Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Baltimore will be tough, but the Ravens are hurting at key positions

A lot has happened since the Steelers' Week 2 loss at Baltimore. Having just come off the second-half of the home opener vs. Cleveland, during which the Browns thoroughly outplayed the Steelers, the Black 'n Gold looked shaky and uneven, even flat, during its Sept. 11th visit to Baltimore. The Ravens were in control just about the whole game, winning 26-6 and rushing for 157 yards.

Justin Brown's early fumble set the tone in Week Two. 
The Steelers opened the game with a promising drive that ended abruptly when wide receiver Justin Brown fumbled deep in Baltimore territory. That fumble breathed life into the Ravens, got the home crowd into the game and completely reversed momentum. The Steelers never recovered.

Joe Flacco marched the Ravens right downfield, capping the drive with a two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Owen Daniels. The Steelers never recovered, and Baltimore dominated the rest of the way.

You'll recall that linebacker Courtney Upshaw hit Ben Roethlisberger hit hard early in that game, and the Steelers' quarterback never looked the same after that hit to the sternum. For that matter, Roethlisberger didn't look right for a couple weeks afterward.

The Steelers turned over the ball three times in that game. Le'Veon Bell had only 11 carries for 59 yards. For the night, the Steelers tried just 18 runs vs. 36 by the Ravens.

The Steelers mounted only 301 yards of total offense, which is less than half what they put up on Sunday vs. the Colts. The Steelers also racked up nine penalties to foreshadow what would become a troubling trend. Everything was a struggle in that game. Baltimore won by 20 points.

It may not be much "easier" this Sunday night vs. the visiting Ravens -- games against Baltimore are never easy -- but much has changed since that Sept. 11th beatdown in Baltimore.

Baltimore is hurting at tight end
For one thing, the Ravens have had some key injuries, just like every NFL team.

Both starting tight ends, Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels, are hurt. Pitta's career is in jeopardy after fracturing and dislocating his hip the following week against Cleveland. That's the second consecutive year he's had the same injury. He's been a good one, but Pitta's successor, Daniels, was just about as good and an ideal replacement. He's an excellent receiver and had two touchdowns vs. the Steelers in Week 2.

For the last couple weeks, however, Daniels has also been hurt. Daniels missed last Sunday's game in Cincinnati after having his knee scoped during the week. His status for Sunday's game is up in the air.

The loss of Pitta and (potentially) Daniels really hurts the Ravens. Joe Flacco relies on his tight ends. And, although Flacco throws as good a deep ball as anybody in the NFL, the tight ends are arguably the key to Baltimore's offense.

Without Pitta and Daniels, we expect Baltimore to rely more heavily on its running game and swing passes, shuttle passes, screens and outlet passes to the running backs.

The Ravens Are Hurting at Corner, Too
Just as troubling for the Ravens is the loss of starting cornerback Jimmy Smith, who will miss the next few weeks with a sprained foot suffered in the loss to the Bengals. The former first-rounder was playing the best ball of his career this year. Although the other starting corner, Lardarius Webb, likely will match up with Antonio Brown, not having Smith on the other side really hurts the Ravens.

The Ravens lack depth at the position. Backup Dominique Franks, who was signed off the street five weeks into the season, got burned on a long bomb to A.J. Green, and if the Steelers look at Martavis Bryant as "A.J. Green Lite," then Franks may be targeted similarly on Sunday night. Then again, the Ravens may play backup corner Chykie Brown, who was inactive the last two weeks. Their options are limited.

Also worth noting, the Ravens are hurting on the offensive line. Last Sunday vs. the Bengals, they played two rookies on the left side of the offensive line. While the rooks played reasonably well, James Harrison is rounding into form.

This should be interesting.

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