There is no doubt the Pittsburgh Steelers are tough at home, and they are even tougher at home in the playoffs. Adding in QB Ben Roethlisberger, who has given the Baltimore Ravens fits, it seems like this will be an uphill battle. But you can throw out stats and records whenever these two teams meet. The fact is, they play tight games and it always comes down to a few critical plays being the deciding factor.
OFFENSIVE GAME PLAN
It was great seeing Joe Flacco and the offense finally have a good game in the Wild Card match-up. Flacco stepped up and he was determined to help get the offense on track. This week they will need to play even better and it starts with keeping Joe Flacco protected.
Counter the Blitz, Play Calling
How do the Ravens counter the Steelers pressure style (zone-blitz) defense? One way is the unbalanced line which we saw in the Wild-Card game with Tony Moll lined up as a extra tackle. Another is adding a tight end at the line of scrimmage or keeping the running back in the backfield to help block or chip block the pass rusher.
The reality is there is only so much you can do to stop a good pass rush. Of course the one-on-one match-up’s at the line will be critical. LT Michael Oher and RT Marshal Yanda have to recognize the blitz and win their individual match-ups. What’s probably the deciding factor in helping take pressure off of Flacco in the pocket is the play calling. That entails fast developing plays for positive yards:
Get the Ball to the Playmakers
The quicker Flacco gets the football to his playmakers, the better. That means the crossing routes, the slants, underneath routes, the quick outs worked well last Sunday. Anquan Boldin and Todd Heap had a huge day in the Wild Card Match-up– these are the types of seasoned veterans (along with Mason and Houshmandzadeh) you want to have on the field in games like the one come Sunday.
RB Ray Rice has also given the Steeler linebackers problems in the both the run and passing game; the passes to the flat and circle routes have worked well.
Another strategy that seems to work well with the Ravens is the ‘no huddle’, ‘hurry up’ and ‘shotgun’ sets. Flacco is a rhythm passer, so Cam Cameron needs to let Flacco get into rhythm by pushing the tempo.
DEFENSIVE GAME PLAN
Contain Pittsburgh’s Playmakers
Ray Lewis has this unit dialed in and unlike last year heading into the playoffs the corners are healthy. The last two years the secondary had been pretty banged up into the playoffs missing at least a one starting cornerback. It’s nice to see the secondary finally intact for this playoff run.
As always, a key matching up against Ben Roethlisberger is pressure and containment. The defensive not only has to bring a pass rush but also have contain Roethlisberger; he’s just too dangerous on the run inside and outside the pocket. Give Roethlisberger a second chance after missing a sure sack or a blitzer taking a wrong angle to the elusive quarterback just can’t be afforded.
While Ray Lewis and the front seven will be determined to stop the running game of Rahshard Mendenhall, the the secondary will need to contain the Steelers’ receiver Mike Wallace. Wallace is the deep threat and has the ability to blow the game wide open with his speed. The other playmaker is TE Heath Miller, a favorite target for Big Ben. The linebackers must be physical with Miller to push him off his routes. You might even expect CB Chris Carr cover the tight end on passing downs.
EXTRA POINT: Ravens Secondary Providing Stability
Cornerbacks Chris Carr, Josh Wilson and Lardarius Webb have exceeded expectations this season. SS Dwan Landry who had an interception in Kansas City has also elevated his game and is being used to attack the run consistently. Factor in the ‘ballhawk’ FS Ed Reed and the unit has shaped up to be a pretty darn good one considering that some experts thought this unit would be the downfall of the team.