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Offensive & Defensive Strategies: Steelers vs. Ravens

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Offensive Strategies

Protections & New Formations

Much like their first match-up against the Pittsburgh Steelers, a key for the Baltimore Ravens will be protecting QB Joe Flacco. We all know the Steelers can get after the quarterback, but they will double their efforts after not being able to get Joe Flacco down in the first meeting. The Steelers’ defense is currently tied for second in the NFL with 32 sacks.

Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron will have to be creative because it’s looking like starting FB Le’Ron McClain might not be ready for this game after suffering an ankle sprain in last week’s contest.  In fact, the team signed veteran fullback, Jason McKie, as an insurance policy.

McClain’s role has been instrumental in the run and pass. The good news is that starting  LT Michael Oher did practice on Wednesday, and most are hedging that he should be ready to go on Sunday. It may be safe to assume that Cam Cameron will have to game plan without his starting fullback. The idea will be to protect Flacco and utilize Ray Rice effectively in the run game.

What We Might See

Utilizing the H-back: Cam Cameron might run a two or three tight end set offense. The H-back (a hybrid of a fullback and tight end) can block and line up in the backfield.  In last week’s game, rookie Dennis Pitta was inserted as an H-back after McClain went out with the injury. Todd Heap has also lined up in this formation many times. It was this very formation (with Heap in the backfield as a blocker) that allowed Flacco to throw the game-winning TD to T.J. Housmandzadeh in Pittsburgh. Heap’s execution of blocking the pass-rusher was critical on that play.

Unbalanced line: Cameron has used the unbalanced line a few times this year. In Flacco’s rookie campaign, Cameron used the unbalanced line (lining up the tackles side-by-side to create mismatches in the run game) as the staple formation in the Ravens rushing attack.

Keep Pittsburg’s D Spread Out:

Spread Formation: Another option is to utilize what Joe Flacco has done so well: to work from the shotgun and spread formation, ultimately spreading out Pittsburgh’s defense.  If the Steelers have any weakness, it is their pass defense (ranked 22nd overall). My guess is that the Ravens will see this and possibly attack it with the hurry-up offense.

Ray Rice Factor: Did anyone notice the pass to Rice in the final drive of the game last Sunday against Tampa?  From the backfield, Rice went out for a short pass covered by a bigger defender— a mismatch that resulted in a critical reception. Last year in Baltimore, Cam Cameron used the same play against the Steelers with success on a crucial “4th and 5″ situation. As described by Post-Gazette,  ”A short pass over the line of scrimmage that he (Ray Rice) turned into a 44-yard gain on fourth-and-5 from the Ravens’ 46 with 2:51 remaining. That play resulted in Cundiff’s 24-yard field goal to force overtime.

Rice draws a lot of attention from defenses and, in certain situations, he has the ability to draw the linebackers away from the line of scrimmage— he might find favorable coverage as if a receiver coming out of the backfield.

Defensive Strategies

Contain Ben Roethlisberger

Ed Reed vs. Ben Roethlisberger. This is the most intriguing match-up of the game. Roethlisberger has made a living out of scrambling and making passes outside the pocket.  Ed Reed is healthy and, in his short time back since being off PUP, has compiled 4 interceptions and 9 pass deflections.

The Steelers offensive line lost two starters this year and they have struggled in pass protection. Roethlisberger has been sacked five times for the second time in three games while the Ravens defense played well throughout the past two games. Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison has been aggressive with his pressure packages and showed lots of different looks at the line of scrimmage.

For the Ravens defense, they will need to contain Roethlisberger from getting out of the pocket.