Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4) @ Baltimore Ravens (5-5)
The stunning developments over the past 24 hours of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger being ruled out to start tonight’s AFC North Showdown between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, has put all eyes on quarterback Dennis Dixon.
Dixon a second year pro, will make his first NFL start in a hostile territory against a divisional rival that is fighting for their playoff lives. This is a game that many NFL pundits already saw as being very difficult for Pittsburgh, even when it was believed that Ben Roethlisberger would be starting.
Roethlisberger will be active tonight, but will serve as the teams No. 3 quarterback. Tyler Palko, an undrafted free agent, will be the Steelers No. 2 quarterback.
It’s a nightmare situation for the Steelers who probably never imagined going into Baltimore with a 2nd year quarterback making his first career start and their No. 2 quarterback being a practice squad quarterback whose lucky to have a job in the NFL.
The Steelers though decided to roll the dice in bringing back Charlie Batch. They knew how injury prone he was and they could have went in another direction.
Aside from Dennis Dixon replacing Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu will miss his second consecutive game and undrafted free agent Ramon Foster will make his first career start at left guard, replacing the injured Chris Kemoeatu.
The Steelers will be without their two best players/playmakers in Roethlisberger and Polamalu and it’s not a good recipe for trying to win in Baltimore.
A loss for the Steelers tonight will be costly, as the Ravens would jump ahead of Pittsburgh in the wild card hunt. While the Ravens are fighting for their playoff lives, Pittsburgh is very close to being in the same situation.
Despite the odds being stacked against Pittsburgh, don’t shocked if Pittsburgh pulls out a surprising win. Were going to find out the character of this team tonight.
Pittsburgh’s Keys to Victory
1. Limit Mistakes: The first thing the Steelers must do is ease Dennis Dixon’s transition under center. Baltimore will try to disguise their coverage schemes and force Dixon into mistakes.
Pittsburgh has to change their playbook and work to Dixon’s strengths. The Steelers can’t let Dixon try to be a pocket passer. He needs to use his legs and we should see plenty of roll outs and quick screens. Two players who could be key parts to Dixon’s success; Santonio Holmes and Heath Miller.
Miller could provide a security blanket for Dixon on his check downs and Holmes playmaking ability after the catch will be crucial to the Steelers success of moving the chains as were going to see plenty of 8-to-10 yard passes.
2. Lean on the running game: What to watch for is how Bruce Arians reacts if the Ravens shutdown the Steelers running game early. The Ravens are going to try to make the Steelers one dimensional through a number of run zone blitzes but the Steelers are going to have no choice but to rely heavily on Rashard Mendenhall.
Mendenhall is going to have to fight for his yards tonight and no matter what, the Steelers can’t go away from the running game. They have to have the play-action pass in their arsenal with Dixon at the helm.
3. Kick Coverage unit/ Big play in return unit: Plenty of changes have been made to the Steelers kick coverage units with the signings of Rocky Boiman and Cory Ivy. Will this be the week that the Steelers finally put it together? Ravens kick returner Chris Carr is fully capable of making a big play or two. The success of the Steelers return unit will also be a key tonight as this could become a field position game.
4. Creating turnovers on defense: The Steelers are successful when they are aggressive on defense and creating turnovers. With Troy Polamalu out of the lineup, that hasn’t been the case.
The Steelers will need to pressure Joe Flacco and not let him stay in the pocket. A key matchup tonight will be James Harrison versus LT Jared Gaither. Both players are among the best at their position. Harrison has two sacks in his last two games and thrives in big games.
Current Odds: Baltimore (-7)
Updated: 7:00 p.m. Pittsburgh Steelers inactives
Defensive end Nick Eason is inactive for the Steelers. The Steelers other inactives are cornerback Keenan Lewis, Charlie Batch, Troy Polamalu, Tony Hills and Sunny Harris.
LB Rocky Boiman and Cornerback Corey Ivy will suit up for their first game in a Steelers uniform. Both players will be on the Steelers kick coverage unit.
Travis Kirschke will start at LDE and Ziggy Hood will back him up.
Ben Roethlisberger is active and will serve as the Steelers No. 3 quarterback.
For the Ravens, Ed Reed is active but Terrell Suggs is inactive.