Thursday night football this week features one of the best divisional rivalries the league has to offer In what is usually an extremely physical game, the Steelers go on the road to take on the Ravens. After both teams uncharacteristically missed the playoffs last year, this game has very high stakes for one so early in the season. That is mainly due this being the second game played within the division for both teams in as many weeks. A win here for the Steelers would be huge as not only would they sit 2-0, but both wins would come against divisional opponents. For that same reason, the Ravens can’t afford to go 0-2 in the division even in a wide open AFC.
The Steelers offense looked very impressive last week scoring 27 points in the first half alone, and finished with more than 500 total yards. Ben Roethlisberger was extremely efficient throwing the ball as he averaged more than 10 yards per pass attempt. While that number is destined to decline, it shows what he is capable of in a more up-tempo attack. Roethlisberger seemed to really thrive running a no huddle offense and it wouldn’t be surprising to see even more tonight. Like last week, Roethlisberger should be targeting both Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton early and often. Brown is at the point where he is a matchup nightmare for opposing defensive backs. While he is shorter than your prototypical dominant receiver, it is made up for in ridiculous speed, quickness and fantastic route running. Wheaton has comparable size and speed to Brown, and despite not getting a lot of looks in 2013, seems to be gaining Roethlisberger’s trust.
The real weapon who impacted the Steelers offense last week was Le’Veon Bell. In the first game of his second year, Bell looked noticeably slimmer. Despite that, he still ran with power while showing off impressive elusiveness for a bigger back running for 109 yards on 21 carries. On top of that, Bell’s receiving chops were quite impressive as well as he caught six passes for 88 yards. While those aren’t numbers he’ll be putting up every week, Bell in the passing game is just something else the Ravens have to worry about after facing another very good pass catching back in Giovani Bernard.
After bringing in Gary Kubiak as offensive coordinator, the Ravens offense was supposed to be much improved in 2014. While a week one game against a tough Bengals defense isn’t the best indicator, things didn’t go as planned. Joe Flacco threw for 345 yards, but he needed to do it on a whopping 62 pass attempts. Flacco has some weapons in the passing game, but anytime you’re throwing that many times isn’t a good sign. After an impressive week one, Justin Forsett looks to get the starting nod at running back. He could be in for a very nice night as the Steelers young front seven was slashed for 183 yards on the ground last week. On top of that, Forsett is a serviceable receiver out of the backfield and could make an impact in that regard as well. While Forsett will likely serve as the starter, Bernard Pierce should still see a handful of carries if not more.
One player the Ravens need to get more incorporated in the offense is Torrey Smith. Playing the Andre Johnson role in a Kubiak offense, many figured he would see plenty of targets this season. In week one, only seven throws went his way as he caught three for 50 yards. With the ability to go over the middle and the speed to take the top off of defenses, look for Smith to be much more involved tonight. Another player that should once again play a huge role in the Ravens passing attack is Dennis Pitta. Flacco looked Pitta’s way a whopping 15 times last week and was rewarded as he caught 10 passes for 83 yards. The Steelers young linebackers struggled in coverage with tight ends last week, as Browns tight ends combined for four catches and 77 yards. With the way Flacco looks for Pitta, another big game could be in store. Steve Smith Sr. is also going to get plenty of looks, but going off of his stat line last week can be deceiving. If you take away his impressive 80 yard touchdown, he would have had six catches for 38 yards on the day. While the touchdown shows Smith Sr. is capable of big plays, the Ravens will probably use him more as a possession receiver as the adjust numbers indicate throughout the season.
While some of the names are still there, this game doesn’t look like it will be a typical Steelers/Ravens matchup that fans have become accustomed to. Both of these teams are much more offensive oriented than in years past and with young defensive players on both sides, a shootout might be in store. The game should still be physical and do to a short week could even end up being a little sloppy. In the end, this one could very well come down to the wire but if this game does turn into a high scoring affair I’m not sure the Ravens have what it takes to keep up. My prediction is Steelers 24 Ravens (-2.5) 20.