Breaking Free of Steelers-Ravens Malaise

Mike Prisuta doesn't agree with every other football fan who's predicting another close Steelers-Ravens game Saturday. He's predicting a blowout from one side.

We've seen it before and we'll see it again.

We've seen Joe Flacco with the ball in his hand and a typical Steelers-Ravens street fight about to be decided in the final seconds.

We've seen that twice already this season.

The first time Troy Polamalu and Lawrence Timmons blitzed but didn't get there and T.J. Houshmandzadeh had time to beat Bryant McFadden on a double-move touchdown.

The second time James Farrior got in Flacco's face just enough to induce an incompletion on a toss to a wide-open Ed Dickson.

What'll it be this time?

Perhaps more of the same on either account, but not necessarily.

"We don't expect the game to be close," Steelers wide receiver Antwaan Randle El said. "We always say it doesn't have to be close. It could end up being close but it doesn't have to be close."

Based on how the Ravens performed in their postseason-opening win at Kansas City there is much the Steelers can take advantage of toward that end.

Let's start with Flacco.

He was given much credit for his periodic scrambles out of the pocket. And as Mike Tomlin observed this week Flacco is not a "lawn deer." But he's not Mike Vick, either.

Escaping the Chiefs' pass rush is one thing, but doing the same to the Steelers is quite another. And Flacco also lost a fumble when he was unable to vacate the pocket in Kansas City. The Steelers are well aware that wasn't the first time such a turnover had occurred.

Ray Rice's 99 combined yards also inflicted some damage in KC, but here, too, the Ravens shouldn't count on a repeat. He won't run against the Steelers because no one does. And any damage he's able to inflict in the passing game ought to be minimal because of Farrior's rebirth this season as a linebacker who can once again keep such plays contained.

Baltimore's red zone offense ought not to strike fear in the hearts of the Steelers, either. The Ravens converted TDs only 49 percent of the time during the regular season (just ahead of the Steelers' 48 percent), then went 2-for-5 against the Chiefs. Third-quarter drives to the Chiefs' 11- and 9-yard lines resulted only in field goals that extended leads to 13-7 and 16-7 and kept Kansas City in the game longer than it should have been.

As for the Ravens' defense, it looked susceptible to the run in the first two quarters as Jamaal Charles was gaining 87 yards on seven carries (including a 41-yard touchdown) and averaging 12.4 yards per carry.

So naturally the Chiefs came out throwing in the second half.

This isn't to suggest Rashard Mendenhall is going to rumble for 200 yards on Saturday. Mendenhall found the going tough against Baltimore all season, but he still managed to rush for 79 yards and two TDs in the loss to the Ravens in October (the game played between the teams without Ben Roethlisberger).

The key this time will be to run Mendenhall often enough to make the Ravens respect the possibility of a run. That and the home-field crowd noise advantage ought to allow the Steelers to do a good enough job of protecting Roethlisberger to where he can eventually scorch a still-suspect secondary for big plays, especially off play-action passes.

If the Steelers can get a couple of those early and achieve a two-score lead they can take the Ravens out of the plodding, calculated, ball-possession offense they prefer.

And then the Steelers' pass rush, operating with the home-field crowd noise advantage against an offensive line that's every bit as suspect as the Steelers' offensive line, might really be able to make a few things happen.

Roethlisberger is the biggest advantage either team has going for it in Round 3, as he seemingly always is in Steelers-Ravens get-togethers. The Ravens know that as well as anyone. And they know they won't be able to keep up if these teams get into a trade-scores type of affair.

That would be uncharacteristic, but far from inconceivable.

Make it 27-10, Steelers.

See you in New England.


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