The Pittsburgh Steelers hope to clinch a playoff spot Sunday in Baltimore

The Steelers will try to avenge an early-season loss to the Ravens this weekend in Baltimore.

MEMORABLE SERIES MOMENT

Steelers 13, Ravens 9

Dec. 14, 2008: M&T Bank Stadium.

A year after Hines Ward had knocked Ed Reed out of a game and Bart Scott into another dimension, and 10 weeks after Ray Lewis had busted Rashard Mendenhall's scapula with a hit, the teams were at the pinnacle of their hatred as talk of Baltimore bounties reached the league office. This game between the 10-3 Pittsburgh Steelers and 9-4 Baltimore Ravens was decided by the game's only touchdown with 50 seconds remaining. The four-yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Santonio Holmes wasn't initially ruled a touchdown but replay showed that Holmes did indeed get the ball across the front plane.

TALE OF THE TAPE

"Where have all the villains gone? No Ray Lewis, Bart Scott, Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs. It's as gray-faced an opponent as you're going to get. The player who I think has the greatest opportunity to grow into the newest, greatest villain is Za'Darius Smith. He looks like a pretty good pass-rusher who can quite possibly become one of their edge guys. The guy who stands out as the lone black-hat villain this week is Brandon Williams. He's still playing at a pretty high level. He eats up a lot of space inside, plays with a low pad level and with a nasty edge. Between those two I guess that's as close as we're going to get to any villains." -- Steelers Radio sideline reporter Craig Wolfley.

TOP QUESTION

Are there any recognizable Ravens playing at all?

With a league-high 19 players on injured reserve, the Ravens will be without most of their recognizable stars from last season's playoff game. The Ravens last week started 11 players who started in that playoff game. On offense, only fullback Kyle Juszczyk started at the same position. On defense, NT Williams, OLB Courtney Upshaw, LB C.J. Mosley, LB Daryl Smith, SS Will Hill and CB Lardarius Webb started at the same position. Other key players back are RG Marshal Yanda and nickel rusher Elvis Dumervil.

THREE QUESTIONS: With DE Cam Heyward

Q: That 3-4 defensive end spot is hard to overcome in a 4-3 Pro Bowl vote, isn't it?

CH: "It's not going to hurt me. I just have to improve. You can look at it two ways: I didn't get the job done or I need to get better."

Q: That's a great lesson for the youth of America.

CH: "Hey, I'm not going to say I didn't want to go, but who am to cry over spilled milk? For me to put my goals over the team's goals is unacceptable."

Q: Have you at least impressed yourself this season?

CH: "No. No. I'm leaving stuff on the table. Last week I missed two sacks. I have quit beating myself up about it, but I am leaving stuff on the table."

GAME BREAKDOWN

What to look for from the Steelers tonight against Baltimore:

ON OFFENSE:

The Ravens have talent in the secondary with 6-2 cornerback Smith and playmaking strong safety Hill. They also have Webb and Shareece Wright as their second and third corners and Kendrick Lewis at free safety. But even with talent, the Ravens are last in the NFL with only four interceptions. They have only one interception in their last 11 games. Top pass-rusher Dumervil has only six sacks, on pace for his lowest total since 2008. So look for the Steelers to once again throw, throw, throw.

ON DEFENSE:

Since Matt Schaub went to the Pro Bowl following the 2012 season, he's started 10 games and lost seven of them with a passer rating of 71.5. And he's the best of the three Ravens competitors for the quarterback position this week. Jimmy Clausen and Ryan Mallet are the others. The Steelers may have a shaky pass defense but they still rank 11th in the NFL in red-zone defense. The Ravens rank 28th offensively -- and that includes the 10 games started by Joe Flacco. So while the Steelers' pass defense is being crucified locally, the Ravens don't figure to score many points Sunday.
 
