The Ravens and Steelers are no strangers to stingy defense, and this Sunday night’s game should feature much of the same. The Ravens don’t have as dominant a unit as they’ve had in the past, but they do still rank No. 8 in total defense and can get it done when they have to. The Steelers have a much improved unit from last season, which may have something to do with Troy Polamalu being healthy. The biggest difference for the Steelers, though, is they haven’t been allowing teams to beat them late in the game. Last season, they uncharacteristically gave up leads at the end of games and couldn’t figure out how to stop anyone. This season, they’ve still been bending, but they haven’t been breaking. That is, except against the Ravens back in Week 4 when Joe Flacco engineered a game-winning touchdown drive in the last minute to give the Ravens a 17-14 win.

There’s no doubt the Ravens have the offensive weapons to expose the Steelers. They had trouble running the ball in the first meeting, only rushing for 70 yards, but Flacco did throw for 256 yards and looked relatively comfortable doing it. One of the main things the Ravens must do in order to beat the Steelers is protect the ball. The Steelers are very good at creating turnovers and standing people up and stripping the ball. So far this season, they have 14 interceptions and have forced 20 fumbles, recovering 12 of them. When the Ravens are on defense, there are three things they will need to do in order to have a chance at winning – put pressure on Big Ben, keep Mike Wallace in check and stop Rashard Mendenhall.

Pressure, Pressure, Pressure

Stopping the Steelers’ offense this time around will surely be much more difficult, considering Big Ben, and not Charlie Batch, is going to be under center. But the Steelers’ offensive line has been horrendous at pass blocking no matter who the quarterback has been this season. The unit has allowed 28 sacks and committed 72 offensive penalties in just 11 games. Granted, Big Ben is much tougher to bring down than Batch, but the Ravens should, key word being should, be able to apply heavy pressure on him. The challenge isn’t getting to him, though, it’s bringing him down once they get to him. He is one of toughest quarterbacks in the league to bring to the ground especially with just one guy, so gang tackling him is a must. Another key to defending Big Ben is keeping him in the pocket. He is much less effective when he is forced to sit in the pocket and throw the ball than he is when he’s on the run.

Slow Down the Speedster

Overall, the Steelers have struggled to move the ball through the air this season and rank 22nd in the league, averaging just 208.5 passing yards per game. However they do have a legitimate deep threat in Wallace, who has 36 receptions, 792 yards and eight touchdowns so far this season. He doesn’t catch a whole bunch of balls, but when he does they’re usually for a good chunk of yardage (22 yards per catch). The Ravens did a great job of keeping him in check in the first meeting, holding him to just two catches for 24 yards. But having Roethlisberger back will help Wallace’s cause, so the defense better make sure they keep him in front of them. This means that Ed Reed can’t get caught up near the line or they’ll be in big trouble. It’s easier said than done, but if the defense can get enough pressure on Roethlisberger, Wallace’s dangerousness decreases quite a bit.

Don’t Let Rashard Run Wild

The third-year running back out of Illinois is quickly becoming one of the top running backs in the league. He ranks seventh in the league in rushing at 962 yards and is averaging 4 yards per carry to go along with eight rushing scores. Much like Wallace, the Ravens didn’t let Mendenhall hurt them in the last meeting. He had 25 carries for just 79 yards, which is only a 3.2 average. The biggest key to defending Mendenhall is not letting him get on a roll. He’s hard enough to stop anyway, but it’s even harder if he gets into a groove. An interesting point about Mendenhall is that despite taking good care of the ball for the first nine games, he has lost a fumble in each of the past two games. The Ravens need to take that into account when they are game planning because turnovers are always turning points especially in a game between these two teams.

Submitted by Steve Giles