Within one week the Steelers have gone from the class of the AFC to a questionable team. Whether that‚Äôs warranted is up for discussion another day. The Steelers head into Monday‚Äôs divisional showdown with a few question marks. The Steelers have failed to put points on the board and have only scored 16 points in their last two games. Running back Willie Parker will be sidelined for the next two weeks with a knee sprain. 1st round pick Rashard Mendenhall will become the Steelers primary back. Mendenhall has rarely seen the field since week 1 but the Steelers believe he is ready. On the defensive side of the ball Nose Tackle Casey Hampton has been ruled out of the game with a groin strain. The Ravens an surprising 2-0 have ran the ball 90 times in two games will looked to pound the ball Monday night against a Steelers defensive line that is missing two of their three starters. Which team has the edge heading into Monday Night‚Äôs divisional showdown?
Pittsburgh vs Baltimore Defense
Baltimore has a big physical defense and will look to follow the Eagles blue print from last week. Ray Lewis is playing his best football in three years. He remains the catalyst of that defense but the key player has been Bart Scott. The Ravens have used Scott in many situations and he is on his way to a pro-bowl season. With Willie Parker out of the lineup, Lewis & co will look to get into the head of Rashard Mendenhall. The Ravens will bring pressure on a consistent basis to cause havoc. The Ravens use a lot of blitzing schemes just like the Eagles do. The Steelers must protect Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers have worked all week in practice on using their running backs out of the back field. Rashard Mendenhall is a better pass catcher than Willie Parker and one of the prime reasons the Steelers signed Mewelde Moore was because of his pass catching ability on third downs. The Steelers need to use their backs to off-set the Ravens blitz. The Steelers may also use three tight ends at times to slow the Ravens pressure.
Holmes Primed for Breakout Game? In the passing game Santonio Holmes (8recptions ‚Äì 208 yds ‚Äì 3TD) had success against the Baltimore Ravens in 2007. Holmes has yet to reach the end zone this season and expect Roethlisberger to look for Holmes early in the game. I expect Holmes to have a breakout game Monday night
Baltimore vs Pittsburgh defense
The Ravens offense resembles the Ravens offense of past seasons. They have a hard nose running game that looks to control the clock. The Ravens have run the ball 90 times over the past two games averaging over 37:00 minutes in time of possession. With Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel out of the lineup, the Ravens will look to do the same. The Steelers game plan is to make rookie quarterback Joe Flacco try to beat them. Flacco has done a superb job of managing the game. Flacco is effective on short precise passes and dump offs to his running backs. That is one area the Steelers give up a lot of completions. The Steelers secondary will need to be more aggressive at the line of scrimmage. The Ravens are not going to take too many chances down the field. The Ravens will look to set their-selves up with makeable third downs to move the chains. The Steelers will bring a variety of blitzing schemes Monday night
Pittsburgh Keys to success
1. Offensive Line must Protect: The Steelers offensive line must improve their play from last Sunday. There is no way around it. One of the key matchups Monday night will be Marvel Smith limiting Terrell Suggs.
2. Make third down stops: The Ravens success has been their ability to convert on third down and control the clock. The Steelers must force Flacco to throw to the middle of the field. The Steelers need to be ready for quick outs and dump offs and if they can limit the Ravens passing game in that department it will force Flacco to throw in areas he is not comfortable in.
3. Big play on special teams: To get the Ravens on their heels the Steelers need a big return early in the game. The Ravens will look to play the field position game. Their kicking game has been exceptional.
Are the Ravens as good as their record indicates? Their defense appears back but the key to this game will be Flacco having to make a big play or two. Entering only his third start and first on Monday night at Pittsburgh, I just don‚Äôt see it happening. The Steelers will have Troy Polamalu roaming around to get into Flacco‚Äôs head. Look for the Steelers defense to propel and Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense to do enough for a tough divisional win.
Prediction Pittsburgh 24 – Baltimore 13