8:20 PM ET, November 18, 2012
Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA
If the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to take control of the AFC North on Sunday night at Heinz Field, they must do something they haven't accomplished since Ben Roethlisberger joined the NFL: beat the Baltimore Ravens without him.
That might be far from the only team Pittsburgh has to defeat without Roethlisberger in order to win the division.
The Steelers' four-game win streak has brought them within a game of the North-leading Ravens. It will be Byron Leftwich trying to move them into a first-place tie because Roethlisberger has been ruled out. Pittsburgh is 0-4 against the Ravens without him since the star quarterback's 2004 rookie season.
However, the Steelers are 4-0 at home this year after a 16-13 overtime win over Kansas City on Monday, when Roethlisberger suffered a sprained shoulder after taking a hit in the third quarter. He underwent extensive testing Tuesday, and the following day it was revealed Roethlisberger also has a dislocated rib that is a bigger concern going forward because it could cut into his aorta.
"I can move (the arm) around, that's not the issue," he said. "Sometimes when I do move it the rib will kind of pop out of place again, which is pretty painful. I just try to keep it as still as I can for the most part."
There is no timetable for his return, but Roethlisberger doesn't believe the injuries will end his season even though he said Wednesday the pain level is "nine on a scale of 1-10."
That leaves Pittsburgh relying on a quarterback who hasn't made a start since 2009 with Tampa Bay and hasn't won one since Oct. 6, 2006, while with Jacksonville. Leftwich has since gone 0-6 as a starter.
"I try to prepare as if I am the starter every week," Leftwich said. "Nothing will change. I wish Ben the best. I hope he is healthy. Other than that I will be ready to go."
Leftwich came on in relief last week for his first regular-season action in nearly two years, going 7 of 14 for 73 yards. He led the Steelers on a touchdown drive, but they needed an interception in overtime to set up Shaun Suisham's game-winning field goal.
Leftwich admitted to experiencing some rust.
"I'll trust his assessment if that's his assessment," coach Mike Tomlin said. "But I'm not overly concerned about it. We got a lot of ball in front of us this week. If he is the guy, he'll get a great opportunity to prepare and we'll expect him to play winning football."
Leftwich will likely have Rashard Mendenhall in the backfield with him to help with the running game.
Mendenhall, who rushed for 1,273 yards two years ago, has missed the last four games because of an Achilles injury, but had no setbacks after a full week of practice. He will likely split time with Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer, who each had 100-yard rushing games while Mendenhall was out.
The Ravens (7-2), meanwhile, are coming off their easiest win of the season. Baltimore set a club record for points in a 55-20 home win over Oakland last week.
It was a welcome departure for a Baltimore team which had been making a living with close wins. The Ravens' previous five victories were by an average of 4.6 points.
Joe Flacco threw for 341 yards and three touchdowns for Baltimore, which scored on six of its first seven possessions and recorded two special teams TDs.
"I think confidence is borne of success," coach John Harbaugh said. "When you do things well, it's a positive thing. It doesn't guarantee anything, just like if you're struggling the week before it doesn't guarantee that you can't do something. Every week does stand on its own, but playing well is a good thing. We'd like to build on that."
Baltimore's uncharacteristically poor defense could make it a little easier for Leftwich to settle in. The Ravens rank 27th in the league in yards allowed (390.2), including 26th against the pass (258.2), though their 10 interceptions rank sixth. They could get some help this week with defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (shoulder) and cornerback Jimmy Smith (groin) expected to return after sitting out against the Raiders.
The Steelers are hopeful their rushing attack can bounce back after Dwyer and Redman were held to a combined 77 yards on 27 carries last week. The ground game had at least 140 yards and 4.5 per carry in each of the previous three games.
The defense continues to play well and leads the NFL, allowing 265.7 yards a game. The dominance has mostly come without safety Troy Polamalu (calf), who has only played two games and is doubtful for Sunday. Safety Ryan Clark suffered his second concussion in three games against Kansas City, but Tomlin said he is fine.
