View Full Version : Scouts Inc Steelers @ Ravens Preview and Prediction

12-12-2008, 01:49 PM
Pittsburgh sits atop the AFC North, but Baltimore is nipping at the Steelers' heels. After a convincing victory over Washington in Week 14, the Ravens have won seven of their past eight games. This divisional showdown features arguably the two best defenses in the league, so points will be tough to come by. In the first meeting of the season, in Pittsburgh, the Steelers edged out Baltimore 23-20. It would be a surprise if there were that many points scored in the rematch, although Baltimore rookie Joe Flacco is a far superior quarterback now compared to what he was then.

When Pittsburgh has the ball
Gaining yardage through the air or on the ground is a very difficult chore against the Ravens. Rex Ryan is one of the top defensive minds in the league and the Ravens' front office has supplied him with plenty of versatile players to allow him to run multiple looks with the option of switching in and out of 3-4 and 4-3 alignments with either man or zone principles on the back end. Ryan is very creative with his use of personnel and will dial up pressure from all three levels with little predictability. Meanwhile, the Ravens allow a measly 3.4 yards per rushing attempt and Pittsburgh could only muster 69 yards on the ground at home against Baltimore earlier this season. Expect Pittsburgh to use a lot of three wide receiver sets with TE Heath Miller and a back to help with blitz support. That would force the Ravens to take a potent front-seven player off the field and replace him with another member of their suspect secondary. Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger operates very well out of the shotgun and in the no-huddle offense and the Steelers may chose to control the tempo with that approach. The Steelers also prefer to use a lot of double-tight end sets on early downs and Miller is a difference-maker, but the Ravens are exceptional at limiting the tight end production. Pittsburgh's heavy-footed offensive line is better blocking for the run than the pass and has done a nice job with its power schemes of late, but only three teams average fewer yards per carry than the Steelers' 3.6. Roethlisberger is going to have to play a tremendous game to escape Baltimore with a Pittsburgh victory.

When Baltimore has the ball
Remarkably, the Steelers still have not allowed an opposing offense to net more than 300 yards in a game this season. Pittsburgh is shutting down the run and the pass with incredible consistency. They allow very few big plays and are physical yet sound in all respects of playing defense. Baltimore has scored 24 or more points in seven if its last eight games and as good as Flacco has been -- and his development has been tremendous on a week-to-week basis -- this is still a run-first offense. The Ravens are less predictable than in their first meeting with the Steelers, though. Baltimore gets very few big plays from the rushing attack but sticks with it and can beat defenses down with a power-zone rushing attack. Flacco has rare arm strength and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has done a particularly good job of utilizing that attribute to attack opposing defenses all over the field. Preparing to defend the entire field is a difficult chore for any defense, even one as fast and well-coached as Pittsburgh's. Flacco certainly didn't light it up last week, throwing for just 134 yards, but he did lead the Ravens to another victory. He is playing within himself while continuing to mature at a rapid pace. That is especially important this week, as the Steelers caused five turnovers last week and always present the threat of creating big plays on defense.

Matchup to watch

Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger vs. Baltimore FS Ed Reed

Reed is probably the league's best ball hawk and makes big plays at an impressive rate. He had two interceptions last week, taking one back for a touchdown, and also forced a fumble. Despite consistent turnover in the Ravens' secondary, Reed has put together another tremendous season and has been a rock on the back end of Baltimore's tremendous defense. Roethlisberger is a risk-taker, and although he has done a much better job of protecting the football lately he could end up pressing the issue in this game if it is a defensive struggle as expected. Taking unnecessary risks in Reed's direction is a very bad idea.

Keys to

Confuse and hurry Flacco: Although he is a rookie this will not be an easy chore, but the Steelers' blitz packages are a lot for any signal-caller to handle from a mental perspective. The strength of the Ravens' offensive line is on the interior and the Steelers fantastic pair of 3-4 outside linebackers surely will give Baltimore's edge protection all it can handle. The Steelers had five sacks in the last meeting, including two-and-a-half by ROLB James Harrison, who is playing like a future Defensive Player of the Year. Baltimore will often have to give the edge protectors help against Harrison and LOLB LaMarr Woodley. That might open up blitz possibilities up the middle, which will force Flacco to respond very quickly in finding his hot receivers. Flacco is more comfortable in the shotgun and running the no-huddle, which could buy him time to diagnose what Pittsburgh throws at him. Flacco is mobile for such a tall quarterback and Cameron will get him on the move at times with waggles and designed roll-outs to help the Ravens protect. A new wrinkle for Pittsburgh has been lining Woodley and Harrison up on the same side. Harrison had a sack and created yet another fumble out of this formation last week. Baltimore's running backs are also adept pass protectors but will still be tested heavily this week. Baltimore did not allow a sack last week but the Steelers' defense has a league-best 45 sacks on the season. It will be a big challenge for a quarterback who has only started 14 NFL games, none as big as this one.

Account for and limit Haloti Ngata: Like most 3-4 nose tackles, the work that Ngata does cannot always be seen on the stat sheet. He occupies the middle of the field tremendously well, though, and makes the life of everyone around him, especially LBs Ray Lewis and Bart Scott, much easier. However, Ngata is far more than just a two-gapg nose tackle. Ryan asks a lot out of him and Ngata responds with glowing results. He can line up at any interior line position and use a two-gap technique to occupy space or use his tremendous quickness to abruptly penetrate the A or B gaps. None of the Steelers' interior offensive linemen are a good match for him in one-on-one situations. Ngata actually lined up at linebacker some last week and comes in on offense as a tight end in Baltimore's short-yardage situations. He is truly an amazing specimen and the Ravens are wisely creating more ways to use this tremendous talent becayse he can change a game.

