When the Ravens have the football: Anticipate offensive coordinator
Matt Cavanaugh emphasizing a game plan with a central theme: running the
football. Too often, the Ravens have deviated from this approach, their most
effective playing style, as soon as they fall behind. Despite the Steelers
ranking first against the run, this is probably the best chance Baltimore has to
move the football consistently. It would also keep Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, receiver Hines Ward and running back Jerome Bettis watching,
instead of gashing the Ravens' defense. Running back Jamal Lewis has had a rough
year, but still has the physical tools to overwhelm a defense. He needs the
football a lot to accomplish that task, though.
It should be obvious based on last week that the Ravens don't pass block well enough to stop elite pressure. Last week, it was a four-man rush. This week, six and seven defenders could be attacking quarterback Kyle Boller.
The Steelers blitz 35 to 40 percent of the time. When Baltimore does look downfield, it must pick up the blitz adeptly and make the Steelers' somewhat suspect secondary pay with long throws to Travis Taylor, Todd Heap and Clarence Moore. Taylor, especially, needs to catch the football. It's what he's paid to do as a professional. Get the job done.
Meanwhile, Boller has to be careful when he's throwing to Heap because of safety Troy Polamalu's ability to break on the football. He has intercepted five passes, and has outstanding range.
Key matchup: RB Jamal Lewis vs. LB James Farrior
Whomever wins the majority of these physical encounters is liable to go a long way toward deciding the football game for his team.
How the Ravens can win:
1. Establish an aggressive tempo immediately with the running game, following the blueprint of their 90-yard opening drive against the Steelers earlier this season. That means running between the tackles to curtail swift linebacker James Farrior's ability to run to the sidelines.
2. Protect quarterback Kyle Boller from the relentless 'Blitzburgh' pass rush with maximum-protection blocking schemes.
3. Tackle bruising runner Jerome Bettis, and cover elusive wide receiver Hines Ward. Not easy tasks obviously, but absolutely necessary to be competitive.
When the Steelers have the football: Expect offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt to roll Ben Roethlisberger out on occasion to take advantage of his optimum movement for such a big quarterback. The Steelers are looking to isolate Hines Ward against Chris McAlister, and to spread the Ravens out to take advantage of their undersized front three with a heavy dose of Jerome Bettis' thunderous runs.
They tend to use 6-foot-1, 246-pound fullback Dan Kreider to run interference for Bettis, and he has been quite effective in the past at walling off Ray Lewis. He's good at getting into Lewis' shoulder pads. Plus, center Jeff Hartings and left guard Alan Faneca have the requisite blocking skills and agility to track down Lewis in the open field. Baltimore will need to generate pressure with outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, a newly crowned Pro Bowl selection. He has a team-high 9 1/2 sacks.
Pittsburgh has allowed 34 sacks, so this isn't an invulnerable offensive line by any stretch of the imagination. Roethlisberger has a bad tendency to hold the football too long in the pocket, increasing opportunities for pass rushers. He's not as seasoned as a quarterback usually needs to be to compete against safety Ed Reed, the leading candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Key matchup: CB Chris McAlister vs. WR Hines Ward
McAlister called Ward an unprintable name after their last encounter. Ward has the skills and mouth to frustrate McAlister. McAlister has the skill set and athleticism to shut Ward down, but only if his head and heart is in his work.
How the Steelers can win:
1. Run the football down linebacker Ray Lewis' throat with Jerome Bettis, using physical interior linemen Alan Faneca and Jeff Hartings to reach the second level and impede Lewis' path to scrape backside to the ball carrier.
2. Fluster and embarrass cornerback Chris McAlister with pesky wideout Hines Ward, while taking advantage of mismatches with Antwaan Randle El against defensive backs Deion Sanders and Gary Baxter.
3. Use quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on designed rollouts to escape the pocket and occasionally gain first downs with his feet.
As well as a being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.
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