The Baltimore Ravens have played poorly over the last four weeks. Nevertheless, the Ravens remain in the thick of the AFC playoff race heading into their Week 9 clash with the Pittsburgh Steelers on November 6.
Baltimore (3-4) started out the season with three straight victories thanks to a strong defensive and excellent special teams play. The Ravens, buoyed by injuries and awful offensive performances, have lost four straight. They are currently situated 10th in the AFC playoff race, two games behind the Kansas City Chiefs for the final wild card spot. However, the Ravens are just a game behind the Steelers in the AFC North.
Pittsburgh (4-3) has dropped two straight since quarterback Ben Rothlisberger went down with a torn meniscus. Rothlisberger is expected to be available next Sunday, according to CBS Sports. Landry Jones has started the last two games at quarterback for the Steelers.
The Ravens probably never imagined they would be in this situation after their start to the season. They can start to right the ship with a victory at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday. The following are five things the Ravens need to do to earn a victory over the Steelers.
1. Get healthy
Baltimore has been bitten hard by the injury bug the past three seasons, placing 19 players on injured reserve in 2014 and 20 last year. The Ravens currently have 15 players on the IR/reserve list with S Kendrick Lewis being placed on IR a couple of weeks ago. They have designated S Matt Elam to return from IR, although he is not eligible to play in a game until November 10.
Furthermore, all seven players that Baltimore had on the inactive list against the New York Jets play an important role. Five of the seven players are Pro Bowlers, and five of those players have missed multiple games. The players who missed the Jets game were LT Ronnie Stanley, OL Marshal Yanda, WR Steve Smith Sr., OLB Elvis Dumervil, OLB Terrell Suggs, ILB C.J. Mosley, and CB Shareece Wright. Plus, QB Joe Flacco, WR Devin Hester, CB Jerraud Powers, and CB Jimmy Smith played with nagging injuries. In addition, RB Terrence West and CB Tavon Young suffered injuries in the game against the Jets.
There could be good news forthcoming. Coach John Harbaugh told Ryan Mink of the NFL Network that he expects most of the injured players to return this week.
Stanley, Yanda, and Suggs practiced both days last week. However, 11 players did not participate during the team’s last practice on Wednesday, per CBS Sports.
2. Protect Joe Flacco
Flacco has struggled mightily during the last couple of games, and a major reason is that teams are getting constant pressure on him. A big reason for the Ravens inability to protect Flacco is the revolving door on the offensive line. Baltimore has not had their opening day starting offensive lineup together since Week 3. Stanley has missed the last four games, Yanda has missed the last two, and tackle Rick Wagner has also missed one game.
Flacco has been sacked 15 times and hit 51 total times this year. He’s been under pressure on 35.1 percent of his drop backs and has been hit six times while throwing the ball, per Pro Football Focus.
Pittsburgh, under former defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, thrived at getting to the quarterback. The Steelers totaled 33 sacks last year, but they have just eight this season.
3. Develop a running game
The Ravens are coming off a historically poor running performance against the Jets, totaling a franchise-low six yards on 12 attempts.
Baltimore ranks 26th in the league in rushing yards per game, with 86.3. The Ravens average 3.8 yards a carry, which ranks 25th in the league.
One of the problems the Ravens have had in establishing a running game is their disproportionate play-calling. Baltimore leads the NFL in pass attempts and are 25th in rushing attempts. Overall, they have ran 467 plays with only 158 (33.8 percent) being running plays.
The Ravens’ rushing attack has reached the 100-yard plateau twice in the last four games, and they have totaled 358 yards (88. 7 yards per game) in those games. Terrence West leads the team with 495 yards on 95 carries.
West injured his ankle on his first carry and finished the game with just 10 yards on eight attempts. He has one 100-yard game, versus Oakland, and has totaled 295 yards on the ground over his last four contests (73.8 yards per game).
The Ravens should have a pretty good opportunity at establishing a running game against the Steelers. Pittsburgh is permitting over 106 yards a game on the ground.
4. Put pressure on the quarterback
Baltimore’s defense has taken hits with injuries as well, but they still are one of the best in the league. The Ravens rank fourth in the league in total yards and scoring, but they have gotten to the quarterback just 16 times and have been hesitant to blitz with all the injuries.
Suggs leads the team with five sacks. However, rookie defensive linemen Matt Judon (two sacks) and Michael Pierce (two) along with Timmy Jernigan (four) have been the most productive pass rushers lately. Defensive tackle Brandon Williams as well as defensive ends Lawrence Guy and Brent Urban have one sack apiece.
Pittsburgh has a very good offensive line, led by C Maurkice Pouncey and LG Ramon Foster. LT Alejandro Villanueva is the weak link on the line for the Steelers.
5. Score touchdowns when in red zone
The Ravens are tied for 27th in the league in scoring, with 19.0 points a game, as they have scored the second fewest offensive touchdown (10). A big reason that the Ravens have struggled to score is that they get bogged down when they get inside the opponents 20.
Baltimore has gotten in the red zone an NFL-low 16 times, converting only eight of those opportunities into touchdowns. The 50 percent red zone touchdown rate is tied with several teams for 19th in the league. The Ravens have been worse inside the red-zone over the last three games, reaching the end zone on 37.6 percent of their trips into the red zone.
The good news is that kicker Justin Tucker has been automatic this year, sending all 18 of his field goal attempts through the uprights. Tucker has five field goals under 40 yards, meaning that the Ravens have put up points on 81.25 percent (13-of-16) trips into the red zone.
[Featured Image by Al Bello/Getty Images]