#STEELERS PREGAME STRETCH: Coming down to a kick?

WEEK 4

BALTIMORE RAVENS (2-1) VS. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (1-1-1)

NBC, SUNDAY, 8:20 P.M., HEINZ FIELD, 68,400

Last week in a nutshell

Headline: FLAG DAY / Steelers snap Fitzpatrick’s hex, escape with penalty-marred W

Summary: Usually a win is a win in the NFL, but Pittsburgh’s bizarre first win of the 2018 season might make some rethink that maxim. If it’s possible to win and be worse afterwards, the Steelers achieved it Monday, making all the same gaffes that put them in the hole in the first place, especially in a furiously funky second half that featured a half dozen of the dumbest penalties in the history of football. One plus for Pittsburgh was a brief burst of defensive intensity that forced Ryan Fitzpatrick, previously America’s Sweetheart, into four first-half turnovers to create enough cushion for a much-needed “1” in the win column.

This week’s announcers: Al Michaels, Chris Collinsworth and Michelle Tafoya (sideline). Hopefully, after that dreadful, monotone, uninformed showing Monday night from ESPN’s crew, people will start to appreciate this crew, especially Collinsworth, a bit more. Who are we kidding? Yinzers hate Collinsworth with the fire of a thousand suns (but that doesn’t change the fact he’s the best football analyst working). As an aside, we have no problem with a commentator taking the position that Pittsburgh should have paid Le’Veon Bell. But, if you are going to take that position, you have to provide the context of what that number was, what the Steelers offered and what Bell stands to earn if he signs his franchise tag. We have yet to see anyone who has taken that position on the national stage (and there are many) do that, and Booger McFarland came off really poorly, sitting on his high horse (literally!) without any substance. Information courtesy www.the506.com.

Weather – or not: Partly cloudy, 60. During the wettest September in history, the Steelers are going to get in two perfectly dry home games. Information courtesy www.accuweather.com

Referee: Tony Corrente. This crew has assessed a rather pedestrian (< ---- scarcasm) 47 penalties (16 per game) for 399 yards (133 per game) so far, only slightly above the league average of 15 accepted penalties and 127 assessed yards. Of course, the Steelers lead the league in number of penalties (37) and yards assessed against (361) while Steelers opponents have been penalize 32 times (2nd in the league) for 243 yards. The -118 net is second in the league to Jacksonville, which is a whopping -167. Information courtesy www.footballzebras.com, www.profootballreference.com and www.nflpenalties.com (it takes three, count 'em, three web sites to provide you with the best each week in officiating background information). The last time: The Steelers won both games in the series last year, including the division clincher at Heinz Field on December 10, doing what they've done so many times at home against the Ravens, overcoming a 31-20 fourth quarter deficit to win 39-38 on Chris Boswell's 46-yard field goal with under a minute to go. Ben Roethlisberger threw for a measly 506 yards in the game with Antonio Brown chalking up 40 percent of that in receiving yards. The line: Pittsburgh -3/51. Smarts say: This one is dead even with Pittsburgh getting the typical three points for being at home. After a season of unders in 2017, Pittsburgh has started 2018 out with three straight overs and is looking at a 51 this week, typically crazy high for a divisional game (but remember the last time these two teams met they combined for 77 points. About 60 percent of bettors were on the over at this writing. Putting the line and o/u together and you get something like 27-24 Steelers. Information courtesy www.pregame.com When the Steelers have the ball: PIT offense, 2nd passing, 23rd rushing, 9th scoring (29.3 ppg), 20th sacks allowed (8) BAL defense, 2nd passing, 2nd rushing, 5th scoring (17.0 ppg), 7th sacks (9) When the Ravens have the ball: BAL offense, 9th passing, 26th rushing, 5th scoring (32.3 ppg), 20th sacks allowed (8) PIT defense, 28th passing, 30th rushing, 28th scoring (30.0 ppg), 2nd sacks (11) Giveaway/Takeaway: BAL -1 (17th in league); PIT -1 (17th in league) Strength of schedule: BAL .250; PIT .556 So...: Look at those defensive number for Pittsburgh! Bottom five in passing defense, rushing defense and scoring defense. That's not an honor you want to publicize. Information courtesy www.nfl.com and www.espn.com. Players on the spot: Pittsburgh: Chris Boswell Why: We Pittsburgh fans have been S-P-O-I-L-E-D in the placekicking department, going back as far as Gary “Bubblehead” Anderson. We’ve even seen a terrible kicker sign with Pittsburgh and become Mr. Automatic (The Dainty One, Shaun Suisham, of course). Chris Boswell has carried on that legacy proudly for the past three seasons, making nearly 90 percent of his kicks and being justly rewarded with a fat, new contract. However, 2018 has seen him miss three field goals (including a potential game winner at Cleveland) and two extra points and look a bit lost in the process. You know many times this game has come down to a field goal and you know the guy on the other side is the best kicker in the game and absolutely, positively will not miss. That’s a lot of pressure on Boswell in front of a national TV audience.

