Here's what I think the Steelers need to do tomorrow to reach the 4-0 mark.
Contain Ray Rice
Earlier in the week, the Ravens thought they had lost Rice to a severe knee injury. Luckily for them, it was only a knee contusion. He will dress and see the field tomorrow. What the Steelers need to look for is Rice coming out of the backfield to catch passes. Last year he led the Ravens in catches (78).
One of the cardinal rules in the NFL is: Don't run the ball on the Pittsburgh defense, unless you're the Jacksonville Jaguars. I know Rice was effective on the ground against Pittsburgh last year, but that is very hard to repeat. I don't expect the Ravens to come into Heinz Field tomorrow with a steady diet of running plays, but rather to keep playing with all the new toys they have in the passing game.
Everyone remembers the fourth-down play last year in Baltimore, when James Farrior showed his age while covering Rice out of the backfield. I think Lawrence Timmons will be assigned to cover Rice on passing downs this time. He has already shut down Chris Johnson in Tennessee. Why shouldn't he be effective against an already gimpy Rice?
Keep Forcing Turnovers
The Steelers currently lead the league in turnover margin (+6). They forced seven turnovers two weeks ago against the Titans, and two more last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has thrown five interceptions thus far in 2010. I think the Steelers will need to up his mark to seven to have a great chance to win tomorrow.
Continue to Run The Ball Effectively
We haven't seen a performance like last week in the running game in a long time. This offensive line hasn't deserved much credit, if any, the past couple of years, but they deserved some last Sunday. They will need to up the ante tomorrow against the always-physical Ravens.
Historically, they can't run the ball against the Ravens, having only rushed for 48 yards the last time they played. The Steelers running game was crucial in the win against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 1, and even more important last week in Tampa. I wouldn't expect Charlie Batch to be impersonating Peyton Manning out there, even without Ed Reed in the Baltimore secondary. If they can grind out 150 yards on the ground, they win the game.
Be Safe With The Ball
Batch wasn't perfect last Sunday. Both of the Mike Wallace touchdowns were badly underthrown. With a ball-hawking defense as the Ravens employ, those could very well be interceptions. Both of Batch's actual picks were careless throws on his part.
This also means that they need to keep three-and-outs minimal. When you have the ball, you can't fool around for three plays and give the ball right back fro the opposing offense to grind out for another five minutes. It wears your defense down and, in games like this one is going to be, you don't want your defense worn out in the fourth quarter.
Play-calling is very important when you have your starting quarterback out. I've previously talked about how I loved Bruce Arians' play-calling last weekend. Well, he's going to need a repeat performance tomorrow. This means no five-wide sets on 3rd-and-2, and no aggressive passing calls when Batch is on a roll. You have to keep the defense honest. Keep them guessing. When you complete three straight pass plays for medium to large gains, come back with a handoff, draw, or screen. They won't be looking for any of those.
Steelers 23, Ravens 13.