Key Match-ups: Steelers-Ravens

Neal Coolong examines the key match-ups in today's game between the World Champion Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens.

WR Santonio Holmes vs. Ravens Secondary

Holmes eats the Ravens up, plain and simple. With six touchdowns in the past four meetings (including one in the AFC Championship game that was called back), Baltimore has to be cautious with Holmes, who needs 247 yards in Pittsburgh's remaining two games to break the franchise record for receiving yards in a season.

Baltimore will likely be without All-Pro FS Ed Reed, meaning Dawan Landry will play the free while Tom Zbikowski will handle strong safety duties. Holmes makes his big plays in space, and he'll likely work underneath to exploit a slower Ravens secondary.

ILB James Farrior vs. RB Ray Rice

Rice gashed the Steelers for 155 total yards on 24 touches (19 carries, five receptions) including a 44-yard reception which set up the game-tying field goal. Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau said after the game he had Farrior out of position on the play, which looked very similar to a run Rice made in last year's AFC Championship game. Both times, Rice eluded Farrior and came up with a big gain.

Farrior is an excellent tackler, but he must be wary of the amount of weapons Rice has in his arsenal. He's powerful, fast and quick, and even the slightest miscalculation on his pursuit angle will likely result in a big play for the Ravens.

RB Rashard Mendenhall vs. ILB Ray Lewis

Mendenhall ran the ball as well as any Steelers running back has against Baltimore in the past several years. His 95 yards were critical in a tight game, but the real problem was Pittsburgh's lack of protection against Lewis's blitz. He mauled Mewelde Moore on more than one occasion, and Moore's blatant hold of Lewis negated a 23-yard reception by Holmes on 3rd-and-18.

Lewis brought chaos most of the game, and with Pittsburgh showing vulnerability in the middle of their offensive line, Mendenhall will have to stand in against Lewis and take him head-on. Mendenhall will receive 20+ touches in this game as well, and will have to identify blitzes quickly and prepare to be QB Ben Roethlisberger's emergency outlet.

CB Deshea Townsend vs. WRs Mark Clayton and Kelley Washington

Townsend will get his first start of the year over William Gay, and will likely find himself matched up with Clayton. Clayton is questionable for the game with a knee injury, but Washington has similar top-end speed, and is a lot bigger. The Ravens really don't look to their third receiver for much (Washington has a little more than half the amount of plays Clayton, the No. 2 receiver, does), but Baltimore looked for Clayton deep a few times in their first meeting this year. Washington could keep that presence on the field, should Clayton be unable to play.

Townsend will cover the slot receiver (likely Washington and Demetrius Williams) in the nickel package, which was his assignment the last time a Steeler cornerback got an interception. Townsend picked Flacco off in the second quarter of the AFC Championship 15 games ago.

The Coolong Scorecard
Steelers Unit Ravens
x Quarterback  
  Running backs x
  Offensive line x
x Wide receivers  
x Tight ends  
  Defensive line x
x Linebackers  
  Defensive backs x
  Special teams x

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