Last Sunday, the Ravens picked up a statement 13-10 win over the rival Steelers in Pittsburgh in front of a national audience. Now, seven of the last nine games between the two teams have ended with a 3-point differential. Byron Leftwich was at the helm for the Steelers with the injury to Ben Roethlisberger. I remarked last week that Leftwich is one of the slowest quarterbacks in the league. Well, he was apparently adamant at proving everyone wrong. On just the third play of the game from scrimmage, Leftwich rolled out to the left, dodging Ravens defenders on his way to a 31-yard touchdown run in one of the more shocking plays of the game. During his celebration, Leftwich fell to the ground and injured his shoulder. He would later suffer another injury, breaking two of his ribs, affecting his play throughout most of the second half. A few minutes later, the Ravens put 3 points on the board following a Steelers fumble forced by Chris Johnson, playing his first game in the purple and black. After the Ravens defense forced another three and out, the Steelers were forced to punt from deep in their own territory. Jacoby Jones fielded the punt at the Ravens 37, and then raced 63 yards to the end zone to put the Ravens on top. He finished the run off with one of his signature dances. Jones now has 3 special teams touchdowns on the season, including two in as many games. Defense dominated the second quarter, and the Ravens took a 10-7 lead into halftime. On the Steelers' second possession of the second half, Byron Leftwich led his offense into Ravens territory. But an ill-advised pass was picked off by Corey Graham, giving the Ravens the ball with good field position. The Ravens once again capitalized on a Steelers turnover, cashing this one in for another Justin Tucker field goal. In the final minute of the third quarter, the Steelers kicked a field goal of their own, making the score 13-10. The Steelers' best chance to even up the game came with just over four minutes remaining. On a third-and-long, S James Ihedigbo stormed untouched into the backfield, brutally sacking Leftwich from his blind-side and giving the Ravens the ball back. The Steelers would attempt a last-resort "Music City Miracle" play with a minute remaining to no avail, and the Ravens took a two-game lead in the AFC North.
Player of the Game: Ravens CB Corey Graham-4 tackles, 1 interception
Key to the Win: This was your classic Ravens-Steelers matchup. The teams once again made their case to be the best rivalry in football. In my opinion, you're a moron if you don't think it is. The Ravens won this game because they finally put pressure on the quarterback, no matter how immobile Leftwich is.
This Sunday, the Ravens will make a cross-country trip to San Diego to take on the struggling 4-6 Chargers. You may remember back to last year's game in San Diego, where the Chargers embarrassed the Ravens, winning 34-14 on national television. Revenge will certainly be on the minds of some of these Ravens. The Chargers, however, have a funny Ravens feel to them this year. Former Ravens Le'Ron McClain, Jarret Johnson, and Jared Gaither all suit up for the powder blue. Gaither was placed on the IR this week, and will miss the remainder of the season. The Chargers offense has been head-scratchingly inconsistent this season. QB Phillip Rivers shows random signs of brillance, then throws a pass that makes you question his sanity. Rivers has thrown an AFC-high 14 interceptions this year, while also fumbling the ball 9 times (4 times lost). Rivers and his penchant for turnovers could be a major factor in this game. RB Ryan Matthews, who has also shown signs of potential, has been limited by his weak offensive line. Matthews and the Chargers running game ranks 23rd in the NFL in yards per game. The most dangerous aspect of the Chargers offense is their receiving corps. Danario Alexander has been one of the best surprises in the league this season, catching three touchdowns with nearly 300 receiving yards. The Chargers are complete with tall, physical receivers that will pose serious challenges to a smaller Ravens pass defense. If the Ravens want to keep up with some of these receivers, they will need to make up for their size with skill. Defensively, the Chargers are 3rd in the NFL in rushing yards per game with the help of Jarret Johnson off the edge. Their young and powerful front seven will prove difficult if the Ravens want to establish a running game. Cam Cameron may choose to go after a much weaker Chargers secondary to pick up major yardage. The Chargers have suffered some emotional losses this season, and the Ravens will hope to avoid a trap game sandwiched between two emotional games against the Steelers. Don't overlook these Chargers.
Prediction: This will be close and uncomfortable. But if you have been watching the Ravens this season, that's nothing new. The Chargers have a good chance at winning this game, but I think Phillip Rivers will make one too many mistakes, and the Ravens will ultimately bring home a 27-23 win.
Key Matchups for Ravens at Chargers
Ravens CB Corey Graham vs. Chargers WR Danario Alexander Edge: Alexander
Analysis: Graham was all over the ball last week, and if he can do that again, this matchup is his. But Alexander could prove too big and too physical for the smaller Graham.
Ravens LB Jameel McClain vs. Chargers RB Ryan Matthews Edge: McClain
Analysis: Matthews often can't find the room to create holes for himself, leaving McClain and the rest of the Ravens rushing defense to prey on Matthews in the backfield.
Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. Chargers LB Jarret Johnson Edge: Push
Analysis: Two of the most talented at their respective positions, Rice has a knack for finding the hole and bursting through it, while Johnson fills up those holes. This one will be fun.
Ravens QB Joe Flacco vs. Chargers S Eric Weddle Edge: Flacco
Analysis: Picking Flacco to win this rests on his ability to avoid his usual road struggles and exploit a weak Chargers secondary.
CB Jimmy Smith-Abs-OUT
CB Chris Johnson-Thigh-DBT
DE Pernell McPhee-Thigh-QST
WR/KR Eddie Royal-Hamstring-OUT
OT Jared Gaither-Groin-OUT
LB Larry English-Calf-OUT
TE Dante Rosario-Hamstring-DBT
DE Tyronne Green-Hamstring-DBT
DT Aubrayo Franklin-Knee-QST
AFC North Standings
Team W L
Ravens 8 2
Steelers 6 4
Bengals 5 5
Browns 2 8
AFC North Outlook: The Ravens are in a great position, leading the Steelers by two games, and currently holding on to the tie-breaker. The Bengals are beginning to recover from early struggles, and will play the Raiders at home this week. The Browns will host the Steelers in an old rivalry game.
That's it for this week's version of my Ravens Report, see you next week and go Ravens!