The rumor going around Pittsburgh this week is that the Baltimore Ravens requested to not play their rival Steelers, at their Heinz Field home, on Sunday Night Football. Turnabout is fair play, as the Ravens are the beneficiary of 2 victories in the teams last two meetings: both of those games were played at M&T Bank Stadium, and both of those games came on a short week, playing on Thursday Night Football.
The Ravens claim they never said anything of the sort, but after the 51 point display the Steelers had against the Colts, their hesitance to come into Heinz Field on Sunday is well-founded. The Pittsburgh Steelers will honor "Mean" Joe Greene on this night, with Greene's #75 being retired: only the 2nd Steeler in history to hold this distinction. The Burgh will be rocking at the tail end of a 3 game home stand, in which the Steelers are 2-0 and look to gain ground on the Ravens, who lost their last game on the road to the division-leading Bengals.
Pittsburgh seems to have found their stride at a time where they are getting healthier. Ryan Shazier's return appears to gave given the defensive front seven an opportunity to rush the passer better than ever. Jason Worilds looks like the player he did last season, while James Harrison and Brett Keisel have found the fountain of youth.
Steve McLendon will return to his nose tackle position, though rookie Daniel McCullers filled in nicely while disappointing (to date) Cam Thomas played better on the inside than on the edge. There's even talk that Shamarko Thomas will once again take the field, which is a boost to multiple DB schemes and special teams.
The secondary may need his presence, as the confidence of Cortez Allen has clearly been wrecked, with William Gay, Brice McCain and Antwon Blake all outperforming 'Tez. How much of the field Allen sees will depend on the Baltimore sub packages, where many expect the Ravens to try and stretch the Steelers thin secondary with 3 and 4 receiver sets.
Ravens WR Steve Smith has made himself a home in the slot, providing a threat similar to Anquan Boldin of years past, putting up 41 receptions, 675 yards, and 4 TDs so far this season. The Steelers will need to adequately cover Smith, and not give up a big play, as Cincinnati nearly did on the last week's closing possession (Smith was flagged for offensive pass interference, negating a game winning score for the Ravens in the game's final minute.)
What Baltimore won't be able to do is lean on their tight ends: Dennis Pitta is on injured reserve, while Owen Daniels also sustained an injury and is unlikely to play. Baltimore's injury woes continue, as RB Justin Forsett has been limited in practice. Forsett is the backup, to the backup, and maybe more, who emerged after Ray Rice was suspended from the league and Bernard Pierce failed to fill Rice's role.
Ravens CB Jimmy Smith is also unlikely to play Sunday night, a blow to a defense ranked 22nd against the pass. They will have their hands full, as Steelers rookie WR Martavis Bryant, who has 7 catches for 123 yards and 3 TDs in his only 2 games of this season. Bryant has created a crazy rotation of options for Ben Roethlisberger, who had a history-setting day last Sunday throwing to the likes of tall/fast Darrius Heyward-Bey, Markus Wheaton, and Lance Moore, along with mainstays Heath Miller and record-setting Antonio Brown, the league's 2nd leading receiver who is also 5th in touchdowns.
Though last Sunday was a shocking beat down of the Colts, Indianapolis was still within striking distance for most of the game. Pittsburgh will have to be careful not to give up big splash plays or surrender opportunities to get their defense off of the field with self-defeating penalties.
Previous games against Baltimore have typically been decided by only a few points, however, the Steelers can ride the momentum of their last two wins and new-found confidence on both sides of the ball, to deliver a blow to back to their rival at home.
Nothing would be more fitting on a night dedicated to "Mean" Joe.