By Andrew Kahn
The NFL can’t be happy that its most controversial franchise is playing its primetime game to kick off Week 2. But that’s exactly what’s happening as the Baltimore Ravens host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night (8:25 ET, CBS). Ray Rice was bound to be discussed regardless, as this would have been the final game of his initial suspension. But Monday’s release of a new video showing Rice punching his then-fiancee reignited the story and cast many skeptical eyes towards Roger Goodell and the league. Rice has since been released by Baltimore and suspended indefinitely by the NFL. Time will tell whether this will be a distraction for the Ravens, who looked lost on offense for much of its opener against Cincinnati. Pittsburgh built a big lead before hanging on against a Cleveland team expected to finish last in the division for the fourth straight year.
When Pittsburgh has the ball:
The Steelers looked great in the first half, building a 27-3 lead. The offense hit on all cylinders, totaling 490 yards. LeVeon Bell ran 21 times for 109 yards and a score, showing great patience in the backfield and an awareness of when to bounce runs outside. He looked very sharp on his cuts, juking defenders and breaking tackles to turn small gains into big ones on multiple occasions, including an impressive 38-yard score in the first half. Three different Pittsburgh receivers tallied at least 88 receiving yards, as Ben Roethlisberger spread it around and looked most comfortable when Pittsburgh picked up the pace.
Roethlisberger, a big, mobile quarterback, was sacked four times, which is alarming. Expect the Steelers to move the ball, so Baltimore will rely on the bend-don’t-break effort it gave for most of the game against Cincinnati.
When Baltimore has the ball:
Anyone who still thinks of Baltimore as a defense-first, run-heavy franchise hasn’t watched them the last few years. Joe Flacco threw the ball 62 times in Week 1, the same number he threw in the opener last year, a season in which only five players attempted more passes. Flacco did connect with new Raven Steve Smith for an 80-yard score that put Baltimore up late in the fourth quarter, but his receivers dropped six passes. Pittsburgh even showed a fake punt as Robert Golden took a direct snap and threw a quick pass to a teammate for a 26-yard gain.
The Ravens were forced to go to the air not just because of their early 15-0 deficit but because the running game was ineffective. Bernard Pierce fumbled in the second quarter and was replaced by veteran Justin Forsett, who rushed 11 times for 70 yards and a score. This is something Baltimore will obviously have to improve, especially now that Rice won’t be returning. Given that Pittsburgh surrendered 24 points on four straight second half possessions against the lowly Browns, there is hope for Baltimore.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 21, Baltimore 20
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about the NFL and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn
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