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Insider Only 5 Key Matchups to Watch: Advantage goes to Steelers in several key ones

Steelers – Ravens

Since 2008, the Pittsburgh Steelers are 6-2 against the Baltimore Ravens and psychologically own the Ravens, winning every big game that counts during that span, including two post-season victories in the past three years.
The Steelers have always been the one’s coming up with that big play or two, which becomes the difference in the game. Baltimore though is trying to tell themselves on the belief that the Steelers have been lucky. “They’ve {Pittsburgh} just been really fortunate, Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said on the Jim Rome show this week. If you’ve seen it, it comes down to one or two plays…..Don’t be fooled. Yes, they’ve won, but don’t be fooled. Like people say, ‘Pittsburgh’s won six of the last eight,’ but look at the scores. It’s like one play here and one play there. A lot of those wins could go the other way, ” Suggs said.
Many NFL pundits predict that this in fact will be the year that the Ravens overcome the Steelers and take the AFC North. We don’t see it that way.
Where the Steelers continue to dominante the Ravens is at the most important position on the field, quarterback. That doesn’t figure to change anytime soon.
Ben Roethlisberger is 7-0 against the Ravens since 2007, throwing 12 touchdowns and just 3 interceptions. He’s 6-0 against the Ravens in the Joe Flacco, John Harbaugh era.
Flacco has been rattled when on the same field against Roethlisberger. Flacco threw for just 125 yards in last years divisional round playoff game against Pittsburgh and is prone to that one big mistake as Troy Polamalu has haunted him in his career. Overall, Flacco is 0-6 against Roethlisberger and 2-6 in his career against Pittsburgh. In 6 career losses against Pittsburgh, Flacco has 10 turnovers and a passer rating under 70.0.
Here are 5 Key Matchups to Watch:
1. Steelers WR’s vs Ravens Secondary
A glaring advantage for the Steelers going into Sunday’s game is through the air. The Steelers head into the 2011 regular season with their most explosive offense during the Ben Roethlisberger era. What Roethlisberger has at his disposal is speed on the outside with the likes of Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown.
Roethlisberger primed for a career year, was 21-of-31 for 363 yards this preseason, averaging 11.7 yards per attempt while completing 67.7 percent of his passes. In his career, Roethlisberger has averaged 8.0 yards per attempt (2nd among active QB’s), an often overlooked stat among elite quarterbacks.
The Steelers have a prime opportunity to expose a Ravens secondary that will start rookie Jimmy Smith and Carey Williams, a former practice squad player.
There were indications this week that the Steelers intend to target rookie Jimmy Smith early and often. Mike Wallace made it clear on Wednesday that will be the case.
“He {Jimmy Smith} needs to worry about us,” Wallace said. “He just needs to be ready because we’re going to be coming at him. Man, we can take our shots deep on anybody. We don’t discriminate.”
At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, Smith has tremendous physical skills and great potential but he could be in for a long day in his first NFL game. He struggled mightily in the preseason with his “read and reactions”, something that’s often a struggle for rookie cornerbacks due to defensive schemes and the speed of the game.
Williams also has good size at 6-1, 182 pounds and plays a physical game. Tom Zbikowski will start at safety alongside Ed Reed.
The Steelers will attack the Ravens with multiple wide receiver formations but also throw some bunch formations in there that could cause the inexperience corners trouble.
Wallace who caught 60 passes for 1,257 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, including seven 100-yard games, won’t be the only concern for the Ravens from a big play standpoint. Antonio Brown shined in the preseason and emerged as one of Ben Roethlisberger’s go-to-guys in practices and games, leading the Steelers with 9 receptions for 230 yards and 3 touchdowns in the preseason.
Brown flashed big play potential, with touchdown catches of 77, 44, and 29 yards in the preseason. The Ravens will have their hands full, as Emmanuel Sanders is also showing no rust despite a limited training camp and preseason. EDGE: Pittsburgh
