Ravens - Steelers: 5 keys to the game

1. Move the football. <br><br> The Baltimore Ravens' offense stalled, sputtered and generally stalemated at the line of scrimmage in a season-opening 20-3 loss to the Cleveland Browns a week ago. Jamal Lewis, the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year, was limited to 57 yards on only 20 carries for a 2.9 average.

Because the passing game couldn't keep the Browns' defense honest and the game plan didn't call for enough Lewis touches, the Ravens never advanced the football past the Browns' 24.

Between the groin injury to wide receiver Travis Taylor, the inexperience behind him with the exception of elder statesman nickel back Deion Sanders, and quarterback Kyle Boller's lack of accuracy, the Ravens are going to have to establish Lewis' physical presence early and often. The return of All-Pro offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden from a knee injury should add a much-needed push-and-shove aspect to the Ravens' running game.

2. Contain the Steelers' passing game.

Although the Steelers have returned to their running roots, they have the capability to strike deep with erratic quarterback Tommy Maddox. He has a talent-laden receiving corps in Hines Ward, Plaxico Burress and Antwaan Randel El. Maddox was sharp in the two-minute drill in a win over the Oakland Raiders to begin the season. He's had a lot of success against Baltimore in the past with a 3-1 all-time mark and a career-high 134.3 passer rating in a win to open last season.

The Ravens' Pro Bowl-filled secondary was exploited for two long receptions last week, including a touchdown. However, last week is mostly being ascribed to mental mistakes and communication breakdowns. In the Ravens' 13-10 overtime win in last year's regular-season finale, Ward and Burress caught just three passes for 24 yards and the Steelers' only touchdown came on a fake punt.

3. Bottle up Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis

A week ago, Staley shouldered the running load and Bettis was the designated touchdown-scorer. The $14 million starter rushed for 91 yards on 24 carries. And Bettis scored three touchdowns on five carries. The Steelers ran the ball 33 times in 57 offensive plays. Without nose guard Kelly Gregg, backup Maake Kemoeatu will need to keep blockers off of the shoulder pads of linebackers Ray Lewis and Ed Hartell for a stout Baltimore run defense.

4. Get the football to Todd Heap

The Ravens' Pro Bowl tight end caught nine passes last week for 86 yards. Against a suspect Pittsburgh secondary and gamble-prone safety Troy Polamalu, he should be utilized even more than usual. Heap is the Ravens' top option downfield even with Sanders' potential addition.

5. Improve field position

The Ravens' average field position was its own 20 as penalties and return miscues hindered an offense that's not explosive or consistent enough yet to sustain long drives.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

 


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