Orioles Talk: Weekly Roundtable

Every week, the Orioles analysts here at Baltimore Sports and Life will collaborate with a special guest from network partner at 24×7 Networks – Eutaw Street Report. We’ll have a Q&A roundtable discussion on a variety of topics around the O’s and MLB in general. This week, Gordon Dixon joins BSL Analysts Chris Stoner, Patrick Dougherty, Jonathan Mitchell, and Jeff Long.

Discuss this post and your responses on the BSL Forums here.

Q1: Richard Justice sent out a tweet saying “Is this the definition of a No. 1? Chris Tillman 3 ER or less in 17 straight starts (2.26 ERA). 5th-longest streak in O’s history”. Tillman has certainly turned around a season that looked disastrous early on. Is he becoming a true No. 1? Or is he just the Orioles’ de facto No.1?

Chris Stoner: In my opinion there are only a few true ACE’s around baseball, and I would not count Tillman among those select few. That said, I enjoy watching Tillman take the ball every 5th day, and overall he’s been consistently positive since rejoining the O’s in July 2012 (79 starts). His overall numbers this year are still a bit inflated due to his troubles in May. A lot of people watch Tillman, and come away unimpressed by his ‘stuff’. The velocity can wander. His location can be up in the zone. It can appear that there is not a lot of movement. So why does he succeed? I wonder if there is something to Tillman, and Effective Velocity? Interestingly, Tillman’s K% is down in ’14 (16.7% vs. 21.2% in ’13), but despite hitters putting a higher % of balls in play, the slugging % of opposing hitters against him is lower this year (.365 vs. .427 last year). Maybe that is somewhat of a fluke, and maybe there are other league wide environmental things to consider (decreased slugging across the game); but it speaks to me about how Tillman is capable of adjustments. He looks for what he has working on a particular night, and just battles. Orioles Manager Buck Showalter regularly talks about the need to grind games out over the course of a 162 game season. Tillman seems to be the epitome of that mentality as a starter. I’m looking forward to seeing him in the post-season. The 26 year old is not a Free Agent until the 2018 season. Would you go year-to-year through arbitration, or would you consider an extension which bought his first year or two of Free Agency?

Patrick Dougherty: Tillman is the Orioles’ de facto #1. Take a look at this season’s top 10 lists for starting pitchers and find Tillman’s name in a meaningful list. He’s #8 in W%, which relies on the offense as much as anything else, and tied for #1 with 31 games started. That’s it. He doesn’t have the innings to this point that the best pitchers in the game have: Tillman’s thrown 187.2 to Scherzer’s 200.1 and Price’s 219.0 – not that far off, but price has affected the equivalent of 4 games more than Tillman. Tillman’s SIERA  ranks #78, his WHIP ranks #39. He’s good, and he’s definitely gotten great results, but he wouldn’t command a return like Lester or Price in a trade.

Gordon Dixon: The number of true “aces” in Major League Baseball is pretty small and while Chris Tillman’s numbers excluding the month of May have been impressive, he’s not quite in the discussion yet. That isn’t necessarily the worst thing though, because it doesn’t mean you aren’t good, just not the cream of the crop, which a select group. Each team needs a starter to lead the rotation and Tillman has filled the role for the Orioles the past two seasons. Sometimes, as fans, we get too caught up trying to fit players into classes or categories and less time appreciating them for what they are. In Chris Tillman’s case, he’s a guy who takes the ball every fifth day and gives the club a chance to win more often than not. And that’s perfectly fine.

Jonathan Mitchell: Chris Tillman is just the Orioles’ de facto No. 1. During that 17 game stretch his 3.61 FIP does not scream number one starter. Tillman does not miss enough bats for me to call him a number one starter. During that same stretch he has struck out three or less batters in eight of those 17 starts. Think about that for just a minute.

Jeff Long: There’s a lot of conversation around what the difference is between a #1, an ace, and a top of the rotation starter. If Tillman is any of those, it’s only because the O’s lack any true talent top of the rotation pitchers. I’m a big Tillman fan, but it seems that at this point he is what he is:   a decent mid-rotation starter that can go through stretches where his stuff plays up. Let’s not forget that early in the season Tillman was nearly a disaster.

Q2: The O’s seem primed to bring back JJ Hardy on Friday after he received a cortisone shot for his back. With Buck not seeming shy about resting starters as necessary, do you think the O’s are being too eager to bring Hardy back given his importance to the team? How would you handle Hardy and his ailing back through the end of the season?

