5 Keys to the game

<p>1. Run downhill.<br> <br> Not only does tonight's regular-season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers represent a prime opportunity for the Baltimore Ravens to claim their first division title, it's also a rare chance for NFL rushing leader Jamal Lewis to challenge Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson's single-season league rushing mark. Lewis needs 154 yards to surpass Dickerson's single-season record of 2,105 yards established in 1984 with the Los Angeles Rams.&nbsp;</p>

It's an attainable, but steep goal even though Lewis has never rushed for 100 yards against Pittsburgh. Dating back to his rookie season, Lewis has rushed for 93 yards, 34 yards, 86 yards and 69 yards for a total of 282 yards on 61 carries and one touchdown. What's slightly deceptive about the statistics is the fact that Lewis never carried the football more than 19 times in those contests. Traditionally, it takes Lewis a while to get warmed up and soften up a defense with a series of short, battering runs. 

Although the Steelers sport the 11th-best run defense, allow only 3.9 yards per carry and have Pro Bowl nose guard Casey Hampton, Lewis has made a living this season off of breaking defenses' will. Lewis runs adeptly up the middle, averaging 6.8 yards per carry. 

This is a case of strength against strength. Lewis, obviously, has plenty of motivation to help his team win the AFC North title and become the fifth player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards. The 52 yards he needs for 2,000 should be a given. It will be interesting to see if he can get past Dickerson considering that Pittsburgh has only given up three 100-yard games to running backs this season: Kansas City's Priest Holmes (122), Cleveland's William Green (115) and New York Jets' Curtis Martin (174).

2. Contain Plaxico Burress and Hines Ward.

Burress and Ward have combined for 36 catches, 457 yards and five touchdowns in the last three games against Baltimore. Burress excels at the fade route, and is 6-foot-5 and 226 pounds. Ward has caught an AFC-high 93 passes for 1,152 yards and 10 touchdowns. Baltimore's cornerbacks, Chris McAlister and Gary Baxter, will have to employ aggressive press coverage techniques to keep the Steelers from getting into a rhythm offensively. They also need to stick to their approach of not engaging in as much trash talk as previous encounters. Talking less and playing better has worked well of late for the Ravens' defense.

3. Force turnovers.

The Ravens are 5-1 at home. They are also 6-2 on artificial turf. Most significantly, though, the Ravens carry a 9-1 mark in games where they force multiple turnovers.

4. Pressure Tommy Maddox.

Maddox has been erratic this fall with 14 interceptions against 18 touchdowns. The Steelers have surrendered 37 sacks. And Maddox is essentially a stationary pocket quarterback who gets by with a quick release and receivers who quickly gain separation outside. If rookie outside linebacker Terrell Suggs can break loose upfront, Baltimore will stand a better chance of derailing the Steelers' No. 13 passing offense. Maddox has won all three of his starts against Baltimore with 71-percent accuracy for 626 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions.

5. Block the Steelers' pass rushers.

Even though the Steelers only have 33 sacks this season, ends Kimo von Oelhoffen (eight sacks) and Aaron Smith, linebackers Jason Gildon, Joey Porter and Kendrell Bell are quite capable of generating heat on opposing passers.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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