Usually, the regular season games between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens are fun to watch because it’s one of the best and most competitive rivalries in the NFL. They basically play each other like it’s a playoff game. Terrell Suggs was even quoted as saying this game “is a duel of gladiators”. So what happens when these two meet in the actual playoffs against each other? A better question is how do you turn up the physicality on a series that is already one of the most brutal rivalries in the NFL? I fear for the safety of the teams because turning up the intensity on a fierce rivalry is going to lead to something spectacular.
I respect them. They’re great ballplayers, and to say I played against Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and those guys, it’s a huge honor because I know what type of competitors they are. But you won’t see me and Ray texting each other before the game wishing him good luck. – Hines Ward
Keys For The Steelers
Offensively, the Steelers need to play avoid turnovers. This can have several benefits like wearing down the Ravens defense with extended drives and also help out in the field possession battle, but most importantly it will ensure that they don’t give Baltimore easy points. They also need to get the running game going which has been stagnant over the past few games. Rashard Mendenhall has had a good season overall, but he’s had games where he averages 2 yards per carry and games where he averages well over 5 yards per carry. The worse the run game is the more passes Roethlisberger will need to throw which is where he usually starts throwing interceptions and try to do too much. Defensively, the Steelers need to stop Ray Rice. The Steelers run defense ranks 1st in the NFL only allowing under 63 yards rushing per game. They also need to get pressure on Joe Flacco. He had a solid season this year, but I question if he’s good enough to win a playoff game when he has added pressure. The Steelers defense finished the regular season with the most sacks this season so it’s more so a question of when they get to Flacco, not if. If they can get Flacco to force bad decisions, Troy Polamalu can sneak up closer to the line of scrimmage and either come on a blitz or wait to pick off a pass in the zone. The more active they can get their playmakers the better.
Keys For The Ravens
Offensively, the Ravens need to stay balanced and run the ball. Even though Pittsburgh has the best run defense in the NFL by a wide margin, they still need to try and keep them honest. Ray Rice also has the ability to break off a long run so they could get lucky. The less pressure Joe Flacco has this game the better. As far as their strategy goes, they need to dink and dunk the Steelers to death. Expect to see lots of Todd Heap and Ray Rice in teh receiving game. As long as they can get positive yards and not take any major losses, Baltimore should be fine. This will require that they play flawless and mistake-free football against a rival which is never easy. Defensively, the Ravens need to take away the deep pass from Big Ben. He loves throwing deep to Mike Wallace who has the second biggest yards per catch behind Desean Jackson. Ed Reed needs to play center field and not let anyone get behind him which he did a good job of in the wild card game against Kansas City. Knowing Ben’s overconfidence in his arm, Reed should be able to turn it into an interception or two. They will also need to get pressure on Roethlisberger which is something the Ravens surprisingly struggled at this season. Someone other than Terrell Suggs needs to be able to create pressure and collapse the pocket; he’s been the only one who consistently gets pressure.
This game is a complete toss-up. I saw a statistic on ESPN that showed over the last eight or nine seasons, the Ravens and Steelers have won the same number of games against each other and have also scored within a few points of each other in those games. They have similar styles of offenses and defenses as well as overall philosophies. As much as I want to say Pittsburgh because of their amazing run defense, I think Roethlisberger has an uncharacteristic week riddled with turnovers. I’m going with Baltimore this week in the upset; either way it should be a defensive game where the final possession will determine the winner which seems to be the general trend between these two.
Baltimore – 16
Pittsburgh – 13