Ravens prepare for ‘huge’ matchup against rival Steelers
Baltimore looks to end two-game skid in critical midseason matchup
— Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco took to the podium at the Under Armour Performance Center Wednesday sporting a clean-shaven face.
It’s a new start for the suddenly superstitious Baltimore Ravens signal caller, who moved on from the beard in the wake of two straight losses that dropped the team to .500 on the season.
“I’ve been thinking about cutting it every night for about two weeks. It’s not like we’ve been winning with it,” Flacco said. “We’ve all got a little bit of superstition in us, I guess.”
As if the team needed any more motivation following last weekend’s lopsided 3621
road defeat to the Carolina Panthers, the Ravens (44) welcome the Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2-1) to town this Sunday — a contest that still remains one of the NFL’s top rivalries.
Baltimore can ill-afford a losing record at this junction in the campaign, with the Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals ahead of it in the divisional race and five other AFC teams with a similar or better record. The Ravens will be searching for a season sweep of the Steelers after defeating their arch-rival, 26-14, in Week 4.
Since then, Pittsburgh has rattled off three wins in a row, while the Ravens have gone 1-2.
“All of them are huge – especially in the AFC, especially at home. All of them are huge. The simple fact that we’re playing them this time of the season, I don’t think it matters. They still have their guys; they still got who they are. We still got our guys; we’re still going to be who we are. It’s Week 9: RavensSteelers, Part Two,” Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs. “I still love these games. I still love playing in these games. These games are definitely a bit more edgy than others, but at the end of the day, these two teams know each other very well. So, it’s still fun. It’s still fun.”
Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh sees the same type of Steelers team that has shown up in years past. Pittsburgh’s 1-2-1 start to the season is firmly in the past, and the team finds itself alone atop the AFC North.
“They’ve won three in a row. They’re playing really well. I They’re not giving up the big plays like they did a little more earlier in the year. They’ve tightened up that par t of it. They’ve talked about that. I’ve seen that. To me, they’re playing Steeler football in that sense,” Harbaugh said. “They’re playing hard defensively. They’ve made big plays on offense. They’re running the ball very well. That’s probably the biggest thing that sticks out. They have James Conner really rolling. The offensive line is healthy with [David] DeCastro back there. They’re the same team that we’ve seen over the years. They’re playing very well, and that’s where they’re at.”
The Ravens enter still ranked No. 1 in total defense and points allowed per game even after a game in which they allowed the Panthers to gain 386 yards of offense.
Offensively, the Steelers have appeared to find their identity, scoring at least four touchdowns in each game during their current winning streak. Against Cleveland a week ago, running back James Conner generated 212 yards from scrimmage, including 146 rushing yards, 66 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
In their Week 4 matchup, the Ravens limited the Steelers to just 19 yards rushing and 47 total yards in the second half.
“The mindset is we just need to stick to our fundamentals, keep it simple, and just play ball how we know how to play ball. Sometimes, we could probably try to do a little too much as players when things aren’t going the way we want them to go. So, it’s just really settling down, relaxing, knowing that the same team that we’ve been for the last eight weeks – the same defense – is still the same guys out there, so we can just out there and play the game how we know how to play it,” said Ravens corner Jimmy Smith, who was kept from the Week 4 contest as he served the final game of a season-opening four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. “I’m just happy to suit up and get to play against them again. It seems like for the last few years, I’ve only played against them one time – for four or five years, it seems like. So, I’m just excited to play against them. It’s a high-stakes game, so there is going to be a lot that goes into it, and I’m ready for it.”
Most importantly, it’s a chance to turn the page, enter the bye week with an uplifting win over an archrival and begin the second of the season still firmly in the playoff race. The Ravens have not made the postseason since 2014.
“We’re ready to get to Sunday. But this opponent, obviously with the division and where it’s at, and we’re one game out with Pittsburgh leading the way, if we get a win, we’re right in the thick of it. The sky is not falling – we’re 4-4 with eight games to go. So, who knows the way this season is going to end up?” Ravens safety Eric Weddle said. “We’re confident in what we’re doing with our coaches and our players. We just have to go out, play well, play team ball, play for each other and go out and play our style of game.
“It’s great that we get to go against Pittsburgh, a divisional opponent, knowing we have to go play at a high level to get a win. What better chance [than] to go against a great team?”