Baltimore Ravens' scouting report

1. How will the secondary fare against Ben Roethlisberger? The Baltimore Ravens' defensive resolve and depth is about to face a severe test today against the Pittsburgh Steelers' vaunted passing game. Roethlisberger engineered a last-minute comeback win over the Green Bay Packers last week, passing for 503 yards and three touchdown passes.

He hasn't thrown an interception in his past 10 quarters, a streak of 89 throws in a row without a miscue. He has 22 touchdowns for the year and just 11 interceptions. The Ravens' secondary, despite season-ending knee injuries to starters Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb, has excelled lately by thriving against suspect quarterbacks. They have intercepted six passes over the past two games with a total of 13 interceptions in the past six games.

Roethlisberger has had some strong games in the past against Baltimore with 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions in eight regular-season games. When the Steelers win, it's usually a case of Roethlisberger creating big plays as he has posted over 30 completions of at least 20 yards in seven victories. The Ravens are going to start two former backups in safety Tom Zbikowski and cornerback Chris Carr with Ed Reed and Webb out.

2. Will the Ravens be able to protect Joe Flacco?
The Steelers rank second in the NFL with 40 sacks, a pass rush led by last year's NFL Defensive Player of the Year linebacker James Harrison as well as LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons. Timmons had two sacks and a forced fumble during the Ravens' 20-17 overtime win this season. Jared Gaither has said he'll play this week despite a painful toe injury. If he can't go, then rookie Michael Oher will start his first game against Harrison with Oniel Cousins likely drawing unwanted attention from the Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau on the right side.

3. Will Ray Rice be productive?
Rice rushed for 88 yards and caught five passes for 67 yards earlier this season against the Steelers, who are only allowing 110.2 rushing yards per game. Rice has rushed for 1,128 yards and seven touchdowns, catching 73 passes for 669 yards and one score.

4. Who will return kicks?
The Ravens are likely to stick with Carr on punt returns, but kickoffs remain a mystery with Webb out. Jalen Parmele is a strong possibility. He averaged 28 yards per kickoff return as a senior at Toledo with an 82-yard touchdown run. The Steelers rank 29th in the league in kickoff coverage and 24th in punt coverage.

5. Will Terrell Suggs get some pressure on Roethlisberger?
Suggs isn't listed on the injury report this week with his sprained medial collateral ligament. If he's truly healthy, then he could provide some heat on Roethlisberger. Suggs has eight sacks in 13 career games against Pittsburgh with one interception and one forced fumble.

KEY MATCHUP
Baltimore Ravens CB Chris Carr vs. Pittsburgh Steelers WR Santonio Holmes

Carr makes his first start of the season against the prolific Steelers' passing game. Undersized and quick, Carr has been growing in confidence and has two interceptions this season. Now that he's taking over the starting job with Lardarius Webb out for the season, Carr is on the spot and he appears to be extremely comfortable despite the fact that Ben Roethlisberger passed for 503 yards and three touchdowns last week against the Green Bay Packers. Holmes will likely be paired opposite Carr at times today, and that could spell trouble considering his track record against the Ravens. Holmes has scored a touchdown in six consecutive games against Baltimore. He has scored a total of seven times in those games. Holmes' speed, acceleration and leaping ability are big factors.

KEY MATCHUP
Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco vs. Pittsburgh Steelers secondary

Since the Steelers have the top-ranked rushing defense in the league, it's clear that Flacco could factor heavily into today's game plan. He has completed 65.0 and 72.4 percent of his throws over the past two weeks with a total of 434 passing yards five touchdowns and no interceptions with at least a 120.8 passer rating during that span. Flacco's accuracy and touch have improved and he's been building a connection with wide receiver Demetrius Williams and tight end Todd Heap. He has thrown two touchdowns and two interceptions in three career regular-season games against Pittsburgh, which has allowed an average of 263.5 passing yards per game over the past five games with nine touchdowns allowed and no interceptions. The Steelers have benched cornerback William Gay, and Ike Taylor is statistically the worst cornerback in the NFL. Somehow, the Steelers have managed to intercept only eight passes with none by cornerbacks. With star safety Troy Polamalu out again today with a knee injury, the Steelers' secondary looks extremely vulnerable.

THREE DOWNS WITH ...
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice

1.On the confidence of the offense: "Obviously, when you score points, it builds confidence. We're scoring points in that area where we were struggling. We're finding ways to score, whether it's running or passing. Guys have stepped up, made plays.  

One thing we know is if Joe Flacco is confident back there, and our offensive line is confident and our receivers are confident, we know we can score points. It's been proven. We started the year off smoking hot, and then we hit a halt. But right now, in December, we're playing good football."  

2. On being called a go-to guy by Mike Tomlin: "For him to give me some kind of respect like that, obviously, I must be doing something right. It's coming from the world champs. From the way I've been playing, you don't expect them to just go out there and see me as another player. I've always wanted it this way.

"I want them to see me as a dual threat out of the pass and the run. I want teams to respect me when I'm out there. Just a credit to our team pushing me along, but another guy has to step up if they plan to take me out of the game."  

3. On how he feels physically: "I'm good. You've got to remember, I was in college. I took 300, almost 400 carries in one year, so this is less carries for me. Preparation during the week helps out.  

"We know we have to play on Sunday, so a lot of stuff we do now is just going out there preparing for a game. We have to take care of ourselves during the week to go out there and play on Sunday."  

THREE DOWNS WITH ...
Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin

1.On the tenor of the game: "The one thing I know about the history of this series is how games have unfolded in the past really have no bearing on what's going to happen in this one. One thing you know:

"It's going to be physical. It's going to be emotional. That's always been the case. But, all these games have unfolded differently, and I think that's the approach that we're taking."  

2. On Ray Rice: "You know, I think statistics and tape speaks for itself. He's their leading rusher, he's their leading receiver, he's a big-time player, not only for them, but in the big scope of things in this league. I think he's gotten to that status."  

3. On how the team has reacted to his 'unleash hell' comment: "Collectively, in terms of the entire body of work, absolutely not. I think that's pretty evident. We haven't won a bunch of games in December, but December is not over. The guys will continue to fight, as will I, and we'll see how the dust settles."


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