Ravens run offense vs. Steelers run defense
Coming off his second 100-yard game of the season, Jamal Lewis still has not consistently produced this season. He is gaining 70.4 yards a game, the second-lowest average of his career. Lewis has shown more power in the red zone, scoring six touchdowns in five games. But he often struggles against Pittsburgh, even when he was running at his best a few years ago. Lewis has not eclipsed 66 yards in his past five meetings with Pittsburgh. The Steelers have allowed no 100-yard rushers this season and only one in their past 42 games. Pittsburgh's run defense ranks fifth in the NFL.
Ravens pass offense vs. Steelers pass defense
Although he's not listed on the injury report, Steve McNair might not be as sharp because of a cut on his throwing hand. He has had success in seven games in Pittsburgh, where he has completed 78 percent of his throws and has averaged 164 yards passing. Receiver Mark Clayton, who is listed as probable with a chest injury, has caught a pass over 40 yards in four of his past six games. Adam Terry is expected to make his first career start for the Ravens in place of injured Jonathan Ogden (hyperextended toe). It will be a tough matchup against Joey Porter, the Steelers' leader in sacks (seven). In their past three games, the Steelers have 10 sacks and five interceptions. Rookie free safety Anthony Smith will make his third straight start for Ryan Clark (groin). Strong safety Troy Polamalu, who has missed the past three games with a sprained knee ligament, is listed as questionable.
Steelers run offense vs. Ravens run defense
The Ravens have limited Steelers running back Willie Parker to an average of 48 yards in three games. His longest run against the Ravens is 16 yards. But Parker is coming off his first back-to-back 100-yard games, producing 223 yards against Cleveland and 132 yards at Carolina. He has averaged 5.4 yards a carry at home, compared with 3.5 yards on the road. With Ray Lewis in the lineup, the Ravens have allowed one 100-yard rusher and have given up an average of 70.3 yards on the ground. The Ravens' front typically elevates its game against Pittsburgh because it respects the Steelers' offensive line. Nose tackle Kelly Gregg and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata dominated in their last meeting with Pittsburgh.
Steelers pass offense vs. Ravens pass defense
Since throwing two interceptions and getting sacked nine times against the Ravens, Ben Roethlisberger has played better as the Steelers have returned to their run-first roots. Averaging 21 passes the past three games, Roethlisberger has thrown four touchdowns and one interception. Pittsburgh will be without right tackle Max Starks (knee), who will be replaced by rookie Willie Colon (who has not dressed for a game) or Trai Essex (who has not played right tackle). Leading receiver Hines Ward has one touchdown in his past six games. Defensive end Trevor Pryce has been dominating lately, with 9 1/2 sacks in his past eight games - which is the most in the NFL.
Rookie Cory Ross has failed to create any spark since taking over as return specialist two games ago, averaging 2.6 yards on punt returns. The Steelers haven't allowed a punt return over 11 yards in their past three games. Pittsburgh's Santonio Holmes scored his first touchdown as a punt returner, with a 65-yard runback Sunday against Carolina. Pittsburgh kicker Jeff Reed is 11-for-17 on field goals at Heinz Field this season. The Ravens' Matt Stover is 11-for-14 on field goals in six career games there.
Since becoming the first visiting team to win at Heinz Field, the Ravens have lost five straight games there by an average of 10.6 points. Six Ravens starters (Ogden, tight end Todd Heap, receivers Derrick Mason and Clayton, center Mike Flynn and cornerback Samari Rolle) are on the injured list and won't be at full strength if they play. If this is coach Bill Cowher's last season, the Steelers want to send him out victorious in his home finale. Since being embarrassed by the Ravens, 27-0, the Steelers have won their past three games by a combined score of 84-13 to keep their faint playoff hopes alive.
The odds are stacked against the Ravens. This could be Cowher's final game in Pittsburgh. This could be the defending Super Bowl champions' last gasp for the playoffs. If the Ravens were at full strength, they might be able to pull this one out at the end ... but they're not, and they won't.