NFL Preview - Baltimore (3-3) at Pittsburgh (1-4)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers are ready to throw out their records when they renew their AFC North rivalry this Sunday at Heinz Field.
Hey, when you are 1-4 like the Steelers, what other choice do you have?
Pittsburgh dropped its first four games to the season for the first time since 1968, but the bye week seemed to get the club on track as it picked up a 19-6 road victory last Sunday over the New York Jets with a brand of football that closer resembled Steelers football.
Ben Roethlisberger threw for 264 yards, including a 55-yard touchdown pass to Emmanuel Sanders, Shaun Suisham made four field goals and the Steelers defense racked up three sacks along with a pair of red-zone interceptions.
Pittsburgh held the ball for nearly 36 minutes in the game.
"It's a significant win for us to get that started for 2013," said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. "I told the guys in the locker room there was nothing mystical about it. We maintained possession of the football and we got the football. In particular we got the football in the red area and that took points off the board."
The Steelers are now trying to join the 1992 San Diego Chargers as the only teams to begin a season 0-4 and still make the playoffs. They enter this week last in the division, behind 3-3 Baltimore and Cleveland and front-running Cincinnati, which is 4-2.
Sunday marks just the second divisional game of the season for Pittsburgh.
"We're not worried about contention," noted Roethlisberger. "We're just trying to win one game and that's this week -- that's our focus. It's an AFC North opponent, which adds a little extra. It being the Ravens, the rivalry and the Super Bowl champs -- it adds even more."
The Ravens find themselves in a better position than the Steelers ahead of what also will be their second game against an AFC North opponent. They are sandwiching two road games against Pittsburgh and Cleveland around next week's bye.
Baltimore is coming off a 19-17 loss to Green Bay, their second setback in three weeks. The Ravens were limited to 122 total yards and four first downs in the first half and trailed 6-0.
"We just couldn't get anything going, and you can't expect to play that badly for that long and win a game," said Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who still ended up throwing for 342 yards with a pair of TD passes.
Flacco's second scoring strike, an 18-yarder to tight end Dallas Clark, pulled the Ravens within two, but they didn't get the ball again and lost for just the fourth time in their past 30 home games.
Baltimore's defense managed three sacks and forced two turnovers while holding Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to just one touchdown throw, but the offense never got going.
The Ravens only ran for 47 yards and failed to score on four straight runs in the second quarter on first-and-goal from the 4-yard line.
"That team, Green Bay, played a good game, and the defense played a heck of a game for us," said Baltimore running back Ray Rice, held to 34 yards rushing. "We would have loved to have helped those guys out, but things didn't go our way.
"As crazy as it sounds, we still have a shot at our division. We've got to go to Pittsburgh next week, and that's the most important thing right now."
This series has been tight since John Harbaugh became head coach of the Ravens in 2008. The teams have split 10 meetings since in the regular season, with eight of those contests decided by three points.
The Ravens have won three straight at Heinz Field.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Both the Steelers and Ravens are known for their blue-collar football and the run game usually plays a part of that. However, Baltimore is rushing for just 72.7 yards per game -- ranked 27th in football, while Pittsburgh is 31st at 61.0 YPG.
The Steelers are working in rookie running back Le'Veon Bell, who missed the first three games with a right foot injury and has rushed for a 91 yards on 32 carries with a pair of touchdowns in two games.
He is just one yard behind leading rusher Felix Jones, who has 92 yards on 24 carries.
The Ravens, meanwhile, have posted more than 100 yards rushing in a game just once this season and Harbaugh may switch some things up for this weekend's game.
"We're definitely making changes. We're not going to sit there and just stand pat with what we're doing," said Harbaugh. "(The changes) may not be visible from the outside looking in but they're visible to the people we play against, and they're definitely visible to us. We know what changes we're making.
"So, whether it's personnel changes, or more likely, scheme changes -- not major things, just things that will give our guys a better chance to be on the same page -- that's what we need to do."
The Ravens have posted the NFL's second-highest sack total with 22, tied with the 1998 club for the most in franchise history through the first six games. Seven have come from outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and another five by linebacker Elvis Dumervil.
Bringing down the 6-foot-5 Roethlisberger is always challenging, though he has been sacked 18 times on the year.
"He's gifted," Dumervil said of Roethlisberger. "He can run around. (He's a) proven winner and a champion. We'll have our hands full. We're going to need a good week of preparation."
Getting back two key run stoppers would help the linebackers concentrate on Big Ben and the Ravens could see both nose tackle Terrence Cody (knee) and defensive end Marcus Spears (knee) return this weekend.
Also, linebacker Jameel McClain returned to practice this week after missing the last 10 months of football action due to a spinal cord contusion that threatened his career. However, the Ravens have a three-week window for him to practice before they have to put him on the 53-man roster.
Roethlisberger, meanwhile, has thrown at least one touchdown pass in each of the last 19 games he has played in, including playoffs, but missed both meetings with the Ravens last season -- which came in a three-week span -- due to a shoulder injury.
"I enjoy this rivalry," said Roethlisberger. "I know people think I'm crazy, but you enjoy playing against the best -- personnel-wise, defensively and as a team. I enjoy it, and it was really painful not to play this game last year. I don't think it was as painful as if I would have played, but it was still pretty painful not to play."
Roethlisberger will try to stay on his feet long enough to get the ball to wideout Antonio Brown, who made a game-high nine catches last weekend for 86 yards. He has 30 receptions over his last three games for 370 yards and two touchdowns.
Though they had a safety in Week 1, the Steelers had not forced a turnover in any of their first four games before the two interceptions last weekend. Safety Ryan Clark and linebacker Lawrence Timmons came away with the picks that took points off the board.
Starting outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, the 17th overall pick of the 2013 draft whose pressure helped force an INT last weekend, was diagnosed with a concussion on Wednesday night and has been held out of practice. Jason Worilds would start in his place if Jones can't go.
The bye week came at a good time for the Steelers, but they have far from fixed all of their problems. Their offense will find little room to work with against a tough Ravens defense.
The toughest task for Harbaugh will be keeping his team from looking past the 1-4 Steelers, something that may be easier to accomplish given the upcoming bye week.
"It's Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh. It's a game that we've longed for, all of us here in Baltimore," said Harbaugh. "We've always felt it's a big rivalry. It's certainly become that, and we look forward to playing it -- we always do. We have tons of respect for them. We know what they're about. We enjoy playing in the game, and I believe they do, too. It should be a heck of a battle."
That may be true on the defensive side of things as it will likely come down to which offense makes the big mistake first. Expect the Ravens defense to be the one that forces that mistake.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Ravens 16, Steelers 13
10/17 15:25:55 ET