STEELERS PASSING GAME: Byron Leftwich hasn't started a game since 2009 and he's thrown only 21 passes over the past three regular seasons, but the Steelers have expressed confidence that the strong-armed veteran will be able to sustain drives. He certainly doesn't have the mobility over injured starter Ben Roethlisberger, which will put more pressure on the Steelers' reworked offensive line. However, he has plenty of pass-catching weapons, a group led by speedy Mike Wallace and tight end Heath Miller.
RAVENS RUNNING GAME: Ray Rice has accounted for two of the six 100-yard rushing performances that the Steelers have allowed since 2009. In seven career regular season games versus the Steelers, Rice has averaged 89.1 yards from scrimmage and 4.1 yards a carry but he has just two rushing touchdowns. Rice is tied for second in the NFL with seven rushing scores. The Ravens rank 20th in the league in rushing (104.9 yards per game) but they've run the ball well recently when they've had to.
STEELERS RUNNING GAME: Pittsburgh has started three different running backs to varying degrees of success though there are indications that Rashard Mendenhall, who is returning from an Achilles' injury, could get the bulk of the work this week. Jonathan Dwyer leads the team in rushing yards (355) and former Bowie State standout Isaac Redman leads them in carries (84) and touchdowns (two).
RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: The Ravens didn't allow a 100-yard rusher last week but that's not saying a whole lot with the Raiders down to their No.3 back and falling behind early. The Ravens currently rank 26th in the NFL in run defense, surrendering 132.0 yards per game. They haven't allowed a rushing touchdown in two games and they've been the NFL's top defense in the red zone. This group's improvement can be traced partly to the return of Terrell Suggs and the improvement of rookie Courtney Upshaw.
STEELERS RUSH DEFENSE: The Steelers looked vulnerable up front in Monday's overtime victory over the Chiefs, allowing 142 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown. However, the group has been pretty stout all season and has allowed only six rushing touchdowns. Veteran nose tackle Casey Hampton remains tough to move and Larry Foote and Lawrence Simmons are two tough and active linebackers who lead the team in tackles.
RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: Suggs has been quiet after his impressive debut but he has tormented the Steelers, registering 18.5 sacks versus them in his career. Safety Ed Reed played poorly against Oakland and his recent struggles, coupled by a groin injury to cornerback Jimmy Smith which pressed Corey Graham into starting duty have become concerns. The Ravens are 26th in passing yards allowed (258.2) but they've surrendered a league-low tying eight touchdown passes.
STEELERS PASS DEFENSE: Feared pass rusher James Harrison has missed three games, perennial Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu has been sidelined for seven and the Steelers have just 16 sacks and five interceptions on the season. However, their pass defense has allowed just 171.1 yards per game through the air, the lowest total in the NFL. The Steelers have held six of their nine opponents to less than 170 net passing yards. A big reason for that has been the play of corners Keenan Lewis and Ike Taylor.
RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS: There's not much this group hasn't done for the Ravens and it put on another display last Sunday with two touchdowns and a caused turnover. Rookie Justin Tucker has been one of the game's most accurate kickers (17 of 18) and Jacoby Jones leads the NFL in kickoff return average (38.6, two touchdowns). Both Ravens' coverage teams have also been nearly flawless while Sam Koch added a rushing touchdown off a fake field goal to his punting resume.
STEELERS SPECIAL TEAMS: The Steelers' kicking game was a big question mark entering the season but Shaun Suisham has done his part, connecting on 20-of-21 field goals with his only miss coming from 54 yards. Rookie undrafted free agent Drew Butler won the punting job and he's averaged 43.3 yards per boot. Rookie Chris Rainey is a dangerous return man, averaging 28.8 yards per kickoff return. Primary punt returner, Antonio Brown, is nursing an ankle injury.
RAVENS INTANGIBLES: Despite splitting their four road games, the Ravens haven't played well away from M&T Bank Stadium this season. However, they won their past two regular season games against Pittsburgh and they'll be motivated by the environment at Heinz Field. The Ravens are 4-0 against Pittsburgh since 2004 in games Roethlisberger hasn't played in. They've also won 11 straight games against AFC North foes and they know a victory Sunday would give them a stranglehold on the division.
STEELERS INTANGIBLES: The Steelers have won four straight games to cut the Ravens' lead in the AFC North down to one game, but they obviously lost some momentum with news of Roethlisberger's potentially extended absence. Injuries to other key players, like Brown and Polamalu, obviously won't help matters. But Pittsburgh has won 10 of their past 11 home games and they're champing at the bit to revenge the one loss during that span to the Ravens last November.
PREDICTION: Both teams are dealing with injuries, but there aren't too many players as indispensable to their teams as Roethlisberger is to the Steelers. Leftwich has a strong arm and he'll make some plays down the field but the Ravens should be able to force a couple of turnovers. Eight of the past 10 game between these rivals have been decided by a touchdown or less and there's no reason to expect anything different. In a tight game, who would you rather have driving your team down the field for a late score — Flacco or Leftwich? Ravens, it is.
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