Did you expect anything different? You knew these two teams were on a collision course to meet again in the playoffs after the last time the two teams met back in week 13. Once again, one gets the pleasure of knocking the other division rival out of the playoffs. The Steelers are home favorites, but only by the expected 3 points. The Ravens waited back last week and let the Chiefs beat themselves. The Steelers used the bye week to get rested and healthy. I expect a typical Steelers Ravens game Saturday and do not expect tons of scoring either. Below are what we deem to be 7 keys to the game for the Steelers to beat the Ravens and advance to the AFC Championship game.
Slow Suggs - If you are a Steelers fan, you have to be worried about Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs on Saturday as he recorded seven sacks in eight career playoff games. To make matters worse, he will likely be lined up for most of his snaps on Steelers left tackle Jonathan Scott. Scott is the weakest link on the Steelers line and the Steelers must keep Suggs off balance and guessing by occasionally running at him. The Steelers also need to try their best to stay out of predictable down and distances as it will clearly give Suggs the advantage in his pass rush. Suggs sometimes lines up on the other side as well, so Flozell Adams will also have to come to play Saturday as well. If the Steelers can keep Suggs away from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger most of the night, it will go a long way towards winning the game. In the last 3 games against the Steelers, Suggs has recorded 2.5 sacks, 4 QB hits and 5 QB pressures.
Watch The Other Ray - While both guys named Ray on the Ravens can hurt you, it is Ray Rice that scares me the worst going into this game. He was kept quiet in both regular season games this season as he was hurt going into the week 4 match-up and was under used in the week 13 game. The Steelers know first hand how Rice can kill on both the ground and through the air as he caught 63 balls during the regular season and rushed for over 1200 yards on the ground. Last week against the Chiefs, he had 99 all-purpose yards that included 5 receptions. He is healthy and I do not think he will be under utilized this go around. He is a game changer and can turn a 2 yard dump off into a 25 yard gain if you do not wrap him up right away.
Run Right Regularly - As I pointed out in a previous article, the Ravens can be run on to the Steelers right side. From right guard over, the Ravens have allowed around 4.3 yards per carry this year. This play right into the Steelers hands. Adams and Ramon Foster are both not good in space, but both can open up holes and tie up their man long enough for running back Rashard Mendenhall to squeeze on by. Left guard Chris Kemoeatu must not miss his man when asked to pull right as the opportunity for a few big runs will be there if all 3 make their blocks. The Chiefs had success against the Ravens last week in the Wild Card game, but did not stay committed to the run. I do not expect the Steelers to run 30 times by no means, but they should not ignore it either, especially if they should have early success at it.
7\'s Instead Of 3\'s - The Steelers were 49% in redzone touchdown efficiency during the regular season as they scored touchdowns on 24 of 49 redzone trips. In week 13 against the Ravens they were only in the Ravens redzone twice and scored a touchdown on only one of those trips. In week 4, with Charlie Batch under center, the Steelers once again had only 2 redzone trips, but that time converted both into touchdowns. Redzone trips will likely be few once again on Saturday, so the Steelers must convert every trip into 7 points if they want to win this game. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians needs to be on his play calling game and the offense must execute flawlessly.
Quick Passes - We have seen a more concerted effort as of late of Roethlisberger hitting his young receivers on quick slants, especially when defenses show blitzes too early. Should the Steelers use a more up-tempo or no-huddle type offense on Saturday, it may set up some more of these types of quick passes to Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders. Even Antonio Brown can be used in 4 wide receiver sets as well on quick slants. Should the corners try to press too much to counter this, Wallace or Sanders might be able to double move them for a homerun over the top. These quick slants are just not relegated to the receivers either as running back Isaac Redman showed the Ravens first hand back in week 13. Doing this early and often takes a lot of pressure off the offensive line as well as it is one less play they are counted on to provide 4 seconds of pass protection.
Cliché Field Position - If ever there were a game where Steelers punter Jeremy Kapinos could indeed cost them the game, this type of game would be it. Both the Steelers and the Ravens like to prey on teams making mistakes and giving their offenses short fields to work on and a shank punt or two could really tilt this game, especially if it comes deep within the Steelers own end. On the flip slide, Brown or Antwaan Randle El could really bust the game wide open with a big kickoff or punt return. You do not expect it from El, but Brown might get a shot or two as well. Special teams could go a long way in deciding this game and while the Steelers have better coverage units perhaps, the Ravens have the better kicker and punter combo.
Four Big Splash Plays - We have seen the Steelers defense make a living off of the Ravens via the big defensive play before and I expect this game to be no different. The first name that comes to mind of course is Troy Polamalu on defense, but with the likes of James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley on the outside and James Farrior and Lawrence Timmons inside, you have 5 guys that can instantly make a big defensive splash play. Big splash plays are not just relegated to the defense either as the offense is just as capable we have seen this year of making plays of 20 yards are better. With the likes of Wallace, Sanders, Brown and Mendenhall, the Steelers have the play makers that have game in and game out made these types of plays. I think a total of 4 big splash plays combined by either the offense or defense will get the job done on Saturday.
Steelers Ravens Game Prediction - After you boil everything down, I think the Steelers make the fewest mistakes and the most key plays in the game. I expect it to be a close game, but I see the Steelers perhaps gaining the lead early in the 4th quarter and stopping the Ravens on a few late drives defensively. Hopefully this game does not come down to needing a 45 yard field goal by Shaun Suisham into the open end of Heinz Field to win it. He has been solid since arriving in Pittsburgh, but that is tremendous pressure on a guy well traveled with notable failures on his resume. Regardless, I think the Steelers will win and cover.
Final Score: Steelers 20 Ravens 16