NFL Preview - Baltimore (7-2) at Pittsburgh (6-3)|
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The next chapter in one of the NFL's most heated rivalries
lost a little of its luster when Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger
went down with shoulder and rib injuries.
Veteran Byron Leftwich will now start at quarterback in the Steelers' key AFC
North divisional matchup against the first place Baltimore Ravens.
That doesn't bode well for Pittsburgh, which is 0-4 against the Ravens without
Roethlisberger ever since the two-time Super Bowl winner entered the NFL in
The Steelers enter Sunday night's contest trailing Baltimore by one game for
the top spot in the division as Leftwich gets set to make his first start
since Sept. 27, 2009 when he was with Tampa Bay.
The veteran Marshall product replaced Roethlisberger in the third quarter of
the Steelers' 16-13 overtime victory over the Chiefs on Monday after Big Ben
sprained the sternoclavicular joint in his right shoulder. Leftwich finished
with pedestrian numbers, completing 7- of-14 passes for 73 yards, but stayed
away from the big mistake as he steered Pittsburgh to the win.
A further examination of Roethlisberger revealed he also suffered a
dislocation of his first rib, a far more serious problem which could puncture
his aorta if the rib moves a certain way when hit.
The two-time Pro Bowl selection could conceivably be out for the rest of the
season especially if the Steelers don't extend things by making the playoffs.
"I don't think so. I don't know, though, but I'm not a medical expert,"
Roethlisberger said when asked if his injuries could cost him the rest of the
year. "I just know I'm going to do what I can to get back."
Shaun Suisham finished things on Monday for the Steelers by booting a 23-yard
field goal less than a minute into overtime.
Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop had sent the game into an extra session with a 46-
yard field goal as time expired in regulation before Kansas City got the first
possession of overtime. It wouldn't last long however, as Matt Cassel was
intercepted by Lawrence Timmons on the second play from scrimmage.
Timmons returned the pick 23 yards to the Kansas City 5-yard line and Suisham
trotted out on the next play for the game-winning gimmee.
"The guys made the necessary plays to get out of the stadium with the win,"
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "Big time kudos to all the people that made
the plays, particularly Lawrence Timmons, what a big play there for us in
"We just stayed positive," added Timmons. "It's easy to get down, but we are
not like that. We stand up and face adversity."
Jonathan Dwyer finished with 56 yards rushing on 19 carries to help the
Steelers earn their fourth straight victory and improve to 4-0 in Western
Pennsylvania this season.
The Ravens, meanwhile, kept chugging along last Sunday, dismantling the
Oakland Raiders 55-20 at M&T Bank Stadium. Joe Flacco threw for 341 yards,
three touchdowns and one interception on 21-of-33 passing in that one.
Torrey Smith caught two touchdown passes for a total of 67 yards and Dennis
Pitta added five catches for 67 yards and a score for the Ravens, who
established a new franchise record for most points in one game and won their
15th consecutive regular- season game in the Charm City.
"Obviously, we had success," said Flacco. "We ran the game plan and it worked
well. We stuck with it. We scored points early and continued to score."
Ray Rice ran for 35 yards and a score on 13 carries and Jacoby Jones chipped
in with a 105-yard kickoff return for a score in Baltimore's second straight
win. Jones became the first player in NFL history with two career 105-plus
yard kick-return touchdowns after previously tying the NFL record with a 108-
yard kick-return touchdown in Week 6 against Dallas.
"That was a heck of a team victory in all three phases of the game," Ravens
coach John Harbaugh said. "I was really pleased with the way we played and the
way we finished."
Pittsburgh still leads the all-time series with Baltimore 18-14 but the Ravens
have won four of the past six, including last year's bout in the Steel City, a
23-20 thriller won when Flacco hooked up with Smith on a 26-yard touchdown
pass with just eight seconds left.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Steelers had more passing yards than the Chiefs on Monday, the 16th
straight home game in which they have had more than their opponents,
matching the 2000-01 "Greatest Show on Turf" St. Louis Rams for the longest
streak in NFL history.
That could be difficult to extend this week without Roethlisberger but there
are worse options for Pittsburgh than Leftwich, a veteran who will not be
overwhelmed by the moment. The seventh overall pick by the Jacksonville
Jaguars in the 2003 draft, Leftwich has a 24-25 career record as a starter
while completing 58.2 percent of his passes for 10,333 yards with 58
touchdowns and 41 interceptions.
"Byron is a great player. He's been doing this for a long time," said
Roethlisberger. "I know he's going to go out there and give it his all."
Leftwich admitted to experiencing some rust against the Chiefs and should be
more equipped to handle things on Sunday after a week of repetitions with the
first team offense.
"We got a lot of ball in front of us this week," Tomlin said. "If (Leftwich)
is the guy, he'll get a great opportunity to prepare and we'll expect him to
play winning football."
Without Roethlisberger, the Steelers will likely rely on their running game to
an even higher degree, which could be troublesome considering Dwyer and Isaac
Redman combined for just 77 yards on 27 carries against Kansas City. The
Pittsburgh ground game did average over 140 yards and 4.5 per carry in the
team's previous three games, however.
Redman also told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette that it "looks like" Rashard
Mendenhall will return from an Achilles injury to start. Mendenhall, who once
ran for 1,273 yards back in 2010, missed the first three games of this season
as he continued to recover from a torn ACL and missed the previous four with
the Achilles injury.
While Baltimore has been successful as usual this season, it has been
doing things in a far different manner. The Ravens typically sport one of the
NFL's toughest defenses but currently rank 27th in the league in yards allowed
(390.2) and 26th against the pass (258.2). The injuries to All-Pro middle
linebacker Ray Lewis (triceps) and top cornerback Lardarius Webb (ACL) have
obviously taken a toll. The embattled group is expected to get a boost with
the return of defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (shoulder), who sat out against
Defensively the Steelers lead the NFL in both overall defense (265.7 yards a
game) and pass defense 171.1 ypg) despite being without star safety Troy
Polamalu (calf) for the majority of the season. Polamalu remains doubtful for
Sunday but fellow safety Ryan Clark, who suffered his second concussion in
three games against Kansas City, should be ready to go.
The Ravens come in having won 11 straight versus AFC North foes and are 4-0
versus the Steelers when Roethlisberger has been unable to go. Meanwhile,
despite the problems on defense Baltimore is third in the AFC with a plus-nine
About the only thing the Steelers have working in their favor is Heinz Field
but that won't be enough to even things in the division without Big Ben.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Ravens 23, Steelers 13
11/15 14:59:56 ET