NFL Preview - Baltimore (5-3) at Pittsburgh (5-3) (ET)
(SportsNetwork.com) - Football's hardest-hitting rivalry resumes for its second prime time meeting this season as the Pittsburgh Steelers seek revenge for their early season setback to the Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens beat the Steelers, 26-6, on "Thursday Night Football" in Week 2 and Baltimore's defense, which ranks first in the AFC, allowing just 16.4 points per game, will try to slow down Ben Roethlisberger, a week after "Big Ben" set franchise passing records for yards (522) and touchdowns (six) in Pittsburgh's 51-34 rout against Indianapolis.
Both the Steelers and Ravens will enter Week 9 at 5-3, deadlocked in a congested AFC North in which all four teams are over .500. Cincinnati leads in the loss column with a 4-2-1 mark after edging Baltimore in Week 8, and Cleveland is in the cellar at a more than respectable 4-3.
Pittsburgh is trending in the right direction with back-to-back wins over Houston and the Colts in which the team has averaged 40.5 points per game.
Roethlisberger, who became just the fourth quarterback in NFL history to win 100 of his first 150 career starts, was certainly the star against Indy, playing a game for the ages. His supporting cast was also very strong, though.
Roethlisberger completed 40-of-49 passes to nine different receivers and matched Boomer Esiason for the fourth-most passing yards in a single game in league history. He finished just 32 yards shy of Norm Van Brocklin's NFL record of 554, which was set back in 1951.
Antonio Brown was once again Roethlisberger's favorite target, reeling in 10 passes for 133 yards and a pair of scores. Heath Miller had seven grabs for 112 and a touchdown, Martavis Bryant went for 83 yards and two touchdowns and Markus Wheaton found the end zone for the first time in his career.
Le'Veon Bell also gained 148 yards from scrimmage for the Steelers, winners in three of their last four games overall.
"We felt like they couldn't stop us because we were just clicking," Roethlisberger said.
Baltimore, on the other hand, is still hurting from a tough 27-24 loss in Cincinnati.
The Ravens appeared to have won it on a go-ahead 80-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Steve Smith with 32 seconds to go, but Smith was flagged for offensive pass interference and Baltimore was ultimately stopped on downs.
"You hope that you don't allow plays like that to dictate or be the determination of a win or a loss," Smith said. "It happened. Not disappointed, not upset, not frustrated, just exhausted and looking forward to the chance to play next week."
Flacco completed just 17-of-34 attempts for 195 yards and tossed a pair of third-quarter interceptions that were converted into 10 Cincinnati points.
Lorenzo Taliaferro, however, ran for two touchdowns during a 17-3 swing that sent the Ravens ahead before Andy Dalton plunged in for a yard out on 4th-and- goal with 57 seconds remaining.
The Steelers lead their all-time series with Baltimore by a 20-17 margin but the Ravens have taken the past two, including the Week 2 win when Flacco threw two TD passes to Owen Daniels and Justin Tucker connected on four field goals.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Things maybe changing a bit in this notoriously physical rivalry, perhaps the best in all of football.
The series has generally always been close, at least until Baltimore broke out in Week 2, forcing three turnovers and halting a 30-game Roethlisberger streak with at least one touchdown pass in the 26-6 win. The previous five games between the two teams had been decided by three points or less.
The Steelers are red-hot offensively and there 639 total yards against the Colts were the third-most in team history. Meanwhile, they cracked the 50- point barrier for the first time in 30 years.
"We know what we're capable of," Bell, who leads the AFC with 1,086 scrimmage yards, said of his team's offense. "We showed everybody. Now we have to go out there and put performance on top of performance."
The problem is that the Pittsburgh offense never looks all that capable against the Ravens D, which has limited the Steelers to 15.4 points per game over the last 12 contests between the two teams.
Roethlisberger and Co. will get a break, however, with the absence of cornerback Jimmy Smith, who is sidelined with a sprained foot. The other starter on the outside for the Ravens, Lardarius Webb, missed practice on Wednesday but is expected to play.
"They've always had a heck of a passing game, really," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "It has always been: You have to stop the run, and you have to stop the pass. Ben has been there for years. They've always had weapons. He extends plays. The downfield passing, the screens and the stop routes go back to Hines Ward. So, you have to be able to stop both against the Steelers -- run and pass."
Dalton targeted backup Dominique Franks when Smith went down in Cincinnati and you can bet Roethlisberger and Brown, who leads the NFL with 60 receptions and is second in receiving yards with 852, have taken notice of that.
"Jimmy Smith was a quality player, there's no denying that," Steelers mentor Mike Tomlin said. "He's a type of guy that you can build the remaining components of your coverage around because he's just that consistent. I imagine it's going to be an adjustment for them, but not an adjustment that they're probably foreign to making. I think the first time we played those guys they were playing without Webb, who is also a really good player."
Baltimore, meanwhile, will be taking aim at a Pittsburgh defense which allowed Andrew Luck to toss for 400 yards while picking on Cortez Allen, once regarded as the Steelers' best corner.
"I would imagine Baltimore is going to work to attack him so he better work to defend himself," Tomlin said when discussing his struggling player. "Such is life in the NFL."
This is as important as it gets in what shapes up as a very tough division.
The Bengals have hapless Jacksonville at home this week, meaning a move to 5-2-1 is virtually a fait accompli. The winner of this one will be dueling the Bengals at the top of the AFC North while the loser will be behind the 8-ball just as the second half gets underway.
A setback for Pittsburgh would be especially crippling because the Ravens would have earned a season sweep, virtually an extra win in the standings.
That makes the Steelers the far more desperate team here in a revenge situation on their home field. And all that is hard to overcome.
"You want to win all your games," Ravens star pass rusher Terrell Suggs said. "You want to win all your rivalry games. And they're rolling, and we're coming off a loss, so it should be interesting. I'm really looking forward to it. I know they're looking forward to it, and (we'll) go out there and we'll have at it."
Sports Network predicted outcome: Steelers 26, Ravens 21