Game Day Matchups

Neal Coolong breaks down the top matchups in today's Ravens-Steelers game at Heinz Field.

DE Terrell Suggs vs. LT Jonathan Scott

Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger wore a Terrell Suggs No. 55 jersey for most of their Week 13 game, including a play late in the 4th quarter, where Suggs climbed up and around Roethlisberger like he was a jungle gym. Suggs crashed through the Steelers offensive line like a tidal wave, putting up arguably the best individual defensive performance of the season. He had two sacks in Baltimore's 30-7 win over Kansas City in the Wild Card round, beating Chiefs LT Branden Albert.

It's a difficult assignment for Scott, who has struggled against 4-3 defensive ends over the second half of the season. Most tackles struggle with Suggs, a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, but negating him is critical for the Steelers success on offense. Expect the Steelers to provide blocking help when they can nail down Suggs's side, and run screens and draws in his direction to help slow him down.

SS Troy Polamalu vs. TE Todd Heap

Heap had a Ravens franchise post-season record 10 catches in the win over Kansas City, after it seemed the Chiefs didn't recognize his receiving ability in the middle of the field. Little was done to shore up defenses against him, something Pittsburgh will not duplicate. It won't be Polamalu on his own, but he'll likely line up in coverage over Heap, forcing QB Joe Flacco to look elsewhere on the short throws he was so successful with against the Chiefs.

Heap will also have to help the Ravens recognize Polamalu, who failed to identify him late in their Week 13 match-up. The blown blocking assignment cost them dearly, as Polamalu made the game-changing turnover that eventually determined the division champion. Polamalu makes big plays against Baltimore, but with Heap holding the hot hand, his assignment may be to stick with Heap, getting him out of the box.

WR Mike Wallace vs. CB Josh Wilson

Wallace recovered quite well from a third-quarter slump this season, racking up 14 catches for 311 yards (22.2 yards per catch) in his last three games. The pressure the Ravens applied to Roethlisberger limited Wallace's big-play potential, but he's shown a lot more ability in turning shorter completions into big gains in his last three games. He's not quite the one-trick pony Steelers coach Mike Tomlin calls him, at least not lately.

Wilson is a more reliable open-field tackler than is fellow starter, Chris Carr, and is better in turn-and-run coverage. Wallace can be used to take Wilson and probably FS Ed Reed with him deep down the field to open up the running game, but Wallace will have to make a big play for that to happen. It certainly won't be a surprise if the Steelers test this match-up early in the game.

C Maurkice Pouncey and RG Ramon Foster vs. NT Haloti Ngata

In a time of possession contest, it's decided in the trenches. Pouncey, the stalwart on the line, must combine forces with Foster to keep the Ngata Monster at bay. It's debatable whether Ngata is blockable by any one lineman in the league, and even two blockers will struggle. Maintaining leverage and staying inside him are critical, as with these two interior linemen go the Steelers chances of running the ball.

Ngata's versatility makes him even more dangerous than his 340 pound frame or cat-like quickness. He can line up in any gap, and he can control the entire line of scrimmage on his own. Baltimore uses him thusly, and will move him all over to exploit his match-up advantage in any position. Pittsburgh hasn't run the ball on Baltimore successfully over four quarters, although Pittsburgh did get two rushing touchdowns from inside the 10 on Baltimore this year.

OLB James Harrison vs. LT Michael Oher

Harrison has been quiet down the stretch, only registering a half sack in his last five games. But his impact on the game has been as big as always, particularly against the run. No tackle has been able to push him off the line, and he seals the edge off as well as any player in the game. The Ravens will have to run right at him if they want to set the edge, as running plays away from him is a forced fumble waiting to happen. Far more easier said than done, Harrison is going to his fourth straight Pro Bowl for a reason.

Oher has battled injury problems, and he fell off significantly from where he was as a rookie on the right side. He's struggled with adapting to the left tackle position (he led all left tackles with 13 penalties), and is the weak link on an otherwise strong offensive line. Oher has tremendous talent, and has fought Harrison hard this year, but three penalties in their last meeting disrupted the offense. He's been more effective in the run game than in pass protection, and if the Ravens want to run to the weak side, or open up cutback lanes for the shifty Ray Rice, Oher will have to clear Harrison out.

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