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|11-25-2006, 10:44 PM||#1|
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Friday, November 24, 2006
By BOB LABRIOLA
The following are some of the interesting match-ups to watch when the Steelers visit Baltimore for a 1 p.m. game against the Ravens on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:
STEELERS KICK COVERAGE VS. RAVENS KR B.J. SAMS: This is a classic matchup of a strength vs. a weakness, and Sams is most definitely the strength. Sams comes into the game as the No. 3 punt returner in the NFL and as the No. 6 kickoff returner, and none of the other top guys does both. "He's a Pro Bowl returner, as a punt returner and kickoff returner," said Coach Bill Cowher about Sams. "They have created outstanding field position. Where we are right now, we're going to have a big challenge because our coverage team has not been very good. That's going to play a big part. He's a guy who makes people miss. He has outstanding vision. He has strength. He has everything you're looking for. They have a very good kicking game." When Cowher was asked whether he might consider adding more starters to the coverage units, he said, "I'm considering anything and everything. Something has to change somewhere and somehow. The results right now are not where they need to be. It's disappointing. I understand this time of the year, with the kicking game outside. Unless you have one of those guys in this league who are just kickoff guys, you're going to have to deal with the field position being higher. But you can't give up the returns that we gave up (in Cleveland). You go back to New Orleans, we gave up a 50-yard return there. Denver was the best kickoff coverage that we've had all year. It seems like there has been those one or two returns every game and that's not acceptable at this point." And as has been the case with many of the Steelers other problems this season, it has been something different that has broken down each week.
STEELERS LOLB CLARK HAGGANS AND DE AARON SMITH VS. RAVENS RT TONY PASHOS AND RG KEYDRICK VINCENT: As the 2006 NFL season dawned, it appeared as though perennial All-Pro Jonathan Ogden had joined the ranks of the human. Long considered the best left tackle in football, Ogden seemed to be slowing a bit, and while his level of play still was good enough to start for just about any team, he didn't look to be what he once was. Well, that certainly has changed, and while Coach Brian Billick is exaggerating when he says Ogden is playing better this year then he did in his prime, Ogden is playing at an All-Pro level. That means the Steelers defense will need to hold its own against the Ravens' left side and make hay against the right side. What Ogden is to NFL left tackles, Aaron Smith is to NFL 3-4 defensive ends ? he's always in the right spot and does the correct thing on every play. Smith and Haggans, who leads the team with 5.5 sacks, have to make life difficult for Vincent and Pashos, and then by extension, for Jamal Lewis and Steve McNair.
STEELERS PK JEFF REED VS. RAVENS PK MATT STOVER: While Stover is 17-of-18 this year with his lone miss from 42 yards, Reed is 12-of-17 and has missed from 28, 40 and 35 yards. Botching scoring opportunities in a game like this is suicide.
STEELERS OTs MARVEL SMITH AND MAX STARKS VS. RAVENS OLBs ADALIUS THOMAS AND TERRELL SUGGS: Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said this about Suggs, but he could have been talking about Thomas, as well: "He's a complete guy. I don't care if you want to count him as a linebacker or a defensive end, whatever. He's a heckuva football player. He plays with great leverage, and he's so much stronger and bigger than opponents anticipate. Ask those tight ends who have to go out and block him when he's playing linebacker. He's a lot to handle. He can tackle, rush the passer, he can cover in the passing game. He does a lot for us." Thomas leads the Ravens with eight sacks, to go with an interception and four passes defensed; Suggs has four sacks, five passes defensed and two forced fumbles. If the Steelers don't find a way to control those guys to some degree, they will not win.
STEELERS QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER VS. RAVENS FS ED REED: Troy Polamalu and Reed are the two best safeties in football, and their teams use them differently. Reed is more of a pure centerfielder, while the Steelers often have Polamalu lurking around the line of scrimmage. The thing the Ravens defense has done very well in the recent past and again this season is score defensive touchdowns, and giving up such scores has been one of the Steelers' major problems in being 4-6 to this point. The Ravens have returned four interceptions for touchdowns, and Roethlisberger has thrown three interceptions that have been returned for touchdowns. If these two tendencies hold through Sunday's game, the Ravens will be at a decided advantage.
STEELERS SECONDARY VS. RAVENS QB STEVE McNAIR: The thing that has made McNair so difficult for opponents is that his best qualities always emerge in the most critical situations in a game. On the whole, his statistics place him in the middle of the pack when it comes to NFL starting quarterbacks, but he always seems to find a way to scramble for that first down in the fourth quarter, or make the throw to convert that crucial third down to keep a scoring drive alive. There can be no relaxing with McNair, regardless of the score, regardless of the down-and-distance, regardless of the time remaining in the game. He still has the skills, the confidence he has instilled in his teammates is a powerful weapon for the Ravens.
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