Steelers, Ravens to reveal who's less flawed

Mike Prisuta points out where the Ravens are vulnerable, but above all else, the Steelers must flush, fluster and flatten Joe Flacco.

In the wake of Steelers 19, Bills 16, I wasn't sure if this coming Sunday's visit to Baltimore should be characterized as a collision of two juggernauts or two teams that needed overtime to beat Buffalo.

In the wake of Ravens 17, Buccaneers 10 (viewed on Tuesday evening through the magic of the DVR) I'm leaning toward the latter.

The Steelers and Ravens may be a couple of 8-3 football teams, but they're both flawed. You saw the Steelers' flaws on display in the second half at Ralph Wilson Stadium. So let's take a closer look at Baltimore's, and how the Steelers might be able to exploit them.

In no particular order:

* The secondary is terrible (this just in). Ed Reed's return hasn't solved what's going on at corner, where Chris Carr and Josh Wilson have been the starters the last three weeks (Wilson was inactive for the first Ravens-Steelers meeting). Although Tampa Bay couldn't hit it, the deep ball along the sideline is available for the taking.

* The Ravens have all but given up trying to throw deep. QB Joe Flacco targeted WR Derrick Mason 12 times in the first half alone against Tampa Bay, and Mason was rarely anywhere but in the vicinity of the line of scrimmage. If the Steelers take Mason away with a little press coverage, Flacco might not know where to go with it.

* The Ravens have protection problems, too. A lot of that may well have been related to the exit of LT Michael Oher and the absence of RG Chris Chester against Tampa. The Steelers need to test that protection and do their best to flush, fluster and flatten Flacco no matter who lines up where up front.

* RB Ray Rice continues to look nothing like the guy who tortured the Steelers last season. Don't expect the run defense to be an issue.

* The Ravens don't show a lot of that exotic, walk-around stuff on defense and don't display much of a taste for blitzing until they achieve a perceived level of comfort with the way the game is playing out. Ben Roethlisberger ought not to be under assault throughout, and when he's rushed and flushed running lanes off the scramble should become available.

* For a guy who plays a lot in passing situations, LB Tavares Gooden isn't all that adept in coverage. When in doubt, find his guy, particularly he's with TE Heath Miller, RB Rashard Mendenhall or RB Mewelde Moore.

So yeah, it'll be a couple of flawed football teams having at it at M&T Bank Stadium. Still, one of them is going to emerge at 9-3. That team can be the Steelers if two things happen:

* No. 1, they spread the Ravens out and attack that susceptible secondary, something they were obviously uncomfortable trying with Charlie Batch at QB on Oct. 3 at Heinz Field. Roethlisberger must also make plays with his legs as well as his arm on occasion.

* And, No. 2, they attack Flacco with the idea of getting to the quarterback as opposed to getting the quarterback to react to a blitz.

Mike Tomlin was effusive this week in his praise of his defensive backs for their performance in Buffalo. But it could just as easily be argued that their performance had more to do with the actual passing than the pass defense.

Against Tom Brady, who's on time and on target like no other QB, the Steelers had zero interceptions, zero sacks and two passes defensed on 43 attempts.

Against Ryan Fitzpatrick, who's less decisive and much less accurate, they had one interception, two sacks and 12 passes defensed.

Flacco is somewhere in between, but he's closer to Brady than Fitzpatrick in terms of his ability to decipher a defense and deliver the ball where it needs to be.

Flacco, thus, needs to be attacked. The Steelers need to come after him even on those occasions when the Ravens are in max-protection or something along those lines.

Get in Mason's face, get in Flacco's grill and get the W.

And when you're coming, don't be blocked.


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