NFL Preview - Pittsburgh (6-5) at Baltimore (9-2)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Don't expect "Big Ben" to come to the rescue just yet.
Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has said Charlie Batch will likely remain his starting quarterback for Sunday's game against the AFC North- leading Baltimore Ravens, although he didn't rule out the injured Ben Roethlisberger just yet.
Roethlisberger, of course, has missed Pittsburgh's last two games with shoulder and rib injuries, but the veteran began throwing again on Monday.
"We'll leave the door open for him," Tomlin said at his Tuesday news conference. "He's got a chance."
That "chance" is more likely mind games with Tomlin trying to get any competitive advantage he can against a Baltimore team which has won an imposing 15 straight regular season home games and could wrap up the AFC North.
Barring a miracle, Batch will be under center against the Ravens as the Steelers try to put the brakes on their two-game skid which began with a setback to Baltimore in the Steel City two Sundays ago.
Byron Leftwich made that start in place of the injured Roethlisberger and gutted it out despite suffering fractured ribs.
The 37-year-old Batch is a third-stringer for a reason these plays and that played out in Cleveland last Sunday when Pittsburgh committed eight turnovers in its loss to the lowly Browns, the first eight-turnover game in the NFL since St. Louis against New Orleans back in 2001.
"Right now, Charlie Batch is our quarterback," Tomlin said. "We are working offensively to put together a plan to complement his strengths. That is our plan until otherwise."
The Browns held the Steelers to just 242 total yards last weekend, with Batch managing 199 through the air on 20-of-34 passing. The veteran threw three picks, however, and the Steelers lost five of eight fumbles.
Baltimore, meanwhile, can now enter "4th-and-29" into its lexicon.
Ray Rice's amazing conversion on 4th-and-29 last Sunday saved the Ravens' bacon in San Diego during an eventual 16-13 overtime win.
Rookie kicker Justin Tucker followed Rice's heroics by tying the game on the final play of regulation before kicking the game-winning field goal with 1:07 to play in the extra stanza as Baltimore stole the victory.
Tucker hit three field goals overall and Joe Flacco threw for 355 yards and a score on 30-of-51 passing for the 9-2 Ravens, who have won four straight and now hold a three-game lead over both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh for first place in the AFC North.
"When it comes down to it, this is a job and you just got to do it," Tucker said.
Baltimore also remained one game behind Houston for the best record in the AFC and could sew up the North crown this week with a win over the slumping Steelers and a Cincinnati loss to the Chargers.
"They've positioned themselves really well to take advantage of an opportunity," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of his team. "Every game makes the next game that much more important."
Rice carried the ball 22 times for 97 yards and caught eight passes for 67 yards against San Diego, including the 29-yard checkdown reception he turned into perhaps the NFL's play of the year.
Pittsburgh still leads the all-time series with Baltimore 18-15 but the Ravens have won five of the past seven, including the game two weeks ago in Western Pennsylvania. Baltimore's Jacoby Jones scored on a 63-yard punt return and the Ravens defense notched three sacks and an interception to stymie the Steelers in that one.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Baltimore is not the imposing defensive club it has been in the past but things have begun to get better as the team gets used to being without injured stars Ray Lewis (triceps) and Lardarius Webb (torn ACL).
The Ravens were lit up for 43 points by Houston in their first game without Lewis on Oct. 21, but since has allowed only 58 points or 14.4 per game during their four-game winning streak. Baltimore had a season-high six sacks against the Chargers and allowed a season-low 280 yards in what was nearly a five quarter game.
"We are improving on defense," Harbaugh said.
For Batch to get anything done offensively in Baltimore the Steelers will need their anemic running game to pick things up. A three-headed group featuring Jonathan Dwyer, Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman amassed just 32 yards in Cleveland and lost three fumbles.
Dwyer, who paced Pittsburgh with 55 yards against the Ravens two weeks ago, will get the start this week in place of Mendenhall, who hasn't been able to match his prior production since ACL and Achilles injuries.
"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."
The Ravens offense will be facing a Steelers D which is already leading the entire NFL, allowing a paltry 257.2 yards per game, and could get a boost with the return of All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu.
Polamalu, who has missed seven games and eight of the last nine with a calf injury, was able to pr active on a full basis Wednesday for the first time since he aggravated the calf against Philadelphia on Oct. 7.
Linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who left against Cleveland with an ankle injury, is considered doubtful, however.
The Ravens haven't lost in Charm City since a 13-10 setback to Pittsburgh on Dec. 5, 2010, a game in which Polamalu helped turn by recording a strip sack of Flacco.
A similar effort will be needed this time but the Ravens, who will be shooting for their third consecutive season 10-plus win season, are a little too explosive these days to fall in that kind of trap.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Ravens 24, Steelers 13
11/29 14:09:08 ET