CS: With no new damage, and no structural damage found – I have no issue with putting Hardy back into the lineup regularly for the remainder of the year. If you want to have him start games, and come out early; I don’t see an issue there. You want to take advantage of the standings, and having your regular players as rested and healthy as possible going into the playoffs; but you also want to continue to try and win games. The O’s had a very strong team in 1997, that put the brakes on that September. They later tried to find their previous higher gear, and were unable to do so. It will be hard to maintain quite the level the O’s have played at since the break, but you want to go into the post-season feeling confident about how you are playing. Looking to the off-season, it’s going to be interesting to see what happens with Hardy. It would not surprise me if someone is willing to give Hardy a 4 year deal, and I think (understandably) that might beyond what the O’s want to offer. My guess is the O’s Front-Office would be comfortable with a 2 year deal. Will the two sides split the difference, and come together on a 3 year contract?

PD: With the magic number at 8 games, there’s no reason to risk Hardy’s health. Give him a few extra days off, DH him for a week, and let him get some work in at short before the playoffs start. With Wieters and Machado out and Davis hitting like… well, like exactly what the Rangers thought he would hit like, Buck needs to keep the other generally reliable offensive bats ready for the games that matter.

GD: An elite defender at a premium defensive position, J.J. Hardy’s absence is noticed when he isn’t in the lineup. Add in that he’s come up with timely hits recently and it’s understandable why the Orioles want him in the lineup as much as possible. However, being in the unfamiliar position of coasting towards a division title gives the team a chance to make sure one of its more important cogs is fully healthy when the playoffs begin and the quest for a championship gets underway in earnest. Routine “maintenance” days off for J.J. Hardy (and others who have logged major innings this season) down the stretch would be beneficial with October baseball on the horizon.

JM: There is no way I rush J.J. Hardy back. I wrote about this topic the other day (link?) and the only way I bring him back is if home field advantage is jeopardized. If Buck wants to bring him back for the final series just to get him ready for the playoffs then I would understand that. But the Orioles keep winning so why risk losing Hardy for the playoffs?

JL: I generally agree that Hardy should get plenty of rest between now and the rest of the season. The O’s will likely want to walk the tight rope of keeping Hardy healthy while making sure he’s prepared for playoff baseball. If Hardy were to sit out for a few games then he might need more time after coming back to re-adjust to the game. As a result I’d use Hardy 4-5 days a week with plenty of rest mixed in.

Q3: If the season ended today the O’s would be the #2 seed in the American League and face off against the Kansas City Royals in the ALDS. What do you think would be the keys to a matchup against the Royals? Which player would likely be the O’s X-factor in such a series?

CS: KC and the Orioles have some similarities.The rotations are competitive, but not overwhelming. Both teams have elite bullpens. Both teams have on-base % issues. In-terms of differences, the O’are 6th overall in Defensive Efficiency, while Kansas City is 13th. Another difference is the slugging between the teams (the O’s are 3rd overall, while the Royals are 17th). I’m not sure there are real keys in a 5 game series. In my opinion, it’s more of a matter of who is playing well at the time. That answer seems like a cop out, so I’ll expand slightly. As an Orioles fan, I just don’t want to see the O’s beat themselves. Play hard, play aggressive, and don’t make errors (physical and mental) which give away games. The profile of the Baltimore offense is not going to change. The offense is reliant on the slugging, and the slugging is going to need to be their in the post-season. As far as an X-factor, I’ll go with Chris Davis. Crush’s average is still below the Mendoza line, but he has an .853 OPS in September, with 9 homers in his last 120ish ab’s. If he can catch fire for a month, that would be quite the lift.

PD: The O’s would need to jump on the Royals’ starters while having their own starters hold down the fort until the bullpen could shut it down. Which is funny, because the Royals would be saying the exact same thing. Since I shouldn’t call Adam Jones an X-factor, it would probably be someone like Brad Brach that has the ability to keep a rough start from costing us a game, or Flaherty, who can go for extra bases on a good night.

GD: It sounds cliche, but getting out to early leads would certainly benefit the Orioles in a series against the Royals. That won’t be easy against a rotation that ranks 4th in the AL in ERA (3.56), but you don’t want to be trailing heading to the late innings needing to score runs against Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, Greg Holland, and a bullpen that boasts the second best FIP (3.39) in the league. Also, you put pressure on a Royals offense that’s last in the AL in OPS+ (90) to produce against an Orioles relief corps that’s also among the best in baseball. We’ve seemingly been waiting for Chris Davis to get going all season, but a .265/.342/.471 line in September is a good sign heading towards the playoffs and a return to form could be a real boost to the team’s playoff chances.

