It was clear when Ben Roethlisberger left the Heinz Field playing surface on Monday night that the injury was more severe than at first glance. Big Ben has a sprain to his right sternoclavicular joint, which connects the collarbone to the breastbone. The larger concern is what Ben labeled a “dislocated rib.” According to Roethlisberger, “That’s the scary part because I guess if it goes in the wrong direction it can puncture the aorta. That’s more of the issue I think. That’s probably the more painful part.” He will likely not play until the rib completely heals, which may be several weeks. Coach Mike Tomlin is a bit more short-sighted – “I live in the present. He is out this week.” When questioned about Ben’s availability for the remainder of the 2012 season, Tomlin responded, “Next question.”
Roethlisberger’s injury is the top storyline leading up to the crucial matchup between AFC North bitter rivals, Pittsburgh and Baltimore. The Steelers attempted to turn the page by ruling #7 out for this week’s game – and turning the keys of the offense over to veteran backup, Byron Leftwich. What’s done is done. Move on, and let’s see what the current group can do in this rivalry game. Thankfully, Todd Haley offered a refreshing perspective on the offensive gameplan now that Roethlisberger has been sidelined. ”Byron is not Ben, and I think it’s very important that we and he understand that,” Haley said on Thursday. ”He can’t go out there trying to be Ben; he needs to go out there and be Byron. This is why I make the point every time you all say ‘Haley’s offense,’ it’s not my offense. We’re going to do things to cater to the strength of our players. Obviously, that will be critical when you talk about the quarterback position. We’re going to cater to Byron’s strengths, as opposed to trying to force square pegs into round holes, so to speak.”
Ten Fearless Predictions
1. Baltimore will throw the kitchen sink at Byron Leftwich. Expect disguised blitzes coming from the linebacking corps and secondary. The Ravens will attempt to force quick decisions (and hopeful mistakes) from the Marshall alumnus in passing situations. Don’t be surprised if the Ravens have a combination of sacks, hurries, and hits that approach 15-20 by game’s end.
2. Unless the Steelers fall desperately behind, you will see a run-heavy playcalling scheme from Todd Haley (60-40, in favor of the run). There will be an enormous fire lit under Max Starks, Willie Colon, Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster, and Mike Adams in an attempt to spark the running game. Baltimore has been susceptible to the run in 2012, allowing 132 yards per game (26th in the NFL). The Ravens will crowd the line of scrimmage, so it may be a battle of wills to see how successful the Steelers running game is.
3. Joe Flacco will take deep shots to Torrey Smith early and often. In my opinion, Flacco’s best throw is a deep sideline pattern. Who is better than the second year speedster to catch those balls? Ike Taylor needs to avoid biting on play action fakes and maintain coverage of Smith so that Baltimore doesn’t get six “cheap” points.
4. Mike Wallace, difference-maker? The Steelers need to take multiple deep shots on a max protect scheme to take advantage of Wallace’s unbelievable top-end speed. This may be a “perfect storm” to try this in Haley’s new offense:
- Leftwich has a long, deliberate delivery. If the line can hold off pass rushers for 4-5 seconds on a few plays, going deep makes sense.
- Lardarius Webb, Baltimore’s top cover corner, is out for the season with a torn left ACL. Also out is 2nd year corner Jimmy Smith. Wallace might be able to sneak past the likes of Baltimore’s backup corners. Even Ed Reed can’t keep up with Wallace.
- Pittsburgh likely won’t be able to sustain long drives by converting third down after third down, as it has with Ben at the helm.
5. Ray Rice, Steeler killer. The elusive, shifty, quick-cutting RB from Rutgers has achieved a great deal of success against Pittsburgh recently – including 235 all purpose yards and 3 TDs in the two 2011 games. Rice is the most dynamic player on the Ravens roster. Expect him to be featured prominently, getting upwards of 25 touches to wear down the Steelers front seven.
6. If cleared to play, Ryan Clark needs to cause a turnover. The last time Pittsburgh defeated Baltimore(in the 2010 AFC Divisional Playoff game), Clark had an interception and fumble recovery. Dialing up a repeat performance against Flacco and company on Sunday night would be paramount. Of course, Clark needs to recover from his second concussion in three weeks to participate. He has made the wise decision to change to a Riddell Revolution Speed helmet, which ranks highly in concussion tests. Clark has passed his IMPact concussion tests thus far, and appears “ready to go.”
7. Baltimore will win the turnover battle. The Steelers will have to take more than one chance on offense to open up the running game…and the Ravens will make them pay. Don’t be surprised if Ed Reed, one of the best ball-hawking safeties of all-time ends up with the ball in his hands at least once.
8. Heath Miller will be a forgotten man. Leftwich’s throwing style does not mesh with throwing underneath to a big tight end. Miller is a key cog in the current offense, but he will go under-utilized in the most important game of both teams’ seasons.
9. Home crowd helps. The fans will be in full throat as long as the game remains close. If I were Coach Tomlin, I would take a page out of Bill Cowher’s playbook to call on the fans for extra noise. They shouldn’t need any prodding given the opponent. The crowd should do all it can to aid in Flacco’s confusion.
10. Ravens 23, Steelers 13. Pittsburgh simply does not have enough weapons to hang with Baltimore on this night – no Ben and Troy, and possibly missing Antonio Brown and Rashard Mendenhall – depending on how practice goes today. The Steelers play with pride, but Leftwich is forced into a momentum-changing, second half turnover that immediately results in a Ravens’ score.
About the Author
Written by Rob Stroup
I grew up in western Pennsylvania, so I have followed the Pittsburgh sports teams (Steelers, Penguins, Pirates) since the womb. It has become a tradition to make the yearly trek to a Steelers and Penguins game each year despite the distance. I hope to make writing a profession because I thoroughly enjoy attempting to paint a picture with words.