Remembering what worked for the Ravens last time

October 31, 2011|By Matt Vensel

The Ravens' 35-7 win over the Steelers in Week 1 was the most entertaining performance I have witnessed from the guys in purple during my four seasons following the team. They didn't just dominate the Steelers in a game we spent seven months waiting for; they embarrassed them with a nationally-televised atomic wedgie.

The only game that comes close to touching it was Baltimore’s playoff beatdown of the Patriots in Foxborough.

But after the national media buried the Steelers, who were labeled as old and decrepit, Pittsburgh responded by winning six out of seven games, including Sunday’s 25-17 win over New England. At 6-2, the Steelers hold a slight edge over the 5-2 Ravens (and the 5-2 Bengals) in the AFC North heading into this weekend’s showdown.

Don’t count on the Ravens winning by four touchdowns this time around, especially not at Heinz Field. But they can sweep the season series if they build on their momentum from Sunday’s comeback win and tweak the script from Week 1. Let's refresh our memories on what worked for the Ravens back in the season opener.

They protected Joe Flacco. James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley have terrorized Flacco and the Ravens over the years, but in Week 1, left tackle Bryant McKinnie and the offensive line surrendered just one sack (to Woodley). It was easily McKinnie’s best game with the Ravens -- and uncoincidentally left guard Ben Grubbs’ only start this season. The status of Grubbs, who has a toe injury, is up in their air heading into this weekend, as is that of Woodley, who hurt his hammy in Sunday’s win over New England. And Harrison is likely out with a fractured orbital bone. However, protecting Flacco again is still the biggest concern entering this weekend.

They pressured Big Ben. The Ravens had four sacks in Week 1, including three from linebacker Terrell Suggs, who always saves his best efforts for the Steelers. But those numbers don’t reflect how often the Ravens were all up in Ben Roethlisberger’s grill. Haloti Ngata pressured Roethlisberger into a pair of picks, and the Ravens established a new franchise record with seven takeaways (four fumbles recovered and three interceptions).

They ran the rock well. Once again, the offensive line was the driving force on this one. Ray Rice rumbled for 107 yards on 19 carries, including a 36-yarder on the first play from scrimmage. Ricky Williams added 63 yards on 12 carries. That duo averaged 5.5 yards per pop and helped suck in the Steelers on play-action passes.

They made more big plays. Quite a few of them, in fact. The defense forced those seven turnovers. Flacco was 17-for-29 for 224 yards and three touchdowns, and he had completions of 25-plus yards to Anquan Boldin, Ed Dickson and Rice. Lardarius Webb had a 37-yard kickoff return. Meanwhile, the Ravens prevented Big Ben from extending plays and didn’t let speedy wideout Mike Wallace get behind them for a back-breaking big-gainer.

For the Ravens, what do you think is the biggest key to beating the Steelers for a second time in 2011?

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