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Steelers hoping to rocket out of bye

A history lesson, tape review, prediction, complete breakdown and much more in this Steelers-Ravens game day preview.

MEMORABLE SERIES MOMENT

Steelers 23, Ravens 20

Dec. 2, 2012 at M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore

Ben Roethlisberger has missed 22 games in his 13-year career and seven of those have been Baltimore Ravens games. He's never come back from missing a previous game to play against the Ravens, although Sunday he's listed as questionable and is expected to play. In 2012, Roethlisberger missed three games with a shoulder/sternum injury. He returned the week after Charlie Batch guided the Steelers to this win at Baltimore. Trailing by as much as 13-3 late in the first half, the Steelers tied the game in the third quarter on a 16-yard run by Jonathan Dwyer, who was sprung by Batch's block. But an Emmanuel Sanders fumble set up Ray Rice's 34-yard touchdown run and the Ravens regained the lead at 20-13. A James Harrison tomahawk sack-strip of Joe Flacco set the Steelers up with the ball at the Baltimore 27, from where the Steelers drove for the tying touchdown -- Heath Miller's signature 7-yard catch, run and dive to the pylon with 7:24 remaining. A three-and-out by the Ravens was followed by a 12-play, 61-yard drive that ended with a 42-yard Shaun Suisham field goal at the gun.

TOP QUESTION

Can the Steelers stop the run?

Cam Heyward is expected back and the big man should help alleviate a sieve-like run defense that's allowing 4.7 yards per carry this season. The Ravens -- to the dismay of Terrell Suggs and probably many in his locker room -- have cut Justin Forsett and replaced him with Terrance West, who was held to 10 yards last game by the Jets, but who had rushed for 87, 95 and 113 yards in the three previous games. "They’re not real complicated in terms of their running game," said Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler. "They’re just running the zone stretch and trying to make you defend the entire field, instead of making the cutback immediately. The running back does a good job of picking holes and they do a good job of getting people on the ground. ... If we stay off the ground, we’ll play good defense."

THREE QUESTIONS: With C MAURKICE POUNCEY

Q: Terrell Suggs said you're the most likely to jump on the Ravens bus to look for a fight. Do you agree?

MP: "(Laughs) He's trying to soak me in, get me in trouble. I play football, but if other guys take it past football then hell yeah I would have to. Me, personally."

Q: Any good, maybe funny, stories about playing the Ravens?

MP: "I do remember a lot of scruffles out there but nothing funny. We don't really talk during the game. The only time there's any talking is when guys are right there ready to fight. After the game it's all respect. We know it's supposed to be like that in a division game, in a rivalry."

Q: You guys have lost four of the last five to them. Is there any kind of anger in this locker room?

MP: "Well, we've both been on losing streaks, so we're both going to come out there fighting. I know that we've got to get ready to play. But it's going to be fun. It's like being in college looking for the rivalry game. Georgia and Florida State made it fun. That's what football's all about to me. But if it gets chippy out there, be by that bus."

GAME BREAKDOWN

What to look for from the Steelers at 1 p.m. at M&T Bank Stadium:

ON OFFENSE:

Le'Veon Bell should be the key for an offense that will have either a Roethlisberger with limited mobility or backup Landry Jones at quarterback. Bell averages 4.8 yards per carry against the Ravens, up from 4.3 against the rest of the league. But the way each quarterback answered a question about leaning on Bell indicates the different styles we're likely to see. Said Jones: "I don’t really have to do a whole lot, just turn around and hand him the ball and watch the show from there." Roethlisberger put it this way: "There are multiple ways you can get him the ball. It’s not just line up in the 'I' and hand it to him right and left. We can move him around. We can throw him the ball. We can throw him the ball out of the backfield, and we can throw him the ball from the slot, different places, so there are multiple ways you can get a guy like that the ball." Even a limited Roethlisberger seems intent on throwing the thing, and that would include a speedy trio of receivers in Antonio Brown, a healthy Sammie Coates and a just-promoted Darrius Heyward-Bey.

