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SCOUTING REPORT

The Baltimore Sun

Ravens run offense vs. Steelers run defense: : The Ravens are eating up yards on the ground and minutes off the clock, but the NFL's second-ranked ground attack has dominated two soft run defenses. It will be a steeper challenge against the Steelers, the league's No. 2 run defense. Pittsburgh won't be as strong up front because it will be without nose tackle Casey Hampton and end Brett Keisel. But the Steelers have handled the Ravens at Heinz Field, holding them to 81.8 yards rushing and 3.4 yards per carry in the past five meetings there. Ravens running back Willis McGahee is expected to start, but he could be affected by an eye injury. Edge: STEELERS:

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Ravens pass offense vs. Steelers pass defense: : Rookie quarterback Joe Flacco will be facing a hostile crowd and a blitz-happy defense. The Ravens' offensive line has been surprisingly strong in pass protection, giving up one sack on 49 dropbacks. The Steelers will attack the Ravens where they are the most suspect. Outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley are tough matchups for Ravens tackles Jared Gaither and Adam Terry. The Ravens gave up six sacks last season at Heinz. Bryant McFadden, who has made an interception in his past two starts, will continue to start at cornerback in place of Deshea Townsend. Edge: STEELERS:

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Steelers run offense vs. Ravens run defense: : Rashard Mendenhall will make his first start, replacing injured Willie Parker (sprained knee). The rookie first-round pick struggled in the final two preseason games, fumbling three times. This change doesn't affect the Ravens because they have owned Parker and Pittsburgh's rushing attack. The Ravens haven't allowed a Steelers running back to gain more than 42 yards in the past four meetings. Inside linebackers Ray Lewis and Bart Scott have set the tone physically. Edge: RAVENS:

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Steelers pass offense vs. Ravens pass defense: : The Ravens have the top-ranked pass defense, but this is where they could be vulnerable. With Samari Rolle out with a shoulder injury, the Ravens are expected to start either Corey Ivy or Frank Walker, both of whom struggled mightily in the preseason. Fabian Washington, who is day-to-day with a neck injury, could play on third downs. Pittsburgh could spread out the Ravens and test their depth. If the Ravens can't exploit Pittsburgh's offensive line (nine sacks allowed last week), quarterback Ben Roethlisberger could repeat his five-touchdown performance from last season. Edge: STEELERS:

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Special teams:: The Ravens' Matt Stover is off to a surprisingly slow start (1-for-3 on field-goal attempts). The Steelers' Jeff Reed was 10-for-17 on field goals at Heinz last season. Pittsburgh hasn't gotten much out of its return game this season, ranking near the bottom of the NFL. The Ravens are unsure about their return game. Dangerous returner Yamon Figurs is questionable with a hamstring injury, and his backup, Jim Leonhard, will start at safety. That means the Ravens might have to go with their third options, Ray Rice on kickoffs and Tom Zbikowski on punts. Edge: EVEN:

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Intangibles:: The Steelers haven't lost a Monday Night Football game at home since 1992, going 13-0. The Ravens have flopped in the national spotlight, losing their past six prime-time games. That includes a 38-7 loss last season at Heinz, where the Ravens are 2-6 all-time. The Steelers have the best home winning percentage (.722) in the NFL since 1970. The Ravens have lost eight of their past 10 road games in the AFC North. Edge: STEELERS:

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Prediction:: The Ravens appear to be the chief threat to the Steelers in the AFC North, but they are not there yet. Without Parker, the Steelers will spread out the Ravens and attack their banged-up secondary. It will be a painful reminder of last season. STEELERS, 20-6:

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