Scouting report: Divisional playoff: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers

January 13, 2011|By Jamison Hensley, The Baltimore Sun

Ravens run offense vs. Steelers run defense: Ray Rice's two lowest rushing totals of the season came against the Steelers. He rushed for 20 yards against them at Pittsburgh and managed 32 yards against them at M&T Bank Stadium. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron hasn't shown a commitment to the ground game against the NFL's top-ranked run defense, giving the ball to Rice a total of 17 times in two meetings. Fullback Le'Ron McClain is back after missing the last meeting with an ankle injury. Willis McGahee has scored four touchdowns in his past four playoff games. No running back has gained more than 87 yards rushing against Pittsburgh this season. Behind leading tackler Lawrence Timmons, Pittsburgh shattered the team record for rushing yards allowed per game (62.8). Edge: Steelers

Ravens pass offense vs. Steelers pass defense: Joe Flacco is starting to figure out the Steelers defense. In his past four games, he has averaged 244.5 yards passing, throwing five touchdowns and two interceptions. Flacco's biggest problem has been holding onto the ball against Pittsburgh. In seven meetings, he has fumbled eight times and has lost half of them. It will be a challenge to block edge rushers James Harrison (10 ½ sacks) and LaMarr Woodley (10). The Ravens can counter this with quick passes over the middle to tight end Todd Heap and wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who combined for 15 catches for 172 yards in Sunday's wild-card game. Flacco picked on Pittsburgh cornerback Bryant McFadden in the first meeting and he should be able to do it again. The key is picking up safety Troy Polamalu (who is dealing with an ankle injury) when he blitzes and avoiding him when he drops back into coverage. Starting center Matt Birk has missed two practices with a knee injury, but he is expected to play. Edge: Ravens

Steelers run offense vs. Ravens run defense: Rashard Mendenhall's rushing totals and average per carry dropped the last two games to end the regular season. His strength is producing big plays (11 runs over 20 yards) and punching it into the end zone (13 touchdowns). Mendenhall hasn't made much of an impact against the Ravens, averaging 57 yards rushing per game and three yards per carry against them in his career. Pittsburgh's tendency is to run the ball to the right side behind guard Ramon Foster and tackle Flozell Adams. But the Ravens will plant Haloti Ngata over there to stop the Steelers. Although the Ravens weren't sharp early against the run in Sunday's wild-card game at Kansas City, they won't have to face the same speed with the Steelers. Stopping the run remains a long-time strength for the Ravens, who haven't allowed a running back to reach 100 yards against them in 14 postseason games. Edge: Ravens

Steelers pass offense vs. Ravens pass defense: Ben Roethlisberger's numbers against the Ravens aren't overwhelming. In his past five games vs. the Ravens — all wins — he has averaged 241 yards passing, throwing five touchdowns and four interceptions. The reason why he gives the Ravens so many fits is his ability to escape sacks and extend plays. The Ravens' greatest concern is speedy wide receiver Mike Wallace, who ended the regular season with three straight 100-yard receiving games and averaged 21 yards per reception for the season. Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb helped contain Wallace (seven catches for 100 yards) in two meetings. Starting cornerback Chris Carr is expected to play despite missing practice time with a thigh injury. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs has sacked Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger more than any other player in the NFL (9 ½ times). Edge: Steelers

Special teams: The biggest disparity between these evenly matched teams is the specialists. The Ravens have two of the NFL's best in kicker Billy Cundiff and punter Sam Koch. Cundiff has made 26 of his past 27 field goals this season and has converted all six of his field-goal tries the past two years in the playoffs. Koch finished second in the NFL with 39 punts inside the 20-yard line and placed both of his kicks there in the wild-card game. The Steelers are going with kicker Shaun Suisham and punter Jeremy Kapinos, both of whom weren't with the team when the season started. Suisham is 14-for-15 on field goals this season, but he is 3-for-6 in his postseason career. Kapinos netted 32.3 yards on punts, which was among the worst in the league. Rookie David Reed, who led the NFL with a 29.3-yard average on kickoffs, is expected to return after missing three games with a wrist injury. Edge: Ravens

Intangibles: The Ravens are playing on a short week, but that won't affect a defense that was on the field for 18 minutes at Kansas City. The Steelers have won the last four times they've had a home game following a first-round bye in the playoffs. The Ravens have won four playoff games on the road the past three seasons and have posted a 6-3 mark on the road this season. Home field hasn't been such an advantage for Pittsburgh, which went 5-3 at Heinz Field this season. The Ravens have lost their last six meetings to Roethlisberger and have never beaten the Steelers in the postseason (0-2). Edge: Even

Prediction: Another statement will be made in the playoffs. Flacco proved he could lead the Ravens to a postseason win last Sunday. Their defense proves it can beat Roethlisberger once again on Saturday. It's one more step closer to the Super Bowl.

Ravens 20, Steelers 14

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