Scouting Report

Ravens Vs. Steelers

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Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, 1 P.m., Ch. 13

December 26, 2004|By Jamison Hensley

Ravens run offense vs. Steelers run defense: For the first time in months, Jamal Lewis ran like the punishing back he was a year ago, gaining 130 yards last Sunday in Indianapolis. Lewis, though, is still hampered by a sore right ankle. Unlike the Colts, the Steelers have a physical defense that usually has handled Lewis, limiting him to 76.3 yards in six starts. Pittsburgh, which is ranked No. 1 in the NFL in run defense, has given up 100 yards to just one running back this season and none in the past 10 games. In fact, there have been only seven runs of more 15 yards against the Steelers this season. Inside linebacker James Farrior is a candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, leading Pittsburgh in tackles and forcing four fumbles.

EDGE: STEELERS

Ravens pass offense vs. Steelers pass defense: The Ravens have always tried to capitalize on Pittsburgh's aggressive defense by going deep, and they'll take their shots again today. But that's assuming quarterback Kyle Boller will have time to throw. In his past four games, he has completed only two passes of more than 30 yards and has been sacked 11 times. Receiver Travis Taylor is dropping too many passes and rookie Clarence Moore seems hesitant to go over the middle. Pittsburgh, which averages nearly three sacks a game, will come after Boller to force turnovers. Ranked fourth against the pass, the Steelers rely on two small cornerbacks in Deshea Townsend and Willie Williams, both of whom are 5 feet 9.

EDGE: STEELERS

Steelers run offense vs. Ravens run defense: The worst games for the Ravens' run defense came against two of the league's best offensive lines in Kansas City (178 yards) and the New York Jets (156). Pittsburgh's front is in that same physical class, which means the Ravens have to match the Steelers' intensity at the line. What helps the Ravens is their success against Steelers running back Jerome Bettis, who has started six of the past seven games for the injured Duce Staley (hamstring). Bettis hasn't reached 100 yards against the Ravens since 1997. Staley is questionable to play today. It'll be interesting to see whether the cast on linebacker Ray Lewis' broken wrist will be a factor.

EDGE: EVEN

Steelers pass offense vs. Ravens pass defense: Backing up its reputation as one of the best in the NFL, the Ravens' secondary held Colts quarterback Peyton Manning to his lowest touchdown total (one) of the season. In their past 10 games, the Ravens have given up more than 200 yards passing only three times. Cornerback Chris McAlister picked off rookie Ben Roethlisberger in his first game and ran it back for a touchdown. The Ravens, however, have been known to have lapses against Pittsburgh receivers Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress. It's questionable whether Burress (hamstring) will play after missing the past four weeks. Roethlisberger is coming off his first 300-yard passing game and is second in the league in fourth-quarter passing (118.5 rating).

EDGE: RAVENS

Special teams: Both teams have dangerous returners in the Ravens' B.J. Sams and the Steelers' Antwaan Randle El. They also rank in the top half of the league in punt coverage. The Steelers, though, allowed a 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open their last game. The Ravens' Matt Stover is the more reliable kicker, but Pittsburgh's Jeff Reed has converted 10 straight field-goal attempts. Steelers punter Chris Gardocki (42.8 yards) has a better average than the Ravens' Dave Zastudil (40.6).

EDGE: EVEN

Intangibles: The Ravens desperately need a win to improve their playoff chances. But they've had that motivation for the past month and have dropped three of four games. The Steelers could wrap up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win, as well as avenge their only loss of the season. The Ravens are 1-3 at Heinz Field, losing in their past three trips there. The Steelers have won nine straight games at home, dating to November 2003. Pittsburgh, which played its last game on Dec. 18, has an extra day rest on the Ravens.

EDGE: STEELERS

Prediction: While the Steelers have the look of a Super Bowl team, the Ravens have proved to be an underachieving one. When facing elite teams, the Ravens can hang for a half before fading. It would only be fitting that their playoff run ends that way.

STEELERS, 17-6

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