Whenever the Ravens and Steelers butt heads it promises to be an entertaining game. However, with Ben Roethlisberger sitting this one, will it lose some of its luster? Will the Ravens simply stomp all over the Steelers in Heinz Field? Well, at the very least, oddsmakers think that the Ravens are -3.5 points better than the Steelers with Byron Leftwich starting at home. The Steelers definitely aren’t going to lay down for the Ravens just because Roethlisberger is out. This is still a team that possesses a stout defense and is nearly impossible to beat at home, perhaps the best home field advantage in the league. The Ravens put together their best game of 2012 last week against the Raiders, beating them 55-20. Obviously from that score alone it is evident that the offense was on fire. Joe Flacco finished with 334 yards, 3 touchdowns, and an interception. The Ravens relied on Flacco’s arm as they didn’t get much going on the ground, Ray Rice rushed for just 35 yards on 13 carries.
The Ravens are going to need a better effort on the ground if they are going to want to beat the Steelers without Roethlisberger. While he is injured, the defense is starting to get healthier, and it shows on the field. James Harrison’s return has bolstered the defense even more. Troy Polamalu will be absent for another week, but they are doing quite well without the talented safety. In fact, they are 1st in total defense, 1st in defending the pass, and 5th against the run. There is a perception this year that the Steelers have lost a step defensively, but they have responded nicely on the field. They are even tougher at home, and on SNF it should be a tough task for the Ravens to move the ball effectively in this one. They did put 55 up on the Raiders, but I think they’ll come back down to earth against the Steelers.
The Ravens offense has actually come a long way in just a few short years. Joe Flacco has developed into a quarterback that coaches can trust to put the game on his back. With an array of targets like Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin, it is easy to see why this offense is as potent as it is. Ray Rice is certainly not being as dominating as we’re used to seeing, but they have a much more balanced attack with the passing game. They rank just 15th in the NFL in terms of total offense, but also score 27.8 points a game.
It is a funny to say with the Ravens, but the offense has actually been carrying them this year because the defense has taken a big step back. It can certainly be argued that the defense began to fall apart when their leader, Ray Lewis, went down to injury. They are way way back in 28th with regards to total defense. Consider some of the teams that are ahead of the Ravens this year: the Jaguars, Bills, Patriots, Raiders, and Browns. They allow a dismal 390 yards per game to opposing teams. The Ravens are equally bad against the pass and run, as they are 26th in both regards.
The Steelers passing game will surely see a dip in production with Byron Leftwich replacing Roethlisberger. However, the running game has bruising defenses lately. They got off to a slow start with the injury to Mendenhall, but Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman have shouldered the load rather nicely. News gets even better for the Steelers running attack as they will be getting Mendenhall back for Sunday night. I expect the Steelers to rely heavily on their running game and should get solid production against a weak Ravens’ defense. I know it’s difficult to process talking about the Ravens’ defense in such a light, but it is what it is, they are not good at all.
Ravens vs. Steelers Spread and Betting Odds:
Baltimore Ravens -3.5
@Pittsburgh Steelers +3.5 (-125)
Over 40.5 (-110)
Under 40.5 (-110)
Betting odds provided by Bovada.lv
Ravens vs. Steelers Pick:
If it looks odd to you that the Steelers are underdogs at home you’re feeling is certainly right. The Steelers haven’t been underdogs at home in over 10 years at home. It goes without saying that the line is where it’s at because of the injury to Big Ben. The line actually opened in the opposite direction with the Steelers as 3.5 favorites. Even with the injury to Roethlisberger, I think there are many reasons to like the Steelers as underdogs at home.
One being the Steelers defense, they are the best unit in the NFL allowing only 265 yards a game. I just have a problem betting against the best defense in the NFL at home. If Byron Leftwich can be a game manager and minimize the mistakes against this bad Ravens defense, then the Steelers should at least keep this game within a field goal. It’s also hard to bet against a team that is so stingy at home. The Steelers are 4-0 ATS in their last four home games against teams with winning records. They are also 5-1 ATS with Roethlisberger on the bench. With the Steelers home dominance, the way this defense is clicking, and the lack of a Ravens’ defense, I like the Steelers catching points here.
PICK = Steelers +3.5