Steelers and Ravens may trade in physical play for more points

Steelers and Ravens may trade in physical play for more points
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco will meet again in the wildcard round of the playoffs on Saturday in Pittsburgh. (Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press)

What's typically a slugfest might wind up a shootout.

Pittsburgh and Baltimore — bitter AFC North rivals whose grind-it-out styles often lead to close, low-scoring games — have each shown the capability this season to put up points in bunches.

They will meet Saturday night in a first-round playoff game in which quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco figure to be in the spotlight even more than in years past.

When these teams met in Week 9, Roethlisberger threw for 340 yards and six touchdowns in a 43-23 victory by Pittsburgh.


A blowout went the other way in Week 2, when Baltimore beat Pittsburgh, 26-6.

In 14 meetings since 2008, when John Harbaugh took over as Baltimore's coach, the Ravens and Steelers each won seven games, and 10 of the 14 were decided by three points or fewer.

Pittsburgh is back in the playoffs for the first time in three seasons. The Steelers have never lost to the Ravens in the postseason, going 3-0 against them.

Wounded knee

Le'Veon Bell is hobbled, and Pittsburgh's running game could be too.

The Steelers announced Friday that Bell, the AFC's leading rusher, won't be available for the game. He suffered a knee injury on a low hit in the regular-season finale against Cincinnati.

That's a painful blow to the Steelers and ratchets up the pressure on Roethlisberger to air it out against the Ravens. What's more, Bell was second on the team with 83 receptions. He finished the regular season with 1,361 yards rushing and 564 yards receiving for a club-record 2,215 yards from scrimmage.

Replacing Bell will be Josh Harris, who has 16 yards in nine carries as a pro. The Steelers also signed veteran running back Ben Tate this week, although it's unclear how much they'll use him on such short notice.

Bell's availability for the rest of the playoffs remains uncertain, should that be an issue.

Middle man

While the Steelers won't have Bell, the Ravens are getting defensive tackle Haloti Ngata back from a four-game suspension for a performance-enhancing drug violation.

"He's tough," Roethlisberger said of Ngata. "He can play the run, he can rush the passer. You don't usually get that from an interior guy. Usually that's the outside guys. Just the physical presence that he is is what makes him so good."

By the numbers

How teams compare statistically. All stats are per-game averages, except for sacks and turnover differential, which are for the season (league rank in parentheses):

Points scored: 25.6 (8)  |  27.2 (7)
Points allowed: 18.9 (6)  |  23 (18)
Pass offense: 238.7 (13)  |  301.6 (2)
Rush offense: 126.2 (8)  |  109.5 (16)
Pass defense: 248.7 (24)  |  253.1 (27)
Rush defense: 88.2 (4)  |  100.3 (6)
Sacks: 49 (2)  |  33 (26)
Penalty yards: 62.9 (28)  |  52.2 (10)
Turnovers: +2 (14)  |  +0 (16)

Losing Bell is a big deal for the Steelers, who count on him to establish the ground game that helps open the passing lanes. With him gone — and with Ngata back for Baltimore — the scales tip in favor of the Ravens.Farmer's pick