Pittsburgh Steelers: Keys to Getting Win Against the Baltimore Ravens in Opener
The fiercest rivalry in the league will have a different feel than past years without the presence of Todd Heap, Derrick Mason, Willis McGahee and others on the Baltimore roster.
From the Pittsburgh perspective, the roster has only one new starter in the lineup but now boosts an offense capable of being one of the most explosive in the league.
Each team has weaknesses along the offensive line and defensive backfield, and the winner may be whoever is able to exploit those weaknesses the most.
Nonetheless, it is time to get down to business and there is no better way to do so than the Steelers and Ravens according to Hines Ward.
“I can see why the league scheduled Baltimore-Pittsburgh to kick off the 2011 season,” said Ward. “That’s all the players have been talking about. The preseason is good to develop a team, but for the veteran guys, all we do is concentrate on Baltimore.”
A win in Week 1 will be a huge momentum boost for either team as they gain control of the division.
Control the Line of Scrimmage
The last time the Steelers played in Baltimore, Ben Roethlisberger had his nose broken by Haloti Ngata. They do not want a repeat this season.
Instead, the Steelers will want to control the line of scrimmage and will do their best to neutralize Ngata.
Pittsburgh’s line is boosted this year with the return of Willie Colon who is looking forward to the matchup against Ngata.
“I always try to bring my best against him,” said Colon. “There is no doubt he is probably one of, if not the best, defensive tackles in the NFL. For us it’s about flat out getting after them. They are going to bring it and we have to match their intensity and physicality.”
The Steelers will also have to rely on Maurkice Pouncey who will hopefully prove to be 100 percent after suffering an ankle injury earlier in the preseason.
These two players will be important as they have an undersized and sometimes overmatched Doug Legursky playing between them.
While Pittsburgh would probably like to get some semblance of a ground attack against the Baltimore defense, it is more imperative that they prevent the line from penetrating on passing downs as this Steelers team is built to throw the ball all over the field.
Spread the Field
Rashard Mendenhall is a fine running back and he should be able to find a little room against the Ravens, but the Steelers have potential to do a ton of damage through the air.
Roethlisberger is coming off of an outstanding preseason and has four excellent receiving targets with Mike Wallace, Hines Ward, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, not to mention Heath Miller and Mendenhall out of the backfield.
Pittsburgh will use their speed on the outside to attack the young Ravens defensive backs, including first-round draft choice Jimmy Smith.
“I’m not too worried about him,” said Mike Wallace. “He needs to worry about us.”
Wallace had a quiet preseason but is easily the best deep threat in the AFC and will likely present a huge problem for Smith.
“He just needs to just be ready, because we’re going to be coming at him,” Wallace said.
Of course, Wallace can get by anybody deep, and Brown can get deep or take a short reception to the house.
After a stellar preseason, Brown has established himself as a second big-play receiver who can play the outside which will allow Ward and Sanders to make plays over the middle of the field.
Besides the top four receivers, Roethlisberger has Miller to target over the middle and the newly found receiving threat David Johnson.
Roethlisberger has also been more willing to look at Mendenhall in the flats.
Can the Ravens defend the Steelers' top four receivers plus their other options? Doubtful. If Roethlisberger has time he should have a big day.
Joe Flacco is 0-for-Roethlisberger.
This is a huge mental hurdle for the Ravens quarterback, and the task of defeating a Roethlisberger-led Steelers team will not get any easier Sunday.
In fact, Flacco may be under more pressure following the comments that LaMarr Woodley made towards Flacco this offseason.
“No, not at all because they have to go through one team—that's the Pittsburgh Steelers in that AFC Championship,” Woodley said. “So in order for them to get to the Super Bowl, they have to beat us, and we're not gonna let that happen once we get that close. So that's not gonna happen in this lifetime.”
Since then, the Flacco-hate has piled on and he is under more pressure than ever, but maybe not the amount that he will feel Sunday from the Steelers defense.
Dick LeBeau will need to get pressure in Flacco’s face to get him off his game early. If so, chances are that Troy Polamalu will come up with a game-changing play.
Spotlight Player: Offense
Ben Roethlisberger is 9-2 all-time against the Ravens and will want to continue his mastery of Baltimore this week.
He is surrounded with enough weapons that he could have an outstanding game against the Ravens.
There is tremendous speed on the outside and tough receiving options to work the middle of the field.
Plus, there is also that minor quality of escaping the pressure to make plays that he does so well.
Roethlisberger will have to have another one of his quality performances against the Ravens if the Steelers are to win.
Typically, they are ugly with him making the big plays when needed, but this time around you may see a solid performance from start to finish.
Spotlight Player: Defense
If you talk the talk you have to walk the walk.
That is what LaMarr Woodley and his new contract has to do on Sunday.
If he's going to make a bold statement like that about Flacco, you can expect Woodley to be in Flacco’s face all day.
It will be especially important for him to pressure the quarterback as James Harrison continues to work towards getting his back into better shape.
Pittsburgh is 18-12 all-time against the Ravens, including 8-7 playing in Baltimore.
The Steelers lost in Baltimore last season and won both games in Pittsburgh, including the AFC Divisional playoff game.
The Steelers have won eight straight Kickoff Weekend games.
Mike Tomlin has never lost a Week 1 game.
John Harbaugh and Ravens players never fail to find excuses as to why they lose to the Steelers.
Roethlisberger has never lost an opening week game and has won seven straight games against Baltimore.
Hines Ward is 46 receptions away from 1,000 for his career and 298 yards way from 12,000 career receiving yards.
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