Scouting Report

December 27, 2009|By JAMISON HENSLEY

Ravens run offense vs. Steelers run defense: Pittsburgh has the NFL's best run defense, holding teams to an average of 83.1 yards on the ground. The Steelers haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 32 straight games, the longest current streak in the league. But Pittsburgh's run defense wasn't at its best last Sunday even though it gave up only 60 rushing yards. Ravens running back Ray Rice hit some big runs against Pittsburgh a month ago, gaining 88 yards on 19 carries. In his past five games, he has averaged 93.2 rushing yards but has scored just one touchdown. Edge: EVEN

Ravens pass offense vs. Steelers pass defense: This is where teams have exploited a Pittsburgh defense that has been without safety Troy Polamalu, who is out again with a left knee injury. Over the past five weeks - all without Polamalu - quarterbacks have averaged 263.6 passing yards against the Steelers, throwing nine touchdown passes and no interceptions. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has struggled at Heinz Field. In two games there, he has turned the ball over four times. Left tackle Jared Gaither (foot and back) is doubtful, which means left tackle Michael Oher and right tackle Oniel Cousins have to protect Flacco from the likes of James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley (who have combined for 19 1/2 sacks this season). The Ravens have given up five sacks in three games since allowing five to Pittsburgh earlier this year.

Edge: EVEN

Steelers run offense vs. Ravens run defense: The Ravens rank first in the NFL in fewest yards per carry allowed, but they looked vulnerable at times in the earlier meeting against Pittsburgh. Even though the Ravens knew the Steelers would be running the ball (Dennis Dixon was the starting quarterback), Pittsburgh running back Rashard Mendenhall still gained 95 yards on 24 carries. The Ravens, though, held the Steelers to 4 yards per attempt. Linebacker Tavares Gooden (groin) will be replaced by undrafted rookie Dannell Ellerbe, who has been among the biggest surprises on the team. Edge: EVEN

Steelers pass offense vs. Ravens pass defense: This will be the Ravens' first meeting of the season against quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was sidelined with a head injury last month. In three games against the Ravens last season, Roethlisberger averaged 230.6 passing yards, throwing three touchdown passes and one interception. The Ravens' secondary is banged up - cornerback Chris Carr will be pressed into his first start of the season, and safety Tom Zbikowski replaces an injured Ed Reed for the fourth straight week. The biggest concern is defending the deep pass. In seven wins this season, Roethlisberger has completed 34 passes of 20 yards or more. Wide receiver Santonio Holmes has four touchdown catches of 33 or more yards in his past six games against the Ravens. Edge: STEELERS

Special teams: One of the Steelers' weaknesses is their coverage teams, which rank 29th on kickoffs and 24th on punts. The Ravens will miss the spark of kickoff returner Lardarius Webb. The Ravens are being tight-lipped on who will replace him on kickoffs and whether Carr will remain the punt returner. Ravens long snapper Matt Katula (forearm) could be replaced by practice squad player Nick Sundberg. Steelers kicker Jeff Reed has converted 15 of 16 field-goal tries at Heinz Field. The Ravens' Billy Cundiff has converted all three of his field-goal attempts on the road this season. Edge: EVEN

Intangibles: Winning at Heinz Field has been difficult for the Ravens, who have a 2-8 record there. The Steelers ended a five-game losing streak with a 37-36 win over the Packers last Sunday. Roethlisberger has a 6-2 record against the Ravens. Edge: STEELERS

Prediction: The Ravens will contain Roethlisberger for most of the game, but their thin secondary will wear down at the end. Another late drive by Roethlisberger will be the difference. It'll be a temporary emotional setback for the Ravens, who will secure a playoff berth next Sunday in Oakland. STEELERS, 20-16

When the Ravens have the ball

Ravens offense

WR: 87 Williams

LT: 74 Oher

LG: 66 Grubbs

C: 77 Birk

RG: 73 Yanda

RT: 64 Cousins

TE: 86 Heap

QB: 5 Flacco

FB: 33 L. McClain

RB: 27 Rice

WR: 85 Mason

Steelers defense

DE: 90 Kirschke

NT: 98 Hampton

DE: 99 Keisel

OLB: 56 Woodley

ILB: 51 Farrior

ILB: 94 Timmons

OLB: 92 Harrison

LCB: 24 Taylor

SS: 23 Carter

FS: 25 Clark

RCB: 22 Gay

When the Steelers have the ball

Steelers offense

WR: 86 Ward

LT: 78 Starks

LG: 68 Kemoeatu

C: 62 Hartwig

RG: 79 Essex

RT: 74 Colon

TE: 83 Miller

QB: 7 Roethlisberger

FB: 38 Davis

RB: 34 Mendenhall

WR: 10 Holmes

Ravens defense

DT: 92 Ngata

NT: 97 Gregg

DE: 93 Edwards

OLB: 55 Suggs

ILB: 56 Gooden

ILB: 52 Lewis

OLB: 95 Johnson

LCB: 25 Carr

SS: 26 Landry

FS: 28 Zbikowski

RCB: 24 Foxworth

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