The NFL schedule-makers know what they're doing.
Let's face it: when the Ravens' schedule for the 2009-2010 season was released, we all circled December 27 on the calendar.
While the Cincinatti Bengals (9-5) are the surprise of the AFC North, this game between the Ravens and Steelers will go a long way in determining which team will likely take one of the AFC wildcard spots.
Here are the keys to the game for the Baltimore Ravens:
1) Take down Ben Roethlisberger early and often.
Ben Roethlisberger's ability to elude tacklers and extend plays is what makes him one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the NFL. With Ladarius Webb joining Fabian Washington on IR , the Ravens were forced to sign CB Corey Ivy to play at corner and on special teams—which weakens an already suspect secondary. But here's a little known secret: Corey Ivy can't cover anyone. Neither can Frank Walker, or for that matter, Chris Carr. In order for the Ravens to have any success Sunday, the pass rush will need to take Roethlisberger to the ground early and often—or Roethlisberger will pick the secondary apart.
2) Get Le'Ron McClain 15-20 touches in the running game.
Ray Rice has, without a doubt, been the team's MVP this season. He's a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball, and it's important to keep him heavily involved. But the Ravens will need to use McClain to wear down the Steelers' defense. The Ravens/Steelers matchup always boils down to which team is more physical—this one won't be an exception.
3) Joe Flacco avoids costly interceptions.
This seems like a no-brainer. Flacco threw an interception in Week 1 (Kansas City) and Week 2 (San Diego) and the Ravens won those games. Since Week 2, in winning efforts, Flacco has been perfect (eight touchdowns, zero interceptions). But over the course of the six Ravens losses this season, Flacco has tossed nine interceptions. Interestingly enough, the Ravens are +9 in the turnover battle, while the Steelers are -5.
Fearless prediction: Steelers 24, Ravens 21
As much as I'd like to see the Ravens win, I don't see them being able to contain the Steelers' passing game with such a depleted secondary. The loss of Ladarius Webb has been the most costly injury this season. Webb showed the ability to cover extremely well, be a physical run stopper, and provide explosiveness in the return game. While Corey Ivy should be able to cover Joey Galloway (recently signed to replace the injured Limas Sweed), I don't see the combination of Frank Walker/Chris Carr being able to effectively stop Hines Ward or Santonio Holmes.
Notes: The Ravens can clinch a playoff birth this week by first beating Pittsburgh, THEN A) Jacksonville AND either the Jets or Broncos lose, OR Miami, the Jets, and Broncos all lose...John Harbaugh explains why the Ravens signed Corey Ivy and not Chris McAlister ...Troy Smith wants to be more than just a Wildcat quarterback ...ESPN's James Walker says the Ravens plan to start Chris Carr at corner against the Steelers... Michael Oher is Jeremy Green's (Scouts, Inc.) #1 Rookie to Watch and his pick for rookie of the year for Week 15...If you haven't seen it yet, ESPN has an interesting video about Ray Lewis' view of Baltimore City ...Browns QB Brady Quinn is out for the rest of the season ...Mike Holmgren has accepted the GM position for the Cleveland Browns.
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