Steelers - Ravens: Gameday inside slant

Week 11 in the NFL sees the Ravens (2-7) hosting AFCN rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-2). We take a quick look at what to look for on each side of the football and what each team needs to do to win.

When the Ravens have the football

Anticipate more maximum-protection schemes after last week's debacle where the offensive line faltered and quarterback Kyle Boller held the football too long as he was sacked four times. The Steelers feature a fierce pass rush headlined by outside linebackers Joey Porter and Clark Haggans' five sacks apiece.

The Ravens have mostly been successful at throwing exclusively to Derrick Mason and Todd Heap, but need to include some secondary targets like rookie Mark Clayton. That will require better reads and accuracy from Boller who stared down receivers with laser vision last week for three interceptions. The Ravens had some success throwing against the Steelers on Halloween, but struggled in the red zone and two-minute drill. Boller has shown some ability in the past to get the job done in those situations, better than backup Anthony Wright.

Key matchup

TE Todd Heap vs. S Troy Polamalu. Two of the best athletes at their respective positions should be worth the price of admission. Heap can stretch the field and Polamalu combines range and aggression.

How the Ravens can win

1. Exploit Tommy Maddox's inaccuracy. The Steelers' starter is prone to miscues with three interceptions, 42.9 percent accuracy and a 32.6 passer rating.
2. Try to run the football. Jamal Lewis managed to get 61 hard-fought yards on 17 carries the last time against Pittsburgh, which surrenders only 82 rushing yards a game.
3. Be wary of play-action. Rookie tight end Heath Miller scored twice on goal-line throws built off run fakes in the first meeting, dusting safety Will Demps each time.

When the Steelers have the football

Watch for a good opening script from offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, a crafty play-caller who does a nice job of disguising screens, slants and sweeps. The Steelers run basic, fundamental plays, but mask their intentions with a lot of bells and whistles. It's a smart gambit worth copying. Since Tommy Maddox is under center, they may be more careful than usual since he's not as mistake-free as starter Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger underwent arthroscopic knee surgery for an injury incurred against Baltimore.

The Steelers might use receiver Antwaan Randle El on occasion at quarterback. He has one completion for 51 yards already this season and is averaging 8.6 yards per carry.

Key matchup

CB Chris McAlister vs. WR Hines Ward. Whenever these guys face off, it's loud, athletic and usually pivotal. Ward typically is laughing afterward while McAlister leaves the stadium without commenting.

How the Steelers can win

1. Pound the football. The Ravens looked highly susceptible against the run last week, allowing 133 rushing yards. Fast Willie Parker is back, and his team averages 136.9 rushing yards.
2. Blitz at will. The Ravens surrendered four sacks last week, have a new right guard due to an injury to starter Keydrick Vincent and the Steelers have 25 sacks.
3. Go after Chris McAlister. McAlister gave up a touchdown last week and has struggled over the years against Steelers' all-time leading receiver Hines Ward. Ward seems to get inside the cornerback's head with his taunts.

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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