JM: The key for the Orioles is to get out to an early lead. They cannot go up against the meat of the Royals’ bullpen. Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera have nearly 125 combined innings an not a single home run allowed. Greg Holland’s 1.60 ERA is the highest out of the three I named here. The X-Factor on offense, for me, would be Nick Markakis. Get on base. Get on base. Get on base. For pitchers it would be all of the right-handed starters. The Royals have a 90 wRC+ against RHP.

JL: Everyone here is pretty much on the same page for a very good reason. With the Royals and O’s having some of the best bullpens in baseball (including two of the top late inning groups), it’ll be important for both teams to get out to early leads if they want to win. As a result I think the X-Factors in the series will be the top offensive players for both sides. Whichever group is able to execute more will see their team have more success in the series.

Q4: The debate has raged on the BSL forums for weeks now and it’s time for us to weigh in. Who is your Most Valuable Oriole? Which O’s fill out your top 5? Feel free to elaborate on why you ranked them as you did.

CS: My Top 5 in-order would be Jones, Cruz, Hardy, Tillman, Britton. Had Machado stayed healthy, I think he might have finished 2nd. Some will point to the fWAR of Pearce (3.9 entering play Tuesday night), and say he is a glaring omission. I just can’t rank him with the everyday regulars of Jones, Cruz, and Hardy – and I’ll take Tillman’s 200 innings this year, and Britton’s WPA over Pearce as well. The other omission from my list is O’Day. If you prefer him over Britton, no objection from me. Based on the start of the year Wieters was having, would have been interesting to see where he would have finished this year.

PD:  Adam Jones is the best player we have. It’s that simple.
1. Adam Jones
2. JJ Hardy: leader of the defense that’s saved so many of our pitchers, and is sort of struggling to not make errors without him as an anchor.
3. Nelson Cruz: we might not be here if not for his ability to carry the entire 25-man roster for the first couple of months.
4. Steve Pearce: when he’s hot, he’s hot. When he’s not… Pearce v. Cruz is a hot debate, and I don’t disagree with anyone throwing Pearce higher than Cruz because he plays better defense more often. Sure, defensive metrics can be shaky, but Pearce has done more with the opportunities than Cruz.
5. Chris Tillman: He can shut it down, sometimes. I considered Manny for this spot, but every day that Tillman starts makes him more valuable to this team.

GD: 

1. Nelson Cruz
2. Adam Jones
3. Zach Britton
4. Darren O’Day
5. Chris Tillman

With the injuries to Matt Wieters and Manny Machado as well as a return to earth for Chris Davis, where would the Orioles be without Nelson Cruz? $8 million doesn’t often look like a bargain, but when you look at Cruz’s production for what the Orioles are paying him you have just that. For a signature game, look no further than the 34-year-old’s 4-hit, 2 home run, 7 RBI game against the Rays on September 7. You can count on Adam Jones to play gold glove caliber defense and be among the team’s offensive leaders when the season is over. 2014 has been no different. Since earning ninth inning duties, Zach Britton has taken the role and run with it better than perhaps anyone (except maybe Buck Showalter) expected. Outside of Britton, no one has stood out in the Orioles bullpen like Darren O’Day. Bridging the gap from starter to closer isn’t easy and doesn’t get many accolades. O’Day does it as well as anyone. For the second season in a row, Tillman will lead the team in innings and quality starts.

JM: Can I nominate Buck Showalter? I mean, the man gets more out of his guys than just about any manager. Adam Jones is the most valuable player for this team. His bat and stellar defense in center field have been nothing short of star power. My top five would be Jones, Nelson Cruz, J.J. Hardy, Chris Tillman, and Steve Pearce.

JL: I’ll agree with the refrain from everyone above that Jones is the most valuable oriole this season. He provides value in many facets of the game, something that can’t be said about many other O’s. My top 5 would be:

1. Adam Jones

2. JJ Hardy

3. Nelson Cruz

4. Steve Pearce

5. Zach Britton

It’s tempting to include O’Day on this list, but really Britton has stepped into the closer role amidst some early season turmoil, and anchored the back end of the bullpen. The top 4 though, are position players. Pearce makes the list for peak vs. longevity, as he’s been deployed intelligently by Buck and has rewarded the club for doing so. Jones, Hardy, and Cruz have provided unexpected production to push the team forward.

