Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh, PA, Heinz Field
Saturday, January 15, 2011 3:30 PM ET, CBS
Laying the scene
One of the fiercest divisional rivalries in the NFL will have a third chapter take place this season, when the Baltimore Ravens travel to Heinz Field to improve upon their 0-2 record against the Steelers in the playoffs. Both teams hate each other and play in a very similar style, so fans of smash-mouth, violent football will be in for a great game.
What Baltimore has to do to win
To beat the Steelers, the Ravens are going to have to pressure Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Although Roethlisberger has been playing the best football of his career since his suspension, the Ravens' best bet for winning is pressuring Roethlisberger, whose tendency to hold the ball can sometimes lead to big plays for the defense. The Ravens are going to want to rush Roethlisberger often from his blind side because Steelers' left tackle Jonathan Scott is a weakness of the offensive line, but they will want to also keep a defender playing zone in the flat on Roehtlisberger's right, so that he can't tuck the ball and pick up yardage when flushed out of the pocket.
On offense, the Ravens are going to need to open things up some more with Joe Flacco. T.J. Houshmanzadeh and Anquan Boldin have great hands and are unafraid to go across the middle, and Derrick Mason and Donte' Stallworth can stretch the field as well as any receiving corps in the league. In order to take the defense's focus off of running backs Ray Rice, Le'Ron McClain, and Willis McGahee, Flacco has to start airing it out, which would then force the defense to back off and give the running backs more room.
What Pittsburgh has to do to win
The Steelers like to attack with both deep and short passes in between the hash marks. Against Ed Reed, passing to the deep middle of the field is extremely risky, so the Steelers need to send more of those passes to tight end Heath Miller against Ray Lewis, who has become a liability in coverage. Roethlisberger should look first to receiver Mike Wallace, whose speed will stretch the Ravens' aging secondary, and then he should look to exploit the matchup of a running back or tight end being covered by Lewis. Additionally, they need to provide help for left tackle Jonathan Scott, who will be expected to handle Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs.
Defending against the run is simply going to be a contest of strength between the two teams, and they are pretty evenly matched in that regard. Each team will win and lose some battles at the line of scrimmage, so the key to stopping the Ravens' offense will be to use a lot of defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's zone blitzes to confuse Flacco in must-pass situations. If they can rattle Flacco when he needs to pass, it'll be a lot easier for the Steelers to win this game.
- Click HERE to listen to NFL Scout Jayson Braddock break down both AFC games on the Dylan Gwinn Show, Sports Radio 790 AM, Houston.
Warning to gamblers: I picked all four Wild Card games incorrectly last year and quit picking for the rest of the postseason, so don't bet your life savings on my predictions. With that being said, I'm going to go with the theme of picking teams with the least off-field distractions to win. The only real distraction here is the disappearance and presumed death of Ed Reed's brother. However, Reed is going to play, and is a consummate professional who won't let this affect him. If anything, the Ravens' defense will rally around Reed and play harder. Whenever these two teams meet, they both run the ball fairly well and play very good run defense, so the real difference-maker will be which quarterback can make more plays through the air. In that regard, look for the Steelers to win, because Ben Roethlisberger is more experienced than Joe Flacco in the playoffs, and is simply better than Flacco in almost every aspect of his game. - Hank Koebler, IV
Hank is a sports journalist attending the University of Missouri's school of journalism.
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