What to watch for on 'TNF': Steelers-Ravens

There aren't many NFL rivalries that compare to Pittsburgh and Baltimore. This current iteration has plenty of history to it. Joe Flacco has won more games in his first six seasons than any quarterback since 1950. Ben Roethlisberger is second.

Flacco and Roethlisberger have faced each other more times in the regular season than any two Super Bowl winning quarterbacks other than Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. When these teams face, storylines follow.

This game has a strange feel to it following all the Ray Rice news this week, but it's a huge matchup for the Ravens. Starting the year 0-2 with two home losses in the division would give them a significant hole to climb out of the rest of the year.

Here's what we're watching for on both sides of the ball.

Steelers

  1. Le'Veon Bell was a revelation in Week 1, carving up Mike Pettine's Browns defense to the tune of 109 yards at 5.2 yards per pop. He looked faster than last season and tougher to bring down, with an outrageous 84 yards after contact. After Pro Football Focus handed Bell its highest "Elusive Rating," the tackle-breaker will put his skills to the test against rookie linebacker C.J. Mosley and Baltimore's ninth-ranked run defense.
  1. As the first Steelers defensive rookie to start an opener since Kendrell Bell, Ryan Shazier showed plenty of moxie in Week 1. His speed and unique abilities in pass-coverage allow coordinator Dick LeBeau to use the inside linebacker more like a safety in some packages. After seeing Shazier barrel into the backfield on Sunday to detonate Terrance West, Ravens runners are on high alert.
  1. Despite Shazier's solid start, the Steelers as a whole let Cleveland walk over them for much of the second half. Pittsburgh struggled to put heat on Brian Hoyer and couldn't slow down the ground game as the Browns ripped off 24 straight points. LeBeau later acknowledged his defense was "rattled" by Cleveland's no-huddle attack. The Ravens would be wise to test the Steelers with tempo right away.
  1. Only Pierre Garcon had more catches than Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown last season. Showing outstanding chemistry with Ben Roethlisberger in Week 1, Brown is only helped by the emergence of "Making the Leap" candidate Markus Wheaton, who made a rash of clutch grabs against the Browns. Bottom line: There isn't much this offense can't do.

Ravens

  1. Joe Flacco had a rough Week 1 performance, but it wasn't all his fault. Wide receivers didn't help him with a number of drops. And we don't think new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak helped Flacco by going so pass-wacky in the opener. Flacco threw the ball 62 times, including a number of times on third-and-short.
  1. Rice's release leaves the running game duties to Bernard Pierce and Justin Forsett. Pierce was benched midway through Week 1, apparently for a fumble. But he didn't look dynamic or decisive before leaving the game. Forsett is better off used as a third-down option. Kubiak showed last week that he believes his best weapons -- Torrey Smith, Steve Smith and Dennis Pitta -- are in the passing game.
  1. Elvis Dumervil started to look his age last week against Cincinnati. He couldn't get consistent pressure, and he was only on the field for less than half of the snaps of the game. Terrell Suggs is essentially the team's entire pass rush.
  1. The Ravens hope to have cornerback Lardarius Webb back for this game. He's questionable and reserve Chykie Brown could be exposed if Webb is out. They missed Webb last week, and don't have great depth in the secondary. Pittsburgh has more offensive talent than previous years, and the Ravens' defense is no longer what it once was.

The latest "Around The NFL Podcast" makes some bold predictions about the 2014 season and backs them up by putting some sandwiches on the line.

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