1. Who do you think wins Round III between the Ravens and Steelers and why?
My prediction is with the Steelers winning, 17-6.
I believe the Ravens will have trouble scoring against perhaps the NFL's best defense.
The only way I see the Ravens scoring is via a turnover or off of a turnover and they punch it in from in close.
2. Can Willie Parker run the football on Baltimore and why?
The key with Parker is that he's finally relatively healthy and it showed last week. Tennessee's Chris Johnson had tremendous success last week against the Ravens before he got hurt. While both are different runners, the Steelers will design plays to take advantage of what was successful against the Baltimore defense.
3. Can the Ravens run on the Steelers and why?
Depends what you mean by run on them.
FB/RB Le'Ron McClain ran for around 3.9 yards per carry in the two games against the Steelers which isn't a bad average against that run defense.
No one will break off a big run against the Steeler run defense, but they must be able to sustain the running game. My advice to offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is to start throwing on first down more to help set up more manageable second and third downs.
4. From watching film of both teams what are three things per team that jump out at you in terms of personnel and scheme that we should be aware of?
With Baltimore's offense, I still think it's rather conservative and they seem to want to take the ball out of Joe Flacco's hands. It seems that their plan is to keep the score close and hope they have a lead to protect in the fourth quarter so they can run the ball to ice the game. That's not likely to work against a team that is so explosive on both sides of the ball.
I was surprised at the chunks of yardage that Chris Johnson was able to get before he got hurt last week. The Ravens tightened things up for the most part after Johnson left the game for good, but it was still a surprise that Tennessee was able to have success on the ground and in the passing game for a while.
The one thing that stood out defensively from watching the Raven defense in the first two matchups against Steeler offense is how many mistakes the Steeler offensive line made. Rex Ryan clearly confused them with pre and post-snap movement. They should have made simple adjustments, but for whatever reason, they kept making mistakes in pass protection. A similar problem showed up at Philadelphia earlier this season. Ryan is the master of disguising his fronts.
I should also mention that Cam Cameron has used six offensive linemen and a tight end formation quite a bit in recent weeks. You'll likely see that against Pittsburgh since they blitz so much. And you might see it also in the running game as well. They like to get double teams on defensive linemen.
Getting back to Pittsburgh's offense, Parker really moved well last week and he has all season. He looked like the old Willie Parker. Keep in mind San Diego has one of the better run defenses and Pittsburgh moved the ball well on the ground for most of the game.
Ben Roethlisberger was efficient and looked to be very comfortable in the pocket last week. What I liked is that he was willing to stay in the pocket and go through his progressions. Too many times this season he left the pocket after his first read and the play would break down.
Defensively, they gave San Diego very little to work with. Don't let the final numbers fool you, Philip Rivers put up numbers once the game was out of reach. The coverage was tight by Ike Taylor on his first quarter TD pass to Vincent Jackson. Rivers made a great pass and Jackson made a great catch.
5. What's different about Ben Roethlisberger right now?
Again, he's more comfortable back there and is willing to stay in the pocket to let the play develop. That hasn't been the case for most of the season which is why he's had an up and down performances.
6. What do you think of Jim Leonhard?
Smart and more athletic than most think. While he's small, he plays bigger than his listed size and isn't afraid to get in the middle of the pile to break up a play and he has good hands.
7. Do you expect Terrell Suggs, Samari Rolle and Troy Polamalu to play and, if so, at what level and limitations?
Rolle is the one I think is the most questionable. The Steelers have a deep receiver corps so losing Rolle could be a big problem. Look for Pittsburgh to spread out the Raven defense and go with more multiple receiver sets if Rolle can't play.
Polamalu practiced enough this week to show that he's ready to go. Suggs may have to play in just passing situations if his shoulder won't allow him to play his usual amount of snaps.
8. Is Cam Cameron coaching too tight?
I mentioned earlier that they are using a conservative game plan and are trying to take it out of Flacco's hands. That's not likely going to work. I'd use a similar plan that they used in the first matchup at Pittsburgh. That happened to be the first time that Cameron seemed willing to let Flacco let the ball fly.
9. What do you think of Joe Flacco and the way he's playing with no turnovers in two playoff games?
I don't think he's played particularly well despite not turning it over. I think he's missed some throws that could have been for big plays, especially in the Miami game. I think part of it is that Cameron won't let him get into a rhythm. I understand that their passing options aren't great, but you can't hide your quarterback. That won't work against this defense. Let Flacco throw the ball.
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