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Weekly Preview: West Virginia

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Image Credit: The Associated Press

Opponent: West Virginia Mountaineers (1-1, 0-0 Big 12 Conference)
Location: Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium (54,000)
Date: Saturday, September 13, 2014
Time: 12:00 PM ET
TV/Radio Broadcasts: Big Ten Network, Terrapin Sports Radio Network

(Discuss this article on the BSL Message Board here.)

Opponent Preview

The West Virginia Mountaineers are off to a 1-1 start to their season, losing a close game to Alabama to open the year and crushing Towson last weekend by a score of 54-0. They look to be a different team than the one the Terps beat 37-0 last season in Baltimore. One of the biggest positives for the Mountaineers has been the play of QB Clint Trickett. Trickett was a Florida State transfer last season, but didn’t pick up Dana Holgerson’s Air Raid offense fast enough to make a real impact. This season, he boasts a 75% completion percentage, and has passed for over 345 yards in each of the team’s two games so far. With Trickett taking the snaps, West Virginia has recorded the 10th most passing yards per game in the country.

While their passing game is extremely dangerous, West Virginia’s running game isn’t so potent. They currently rank 90th in the country in rushing yards per game. Rushel Shell is the team’s leading rusher, carrying 24 times for 109 yards on the year. Four different players have scored rushing touchdowns for the Mountaineers this season: Shell, Andrew Buie, Wendell Smallwood, and backup QB William Crest. If you’ll remember, Crest is a local product that the Terps were unable to land. He has thrown 4 passes on the season for West Virginia, and run 5 times for 27 yards.

West Virginia’s defense has shown some improvement this season, but still isn’t where the team wants it to be. They currently rank 33rd in the country in points given up per game, but shutting out a team like Towson can skew those numbers a bit. They ran a 3-4 scheme last season, but appear to have moved to a 3-3-5 look, a rare defensive scheme outside of pass-happy conferences like the Big 12. This defense features 3 down linemen, 3 linebackers, 3 defensive backs, and 2 safety/linebacker hybrids. It is a very effective defense against spread teams, but has a weakness in the middle. If Maryland can get their inside running game going early, it may be a long day for West Virginia’s defense.

Maryland Preview

It hasn’t necessarily been pretty, but the Maryland Terrapins currently hold a 2-0 record. Unfortunately for them, there have been more questions than answers about their team over the past two weeks, especially on the offensive side of the ball. More specifically, QB C.J. Brown has come under quite a bit of scrutiny for his lackluster play so far this season. He has struggled in the passing game, completing just 54% of his throws and holding a poor 3:2 touchdown to interception ratio. There are rumors that he has been dealing with a bit of a hand injury, and while that may explain some of the poorly thrown passes, it doesn’t excuse some of the poor decisions he has made. Head coach Randy Edsall stated this week that he just wants C.J. Brown to relax and have fun. He believes that his issues have more to do with his head than his body.

Turnovers plagued the Terps in their game last week against South Florida, as they coughed up the ball six times in their 24-17 win. Brandon Ross and C.J. Brown each fumbled twice, and Brown also threw two interceptions. Ross was benched for the remainder of the game in favor of Wes Brown, who took full advantage of the opportunity and led the team in rushing. The team may experience some rain in College Park on Saturday, so ball security has to be an even bigger priority than usual.

Lost in all of the talk about how poor the offense has been so far this season has been the stellar play of the Maryland defense. They were put on the field five times after Terrapin turnovers last week, and allowed zero points off of those possessions. Against James Madison, they were flying to the ball, and the first-team defense pitched a shutout. Defensive coordinator Brian Stewart has great depth on his defense, and has been seen rotating players in his front 7 a lot so far this season. Many of the positions in that unit can go two-deep with ease, some even three-deep. This allows Stewart to continue to bring pressure on opposing teams with fresh legs, wearing down the offensive line of the opponent.

Opponent Interview

This week, I was able to speak with Stephen Nesbitt, a West Virginia football beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I spoke with Stephen last year when the Terps played West Virginia, and would like to thank him for his insightful responses once again.

BSL: Last season, the Mountaineers were dominated by the Terps on both sides of the ball, and were on the wrong end of a 37-0 blowout. What are the biggest things that have changed since that game, and how well do you believe that West Virginia matches up against Maryland this season?

