Defensive Game Plan
1.) Seven men: With the return of Plaxico Burress to the Pittsburgh Steelers' lineup, the Ravens will now have to deal with the full complement of weapons in Pittsburgh's arsenal. Burress, Hines Ward and Antwan Randle-El make up perhaps the top receiver trios on the NFL.
Despite having the capability of spreading the Ravens out, and using a three-wide formation as their base offense, the Steelers will likely come out in an I Formation to attack the Ravens. Pittsburgh has been able to run over every defense they've faced, and there is no reason to think that mentality will change against a Baltimore. The Steelers run the ball so well because the offensive line is physical and coordinated at the point of impact. In addition, Dan Kreider is among the game's top isolation blockers, and routinely gets a hat on the linebacker he is assigned to occupy.
The Ravens will need to slow down the Steelers' ground game throughout the course of the game, and not wear down in the latter stages. If the game remains close, Pittsburgh will keep pounding away at Baltimore's front seven, hoping that Jerome Bettis or Duce Staley can spring a couple of finishing runs at the end of the game.
The key for Baltimore will be slowing down Pittsburgh's rush attack regularly with seven defenders up front. Brining an extra defender is a move the Ravens should consider making only after the Steelers prove that they can run the ball well against Baltimore's seven-man front.
2.) Keeping Roethlisberger in the pocket: What is the difference between Tommy Maddox and Ben Roethlisberger? Roethlisberger is a more dangerous player. Without Roethlisberger's ability to scramble out of the pocket, and complete accurate passes on the run, the Steelers may not have won one or two of the games that they won this season. Roethlisberger has surprising quickness, is tough to bring down, and has the arm strength to get the ball where he wants to while on the move.
The Ravens have been burned at times during the season when the quarterback has been able to get outside of the pocket. Against Big Ben, the Ravens' pass rush must be under control. The lineman will need to stay in their gaps, and the blitzing linebackers will need to get a square hit on Roethlisberger in order to bring him down. If the Ravens do flush Roethlisberger out of the pocket, they should force him to his left.
If the Ravens can keep Roethlisberger in the pocket, they will have a better chance of forcing the rookie into making mistakes.
3.) Watch for screens, flare passes: The Ravens will blitz Ben Roethlisberger, and in anticipation of this defensive attack, the Steelers will likely turn to some dump off plays to take advantage of the Ravens' aggressiveness.
With the return of Duce Staley, the Steelers will likely use the halfback on third down or in obvious passing situations as an outlet option. Staley is one of the better pass-catching tailbacks in the NFL and must not be overlooked. In addition, look for Pittsburgh to use some slip screens or quick hitting pass plays to gain yardage against the Ravens' zone blitz.
Offensive Game Plan
1.) Physical play: One of the main reasons for why the Ravens are the only team to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers is because it did not back down from the Steelers. Instead of spreading the Steelers out, and attacking down the field through the passing game, the Ravens started its opening offensive possession by running right at the Steelers' vaunted front seven.
As the game progressed, the Ravens' rush attack was stymied, but Baltimore was ultimately able to rack up over 170 yards of rush offense.
The blue print for offensive success should be the same in the rematch, even though Pittsburgh boasts the top rated run defense in the NFL. The Ravens simply don't have the personnel to attack Pittsburgh in any other way than to run the football right at them. If the Ravens try to spread the field, the Steeler pass rush will be all over Kyle Boller, and the game could turn ugly.
Baltimore's offensive line play has been better, and running back Jamal Lewis is close to 100% healthy. Lewis hasn't had much success against the Steelers, but still presents the best option to break down Pittsburgh's front seven, because his physical running style can wear down defenders. Look for Chester Taylor to get his share of touches as well.
2.) Quick Hitting pass plays: Much in the same way that Pittsburgh may use the intermediate passing game to defeat Baltimore's blitz, the Ravens may employ the same strategy. The Baltimore passing game hasn't been stellar, but it has improved with the return of Todd Heap to the starting lineup. With Heap in, the Ravens have been able to design more pass plays geared to gaining 5-to-10 yards.
The Steelers' pass rush is so aggressive and timed perfectly, that they rarely give up anything but short passes underneath. However, taking what the Steelers give the Ravens is the best approach to take in this game, because Baltimore wants to keep the game tight.
3.) No loss of yardage: Again, the Ravens are facing a rough, physical defense that is hard to crack. In this type of game, one must be prepared for a lot of failed drives on offense. This will be a field position game, so giving up sacks and making avoidable mistakes is unacceptable. Kyle Boller has done a nice job of making few stupid mistakes since the second half of the season, but he still has trouble getting rid of the football with quicker precision. Holding the ball too long in a game like this will either lead to negative yardage, or hard third down conversion situations. It is better to throw the ball away rather than trying to make an impossible play on the run.
One-on-one Match-up to watch: Ray Lewis versus Dan Kreider:
The Steelers are the top rush offense in the NFL and fullback Dan Kreider is a big reason for Pittsburgh's success. The fifth year veteran is the top isolation blocker in the NFL. He is better than Fred Beasley and Tony Richardson. Kreider is successful because he plays with a mean streak, does a nice job of locating his assigned target, and plays with great leverage. He should encounter seven-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker Ray Lewis a number of times on Sunday. Much has been made about Lewis' inability to take on blocks, and teams have tested his ability by running right at him. The Steelers will use the same strategy against Lewis.
Dev Panchwagh is a writer for Ravens Insider, the biggest and best independently run Ravens site on the web. If you are reading this from a news portal you will find the original at www.ravensinsider.com