive lineman off your body. So they play really well with their hands. The key's going to be the guys up front because if Ben's got time, it's going to be one of those big games for him." -- Steelers Radio analyst Tunch Ilkin.

TOP QUESTION

Can the Steelers run the ball?

Without Ladarius Green and Sammie Coates, the Steelers will be forced to run better than they did the last time they played the Ravens (18 carries, 36 yards). To that end, the Steelers' offensive line is playing much better as a unit now and will also be playing at home. Firing off the ball with a cadence is much easier than relying on timing and the slap of the hand on a silent count. The Steelers shouldn't be flat-footed coming off the ball this time, and the run game, or threat thereof, should also open up the passing game.

THREE QUESTIONS: With CB ROSS COCKRELL

Q: The starting outside cornerbacks have 25 passes defensed this season, or three more than last season and matching 2014 with two games to play. The PDs on the last two third downs last week were very big. Is it a different coaching philosophy?

RC: "It's just different players. Obviously I'm new, Artie (Burns) is new. Coach (Carnell) Lake has been here for a while and he's been coaching the same way for a long time. He wants people playing aggressively on the football. Whether that's in off-coverage, man coverage, zone coverage, he wants us making plays on the football, whether it's interceptions -- which I'm still searching for -- or pass breakups."

Q: You keep bringing up that you don't have an interception this season. It's in your head, isn't it?

RC: "Oh, it's in my head. It's in my head."

Q: Mike Tomlin says he doesn't teach playing the ball or playing the man, that the player is the player. Do you like that?

RC: "Yes. I do appreciate that. That's the good thing about being here. What our coaches and the players care about most is the result. Honestly, there's a process that we like to do things, but the result is the ultimate matter and however that happens it's gonna be cool, as long as it's positive."

GAME BREAKDOWN

What to look for from the Steelers at 4:30 p.m. today at Heinz Field:

ON OFFENSE

Terrell Suggs at 34 is still getting after it. He has eight sacks and remains a handful as a pass-rusher. He's spelled more, as is 32-year-old Elvis Dumervil, but when the game's on the line those two will be on the field trying to close it out. The Ravens ILBs -- playmaker C.J. Mosley and underrated tackling machine Zachary Orr -- will also try to pressure Ben Roethlisberger, and safety Eric Weddle will also blitz at times. The key will be picking them up and finding Antonio Brown, Eli Rogers and Cobi Hamilton against average cornerbacks (Jimmy Smith out) and safety Lardarius Webb. Of course, much will depend if the Steelers can root out NT Brandon Williams and getting Le'Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams rolling.

ON DEFENSE

With Cam Heyward on IR, there's a lot on Stephon Tuitt to "suck it up" and play with the sprained knee that knocked him out of last Sunday's game in the first series. Behind him, Ricardo Mathews is struggling with an ankle injury. The Steelers may have to promote and play practice-squad player Johnny Maxey, the undrafted Division II rookie from Mars Hill. The Ravens have been running the ball well, 4.8 ypc. in their last five games, or since they moved Marshal Yanda to LG and have had five players in the same spots. Much will fall on NT/DE Javon Hargrave and ILBs Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons to stop RBs Terrence West and Kenneth Dixon.

PREDICTION

The way the Steelers are playing now, and with the revenge factor and how well they play at home, this game has the makings of a Steelers rout -- except of course for the major holes due to injuries. The Ravens will be able to run the ball, and that of course will set up a few big plays for Joe Flacco and Steve Smith. The Steelers will run the ball better this time around and Roethlisberger will find just enough outside of Brown and Bell to pull out a close win. Steelers, 26-23.

BY THE NUMBERS

0: Number of Christmas Day games the Steelers have played in past years.

1: Field goal of 50-plus yards is needed by Ravens K Justin Tucker to set an NFL single-season record of 11 in one season.

2: Touchdown passes are needed by Ben Roethlisberger for his 300th to tie John Elway for ninth most in NFL history.

5: Games is the longest current win streak in the NFL coming into the weekend, shared by the Steelers and New England Patriots.

7: Game win streaks in the regular season have been accomplished by eight Steelers teams. Seven of those teams played in AFC Championship games, three played in Super Bowls and two won championships. The only such team not to advance to the AFCCG was the 1983 Steelers team.

DOWNLOADS

* The Steelers will clinch the AFC North championship with a win. The Ravens would tie the Steelers for the lead with a win and would clinch the division with another win next week at Cincinnati.

* The Steelers will debut their Color Rush uniforms in the game. The uniforms will be all black with gold numbers.

* The last eight regular-season games between these teams at Heinz Field are almost exactly even. Each team won four games and committed 11 turnovers. Seven of the games were decided by three points. The Ravens had 23 sacks, the Steelers 25 The Ravens averaged 100 rushing yards and 302 total yards per game while the Steelers averaged 96 rushing yards and 295 total yards. A big difference: Joe Flacco played in all eight games, Ben Roethlisberger played in five.

* In light of last Sunday's misadventure by Jeremy Hill following his team's last touchdown, Baltimore reporters asked Roethlisberger if it's bad karma to mess with the Terrible Towel. "I don’t know," said Roethlisberger. "Give it a shot. We'll see what happens."

* Marcus Gilbert does not like Vontaze Burfit and the Bengals, and in rolling from one heated rival to another he was asked if there was a similar cheap-shot artist with the Ravens:  "Nah, nah, everybody plays the game of football the way it's supposed to be played. You hit, you go back to the huddle. You don't try to twist anybody's ankles or anything like that," and with that Gilbert laughed heartily, almost psychotically. "All that crazy stuff, hands to the face, stuff like that. That's all over with. There will be a new story next year." And then he let loose with the laugh again.

PARTING SHOT

"Christmas, Ravens, December football, man, it's awesome." -- Steelers Pro Bowl guard David DeCastro.


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