Throw everything that has happened up to this point in the season, it is time for the Baltimore Ravens to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers. What happened in week 4 in Pittsburgh has little to do with what will go down on Sunday night. it does not matter what players did not play then, not does it matter which ones will be out of action this week. This is a rivalry game where skill and precision take a back seat to passion and toughness. In many ways it is a game of wills that will come down to which team is most determines and able to impose theirs. The Ravens will need to be the aggressors this week, because Pittsburgh will show up in a bad mood, ready to give their best shot. With the home crowd at their backs and so much at stake in regards to the AFC North title the Ravens should be primed to play their best game of the season. Here are my thoughts on how to best attack the Steelers defense.
Through the Air: If there is a weakness in the Steelers defense it is their secondary, specifically their corners. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots exploited the Steelers 22nd ranked pass defense to the tune of 350 yards passing and 3 td’s. As weak as the Steelers corners are, the key to beating them is slowing down the Steelers pass rush. The Steelers are strong in their defensive front and come up with very creative blitzes. It is imperative for the Ravens to neutralize the Steelers blitzing. It is also big news that T Michael Oher and G Chris Chester were full participants during Wednesday’s practice. If given time, I expect Joe Flacco to have a big game. The question is do the Ravens try to do anything similar to what the Patriots did 3 weeks ago? Brady threw the ball 43 times, was rarely hit and regularly found open receivers. Flacco has shown the ability to avoid turnovers in the Ravens home games and that will also be key. Flacco is going to have to be good at reading the coverage in the secondary. The Steelers are likely to try and confuse Flacco by changing things up and mixing man-to-man and zone coverages. Flacco’s ability andwillingness to spread the ball around to different receivers will be huge for the Ravens. Because of the variety of play-makers, the Steelers cannot narrow their focus on taking away one or two options. The Ravens also have the added element of Donte Stallworth’s speed to stretch the field vertically. It will be interesting to watch what the Steelers try and take away. Most defenses have made an effort to neutralize Anquan Boldin, preferring to single up Derrick Mason and TJ Housmanzadeh. Flacco is definitely comfortable throwing the ball to Mason and has shown more confidence in his timing with Housh in recent weeks. It also will be interesting to watch how Ray Rice and Willis McGahee are used int he passing game. I am sure we will see some check downs, but I do not think the screen game is that effective against Pittsburgh because of their speed on defense. I would look for Cam Cameron to find ways to get Rice matched up one-on-one with linebackers in coverage. The Ravens do not run it often, but maybe a wheel route could be in store.
On the Ground: The Ravens will need to run the ball to at least keep the Steelers honest and to slow down their pass rush. The Steelers, despite injuries on the defensive line, still have a strong run defense, and the Ravens offensive line has not been able to create the holes and push that we saw over the last 2 years. That said, the Ravens have been good running the ball on draw plays and out of spread sets. That is really the way to attack the Steelers run defense. Spread them out, look like you are going to pass and burn them when their edge rushers run past the play. This style of running could be even more of a necessity if Le’Ron McClain is unable to go. There is less incentive for the Ravens to pound the ball with a physical running game without their Pro-Bowl fullback. I have a hunch we will see Willis McGahee get a larger share of the carries this week. Willis tends to run well against Pittsburgh and he has the vision to see the cutback lanes when the Steelers over pursue. If the Ravens can carve out 85-100 yards on the ground it would be a huge boost and make it easier for Flacco through the air and tougher on the Steelers pass rush.
To win this game the Ravens will have to make plays in the air. Flacco will need to make the right reads and be accurate with the ball. The Ravens will also need to be successful throwing to short, medium and deep routes to keep the Steelers spread out. It is also imperative for the Ravens offense to be on the attack for the entire game. To often the Ravens move the ball like gangbusters in one half and then are totally flat in another. In order to do that I think we will see more no huddle and up tempo offense. This is a huge opportunity for the Ravens offense and Joe Flacco to step up and win a big game.