Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will earn every cent of his paycheck this week.
Because of health concerns, the Ravens could be without starting fullback Le'Ron McClain and left offensive tackle Michael Oher Sunday when the Steelers come to Baltimore. To complicate matters even more, Pittsburgh has the NFL's No.5-ranked defense, No. 1 against the run.
"They have a base defense, and you have an idea about that base defense. We play them a lot, so we understand it," Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said of Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. "But it seems like every time we play them, Coach LeBeau throws a good change in there, a good twist, to make you think a little bit."
Cameron has to find the right game plan. As usual, he isn't giving away any strategy, but he understands he has to make several adjustments from the first Ravens game against the Steelers this season, a 17-14 Baltimore victory, on Oct. 3rd.
In that game, the Ravens had 320 yards of total offense, but they also had Oher and McClain. Oher and Marshal Yanda, the Ravens tackle on the right side, played well against Pittsburgh outside linebackers James Harrison and Lamarr Woodley, a major requirement if any team is to beat the Steelers.
But the Steelers have made some changes and have 32 sacks this season.
'You take a lot from that game, and then you're going to make adjustments because they've made adjustments," said Cameron. "They have tweaked some things up front and in coverage because of injuries. They've moved Harrison around more, he shows up more on the right side, and more in the A and B gaps.
"When they are healthy, they are good. They are not as healthy as they have been, and they are still good. They have had some injuries but statistically, they have gotten better."
The question is how the Ravens can protect quarterback Joe Flacco possibly without McClain or Oher. Even if Oher does play, he won't be at one-hundred percent.
The Ravens have a number of options. They can use rookie tight ends Ed Dickson or Dennis Pitta off the edges to help with the blocking, as well as starting tight end Todd Heap. They can also use new fullback Jason McKie, even though his contributions will be limited after only a few days of practice.
Cameron needs to find something that works.
"We kind of re-invent ourselves protection-wise each week," said Cameron. "We have to determine what the critical issues are. This week is not any different than previous weeks. We just have to be more aware because they move people around so much.
"Le'Ron is a great pass protector, a great football player in general. Any time you lose one, it affects you. Right now, he looks pretty good, and a decision will be made at game time. But if he can't go, we have complete confidence in the guys who will fill in."
According to Cameron, there won't be any difference in preparations this week for the Steelers because of the injuries. In fact, Cameron says he prepares for the Steelers like he prepares to go against the Ravens in training camp.
There are a lot of similarities. Both teams like to move around. Both teams like to blitz. Both teams have good front sevens. The Ravens' style was brought to them by former defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, a onetime linebackers coach in Pittsburgh.
"It's an eight-man front, and those four linebackers and those guys up front are good athletes and know how to get off blocks and make tackles," said Cameron. "With most defenses, there or one or two guys you can concentrate on. In Pittsburgh, they have guys across the board. They invest in their defense, and they always have. That's where they put their money.
"Sometimes, it's not what you do against a defense like this, but it's what you don't do. That doesn't mean become conservative, but you have to be smart aggressive because they have guys coming off the edge that can hurt you. We've got to be smart and fundamentally sound in everything we do."
Buffalo had success against Pittsburgh last week in the second half. The Bills caught several passes over the middle for big gains, mostly on drags or delays. Buffalo used a lot of three- and four-receiver sets, but quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick paid for it.
The same thing could happen to Flacco if the Ravens decide to roll the dice and come out passing.
"When you spread them out, you take a calculated risk," said Cameron, alluding to the Buffalo game. "You saw their guy [Fitzpatrick] take some of the shots a lot of guys aren't able to get up from. They are still a two-shell team, still a team that wants to roll the coverage one way or another, if not both ways. We've just got to be smart, because they do have a lot of man concepts.
"Buffalo was able to spring some guys loose, but it looked like it was because of mental errors more than anything else."
In other words, Cameron expects the Steelers to have made the adjustments. It will be a chess match Sunday, and at least the Ravens have the players, especially the receivers, to answer the Steelers if they can handle the pressure. Pittsburgh cornerbacks Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden can't handle Ravens receivers Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
"The good news," said Cameron smiling, "is that we're going to have 11 pretty good guys out there, too."