Steelers: Three Keys to Steelers vs. Ravens


Here are three keys to the Steelers’ matchup against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday at M&T bank stadium.

A lot has changed since the Steelers last met the Baltimore Ravens in early October.  The Ravens, who won in Pittsburgh 23-20 in overtime, have plunged to the bottom of the AFC after losing Joe Flacco, Justin Forsett and Steve Smith to season-ending injuries.

The Steelers, on the other hand, are one of the hottest teams in the NFL and currently sit in the AFC’s final playoff spot.  Without much to play for, the Ravens will be looking to play spoiler in this rivalry game.  For the Steelers to avoid another upset to their arch rival, they must win these three key matchups.

1. Defense Gets Its Mojo Back

It has been a Jekyll and Hyde type season for the Steelers defense.  In some weeks the defensive unit was mercilessly picked apart by opposing quarterbacks like in the first half against Denver.

However, like in the second half of that game, the Steelers can transform into the shutdown defense that fans yearn for.  This week’s matchup against the Ravens presents a unique opportunity for the Black & Gold.  Jimmy Clausen is in line to start his third straight game for Baltimore after taking over for the injured Matt Schaub, but that may change.

Reports say that Ryan Mallet could make the start instead of Clausen.   If Clausen does start,  he last faced the Steelers in 2010 during his rookie season, throwing one pick and throwing for only 72 passing yards in a 27-3 defeat at Heinz Field.  Mallet has never faced the Steelers.  Either way, expect the Steelers D to take advantage of the miscues made by whoever is at quarterback.

The Ravens have scored 16 or fewer points in four of their last five games while Baltimore quarterbacks have thrown nine interceptions in that span.  Still, the Ravens rank eighth in the league in passing yards per game while the Steelers defense is second to last in passing yards given up per game.

Baltimore will be able to rack up the yards with this game projected to be a rout, but look for the Steelers to force turnovers in the red zone.

2. Keep Ben Upright

Throughout the history of the Steelers-Ravens rivalry, there always seems to be one big sack that can change not only the momentum of the game but the course of the season.  This time around is no different.  The Steelers offensive line will be one high alert with a Baltimore defense that has scratched and crawled to keep the Ravens relevant.

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In their matchup back in October, the Steelers gave up four sacks and have given up 10 sacks to Ravens defenders since last year including their playoff game.  Six of those sacks belong to Elvis Dumervil, who has spearheaded the pass rush since the loss of Terrell Suggs in week one.

Alejandro Villanueva will more than likely draw the matchup with Dumervil after dealing with Demarcus Ware last week.  Villanueva was critical of his performance in last week’s win and will look to improve against another top pass rusher.

3. Get DeAngelo Rolling

When your passing game is as good as the Steelers’ is, people seem to forget about your running game.  Truth to the matter is that the Steelers are a really good running team when they want to be.  The Black & Gold are 12th in the league in rushing and have averaged 4.5 yards per run this season.

This is a team who lost arguably one of the best backs in football mid-season.  DeAngelo Williams has been one of the surprises of the entire NFL season, shedding the stigma of aging running backs. The 32-year-old veteran has rushed for 799 and nine touchdowns behind a grinding offensive line.

With the playoffs looming, the Steelers run game must continue to complement the Steelers high-flying passing attack.  Though they are nothing like the Broncos front, the Ravens run defense gives up only 3.8 games per rush, ranking sixth in the league.

Next: Steelers travel to Baltimore to take on Ravens

With the Steelers passing game likely to be on full display in the first half, the team will get plenty of opportunities to build up the run game in the second half.