PREDICTION

The Steelers are hungry for a playoff berth -- which they can clinch with a win and a loss by the New York Jets to the New England Patriots -- and they're also seeking revenge for a 23-20 overtime loss to the Ravens at Heinz Field in a game they should've won, even with Mike Vick at quarterback. To add to the Steelers' motivation, they're being roundly criticized by local media and fans for their first-half performance last week against Denver. All of that speaks to the Steelers' emotional edges. Physically, the last five games show them to be even with the Ravens at the lines of scrimmage and worse in pass defense, but the Steelers have lopsided edges in scoring efficiency on both sides of the ball. Steelers, 41-3.

BY THE NUMBERS

0: Number of Steelers wins when playing in Baltimore in December with the Steelers in the playoff race and the Ravens out of it. The Ravens won 31-17 in 1996 and 27-21 in 2007.

0: Number of wins by Steelers when playing 1 p.m. games in Baltimore during the Roethlisberger era. The Ravens won those games in 2004 (Roethlisberger's pro debut), 2005, 2006 and 2011.

2: Number of touchdown passes thrown by Roethlisberger on the road this season (one at New England, one at Seattle).

2: Number of consecutive games in which the Ravens have allowed 34 or more points

6: Number of consecutive games in which the Steelers have scored 30 or more points (all since Roethlisberger limped through his return from an injury against the Bengals).

25: Touchdown passes allowed by the Ravens to wide receivers, most in the NFL.

DOWNLOADS

* The press release for the 4-10 Ravens bemoans the loss of starters to 54 games this season. But the 9-5 Steelers have lost 51 starts by first-teamers, and that doesn't count the 14 missed by placekicker Shaun Suisham. The injury lists are fairly comparable:
-- The Steelers lost QB Roethlisberger for four games; the Ravens lost QB Flacco for four games.
-- The Steelers lost RB Le'Veon Bell for eight games; the Ravens lost RB Justin Forsett for four games.
-- The Steelers lost WR Martavis Bryant for five games; the Ravens lost WR Steve Smith for seven games.
-- The Steelers lost offensive linemen Maurkice Pouncey and Kelvin Beachum a combined 22 games; the Ravens lost offensive linemen Eugene Monroe, Kelechi Osemele and Jeremy Zuttah a combined 15 games.
-- The Ravens do have the distinct injury edge at elder pass-rusher where Terrell Owens has missed 13 games while the Steelers' James Harrison has only missed one game.

* Baltimore OC Marc Trestman on his QB derby: "The three of them have worked together to prepare for this game. They've been helping Ryan get ready to play, and by helping Ryan, all three guys are getting themselves ready to play, which is a credit to all of them. He has had enough reps that if John [Harbaugh] decides to play him, and we decide to go that way, we feel he could manage the game. As I’ve said, the most significant part of the week has been the way the three of them have handled the situation and worked together to try to optimize the understanding of our game plan and getting it accomplished.”

* Baltimore DC Dean Pees on the Steelers: "What’s really bad is when the fourth fastest receiver is their best one. I think No. 84 is probably the slowest of all four of them if they’re just running. I don’t know. They’re all so darn fast. And then there's [Heath] Miller. The whole thing that makes it go is No. 7, who is playing outstanding football as a quarterback – as good as I’ve ever seen him play. If you really watch the film and watch the games as of late, he doesn’t scramble nearly as much as he used to. I don’t think that’s because he can’t. I think that’s because it's designed. He knows where to go with the ball, and it’s getting there fast. He is playing as good, if not – to me, right now – the best of any quarterback in the league.”

* Steelers DC Keith Butler isn't too proud to learn from a master. He was excited when Mike Tomlin invited his old boss at Tampa Bay, Monte Kiffin, to watch practice this week and offer coaching advice on the Steelers' unique version of the "Tampa 2" defense. "He's kind of adjusting to us a little bit because we're a 34 front and he's always been a 4-3 guy," Butler said. "He likes it because it's a little bit more versatile. You don't have to teach those defensive ends to stand up and drop and stuff like that in fire zone, so he likes that part of it. And I think it's a little more versatile than a 4-3. He's been a joy to be around for the last couple of days."

PARTING SHOT

"I don't want to say nothin'. We've got a game to win." -- Steelers NT Steve McLendon.


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