Ravens' blueprint for beating Steelers includes successful passing game

December 02, 2010|By Jamison Hensley, The Baltimore Sun

The Ravens beat the Pittsburgh Steelers two months ago on the arm of Joe Flacco. Based on how other teams have won against the Steelers, the Ravens probably need to do this again.

Since the Ravens delivered a comeback victory at Pittsburgh, the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots have provided some blueprints to upend the Steelers. Both involve attacking Pittsburgh's pass defense.

In a 20-10 win over the Steelers, the Saints spread out Pittsburgh with three wide receivers and quarterback Drew Brees threw for 305 yards and two touchdowns. In a 39-26 victory at Pittsburgh, New England used two tight ends against the Steelers linebackers, and quarterback Tom Brady passed for 350 yards and three touchdowns.

Even in Sunday's 19-16 overtime loss to the Steelers, the Bills also spread out Pittsburgh's defense with success (in fact, they had an empty backfield 16 times). Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was 23 of 45 for 265 yards, including 220 in the second half. And the Bills would have won if wide receiver Steve Johnson hadn't dropped that pass in the end zone in overtime.

In previous years, the Ravens didn't have the personnel to follow these game plans. But it's different this year.

Like the Saints and the Bills, the Ravens have depth at wide receiver to spread out Pittsburgh. They can line up Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Donte' Stallworth and even rookie David Reed. By putting three or four wide receivers on the field, it forces the Steelers' Troy Polamalu to play safety instead of another roving linebacker.

Like the Patriots, the Ravens can throw out of a two-tight end formation (normally a running alignment). They can get Todd Heap, Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta open downfield by using play action. That makes pass-rushing linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley drop back in coverage.

There's always a risk-reward factor when taking this approach against Pittsburgh. The Steelers are second in the NFL in sacks, so they're going to hit the quarterback. But Pittsburgh has the 22nd-ranked pass defense in the league, which means the secondary gives up lots of yards.

Plus, the Ravens have already done it once. On Oct. 3 in Pittsburgh, Flacco lead the Ravens on a game-winning, 40-yard drive in the game's final minute by picking apart the Steelers.

In order to win on Sunday night, the Ravens probably need to do this again.



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