ON DEFENSE:

Will Gay is questionable with a foot injury and rookie Artie Burns will replace him as the starting outside corner. That's not much of a change, since Burns has been the outside corner in the oft-used nickel, but if Gay can't play that likely means the re-appearance in the shot -- in nickel -- of another rookie, Sean Davis. That's two rookies in the secondary against Steve Smith, Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman. Those three match the Steelers' trio with the crafty vet and two burners. If the Ravens' back-to-health offensive line gives Joe Flacco time, the Steelers corners will be tested.

PREDICTION

If Roethlisberger plays, as expected, it could turn into a shootout. But the Ravens have the better secondary and the better pass rush and they've also got the healthier quarterback. The Steelers should attempt to ground the game a bit by handing the ball to Bell 25 times, but that doesn't seem to be in the plan, so logic tells us the Ravens will win for the sixth time in the last seven meetings. Ravens, 27-23.

BY THE NUMBERS

1: Touchdowns scored by Antonio Brown in 13 career games against the Ravens. "We’ve moved him in every spot imaginable," said offensive coordinator Todd Haley. "Maybe there was a little element of surprise early on with that, but now, three to five years later, as he has become one of the elite guys in the league, they know where he is at all times."

8: Days remaining to activate Ladarius Green from the PUP list, if, as expected, the Steelers don't activate him for this game. Green would need either an injury by another tight end or a monumental improvement at practice to be activated by the deadline and play this season.

12: Games between these teams, out of the last 16, that have been decided by three or fewer points.

18: Number of field goals converted by Ravens kicker Justin Tucker in 18 attempts this season. He's one of three perfect kickers in the NFL and has made 22 of 23 career attempts against the Steelers.

121.9: Average yards per game from scrimmage by Le'Veon Bell in his four-year career.

125.5: Average yards per game from scrimmage by Jim Brown, the only player in NFL history with a higher average than Bell.

151: Consecutive regular-season games played by Will Gay, an NFL high among active cornerbacks.

DOWNLOADS

* Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco isn't exactly tearing it up. He's been sacked 15 times and his passer rating of 75.4 is worse than even his 2008 rookie-season rating of 80.3. Terrell Suggs was asked about the difference in Flacco between this season and that. "There's NOT!" Suggs hollered. "I think he's gotten better from when he first got here, but he's definitely still cool. He don't really get rattled by too much of anything. But one other thing I do like about him, he's cussing out his receivers now."

* Mike Wallace will play today against the Steelers for the second time since he spent his first four years with the team. The speedy wide receiver caught two passes for 19 yards for the Miami Dolphins in their win at Heinz Field in 2013. Wallace is in his first season with the Ravens and has caught 35 passes at 14 yards per catch with three touchdowns. With the Steelers, Wallace averaged 17.2 yards per catch and averaged eight touchdowns per season. "They use him a little bit more inside sometimes," said defensive coordinator Keith Butler. "He’s still stretching the field. That’s what he does well. They’ll put him in the flat sometimes, but for the most part they want to try to go deep with him."

* The Ravens are the No. 3 run defense in the NFL, but last game the Jets gouged them for 155 yards behind Matt Forte's 100 yards on 30 carries. "The Jets are a pretty good running team," said Le'Veon Bell. "I think they kind of chipped away at them. If you run at a defense for a certain amount of time, everybody's going to break down eventually. I think they're going to try to discourage the run early and we've got to do our best to have our game plan set and going and continue to run the ball even if we're getting 1 and 2 at a time. We'll have our 15 and our 20-yard runs near the end of the game. We've just got to stick to the run and keep it going."

* Markus Wheaton -- like Cam Heyward and Marcus Gilbert -- has returned to the Steelers practice field, but unlike the others Wheaton has been used primarily on the scout team as Darrius Heyward-Bey has been promoted to the first group. Said Haley: "The way you get back and get yourself in the mix is hard work, and a lot of that comes on the card team. You’ve seen guys just all of a sudden start to show up consistently, and you know that it’s probably getting to be that time."

PARTING SHOT

"You make big plays when you do what you’re supposed to do. And you get in position to make big plays because you do what you’re supposed to do. What sometimes happens with young guys, especially, is they’re trying to force themselves to make plays and you end up letting the entire defense down by not doing your job." -- Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler, whose defense hasn't made many big plays.


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