Baltimore: Joe Flacco

Why: The Super Bowl winning veteran has been under the spotlight this offseason after his team drafted a highly touted QB. He’s been a world beater at home, but his uneven road performances have some whispering about whether the sun has set on the prime of his career. Sound familiar? Yes, Flacco is going through something very similar to Ben Roethlisberger. But unlike Pittsburgh’s #7, who is actually 62-40 lifetime in road games with a very respectable 89.1 QBR, Flacco’s stats back up his Jekyle Hyde reputation. He is 34-44 lifetime on the road with a 78.1 QBR. In his only road game this year, Flacco was terrible in a loss at Cincinnati.

Key matchups:

Steelers DBs Joe Haden, Artie Burns and Mike Hilton/TBA vs. Ravens WRs John Brown, Michael Crabtree and Willie Snead. Why: Pittsburgh’s secondary looked a little more cohesive at Tampa Bay with Haden back on the field, but Mike Hilton’s elbow injury threatens to derail that continuity after just one week. Whoever the Steelers put on the field had better be ready to deal with the Ravens’ three-headed monster, led surprisingly so far by Brown, the former Cardinal, who leads Baltimore in yards receiving and receiving TDs.

Quick hits:

+ Lost amidst the chaos of Monday night’s game is that Ben Roethlisberger was very accurate after two weeks of being not very accurate… and he was accurate on the road. However, we are formulating a hypothesis that most of Road Ben’s appearances have come for Sunday 1 p.m. games and he’s usually much better on the road in the marquee slots – late Sunday national, Sunday night and Monday night. Someday when we have time (ha!), we’re going to do a little research on that.

+ Bud Dupree certainly played his best half of football as a Steeler last Monday in the first two quarters, getting pressure both from the edge and on inside stunt-type rushes. It would be very nice to see that intensity of play continue. We have to note, though, that his Pick Six was vintage Dupree as he began to rush, recognized his coverage responsibility, slipped and got turned around dropping into his zone and got the ball dropped right in his lap. Good for him, though. Maybe that’s the kind of lucky break that can jump start his season.

+ A trade of Le’Veon Bell is a long, long shot for sure, but so was Pittsburgh signing Mike Vick or hiring Todd Haley, so don’t quickly dismiss it. If Bell is not traded, whether he reports or doesn’t report in 2018, he’ll become an unrestricted free agent, sign with another team and Pittsburgh will get a late third-round compensatory draft pick. So… what Pittsburgh is offered in a trade for Bell has to be better a regular third round pick or better for it to make any sense to trade him. On the other side of the coin, Bell cannot sign a new deal with any team until after the 2018 season, so a “sign and trade” scenario like we saw with Khalil Mack, is not an option. Therefore, the team acquiring Bell would be getting him for the rest of 2018 only. Is that worth a third round pick or better? We shall see. The trade deadline is October 30.

The pick: Obviously, a win here and everything is back to normal with the Steelers season. They’d be above .500, in the thick of the AFC North race and own three wins in a row over their rival. But this doesn’t feel like a normal season to us… Baltimore 31-21.

Last week: We were wrong about the outcome of the Monday nighter, but not really wrong about the Steelers. They played about the way we thought they would. What we didn’t forecast was Ryan Fitzpatrick being so bad. We’re now 0-2-1 and 0-3 vs. the spread.

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