Ravens-Steelers Preview

Labeled underachievers following an inconsistent start, Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense kept hitting one big play after another in one of the best performances the NFL has ever seen from a quarterback.

The Baltimore Ravens have a history of making sure Big Ben and the Steelers don’t have it quite so easy.

Baltimore kept Pittsburgh out of the end zone while cruising to a win in Week 2, an effort the Steelers will be eager to avenge as this rivalry again hits prime time Sunday night in a key AFC North showdown.

Eighth in total offense but tied for 21st in points per game during a 4-3 start, Pittsburgh put it all together last Sunday in a 51-34 victory over Indianapolis. Roethlisberger went 40 of 49 for 522 yards – third-most in a regulation game in NFL history – and six touchdown passes, making him the first QB ever with two 500-yard games.

The Steelers’ 639 yards were the third-most in team history, and they hadn’t scored 50-plus since 1984.

”We know what we’re capable of,” said running back Le’Veon Bell, the AFC leader with 1,086 scrimmage yards. ”We showed everybody. Now we have to go out there and put performance on top of performance.”

Pittsburgh will certainly want to forget its Thursday night performance in Baltimore on Sept. 11. The Steelers committed three turnovers and nine penalties as Roethlisberger’s 30-game streak with at least one touchdown pass was squashed in a 26-6 loss.

That was the Ravens’ fifth win in the last seven meetings, and though it broke the series’ trend of five straight games being decided by three points or fewer, it continued another. Baltimore has held Pittsburgh to 15.4 points in the last 12 regular-season meetings.

The Ravens have committed three turnovers during that 5-2 stretch while Pittsburgh has given it away 19 times.

Baltimore’s defense should be itching for redemption after allowing Cincinnati to go 80 yards in 10 plays and take a 27-24 lead on Andy Dalton’s 1-yard run with 57 seconds left last Sunday. The Ravens thought they’d responded with an 80-yard Joe Flacco-to-Steve Smith touchdown on the final drive, but Smith was called for pass interference.

”Things happen," Smith said. "Ultimately you hope you don’t allow plays like that to dictate the determination of a win or a loss. So, it happens. I’m not disappointed, not upset, not frustrated, just exhausted and looking forward to playing next week.”

The stakes are quite high for these 5-3 clubs. The winner will either be in first place or right behind 4-2-1 Cincinnati, while the loser could fall behind Cleveland and into last place in a division that has all four teams above .500.

A loss would be either team’s third within the North.

"The main thing is we continue to improve," coach John Harbaugh told the Ravens’ official website. "We’re playing a great team, obviously by the way they played last week. It’s our rival. It’s there. All the things that go into that game are going to be – just like this last game – all those things are at stake."

Neither team has finished with more than 366 yards of offense in the last five matchups, and they’ve combined for just two 300-yard passing performances over the past 25 meetings. Those came in the same game, when Flacco threw for 300 and Roethlisberger hit 330 in a 23-20 Ravens win at Heinz Field in 2011.

There’s reason to believe this one might have a lot more offense. Baltimore cornerback Jimmy Smith is expected to miss a few weeks with a sprained foot suffered in Cincinnati, which Dalton took advantage of to the tune of 9.5 yards per attempt – most notably taking advantage of backup Dominique Franks.

Lardarius Webb missed practice Wednesday, though he’s expected to play. He, Franks and Chykie Brown are the only healthy corners available to cover Antonio Brown, who leads the NFL with 60 receptions and is second with 852 yards.

For as hot as the Steelers’ offense was against the Colts, the defense continued to have its issues. Andrew Luck finished with 400 yards – much of it while picking on cornerback Cortez Allen, who was benched – and Pittsburgh’s last three opponents have averaged 9.35 yards per throw.

Mike Tomlin hasn’t said whether Allen, whose 60 targets by opposing QBs are the NFL’s third-most, will regain his starting job. If he does, the Steelers’ coach has a good idea what to expect.

"I would image Baltimore is going to work to attack him and he better work to defend himself," Tomlin told the team’s official website. "Such is life in the NFL. Such is life at the cornerback position."

Flacco has generally been given plenty of time to throw, as he’s been sacked just nine times after going down 48 times in 2013.

Roethlisberger avoided a sack for the first time in 2014 against the Colts as his line provided what STATS’ protection index rated as the NFL’s single-best performance up front this season.