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Sunday Night Match-Up: Pittsburgh @ Baltimore

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Happy Thanksgiving to all of our readers!

After last’s week’s loss to Indianapolis the Ravens now sit at 5-5, their chances are slim to make it to the playoffs.  The Steelers at 6-4 are still in the hunt but are coming off a stunning loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. This rivalry match-up always brings a lot of emotion with it and this week the Ravens have to pick up their game and regain some momentum. The team is in a “must win” mode to make anything out of their season.

The Steelers

OFFENSE: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is the master of escape and he improvises well, he continues to make plays.  The Qb is having a great season and is on pace to throw for 4,000 yards. Given enough time in the pocket the he will burn any secondary. Roethlisberger suffered a concussion last weekend but will plan to start on Sunday.  If he is not in the line up we will see second year pro Denis Dixon.  Charlie Batch is the number two quarterback but suffered a wrist injury.  With Roethlisberger the team ranks 5th in passing yards at 268.1 per game.

The Steelers are heavy with the pass and are improving in the running game. The responsibility given to running back Rashard Mendenhall who has around 690 yards rushing averaging around 5.1 yards a carry.  RB Willie Parker has seen less playing time but when healthy is an effective change up. Mewelde Moore also gets some touches and is a safety valve out of the backfield. The rushing attack is ranked 17th in the league and the team averages around 111 yards per game. The team throws more than it passes as it is a 60-40 mix. However, RB Mendenhall continues to improve each week and is a good receiver out of the backfield.

The Steelers wide receivers are all playing exceptional this season.  The reliable receiver Hines Ward leads the team in receptions. WR Santonio Holmes has game breaking speed and is a threat to any secondary. Tight end Heath Miller has emerged as an integral part of the passing game as he is the second leading receiver on the team. The unit also has a new receiver emerging with Mike Wallace who has 28 receptions.

Lately: There is one thing constant and that is Ben Roethlisberger, the quarterback is tough and makes plays.  He reads defenses well and he improvises well.  Running back Mendenhall is his becoming a consistent threat.

DEFENSE: The Steelers play a 3-4 defense with aggressive blitz packages. DE/OLB James Harrison brings the pressure and has to always be accounted for.  Other key players are DT Casey Hampton and DE Bret Keisel who play sound and are tough against the run. The strong line backing core with OLB Lamar Woodley, ILB Lawrence Timmons and ILB James Farrior play tough football and excel in blitzes schemes.

Safety Troy Polamalu usually helps lead this defense but this year has been dealing with injuries. Chances are his back up Tyrone Carter will make his six start at strong safety this season if Polamalu does not play. Carter has filled in well. Cornerbacks Desha Townsand, Ike Taylor and William Gay do a good job of not letting too many plays get away from them. The pass defense ranks 12th in the league and allows an average of 209 yards a game.

Lately: The Steelers rank 1st against the run and James Harrison leads the team with 10 sacks.

MATCH-UPS: Chalk It Up!

Ravens offensive game plan: Obviously, the offense has to come away with some touchdowns. Last game they were stymied and this week they can’t settle on field goals again. Joe Flacco was not pleased with himself after his interception last game.  In this game Flacco will be hungry to make up for his mistake last week, he will also have to be aware and recognize the blitz packages of the Steelers.  Flacco’s receivers need to work on getting separation and get open.  We’ve not seen a 2 tight end set all that much and it may be worth bringing it in as Flacco will be need to rely on shorter passes as the Steelers bring the heavy blitz.

Ravens O-line vs. #1 Run Defense: For whatever reason the middle of the offensive line has struggled with run blocking inside lately and it will be crucial for the team to get that straightened out.  Last game it cost us at the goal line and it has cost us in third and short yardage many times. It’s been harped on enough, but let’s will harp on it some more, the offense needs to bring back the unbalanced line and get LeRon McClain involved a little bit more.  The Steelers are number #1 against the run allowing only 69 rushing yards per game. Having a sound game plan to control the line of scrimmage should be priority number one.

Ray Rice vs. Linebackers: Ray Rice will find himself facing a well disciplined line backing core. It will be interesting to see if Rice can find any open holes in the defense.

Ravens defensive game plan: The Ravens defense did a great job against Indy and will need to apply pressure to QB Roethlisberger. The Steelers are getting all of their receivers involved and the Ravens secondary will be put to the test, especially after Fabian Washington went on IR.  The Steelers have found some spark with their running game, but they will look to go after the Ravens secondary.

Ravens Secondary vs. WR Hines Ward: Hines Ward is have a great season leading his team with 63 receptions.  CB Washington’s is out and the team may go with rookie CB Lardariurs Webb. Webb is talented and it will be a good experience for the rookie. However, playing against a veteran could amount to a rough day. We may also see CB Frank Walker in the mix. The defense has to come up with a plan to contain Ward.

TE Heath Miller vs. Chris Carr or Frank Walker? Last week Webb helped cover the tight ends and if Webb moves to the cornerback position it may activate Frank Walker. It will be interesting to see how the defense tries to contain TE Miller who is the second leading receiver on the Steelers.

Rahsard Mendenhall vs. Ray Lewis: Ray Lewis can’t let RB Mendenall take over this game. The defense is playing better but gave up too many big chunks of yards to Indy last week.  The Steelers who rely on their quarterback are beginning to establishing the run.

James Harrison vs. Jared Gaither: DE Harrison is a menace to any team and has 10 sacks on the season. LT Jared Gaither and the offense had success again Dwight Freeney last week. This week Gaither will have another pass rusher to slow down.

Returner Webb vs. Steelers Special Teams: The Steelers have struggled in special teams. In their last five games the Steelers have given up 4 kick-off returns.  Lardarius Webb may be moving to cornerback so we will see if he continues his role as the kick-off specialist.

Previous Matches & Keep Cool: The Steelers did a great job making Flacco uncomfortable in the pocket in previous matches. With Michael Oher in the line up this year and the fact that Flacco is in his second year it may make the difference in the passing game.  A key will be the receivers getting open as they have been shut down of late.  In this game the team can’t let their emotions get out of hand; they need to keep their emotions cool and can’t afford penalties or personal fouls.


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