Ravens vs. Steelers is now all about getting to the quarterback:
The days of Ravens-Steelers defensive slug fest are a long time ago. It’s been a few years since Ray Lewis and Ed Reed teamed up against Troy Polamalu and Casey Hampton. Lately, the matchups have consisted of offensive shootouts with the Steelers high-powered offense and sub-par defense. The Steelers are undoubtedly one of the most offensively talented teams in the NFL, so what can the Ravens do to slow the unit down?
Two words: pass rush.
The only guy on the Ravens defense leftover from those 2000s defensive wars is outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. Suggs is still going strong at 35 years old, and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger knows and respects him from past battles. However, in the last 7 Steelers games Suggs has played in, he has only accounted for a half of a sack. Suggs will need that to change Sunday night, as he is the leader of the Ravens pass rushing unit, and they will need to be in top form if they are going to keep the Steelers off the board.
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Without Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers run game has certainly suffered. James Conner is taking the lead back role and has done a decent job, but it sure isn’t the same without Bell. The offense has been forced to throw the ball the 3rd most in the league behind only the Lions and the Vikings (who just played Thursday).
Every Ravens fan knows if you give Big Ben time in the pocket he will pick your defense apart. He has weapons all over the field and a solid offensive line that he trusts. One of those weapons just happens to be quite possibly the greatest receiver this game has ever seen, Antonio Brown. Without Jimmy Smith, second year player Marlon Humphrey will be forced to shadow Brown throughout the game. Marlon Humphrey has been excellent since he stepped on the field, but it doesn’t matter who you are, Brown is who he is.
That is why the pass rush has to be in top form Sunday to force Big Ben into an uncomfortable pocket. One of the top performers in the unit has been Za’Darius Smith. Smith has been a force in three games, using his quickness to make tackles look silly and already has 2 sacks on the year. This will be a huge game for Smith, as the Steelers are going to be keyed in on Suggs. If Smith can get it going, the Ravens should be able to get to Roethlisberger all night.
Another X-factor in this game is Tim Williams. Tim Williams was drafted in the third round of the 2017 draft out of Alabama as a pass rushing specialist. He has looked very good this year, already adding a sack against the Bills. This is a perfect opportunity for Williams to shine. With the Steelers shying away from the run, the Ravens can afford to use Williams on earlier downs if they wish. Williams has plenty of tools at his disposal to wreak havoc Sunday.
The Ravens pass rush has looked better this year than it has since 2014, and I didn’t even mention Matthew Judon. No matter what happens, if the ravens are going to get a good result on defense Sunday, it will start with the pass rushing unit. This team is without Jimmy Smith for one more week, so the secondary is going to need all the help they can get. They will have their hands full with Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. If the unit can collapse the pocket and get to Big Ben, it will be a fun night for Ravens fans.