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11-06-2011, 08:56 AM
Game 9 Matchup: Steelers vs. Ravens

Gerry Dulac looks at the showdown atop the AFC North
Sunday, November 06, 2011


When the Ravens have the ball: The offense has been inconsistent because of QB Joe Flacco, but one constant remains: RB Ray Rice, who is averaging 123.1 yards of offense per game. Rice set the tone in the first meeting when had a 36-yard run on the first play from scrimmage and finished with 107 yards rushing and 42 receiving. They switched to a zone-blocking run scheme this year and they cut NT Casey Hampton with the backside guard on eight of their first 26 run plays. The Steelers have slowly tightened their run defense, holding opponents to an average of 78.8 ypg and 3.9 ypc in the past four games. The Steelers had CB Ike Taylor follow newly signed Lee Evans in the first meeting and held him without a catch. But WR Anquan Boldin caught four for 74 yards, including a 27-yard TD. The Steelers secondary, ranked No. 1 against the pass, allowed four passes of 20 yards or longer in the opener. Since then, they have allowed 11 in eight games.


When the Steelers have the ball: The offense will go from facing the lowest-ranked defense in the league (Patriots) to the No. 1 ranked defense. The Ravens lead the NFL in fewest points per game (15.7) and yards per game (263.3) and have an AFC-best 25 sacks. The Steelers turned the ball over seven times in the first meeting (four fumbles, three interceptions), but have committed just two turnovers in their four-game win streak. The Steelers have never quite figured out how to handle DE Terrell Suggs, who had three sacks, two forced fumbles and a tackle for loss in the first meeting. In 13 games against the Steelers, including playoffs, he has 131/2 sacks, 19 tackles and 8 assists. He will be lined mostly against LT Max Starks. Suggs had 13 tackles and a sack last week against the Cardinals. WR Hines Ward (ankle) will return after missing last week's game, but WR Emmanuel Sanders will not play because of the death of his mother.


S Ed Reed ... He has only two interceptions in seven games and both came against the Steelers in the season opener. That is a rarity in itself for Reed, who has an NFL-best 56 interceptions and 13 touchdowns since coming into the league in 2002. Reed had never been much of a factor in nine previous games against Ben Roethlisberger, intercepting him just once in 2006. But both interceptions killed scoring drives because they came at the Ravens 1- and 5-yard lines, respectively.


The Ravens won the first meeting in the season opener, 35-7, and won last year's regular-season meeting at Heinz Field. That is their only victory at Heinz Field in the past six meetings, including postseason. The Ravens have won three consecutive games against division opponents, but the Steelers have won seven in a row at home, including postseason. ... The Steelers are 10-5 at home against the Ravens... The Ravens have swept the season series just once (2006). ... Even with the blowout in Week 1, eight of the past 10 games in the series have been decided by a touchdown or less.


To win, the Ravens must ...

1 Go twice to Rice. No sense deviating from what they did in the first meeting when he combined for 149 yards and scored two TDs.

2 Ben(d) but don't break. Roethlisberger has been the AFC's hottest passer, averaging 288.5 yards and nearly three TDs in the past four games.

3 Zone out. They were able to run the ball in the first meeting by cutting Hampton and DE Aaron Smith with their zone-blocking schemes.

To win, the Steelers must ...

1 Whack-o Flacco. He was sacked just once and under little pressure in the first meeting, but he has been sacked eight times in the past three games

2 Plug Suggs. He has made a career of disrupting the Steelers offense, registering 81/2 sacks in the past four games against them.

3 See what Brown can do for you. WR Antonio Brown has made up for the occasional wrong route by catching 16 passes for 168 yards in the past two games.

Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com; twitter: @gerrydulac

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