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Steelers vs. Ravens: What's the Game Plan for Baltimore?

Jason MarcumCorrespondent IIIDecember 26, 2015

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 01:  Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil #58 in action during the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 1, 2015 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Baltimore Ravens' home finale takes place this Sunday when the Pittsburgh Steelers come to town.

This will be the second time these AFC North rivals have faced off after Baltimore won in Pittsburgh back in Week 4. However, the Ravens won't look nearly the same as they did in that win.

Since that game, Baltimore has lost quarterback Joe Flacco, running back Justin Forsett, tight end Crockett Gillmore, center Jeremy Zuttah, tackle Eugene Monroe and wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. to season-ending injuries. That's six offensive starters, which does help explain why the Ravens have scored an average of just 11 points per game since Week 13.

Here is a look at the game plan that gives Baltimore the best shot of scoring the upset win and potentially spoiling Pittsburgh's playoff hopes.

Offensive Game Plan

Just as it did in the Week 4 win, Baltimore will have to defeat the Steelers by shortening the game and keeping the ball away from Pittsburgh's high-scoring offense.

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CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 30:  Javorius Allen #37 of the Baltimore Ravens carries the ball during the third quarter against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 30, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Ravens won that game by rushing for 191 yards and having the ball for five more minutes than the Steelers in a 23-20 overtime win. While Baltimore's personnel is very different this time around, it must utilize the same game plan as it did in that first matchup.

The good news is the Ravens have a promising running back that has shown flashes of being someone who could replicate the 150-yard performance Forsett had in that Week 4 clash. Rookie Javorius "Buck" Allen has been a big-play back both on the ground and through the air since taking over the No. 1 RB role in Week 11.

Between Weeks 11 and 13, Allen averaged 123 total yards per game as he became the focal point of Baltimore's offense. The Ravens also went 2-1 during that stretch, with the one loss coming by just two points against the Miami Dolphins.

However, Allen has averaged just 38 total yards over the past two games while Baltimore went 0-2 and was outscored by a combined 69-20 margin. Allen also touched the ball just 17 times in those two games.

He'll need to have more than that in just this game if Baltimore is going to beat Pittsburgh. He's simply the best skill player this offense has right now and can generate the kind of yardage this team needs to win. 

Defensive Game Plan

The Ravens defense is facing a tough test this week against a Steelers offense that looks vastly different than what it saw in Week 4. 

That's because Ben Roethlisberger is back at quarterback after missing the first matchup with a knee injury. He's quietly playing like one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL this season when he's been healthy.

Pro Football Focus ranks Big Ben as the second-best quarterback since Week 9 behind only Cam Newton, who's likely winning the NFL MVP award. Stopping Ben will be no easy task, but the Ravens defense may actually have the personnel to at least slow Ben down.

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 20:  Brandon Williams #98 of the Baltimore Ravens sacks Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first half during the game on October 20, 2013 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

That will come in the form of pressure, something Baltimore has been very good at getting on Roethlisberger. The Ravens have sacked Ben 10 times in their past three games against him, including five in their 30-17 win in the Wild Card playoff matchup between the teams last season.

Baltimore went 2-1 in those three games, and keeping the heat on Ben was crucial to getting those wins. It will once again be crucial this time, and Pittsburgh has several holes on its offensive line that Baltimore must attack.

Alejandro Villanueva is now the all-important starting left tackle after Kelvin Beachum tore his ACL earlier this season. Villanueva has been a major liability at times, allowing five sacks and 24 QB hurries since Week 7, per PFF.

Starting center Cody Wallace has been terrible this season as a replacement for Maurkice Pouncey, who suffered a major ankle injury in the preseason. Wallace is the team's worst-rated player on PFF, which also has him ranked as the NFL's third-worst center

Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees needs to formulate a game plan that attacks those two players and attempts to pressure Roethlisberger early and often in this game.

Prediction

The Ravens and Steelers always bring the best out of each other, as the two heated rivals love beating each other to a pulp. This time around, Baltimore is looking to play spoiler to Pittsburgh's playoff chances. 

This is also the home finale for the Ravens as they look to end this season on a high note, despite a season full of lows. 

In the end, the Ravens make this a game that goes into the fourth quarter still in doubt, but the Steelers use a fourth-quarter surge to run away with this one.

Final Score: Steelers 33, Ravens 16 

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