Against Pittsburgh's No. 1 pass defense (171.1 yards per game), Baltimore could look to get Ray Rice a little more involved. Rice has 657 rushing yards and 7 TDs on the year but has carried the ball 47 times for 175 yards in the Ravens' last three games.
Baltimore has won 11 straight AFC North games, though its last divisional loss came to Pittsburgh on Dec. 5, 2010. The Ravens completed a season sweep of the Steelers last year with a 23-20 victory at Pittsburgh on Flacco's 26-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith with eight seconds to play.
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• Keep the Steelers guessing: The Steelers' defense is banged up and was exploited some versus the Chiefs on Monday, yielding 142 yards rushing. The Ravens exploded for 55 points in Week 10, and most of their production was through the air. Baltimore has been built around Ray Rice and a physical ground attack, but the emergence of its passing game could keep the Steelers guessing. Look for Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to use a good mixture of high-percentage passes off play-action and a physical running attack on early downs to control tempo.
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|Avg Points Allowed||20.6||19.0|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||BAL|
|Rush Yds Allowed||BAL|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Pittsburgh leads 15-12|
|Nov 6, 2011||BAL 23, @PIT 20|
|Sep 11, 2011||BAL 35, PIT 7|
|Jan 15, 2011||BAL 24, @PIT 31|
|Dec 5, 2010||BAL 10, PIT 13|
|Oct 3, 2010||BAL 17, @PIT 14|
|Dec 27, 2009||BAL 20, @PIT 23|
|Nov 29, 2009||BAL 20, PIT 17|
|Jan 18, 2009||BAL 14, @PIT 23|
|Dec 14, 2008||BAL 9, PIT 13|
|Sep 29, 2008||BAL 20, @PIT 23|
|Dec 30, 2007||BAL 27, PIT 21|
|Nov 5, 2007||BAL 7, @PIT 38|
|Dec 24, 2006||BAL 31, @PIT 7|
|Nov 26, 2006||BAL 27, PIT 0|
|Nov 20, 2005||BAL 16, PIT 13|
|Oct 31, 2005||BAL 19, @PIT 20|
|Dec 26, 2004||BAL 7, @PIT 20|
|Sep 19, 2004||BAL 30, PIT 13|
|Dec 28, 2003||BAL 13, PIT 10|
|Sep 7, 2003||BAL 15, @PIT 34|
|Dec 29, 2002||BAL 31, @PIT 34|
|Oct 27, 2002||BAL 18, PIT 31|
|Jan 20, 2002||BAL 10, @PIT 27|
|Dec 16, 2001||BAL 21, PIT 26|
|Nov 4, 2001||BAL 13, @PIT 10|
The Steelers are the only team that has yet to allow a touchdown on a throw more than 20 yards downfield this season. Joe Flacco has four touchdowns on such throws and the most attempts (46) without an interception.[+]
Passing More Than 20 Yards Downfield - This Season
The Steelers used five or more rushers at the highest rate during the first five games of the season but have been near league average since then. The drop in aggressiveness has helped make the rush more effective, allowing one touchdown pass in the last four games after allowing six in the first five.[+]
Steelers Defense Sending 5+ Rushers - This Season
Joe Flacco has completed 45.5 percent of his passes against five or more rushers when facing the Steelers in his career (including postseason) and has been sacked once every 7.5 dropbacks. Both have contributed to Flacco's worst Total QBR facing such pressure against a single opponent.[+]
Joe Flacco Facing 5+ Pass Rushers - Worst Career Total QBR by Opponent
The good news for Byron Leftwich and the Steelers is that the Ravens pass defense is nothing like it was a season ago, particularly when only bringing a standard 4-man pass rush. Baltimore has really struggled to pressure opposing QBs without blitzing in 2012, compared to their performance in 2011.[+]
Ravens Pass Defense - With 4 Or Fewer Pass Rushers
ESPN Stats & Information