Ravens face a more explosive Steelers offense this time around


— The Baltimore Ravens traveled to Pittsburgh and gave the Steelers their first home loss of the 2015 season. Michael Vick was the quarterback for the Steelers back then. They face a different team this time around.

The tables have turned for the two teams with Ben Roethlisberger back at the helm for the Steelers offense. The Ravens are now the ones with the backup quarterback playing instead of Joe Flacco. Roethlisberger’s return changes things drastically for the Steelers offense.

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin admitted that having Roethlisberger has an effect on the game plan this time around.

“Who is playing quarterback is an element of the equation. Obviously, we weighed Mike Vick’s presence into the equation, in terms of the building of the plan, last time,” Tomlin said in at his weekly news conference. “This time, we’ll weigh Ben’s presence in the equation of the plan. It’s just normal processes for us, in terms of game prep.”

Not having Roethlisberger minimized the production from Antonio Brown. Brown only had five receptions for 42 yards when he faced the Ravens with Vick as his quarterback.

He is much more effective with Roethlisberger in the huddle. The two have developed an irreplaceable level of trust and chemistry. A great example of that is their performance last week against Denver Broncos, a team with one of the NFL’s best group of defensive backs.

Brown and Roethlisberger connected 16 times for 189 yards and two touchdowns. It’s remarkable that only two of the 18 targets to Brown resulted in an incompletion. Roethlisberger spoke about the trust that the two have developed.

“The trust comes from the time that we put in. We talk off of the field a lot and in practice we make sure we’re on the same page,” Roethlisberger said. “We have a strong belief in each other and Antonio Brown is just that good.”

The Steelers will also have Martavis Bryant to stretch the field this time around. Bryant is a serious vertical threat and can score from anywhere on the field. His combination of size and speed definitely alters the game plan for defensive coordinators. Bryant has three touchdowns of 60 or more yards this season.

Markus Wheaton also benefits from having Bryant and Roethlisberger back in the mix. Wheaton is a classic slot receiver that does a lot of damage between the hashes. Defenses tend to focus more on the threat that Brown and Bryant present when lining up out wide.

Often times this leaves Wheaton to face single coverage from the opposing team’s nickel corners. There are some teams like the Ravens that bump one of the starters inside when they go to nickel. That’s not a luxury that all teams have. For that reason, Wheaton is put in favorable matchups most of the time he takes the field.

The Ravens defensive backs face a major challenge in the Steelers passing game. They’ll be forced to play a lot of nickel because of the Steelers tendency to use three wide receiver personnel groups. Lardarius Webb will match up with Wheaton when they go to man. The match ups outside will dictate where the coverage rolls to.

Jimmy Smith isn’t fully healthy so it will take a strong game plan to corral the Steelers outside threats. Shareece Wright will have to keep his eyes on his man when he’s lined up against Bryant and Brown. Both of them are able to sell double moves really well, which could lead to big plays.

This is a game where Kendrick Lewis and Will Hill will have to stay deepest of the deep when they are in single high or cover two defenses. Hill has a tendency to jump teaser routes, opening up an opportunity for offenses to go over top of him on a deeper route. The Cleveland Browns took advantage of that tendency in week 12 when Travis Benjamin scored a late touchdown on a post route.

One thing consistently comes to light when talking to the Ravens defensive backs about facing the Steelers with Roethlisberger in the game. They know how Roethlisberger can escape pressure and launch a deep pass to his receivers for a big play as they become uncovered. Each of them highlighted the importance of plastering themselves to receivers until the play is blown dead.

With the exception of LeVeon Bell, all of the pieces are in place and a high degree of productivity is the result. In Tomlin’s eyes, each player benefits from the number of playmakers in the offense.

“The strength of the pack is the pack. They all benefit from the presence of others. I’ve seen guys get opportunity because of the contributions of others,” Tomlin said. “That type of balance has allowed us to be the kind of team offensively that we need to be. Ben does a nice job of including everyone in the passing game and making opposing defenses defend everyone. Everyone feels engaged and they feel they have an opportunity to be a significant part of the offense.”