Ravens - Steelers: Inside slant

A quick story that you can commit to memory and take to the game.

When the Ravens have the football

Expect them to resume a smash-mouth approach today with plenty of runs for Jamal Lewis. Remember, the Ravens' running game began slowly last year and Lewis wound up leading the league with the second-highest rushing total in league history behind Eric Dickerson.

The passing game is obviously a work in progress, and that's being generous. Until Kyle Boller matures and improves, Lewis should be the Ravens' first and best option.

Key matchup

FB Alan Ricard vs. LB James Farrior

Ricard's crushing blocks on isolation plays could make the difference against the Steelers' fast-striking inside linebacker.

When the Steelers have the football

Watch to see if new offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt remains conservative throughout the game if Baltimore stuffs the run.

Mike Mularkey, who's now the Buffalo Bills' head coach, used to employ a lot of gadget plays, but that's no longer in style in a shot-and-a-beer town.

The Steelers can stretch the field vertically and are likely to pick a few spots to test out a secondary that's struggled to contain the deep ball.

Key matchup

WR Plaxico Burress vs. CB Chris McAlister

This is typically an epic boxing match on the perimeter, complete with pushing, shoving, cursing and no category for style points.

How the Ravens can win

1. Score on defense, because the offense hasn't proven that it's capable of establishing a crisp tempo yet. Figure on opportunistic safety Ed Reed striving hard to make up for a rough season debut.

2. Get Jamal Lewis uncorked after he was bottled up a week ago by the game plan and receivers not blocking effectively enough downfield. It takes patience to get a running game going.

3. Force Tommy Maddox into mistakes after shutting down Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis. Maddox is a streaky passer.

How the Steelers can win

1. Strike quickly downfield with Plaxico Burress and Hines Ward to build an early advantage.

2. Test out the middle in the absence of nose guard Kelly Gregg to see if Maake Kemoeatu is up to the task of controlling two gaps hit by bruising backs Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis.

3. Blitz mistake-prone quarterback Kyle Boller to exploit his lack of experience and an offense line whose pass blocking isn't its strong suit.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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