Ravens-Steelers Preview “Wildcard Weekend”
The fierce rivalry between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens has taken to the postseason on three previous occasions.
All three matchups took place in Pittsburgh, and all ended with a Steelers victory.
Baltimore will again head to Heinz Field for a postseason tilt Saturday night, looking to author a new chapter in the storied matchup.
“It’s a great challenge,” coach John Harbaugh said Monday. “It’s another playoff game there. We’d like to win one, one of these days.”
Baltimore previously lost playoff meetings with the Steelers in 2002, 2009 and 2011.
The Ravens did not control their own destiny heading into the final week of the regular season, but took care of business with a 20-10 victory over Cleveland and benefited from San Diego’s loss to Kansas City. The combination secured Baltimore’s sixth postseason berth in seven seasons and first since its Super Bowl title following the 2012 season.
Any sort of title run this year will have to happen away from Baltimore, which will be on the road throughout the AFC playoffs as the sixth seed.
“All you’ve got to do is win all your games,” Terrell Suggs said. “If you ask me, I think we’re a (heck) of a team on the road. Sometimes, that’s the way you’ve got to go. But everything’s 0-0, all things are new, and we’ve gotten to the second season.”
The numbers don’t exactly match Suggs’ sentiment. Including last season, the Ravens are 6-10 away from Baltimore and have not posted a winning record on the road since 2010. They were routed by the Steelers 43-23 in their last visit to Heinz Field on Nov. 2, allowing Ben Roethlisberger to throw for a career high-tying six touchdowns.
Pittsburgh has enjoyed such performances from Roethlisberger all season. The 11th-year quarterback posted career highs with 32 touchdown passes, a 67.1 completion percentage, and 309.5 passing yards per game. Given his postseason pedigree, there’s no indication the production should slow down Saturday.
“I think we’re continuing to improve every week, guys are stepping up and making plays,” Roethlisberger, who owns a 10-4 playoff record and two Super Bowl titles, said to Pittsburgh’s official site. “We’re getting more contributions from a little bit of everybody.”
Yet, a key piece – Le’Veon Bell – may be absent on Sunday. Bell amassed 11 touchdowns and 2,215 yards from scrimmage, contributing to Pittsburgh’s franchise-record 6,749 total yards this season, but he suffered a hyperextended knee in Pittsburgh’s AFC North-clinching 27-17 victory over Cincinnati in Week 17.
“I feel really good,” Bell said. “I didn’t expect to be feeling this well this early. But I am, so I’m just going to take it day by day and see where it goes.”
In losing Bell, who leads the league with 841 yards after catch, the Steelers would also lose their big-play threat from the backfield, leaving more responsibility in the passing game. Antonio Brown has proven he is up to that task, leading the NFL in receptions (129) and receiving yards (1,698). He should provide a daunting challenge for Baltimore’s 23rd-ranked pass defense.
“Antonio Brown is gifted,” Harbaugh said to Baltimore’s official site. “He runs all the routes; he’s not just a deep threat, he’s a route runner; reverses; as a punt returner, as we saw in the Cincinnati game last week. He’s a multi-dimensional guy that can score at any point in time.”
Brown posted an 11-catch, 144-yard performance against Baltimore in the most recent meeting, highlighted by a 54-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. It was an aerial display the Ravens have not yet forgotten.
“A couple mistakes here, a couple blown coverages,” cornerback Rashaan Melvin said. “You try not to make the same mistakes twice. ??? These last couple games, we’ve been playing good ball all over the field. That confidence going into the playoffs is going to help a lot.”
That defensive unit will receive a boost with the return of tackle Haloti Ngata, who completed a four-game suspension for violations of the league’s performance-enhancing substances policy. Ngata has two sacks and two interceptions in 12 games.
Joe Flacco may also be entering Saturday’s matchup with some momentum after passing for 312 yards and two touchdowns against Cleveland, marking his first 300-yard performance since Week 9. Despite his modest numbers of late, Flacco still finished the year with a career high in yardage (3,986) with ten fewer interceptions than he threw in 2013.
“Anything can happen once you get into the playoffs, but I don’t necessarily want to approach it with us,” Flacco said. “I’m not going to be surprised if, three weeks from now, we’re sitting here and still playing.”
With the exception of their most recent matchup, the Ravens and Steelers traditionally engage in low-scoring affairs, especially in Pittsburgh. Since 2008, Baltimore has averaged 18.4 points over its last seven games at Heinz Field, and has held Pittsburgh to 20.4 points in those contests.