Win the running game: Running room is going to be extremely sparse for both offenses. Baltimore usually gets yards from the quantity of carries rather than the quality of runs, while the Steelers too often drift away from their rushing attack when it isn't initially thriving. Much like Baltimore, Pittsburgh will have to use more than one runner to accomplish this goal. Willie Parker has been tough to count on, but he also has looked powerful and explosive at times recently. Mewelde Moore runs with good vision but isn't able to push the pile or consistently break long runs. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians must stay dedicated to this portion of his offense or he risks making Roethlisberger easy prey against a ferocious Baltimore pass rush. Pittsburgh had just 66 yards rushing last week and Parker was only able to muster 25 yards on 12 carries, but Arians also clearly got away from this portion of the Steelers' attack against the Cowboys. It should also be noted that the Steelers short-yardage ineffectiveness is as glaring a weakness as ever.

Keys to

Pound the rock: It may seem futile at times against the Steelers' defense, but the Ravens' offense is not properly equipped to become one-dimensional against Pittsburgh's blitz packages so patience in the run game is crucial. RB Willis McGahee got the start last week but was out of sorts and did little to impress. He also hurt his shoulder and it would be surprising if he sees a heavy load this week. It could be argued that he is the worst of three options for Baltimore's rushing attack. Rookie Ray Rice will be the change-of-pace guy and offers the most big-play potential of the group. And although he isn't dynamic, it has become clear that Le'Ron McLain the best option as Baltimore's lead back. He is true power runner who drags tacklers and runs with a nasty edge. The Ravens are at their best on offense when they can feed off the running game and incorporate play-action passing. That is unlikely to be an option this week, though, as the Steelers are allowing a league-best 3.2 yards per rush. The Ravens run a high percentage of the time and this is even more true when they reach the red zone. The Ravens also like to use an unbalanced line and are now throwing out of that set more often than early in the season. It was a tactic they used last week, not only going unbalanced but also bringing in a third tackle for another added wrinkle and more sheer mass.

Spread the ball around: Derrick Mason is clearly Flacco's go-to receiver, but the rookie is doing a better job of spreading the ball around to keep defenses off-balance. Mason had a big day when these teams met last, with eight catches for 137 yards. Pittsburgh has put Ike Taylor on Terrell Owens and Randy Moss over the past two weeks and tends to match him on opposing No 1. wideouts with very good results. Mason is an excellent route-runner who sets up defenders well, but getting away from Taylor is a difficult chore. Mark Clayton has also stepped up his game and is the best big-play option that Baltimore has. The Steelers are terrific at taking away the big play, however, and Flacco will be forced to be patient and efficient. TE Todd Heap has had a down year but is a proven commodity, but Pittsburgh has been exceptional against opposing tight ends. However, the Ravens are featuring Heap more out of their unbalanced look.

Create turnovers: The Ravens are going to have to create a big play or two with their fierce defense to win this football game. Baltimore has picked off a league-leading 22 passes this year and has also done an outstanding job with returns after securing the football. Roethlisberger has thrown 14 touchdowns against 14 interceptions but that doesn't tell the story of just how well he is playing right now. He is certainly prone to mistakes but is valuing the football much better of late and understands what a tremendous asset his great defense is. However, Roethlisberger will face a lot of pressure in Baltimore. The Steelers allowed five sacks last week and Baltimore is exceptional with their overload blitz calls and often puts a protection scheme in a position where it is outnumbered. While Roethlisberger is a difficult quarterback to get on the ground, only four offenses have allowed more sacks than Pittsburgh.

Scouts Edge
This is a much more even game than the Scouts Inc. advantage would indicate. These are two confident and mentally tough football teams. It is unlikely that either team will run the ball with much success, which will in turn put the onus on the shoulders of each respective quarterback. As impressive as Flacco has been in his rookie season that advantage has to go to Roethlisberger. But as the Redskins found out on Sunday Night, Baltimore is a very tough place to play and communication on the offensive side of the ball can be problematic. The Ravens have lost just one game at home this season and have won five in a row at home against Pittsburgh. Of the offensive and defensive units, Pittsburgh's offense has to be considered the worst of the four right now, but Roethlisberger is a tremendous winner who excels when the chips are down and he simply finds ways to win. It will not be pretty, but Pittsburgh edges out the Ravens and put a choke hold on the AFC North in a great game.

Pittsburgh 17
Baltimore 16

:ratsuck :ratsuck :ratsuck

12-12-2008, 05:20 PM
Aren't Ray Rice and Willis McGahee quiestionable for the game this Sunday? Or, at least, nicked up? Even with them they probably wouldn't have a whole lot of success running the ball; but, without them that leaves La'Ron McClain and someone whose name I don't know.

Yes Sir!


12-12-2008, 05:26 PM
The one Raven that will give this team problems is Derrick Mason.

He reminds me of this 50 year old guy that used to play basketball with us when I was in college. We were all way more athletic than the guy. We were better ball players. But this guy was just crafty. And for some reason, we could never stop the guy.

12-12-2008, 06:29 PM
The one Raven that will give this team problems is Derrick Mason.

He reminds me of this 50 year old guy that used to play basketball with us when I was in college. We were all way more athletic than the guy. We were better ball players. But this guy was just crafty. And for some reason, we could never stop the guy.
That's called experience. I use it in my dojang all the time. All the young ones are way faster and more agile than me but they still can't beat me. I can anticipate and read better than all of them.

I guess Mason just knows our flaws better than anyone else.