Last year, the group that got the better of the matchup ended up winning the game. Pittsburgh's receivers dominated in a 34-15 shellacking of the Ravens at Heinz Field in the season opener. Baltimore's secondary ruled the day in a 13-10 overtime victory over the Steelers in the regular-season finale.
As the Steelers (1-0) put in their game plan for Sunday's contest at Baltimore (1-0), they know the Ravens will likely match the 6-1 McAlister on 6-5 wide receiver Plaxico Burress. And if McAlister can hold his own in that battle, it will allow the Ravens more freedom to double team Hines Ward and slot receiver Antwaan Randle El.
In the season opener last year, the Ravens didn't have much success with that defense as Burress got the better of McAlister, catching six passes for 116 yards. That opened things up for Ward, who had nine receptions for 91 yards and a pair of scores.
"McAlister has pretty much matched up against Plax," said Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox. "I'm not sure how they'll do it this game. We didn't score (an offensive touchdown) down there, so they did a pretty good job."
McAlister held Burress to one catch for 13 yards in that game, while Ward had a season-low two receptions and 11 yards. Randle El led the team with six receptions, but had just 41 yards.
Baltimore has added a new dimension to its defense, coaxing Deion Sanders out of a three-year retirement to be its third cornerback.
Sanders, who has 48 career interceptions, took part in 15 plays in Baltimore's 20-3 loss last week at Cleveland. He is expected to see additional playing time against the Steelers.
"I have seen a lot of commentary, by a lot of people, that are making a lot of observations about where (Sanders) is physically that aren't qualified to do so," Baltimore head coach Brian Billick said. "He looks pretty good. He's in tremendous shape.
"You worry about all your players holding up under the grind in a 16-week season, but he seems to be in excellent shape and we are continuing to dole out his responsibilities. … With the amount of three wides I would anticipate seeing from Pittsburgh, which is a standard part of their progression, I imagine he could see anywhere from 20 to 25 snaps this game."
Randle El expects to see Sanders the most.
"I'm expecting him to cover me because of our sets," said Randle El. "He looked pretty good on the film we watched. But I'm just going to play my game. I'm not going to change what I do because Deion Sanders is covering me."
The Steelers aren't going to alter their game plan to either stay away from or test the 37-year-old Sanders.
"We're not going to change our game plan for Deion," Ward said of the future Hall of Famer. "We're going to go out and establish our run game like we've been doing. When we do get an opportunity to pass it down the field, we've got to take advantage of it. We're not going to change our game plan to do something towards Deion. He's a great athlete, but we want to control what we can control."
Battle on the edge
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