Game Day Matchups

Neal Coolong returns for another season of previewing top Steelers matchups. Today: the Ravens.

OLB James Harrison vs. LT Bryant McKinnie

Harrison has had his share of success against the Ravens in the past. He's typically stout in run support, and Harrison's third-quarter performance against Baltimore in the playoffs last season will be on his all-time highlight reel. He completely shredded then-Ravens LT Michael Oher and the Steelers overcame a 21-7 halftime deficit on the steam of Harrison's two sacks. However, the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year did not get the offseason conditioning he typically does due to two back surgeries, and didn't look as explosive as he has.

McKinnie was brought into Baltimore after being released from Minnesota. The Vikings reportedly cut the nine-year veteran when he showed up to camp overweight and out of shape. It's a gamble the Ravens took because Oher's progression at left tackle seemingly slowed down this past season. They signed their best linemen, Marshal Yanda, to an extension, and are moving him back to guard. McKinnie will be tested by Harrison, who dominates tall blockers who don't stay low. Whoever wins that battle will give his team a considerable advantage of having the edge of the offensive left side.

NT Casey Hampton and ILB James Farrior vs. C Andre Gurode and FB Vonta Leach

Hampton and Farrior are two of the league's elite run defenders, and have been a part of a string of elite-level defenses in Pittsburgh. They'll face a revamped Ravens offensive line and two of its most recent additions – former Pro Bowl C Gurode and Pro Bowl FB Leach. Hampton's ability to control the line of scrimmage is paramount in this defense, and Farrior's pursuit of the ball carrier (most notably Ravens RB Ray Rice) will dictate much of what Baltimore does offensively.

Leach came over from Houston, where he helped RB Arian Foster to the league's rushing crown in 2010. Gurode, recently released from Dallas, was considered more of a salary cap casualty than a player who's best performances are behind him. They both will bolster a Ravens rushing offense that averaged 49 yards a game in three contests against Pittsburgh last year.

C Maurkice Pouncey vs. NT Terrence Cody

It wasn't long ago these two were squaring off in consecutive SEC Championship games – Pouncey at Florida and Cody at Alabama. Their respective teams split those championship games and both won national titles. Consider this Part III.

Cody assumes the nose tackle job after the Ravens let veteran Kelly Gregg go this offseason. New defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano has a background in the defensive secondary, but as usual the Ravens will live and die by their ability to get production out of their front seven.

It's Pouncey's first live game since an ankle injury ended his stellar rookie season in the playoffs. He showed the same quickness and power getting off the snap during the preseason, giving the Steelers every reason to believe he will quickly return to the Pro Bowl level at which he was playing. It's never an easy task to run on the Ravens, but Pouncey will bolster a running game poised to finish in the top 10 in the league again.

CB Ike Taylor vs. WR Anquan Boldin

Taylor will see game action for the first time since the preseason opener when he broke his left thumb. He had surgery on it, and missed the remainder of the team's warm-up games. It'll be good for the Steelers to get him back after helping to limit the Ravens No. 1 receiver to an average of four catches in their three games last season – including Boldin's one catch for -1 yard in the playoffs.

Boldin's first year in Baltimore was disappointing. For the first time in his career, he played 16 games but failed to reach the 1,000 yard plateau. The Ravens jettisoned veteran targets T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Todd Heap this off-season, indicating the expectations for Boldin have increased in his second year. They added Lee Evans to work outside the numbers, but he came late into training camp, and much of the Ravens passing offense should be expected to go through Boldin in Week 1.


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