The depth of the Ravens' roster will be under scrutiny today in Pittsburgh. It's a pass-fail situation that may dictate which direction the team goes in offseason personnel evaluations.
The Ravens likely will be down three starters on defense when they visit the Steelers at Heinz Field, and may be down two on offense, depending on wide-out Mark Clayton's status.
Left tackle Jared Gaither has missed the last two games with an unspecified foot injury, and didn't practice at all last week. That means it's very unlikely Gaither plays in Pittsburgh, and that makes the offensive line a flashpoint today.
Without Gaither, rookie Michael Oher moves to the left side where he'll probably get outside linebacker James Harrison, although Harrison is listed as questionable with a biceps strain. Right tackle is more problematic. Oniel Cousins has started the last two games on the right side and may start again. But he was shaky last week against the Bears, and for that reason, the Ravens might be forced to move right guard Marshal Yanda to right tackle to battle LaMarr Woodley. In that scenario, Chris Chester, now the second tight end, would move back in at guard.
Woodley is on a rampage with 7.5 sacks in the Steelers' last six games. He would be a lot for Cousins to handle, even if the Ravens give Cousins a lot of help. Yanda makes more sense.
On the plus side, Demetrius Williams has given the Ravens a deep threat at wide receiver and could start ahead of both Kelley Washington and Clayton, both of whom were out last week.
On defense, Chris Carr replaces Lardarius Webb (on IR with a knee injury) at left cornerback. The Pittsburgh receiver who has given the Ravens fits the last three seasons is Santonio Holmes, who has seven touchdown catches in his last six games against Baltimore. Carr will have his hands full when he's lined up against Holmes and will need safety help.
The Steelers will attempt to run the ball (Rashard Mendenhall gained 95 yards in the November loss in Baltimore), but the fact is, Pittsburgh will win or lose on the arm of Ben Roethlisberger. His game-winning pass against Green Bay last week was the latest in his series of Houdini-like escapes for the Steelers. The Ravens' secondary -- like the Steelers' -- remains suspect.
Look for the Ravens to run the ball, and look for fullback Le'Ron McClain to finally get the call. The Steelers will scheme to minimize Ray Rice's effectiveness, and that should open the door for a power runner like McClain. Quarterback Joe Flacco's success in November against the Steelers gives confidence to the idea the Ravens will be able to throw, as well.
Another aspect of the matchup that bears watching is the Ravens' kick return game. It's doubtful the Ravens will want to risk losing Carr on a kickoff collision. (He can and probably will still return -- or fair catch -- punts.) The Steelers are atrocious covering kicks (witness last week's ill-conceived onside kick), so it's a key area. Jalen Parmele probably returns kicks for the Ravens.