2. Ben Roethlisberger vs Ed Reed
Ed Reed is the most dynamic safety in the game with 54 career interceptions. Age and hip problems have not had any impact on Reed’s playmaking ability, making 8 interceptions in 10 regular season games in 2010.
Few quarterbacks have been able to neutralize Reed in their careers but count Ben Roethlisberger among the few. Since 2007, Roethlisberger is 7-0 against the Ravens and an important reason for that is he’s been able to take Reed out of the game.
Reed has no interceptions against Roethlisberger since the 2007 season, a span of 6 games as Reed was injured in Roethlisberger’s one start against Baltimore in 2009. The last time Reed had an interception against Pittsburgh was on November 5, 2007 at Heinz Field, a blowout Pittsburgh win that included 5 passing touchdowns from Roethlisberger. Reed’s INT came in mop up time with Charlie Batch at QB. EDGE: Pittsburgh
3. OLB Terrell Suggs vs LT Jonathan Scott
Whether it’s been Marvel Smith, Max Starks or Jonathan Scott, the Steelers have not had a left tackle who could handle Ravens OLB Terrell Suggsin the past several years. Suggs was a major mismatch for Scott last season.
Scott is coming off an hyper-extended knee and didn’t see much action in the preseason. History suggests Suggs could be in for another big day.
Since the 2007 season, Suggs has collected 44 tackles, 11 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. Last season against Pittsburgh, Suggs had 15 tackles, 5.5 sacks and 1 forced fumble, dominating Scott in the playoffs, with a 3 sack, forced fumble performance. EDGE: Baltimore
4. QB Joe Flacco vs SS Troy Polamalu
The Ravens are said to have studied countless tape on the Steelers defense this summer, most notably Troy Polamalu. Will that lead to a different outcome for Joe Flacco? Polamalu has terrorized Flacco in his career, most notably a pick-6 in the 4th quarter of the 2009 AFC Title game and delivering a forced fumble on Flacco last December in Baltimore late in the 4th quarter, that dictated the AFC North winner and home field in the divisional round.
Flacco has struggled to get a good read on Polamalu and don’t look for that to change on Sunday with a healthy Polamalu coming into town. EDGE: Pittsburgh
5. Steelers OLB James Harrison/LaMarr Woodley vs Ravens OT Michael Oher, Bryant McKinnie
It’s not often that the Steelers go up against a perennial playoff contender and it’s not the Steelers with more question marks about their offensive line. Going into tomorrow’s matchup, it’s Baltimore’s O-line that most observers have their eye on.
Baltimore’s O-line is in transition with 6-foot-8 pro bowler Bryant McKinnie starting at left tackle, did not play in the preseason, and Michael Oher starting at right tackle for the first time since his rookie season in 2009. Not to mention, starting center Matt Birk missed the whole preseason with knee problems.
McKinnie is in the midst of of dropping thirty pounds in a matter of weeks, after showing up to Vikings camp at 390-pounds and being sent packing.
McKinnie has the primary matchup against James Harrison, while Michael Oher goes head-to-head with LaMarr Woodley. Harrison and Woodley combined for 20½ sacks last season, after collecting 23 ½ sacks in 2009 and combining for 27 ½ during 2008’s Super Bowl season.
“They have two premier pass rushers on the same team,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said this week, via Carroll County times. “That makes a big difference. So, you can’t really target a double team on any particular guy. They do a great job and not so much as creating free runners with their pressure package, but they create matchups.”
Harrison coming off back surgery, labored through the preseason but is feeling much better this week and showed some explosiveness in practice that wasn’t seen for much of the summer. Despite being at around 80%, Harrison still figures to cause McKinnie problems.
Harrison’s productivity against Baltimore has been sensational since becoming the Steelers starting OLB in 2007. Harrison has 65 tackles, 9 sacks and 7 forced fumbles against the Ravens since 07.
Harrison went head-to-head in 2009 against McKinnie who was a member of the Brett Favre led Minnesota Vikings. Harrison had 7 tackles (6 solo) and 2 sacks in the game. Edge: Pittsburgh

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

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