When the Baltimore Ravens hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium in Week 4, they were a team in near-complete disarray. The offense had been shut out in the first half in consecutive games and only managed to earn points on three-of-24 drives. Their defense was playing well, but could not keep up when the Steelers' offense got on the field. The result was a 26-9 loss for Baltimore. There are still some issues, but the Ravens have a healthier quarterback under center and got some much-needed assistance in stopping the run. Whether the loss of Jimmy Smith will cause Pittsburgh to alter the gameplan from the Le'Veon Bell show to an Antonio Brown show in round two remains to be seen, but this is a Ravens team that is a much bigger challenger than earlier in the season.
Focus on limiting Bell, Brown and big plays
When the Ravens hosted Pittsburgh, the Steelers used a very heavy dose of Bell and the run game, pounding the defense with 144 yards on 35 carries for two touchdowns. The fact that Baltimore had game-planned for Ben Roethlisberger to turn the game into an airshow was quickly exposed. Roethlisberger and the Steelers simply ran the plays that were working and the Ravens were slow to adapt.
With the return of Brandon Williams to the lineup, however, the Ravens defense has become less accommodating to teams that have turned to the ground game; they've been preventing their opponents from putting up 100-plus rushing yards in their last few games and have limited the yards-per-carry totals to under 4.0. The resurgence in run-stop defense has allowed the defense to move to 16th in the league as compared to dead last early in the season.
The Ravens currently sit third in the league against the pass and lead the league in interceptions (20), so their focus should be on limiting the "Killer B's" from having another nice game against them. That's a tall order, however. The Steelers, admittedly, have struggled at times this season, but after showing a gutsy performance against the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night (that was rowdy and rough), they're finding ways to make plays on offense and keeping drives alive. Baltimore will need to have a team effort on the defensive side of the ball to prevent big plays and points from piling up on the scoreboard.
Overcoming loss of Jimmy Smith
The Ravens enter Week 14 in a similar position as their 2016 team - with a 7-5 record (having won four of their past five games) and holding a one-game lead over several teams for a wild-card spot. Unfortunately, just as they handed the Detroit Lions a loss last week, Jimmy Smith injured his ankle for the second straight season and was placed on IR while serving a four-game suspension for violation of the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. His injury will force the Ravens to rely more heavily on improved play from rookie Marlon Humprey in Smith's place and hope that Jaylen Hill (an undrafted rookie), Maurice Canady and Stanley Jean-Baptiste can produce as they rotate into the lineup.
We’re much better able to handle the injury to Jimmy [Smith] ... We’re much better able to handle that than we have in the past. - Coach J. Harbaugh
Jean-Baptiste is a name that has floated around the NFL - much like the player - and was activated from the practice squad this week. A former second-round pick of the New Orleans Saints (2014), Jean-Baptiste was considered, at the time, to be one of the better players in that draft class. At 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, Jean-Baptiste is a big corner, but he only saw four games as a rookie (nearly all on special teams) and then bounced to the Lions, Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars before landing a spot with the Ravens.
Canady has been a bit of a hidden gem in the Ravens defensive backfield. While Humphrey was the third corner behind Smith and Brandon Carr, he found a role in the slot on many defensive snaps. With Smith and Carr out, Canady gets the opportunity to move into Humphrey's spot. Canady played over half of the defensive snaps against the Lions, recording a season-high five tackles and one deflected pass. He has only allowed six catches of nine targets for 31 yards since stepping into a bigger role. Canady was responsible for creating a turnover against Detroit on a disguised corner blitz that forced backup quarterback Jake Rudock to throw a pick-six to safety Eric Weddle (named to his first AFC Defensive Player of the Week honor last week). The play helped seal the win for Baltimore.
Canady is a guy that we've always realy had a lot of hope for ... He's been injured a little bit on and off. You see him out there, healthy, playing fast. He plays with a high, high motor. He's a very instinctive player. - Coach J. Harbaugh
— NFL (@NFL) December 3, 2017
Better play from line helps run game and Flacco
Due to improved play from an offensive line that was a sieve early in the season, Joe Flacco was able to throw for two touchdowns against the Lions. The line also did a better job blocking for running back Alex Collins who has emerged the past few weeks, giving him the room to run for two touchdowns last week.
The Irish dancing makes a comeback! pic.twitter.com/MrEEHzzN1g
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) December 3, 2017
Flacco said that he felt the team has set themselves up for a meaningful December. Part of that has come from the confidence that has been regained as the team overcame adverse situations and early struggles. They hope to continue to trend as they play the Steelers with a tweak in their playbook and personnel packages and look different than they did in Week 4.
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) December 6, 2017
Wednesday Injury Report:
DNP: LB C.J. Mosley (neck), LB Za'Darius Smith (shoulder)
Limited: G Jermaine Eluemunor (shoulder), WR Jeremy Maclin (back)
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) December 6, 2017