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12-02-2012 09:00

Watered-down Rivalry between Ravens and Steelers

by Will Strome - Columnist, NFLWeather.com | 12-02-2012 09:00

Few players in the NFL are as crucial to a team’s success as Ben Roethlisberger is to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Having watched his team turn the ball over eight times against the Cleveland Browns, it was apparent the Steelers simple aren’t a playoff team without him. And with Big Ben unlikely against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, maybe the rains can save the Steelers AFC North title hopes.

NFLWeather.com forecasts a 20% chance of showers after noon with a high temperature in the low 50s. The conditions will be extremely frigid, especially if the wind starts blowing off the harbor.

These two rivals went head to head two weeks ago in a dismal offensive performance from both sides. Then-quarterback Byron Leftwich ran a 30+ yard quarterback scamper into the end zone and Jacoby Jones scored on special teams. Those two fluky touchdowns aside, the final score was 6-3 in favor of the visiting Ravens. But the atmosphere, and game plan, turns polar opposites from a beautiful night in Pittsburgh to the driving rain in Baltimore. Not to mention the starting lineup.

Charlie Batch is expected to be the starting quarterback but that’s not the only talking point. Rashard Mendenhall is now third on the depth chart following his two fumble game, behind Isaac Redman and newly promoted Jonathan Dwyer. All three backs and rookie Chris Rainey turned the ball over in Pittsburgh’s 20-14 loss to Cleveland. A wet football in shaky hands will ultimately result in an identical fashion from last week’s game with the Ravens chomping at the very bit to run up the score.

With Batch having thrown three picks last week, even with an unreliable backfield, it’s all up to the backs and the o-line to sustain drives against Baltimore. With a heavy rain, the last thing the Steelers want to do is have Batch win the game for them. Maurkice Pouncey will move from center to left guard to make way for Doug Legursky in an enormously depleted offensive line. Rookie Kelvin Beachum will start at right tackle, the likely location for a number of heavy Baltimore blitzes.

The last time these teams met in the rain inside M&T Bank Stadium was in a light rain, only a year ago according to NFLWeather’s historical analytics. It was a total rout in favor of the Ravens, 35-7, who forced seven turnovers out of Pittsburgh. Joe Flacco completed 17 of 29 for 224 yards and three touchdowns while Ray Rice cruised for over 5.5 yards per carry with one touchdown and 107 yards. The Pittsburgh (6-5) defense is still top-notch so they’ll need a steady mix of both aerial and ground attack. They won’t need to be quite as proficient as a year ago, but if they do they’ll lock up the division.

Even though the Ravens have struggled to find offensive touchdowns as of late, more importantly; they’re finding ways to win. Only one score in 10 quarters is hard to image for a 9-2 football team. After an incredible comeback win in overtime that included a 4th and 29 conversion, Baltimore is proving that, regardless of how it gets done, playoff teams just win games. In a rainy, hate-filled rivalry matchup the edge has to go to the team who’s been there before. The Steelers are 3-0 in rain games this season but they seem almost destined for a first on Sunday.

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