4:25 PM ET, December 2, 2012
M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, MD
The Baltimore Ravens' banged-up defense has enjoyed a resurgence during the team's four-game winning streak.
The Ravens can clinch a playoff berth -- and perhaps the AFC North title -- on Sunday when they try to beat the Steelers for the second time in three weeks and extend their home winning streak to 17.
After escaping with a 16-13 overtime victory at San Diego on Sunday, Baltimore (9-2) remained one game behind Houston for the best record in the conference. The Ravens also took a major step toward a second straight North crown, which they can wrap up Sunday with a win over fading Pittsburgh (6-5) and a Cincinnati loss to the Chargers.
"The thing our guys have done is, as a team, they've positioned themselves really well to take advantage of an opportunity," coach John Harbaugh said. "Every game makes the next game that much more important."
While the Ravens allowed 43 points to the Texans in their first game without Lewis on Oct. 21, they've given up a total of 58 points (14.4 per game) during their four-game winning streak.
Baltimore had a season-high six sacks Sunday while allowing a season-low 280 yards in nearly five full quarters against the Chargers.
"We are improving on defense, and we improved throughout the course of the game," Harbaugh said.
Baltimore's offense has done just enough to help the team win six of its seven games decided by seven points or fewer.
Ray Rice finished with 97 yards on 22 carries at San Diego, but his biggest play was taking a short pass for a first down on fourth-and-29 with 1:37 left in regulation that helped send the game into overtime.
Joe Flacco completed 30 of 51 passes for 355 yards and a touchdown, a solid road game for a QB who is averaging just 5.7 yards per attempt and has a 70.2 passer rating this season away from Baltimore.
It's been a different story for Flacco at M&T Bank Stadium, where the Ravens have won 16 straight -- including January's divisional round victory over Houston -- since a 13-10 loss to Pittsburgh on Dec. 5, 2010.
Flacco has been especially good at home this season, averaging 322.4 yards with 10 scores and three picks there for a 108.3 passer rating. He's thrown five TDs without an interception in the Steelers' last three visits.
Flacco completed 20 of 32 for 164 yards without a TD in Baltimore's 13-10 victory at Pittsburgh on Nov. 18.
That was the Steelers' first game without Roethlisberger, who sprained his right shoulder and dislocated a rib against Kansas City six days earlier, with Byron Leftwich starting in his place.
Leftwich was hurt in that poor performance, leaving 15-year veteran Charlie Batch to face Cleveland last Sunday. The Steelers' offense struggled even more against the Browns, turning the ball over eight times in a 20-14 loss.
It was the first eight turnover game in the NFL since 2001.
"It's disgusting, and it's not something that we're all about here," said receiver Antonio Brown, who expects to return after missing three games with an ankle injury. "Hopefully, I can help bring back some order to this team."
Although Roethlisberger returned to practice Wednesday, he was ruled out Friday. Batch will make his second consecutive start.
Pittsburgh, though, could get a boost to its already formidable defense if five-time All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu can return from a right calf injury that has kept him out since Week 5. The Steelers lead the NFL in total defense at 257.2 yards per game and are tops in the AFC in scoring defense at 19.1 points.
As stout as the Steelers have been defensively, they have forced only 10 turnovers, tied for second fewest in the league.
In two weeks, Pittsburgh has gone from a team in the thick of the AFC North race to one tied with Cincinnati for the conference's second wild-card spot.
"We have to figure out what we need to do," Batch said. "In order for us to get to where we want to get to, we have to start winning."
Dwyer, who led Pittsburgh with 55 yards on 12 carries against the Ravens two weeks ago, will start in place of Mendenhall.
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• Spread the Steelers out: Pittsburgh's strong suit is still defense, which kept the Steelers in the game with an excellent effort versus Cleveland in Week 12. The Ravens were fortunate to beat the Steelers with a sub-par effort on offense in Week 11. Baltimore has enough talent and experience on offense to keep a physical Pittsburgh defense guessing. Look for offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to be more creative with formations to spread the Steelers' defense out to get the best matchups in both the passing and running games.
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|Avg Points Allowed||19.2||20.2|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||PIT|
|Rush Yds Allowed||PIT|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Pittsburgh leads 15-12|
|Nov 18, 2012||PIT 10, BAL 13|
|Nov 6, 2011||PIT 20, BAL 23|
|Sep 11, 2011||PIT 7, @BAL 35|
|Jan 15, 2011||PIT 31, BAL 24|
|Dec 5, 2010||PIT 13, @BAL 10|
|Oct 3, 2010||PIT 14, BAL 17|
|Dec 27, 2009||PIT 23, BAL 20|
|Nov 29, 2009||PIT 17, @BAL 20|
|Jan 18, 2009||PIT 23, BAL 14|
|Dec 14, 2008||PIT 13, @BAL 9|
|Sep 29, 2008||PIT 23, BAL 20|
|Dec 30, 2007||PIT 21, @BAL 27|
|Nov 5, 2007||PIT 38, BAL 7|
|Dec 24, 2006||PIT 7, BAL 31|
|Nov 26, 2006||PIT 0, @BAL 27|
|Nov 20, 2005||PIT 13, @BAL 16|
|Oct 31, 2005||PIT 20, BAL 19|
|Dec 26, 2004||PIT 20, BAL 7|
|Sep 19, 2004||PIT 13, @BAL 30|
|Dec 28, 2003||PIT 10, @BAL 13|
|Sep 7, 2003||PIT 34, BAL 15|
|Dec 29, 2002||PIT 34, BAL 31|
|Oct 27, 2002||PIT 31, @BAL 18|
|Jan 20, 2002||PIT 27, BAL 10|
|Dec 16, 2001||PIT 26, @BAL 21|
|Nov 4, 2001||PIT 10, BAL 13|
Joe Flacco has the worst completion percentage on throws more than 10 yards downfield this season (40.3 percent). Torrey Smith has been Flacco's most targeted receiver on those throws, and although the duo have connected for five touchdowns, they've also struggled to connect regularly.[+]
Joe Flacco Passing More Than 10 Yards Downfield - By Receiver This Season
The Ravens held Byron Leftwich to 2-of-7 passing (28.6 percent) when sending five or more in Week 11, their lowest rate allowed of the season (58.3 percent against all others). Neither Leftwich nor Charlie Batch has had much success against such pressure this season, throwing two more interceptions than Ben Roethlisberger in 69 fewer attempts.[+]
Steelers QBs Facing 5+ Pass Rushers - This Season
ESPN Stats & Information