Nesbitt: The West Virginia team you’re going to see Saturday really isn’t so different from the one that made the trip to Baltimore last September and was absolutely embarrassed by Maryland. The big change, though, is that WVU’s quarterback carousel finally came to a stop. Paul Millard started the first two games last season and gave way to Ford Childress for two games before Childress tore a pectoral muscle against Maryland. That left WVU with one last option in Clint Trickett, a first-year transfer from Florida State. Trickett took over five games in and carried the Mountaineers the rest of the way despite tearing his labrum in an upset win against then No. 11 Oklahoma State. Trickett is back for his senior season and has been lights out so far, with 715 passing yards, a 75.3 percent completion, four total touchdowns and no turnovers through two games: a surprisingly close loss against No. 2 Alabama and a rout of Towson.

WVU replaced most of its defensive line but returns more talented and experienced just about everywhere else. It’s probably justified that WVU is still a couple point underdog against Maryland, but this one certainly won’t be 37-0 — at least in Maryland’s favor. As offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said Tuesday, the Maryland game was really just indicative of who WVU was last season. “We just weren’t real good.”

BSL: Clint Trickett is now the full-time starter at quarterback for West Virginia. Dana Holgorsen’s Air Raid offense requires a quarterback to make many quick reads and get the ball out of his hands quickly. How has Trickett developed as a quarterback in this system in his time with the team?

Nesbitt: The reason it took five games for Trickett to earn his first start last season was that he had only just arrived in West Virginia in August, which left him precious little time to learn Dana Holgorsen’s air-raid offense and strip away his pro-style past from Florida State, where he was primary backup to Christian Ponder, EJ Manuel and Jameis Winston before transferring. His communication problems between the huddle and the sidelines left Holgorsen fuming last fall, and about three or four headsets paid the price. Now, as Holgorsen said Saturday, for the first time since Geno Smith was at WVU he feels like he can call any play and the quarterback will “just make it work”. He’s got two quality receiver threats to work with in Kevin White, who has two 100+ yard games already this season, and Mario Alford, who returned a kickoff for a score against Alabama.

BSL: Despite moving to a 3-4 system last season, the Mountaineers still finished with one of the worst total defenses in the country (108th ranked). What changes have been made on the defensive side of the ball to try to improve the West Virginia defense?

Nesbitt: West Virginia moved to the 3-4 a few seasons back, actually, once defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel left for Arizona and took his trademark 3-3-5 defense with him. West Virginia struggled mightily on defense last season and saw defensive coordinator Keith Patterson leave for Arizona State in February. Safeties coach Tony Gibson was promoted and became WVU’s fourth defensive coordinator in the past four seasons. His first order of business was to install the 3-3-5 or 3-3 Stack defense, which uses three down linemen, three linebackers behind them, three defensive backs and two hybrid safety/outside linebackers. It’s a defense that, if implemented well, gives an offense a lot of looks and offers controlled chaos, with plenty of stunts and spins to get pressure on the quarterback while still defending well downfield. The backfield pressure is still a work in progress, but both Alabama and Towson offenses have admitted the scheme has been tricky to crack.

BSL: West Virginia boasts a very tough schedule to open the season. Two Top 5 teams will play the Mountaineers in the first four weeks of the season, with Towson and Maryland the two teams sandwiched between those two prime match-ups. They matched up well against Alabama in their opener, losing by just 10 points. How do you expect the season to go overall for the Mountaineers in 2014, and how important is it to them to take at least 2 of these first 4 games?

Nesbitt: I’m still not sold the Mountaineers are The Real Deal, meaning a lock for a bowl game, but they’re certainly a heck of a lot better than they were last fall, when they finished 4-8. These first four games, you’re right, are critical. They are 1-1 today with an expected loss against Alabama and an expected win against Towson. If these next two games go as losses, a five-win season looks a lot more likely than a six-win season. But if you hit the conference stretch 2-2, having stolen one from Maryland or Oklahoma, there’s a significantly better shot at a bowl bid.

BSL: Last but not least, what are your keys to the game for the Mountaineers against the Terps? What do they need to do to not only avoid embarrassment again, but to come away with a road victory?

Nesbitt: Maryland has given up possession something fierce, with more turnovers (seven) than anybody but Houston, Vanderbilt and could-we-really-be-any-worse SMU. West Virginia has forced just one turnover so far this year but showed a real nose for the timely turnover last season, so if they can swipe possession a few times — Gibson said it’ll take four — Maryland’s chances will diminish greatly. WVU had a comical six turnovers against Maryland last season, which “set the defense up to fail” Trickett said, and he’s there to ensure that doesn’t happen again Saturday.

