Ravens run offense vs. Steelers run defense
Willis McGahee, the NFL's third-leading rusher who averages 91.3 yards a game, faces the NFL's fourth-best run defense, which gives up 77.7 yards a game. Pittsburgh hasn't allowed 100-yard rusher in 32 consecutive games, but McGahee traditionally has success against 3-4 defenses. With left tackle Jonathan Ogden and right tackle Adam Terry back in the lineup, the Ravens could try to get McGahee to the edges. Tough defensive end Aaron Smith (knee sprain) is doubtful and likely will be replaced by Nick Eason.
Ravens pass offense vs. Steelers pass defense
Steve McNair, who is 11-4 against the Steelers, will start his first game since Oct. 7 because the Ravens wanted him to rest groin and back injuries. McNair hasn't looked like the same clutch quarterback for some time, throwing two touchdowns and five interceptions in his past six games (dating to the end of last season). The Ravens beat the Steelers last season with the big play, something McNair has failed to produce this season. Against an aggressive defense like the Steelers, the Ravens would really like to hit quick passes to tight end Todd Heap, who is questionable with a hamstring injury. Roaming safety Troy Polamalu is the key to the NFL's fourth-ranked pass defense.
Steelers run offense vs. Ravens run defense
Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians declared that the Steelers would run the ball against the Ravens, who give up the fewest yards per carry in the league (2.9). Because of their quick pursuit, the Ravens have regularly shut down speedy running back Willie Parker. In two meetings against the Ravens last season, he totaled 51 yards on 23 carries. Parker is second in the NFL in rushing and has gained more than 100 yards in five of seven games this season. The Ravens have limited starting running backs this season to 56 yards a game and a total of two rushing touchdowns.
Steelers pass offense vs. Ravens pass defense
The Ravens could be in trouble because they likely will play without both starting cornerbacks - Chris McAlister (knee) is doubtful and Samari Rolle (undisclosed illness) is out. Backups Corey Ivy and Derrick Martin are physical, but they could be exposed by receivers Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes deep downfield. The Ravens sacked Ben Roethlisberger 14 times in two wins last season, but this is a different Steelers quarterback this season. Roethlisberger, who ranks fourth in quarterback rating, has thrown a touchdown pass in 12 straight games and has 15 for the season (three off his career best). Defensive tackle Trevor Pryce, the Ravens' sacks leader from last season, is expected to play passing situations after missing five games with a broken left wrist.
The Steelers have the third-worst punt coverage team in the NFL, giving up an average of 15.7 yards a return (including one touchdown). Ravens rookie returner Yamon Figurs is dangerous with the ball but he struggled fielding returns in his last game. Ravens kicker Matt Stover, who has a thigh injury on his kicking leg, is 9-for-11 on field-goal attempts at Heinz Field, hitting two from beyond 46 yards. Pittsburgh kicker Jeff Reed is 11-for-12 on field-goal attempts against the Ravens.
The Ravens are getting some injured starters back and are looking to win for the sixth straight time immediately after a bye. But the Ravens have flopped on the road (1-3 this season) and on prime time (last win was in 2005). The Steelers are 3-0 at Heinz Field this season, allowing 19 total points. After getting clobbered by the Ravens last season by a combined score of 58-7, Pittsburgh is looking for payback.
Even at full strength, the Ravens would be hard-pressed to beat the Steelers. Now, with the Ravens against the ropes, the Steelers are more than happy to deliver the knockout blow. This puts a serious dent in the Ravens' chances of repeating as division champions. Steelers, 20-10