Without Ben Roethlisberger, the Pittsburgh Steelers are given little to no chance of beating the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday and it's easy to see why. The Ravens have won four straight games against the Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger starting in three of those games. On top of that, the Ravens have won their last 13 games at M&T Bank Stadium.
We already know the Steelers' defense needs to replicate its performance from two weeks ago when they held Baltimore to six points. So what should be the game plan for the Steelers' offense heading into this weekend?
One thing we know wont work is having Charlie Batch or an injured Ben Roethlisberger drop back to pass 40 times. Batch is 38 years old and Roethlisberger's arm strength after his recent shoulder injury doesn't exactly open the playbook. There's also a shakeup in the offensive line where Maurkice Pouncey could play left guard, Doug Legursky at center, and either Kelvin Beachum or Ramon Foster at right tackle. Those moves, combined with the road atmosphere might make pass protection just a little more difficult than usual especially since Paul Kruger abused Mike Adams and Byron Leftwich in Pittsburgh two weeks ago.
So, despite getting Antonio Brown back and having (hopefully) a more focused Mike Wallace, the Steelers will not be allowed to rely on the pass. If they have any shot of winning this game, they must pound the ball.
Steelers fans, particularly the older crowd, always clamor for old-fashion ground and pound offense. "Four yards and a cloud of dust." This should definitely be one of those games. In fact, unless they are trailing by more than two touchdowns, the Steelers should never go four wideouts in the first half. Not when they have a big running back and potentially a huge offensive line, if they start the right players.
Speaking of which, here is my offensive line assuming everyone is healthy. From left to right: Max Starks, Willie Colon, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Ramon Foster. That's a big offensive line, one that is accustomed to pulling and run blocking. Willie Colon has been masterful at pulling this season while David DeCastro became a first round pick because of his run blocking at Stanford. If experience is an issue for DeCastro, replace him with Pouncey and put Legursky at center. Throw in 6'8 350 pound Max Starks, full back Will Johnson, and 230 pound running back, Jonathan Dwyer, and you've got an offense than can wear down the 26th ranked rushing defense which quiets the crowd and keeps Flacco from using his no-huddle offense.
To make matters worse for the Ravens' defense, Ray Lewis's backup, Dannell Ellerbe, has missed practice this week with knee and ankle injuries. If he is unable to go, the Ravens will need to rely on a third string player to play middle linebacker.
The situation the Steelers face this weekend is extremely tough to say the least. Sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures but, this is not one of those times. This should be a very conservative game for the offense on the assumption that the defense can hold Joe Flacco and Ray Rice in check. Would it be an easy game plan to execute? No. The Ravens still have a very good defense, one that isn't fully reflected by statistics. However, a strong running game gives the Steelers their best chance to win while trying to put this game on the quarterback could be a huge mistake.