Zack’s Keys to the Game

  • Hold onto the ball - Six turnovers in one game simply can’t happen again. You can live with one or two once in a while, but this offense’s improvement has to start with holding onto the ball. A team like West Virginia has the talent to take advantage of those turnovers.
  • Get C.J. into a rhythm - This was a key from last week as well, but it will be a key until the point that C.J. Brown begins to pass like we all know that he can. Offensive coordinator Mike Locksley should look to set up the run and the short passing game, allowing C.J. Brown to make a few easy throws to get his confidence back.
  • Blitz selectively - Defensive coordinator Brian Stewart loves to blitz. But against a team like West Virginia who relies on a very short passing game, blitzing may not work most of the time. More important is to tightly cover the Mountaineers’ receivers and be physical with them at the line of scrimmage.
  • Play smart, play clean - The Terps have yet to play a full, clean, impressive game so far this season. The offense has struggled in both of their games so far, and has looked sloppy most of the time. A few methodical, smart, clean drives to begin the game could work wonders for a struggling offense like this.
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Thursday Match-Up: Steelers vs. Ravens

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The Ravens need to rebound quickly after a disappointing loss to the Cincinnati Bengals 23-16 last Sunday. They’ll need to refocus as the distractions of Ray Rice’s immediate release have had the nation talking about everything but what will happen on the field tomorrow night.

(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)

I hesitate using the term “must win” to the second game on the schedule but Baltimore must play with some urgency and band together as they welcome another AFC North rival in Pittsburgh.

Let’s take a look at a few of the key match-ups that should impact this prime time contest.

Steelers Running Back Le’Von Bell  vs.  Ravens Front Seven

There were some questions as to weather Bell would have some of his playing time cut into by his back-mate and driving companion LeGarrette Blount. Bell answered those questions with a fantastic first game rushing for 109 yds. on only 21 carries, and showed versatility out of the backfield catching six balls for 88 yds. through the air. Much of his yardage came after contact so Baltimore will need to lock him up and provide help to bring him to the turf.

Last week the Ravens defense did a decent job containing another dual threat back in Cincy’s Gio Bernard limiting him to 48 yds. on the ground though he was more active on quick screens. It will be important to keep Bell under wraps in order to make the Steeler offense one dimensional.

Steelers Wide Receiver Antonio Brown  vs.  Ravens Cornerback Jimmy Smith

Brown is Pittsburgh’s top pass catcher and that means Smith will be tasked with stopping him. He had a strong day against Cleveland on only 6 targets racking up 110 yds. and a score. Smith didn’t match up with Pro Bowler A.J. Green nearly as much as I would have hoped but when he did he only had three catches.

Baltimore needs to do their best to take away the explosive Brown and force Ben Roethlisberger to involve younger players such as Markus Wheaton and new slot man Justin Brown. They also shouldn’t forget old hand Heath Miller who works the underneath routes and is famous for find spot spots in the zone.

Steelers Corneback Ike Taylor  vs.  Ravens Torrey Smith

Over the past few years this has become an interesting match-up where trash talk is often on the menu. Torrey struggled in the season opener and appeared out of sync with Joe Flacco and could only haul in 3 passes on 7 targets. He must continue to refine his route tree and find the gaps in the defense to go beyond being just a fly route player.

However this game looks like a good rebound opportunity for Smith as he’s had big games against Pittsburgh in the past namely the last time these two met in Pittsburgh where Smith burned the opposition for almost 100 yds and a TD.

Steelers Front Seven  vs.  Ravens Running Backs (Justin Forsett, Bernard Pierce and Lorenzo Taliaferro)

According to Coach John Harbaugh the Ravens will go with the “hot hand” in their running back by committee approach. Forsett would appear to be the starter after a strong effort (11 for 70 yds) and Pierce will need to prove himself after being sent to the bench for fumbling but even before then looked unsure in his season debut. Still don’t count Pierce out he still may end up with the most carries by season’s end.

The Pittsburgh defense was gashed horribly surrendering 183 rushing yards (6.4 avg. per carry) to Cleveland last Sunday. So Gary Kubiak should look to test the Steelers on the ground much more than they did the Bengals as the play calling finished in a tremendously lopsided fashion (62 passes – 17 rushes). In order for play-action to work the rush must be a credible threat.

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