Ravens run offense vs. Steelers run defense:
Ray Rice is the only player to gain more than 100 rushing yards against Pittsburgh in 38 games. But Rice, who is listed as questionable, won't be at full strength because of a bruised right knee. Even before the injury, he hadn't hit his stride this season, ranking 13th in the NFL in rushing (70 yards per game). The Steelers have the third-best defense against the run this season. They've held Atlanta's Michael Turner to 42 yards and Tennessee's Chris Johnson to 34 yards. Pittsburgh inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons is second in the NFL with 33 tackles.
Ravens pass offense vs. Steelers pass defense:
Joe Flacco has averaged 190.5 passing yards in four games against Pittsburgh, but the Ravens quarterback has the weapons to negate the Steelers' aggressive pass rush. He can hit physical receivers Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh on quick slants, which could turn into big gains. Boldin has two 100-yard receiving games in three weeks. The key is giving time in the pocket for Flacco, who was sacked nine times by Pittsburgh in two meetings last season. Outside linebacker James Harrison, who was once cut by the Ravens, has six sacks in the past three home games against the Ravens. Steelers safety Troy Polamalu (two interceptions this season) has to be accounted for before every play.
Steelers run offense vs. Ravens run defense:
The Ravens are looking to rebound after giving up 144 rushing yards to little-known Cleveland running back Peyton Hillis. But the Ravens have permitted 100-yard rushers in back-to-back games only once in the past 13 years. Pittsburgh's Rashard Mendenhall, the NFL's fourth-leading rusher, is averaging 110.6 yards. The Ravens, though, held Mendenhall to 36 yards in Pittsburgh last season. Cory Redding (concussion) is likely out, and Paul Kruger could replace him. This could mark the debut of rookie nose tackle Terrence Cody, who is expected to rotate with Kelly Gregg.
Steelers pass offense vs. Ravens pass defense:
Charlie Batch, who is filling in for Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, threw three touchdowns at Tampa Bay last Sunday, but he could have easily been picked off multiple times. Although the Ravens don't have an interception this season, they have picked off Batch three times on 48 passes. The Ravens rank first in third-down defense, and the Steelers have the third-worst offense on third downs. The Steelers receiver who caused the Ravens the most problems was Santonio Holmes, who was traded this offseason to the Jets. Pittsburgh wide receiver Mike Wallace is averaging 26.7 yards per catch, but the Ravens haven't given up a reception of more than 30 yards this season.
The Steelers' specialists outrank the Ravens in nearly every category. At punter, Pittsburgh's Daniel Sepulveda (38.6-yard net average) is having a better season than Sam Koch (36.2). At kickoff returner, the Steelers'
(34.8-yard average) leads the AFC while Jalen Parmele (23.4) ranks eighth. At punt returner, Tom Zbikowski (5.5-yard average) and Pittsburgh's Antwaan Randle-El (4.5) are both struggling early in the season. As far as kicker, the Steelers' Jeff Reed has converted eight of 10 field-goal tries while Billy Cundiff has made three of four. Cundiff is fourth in the NFL with six touchbacks.
Flacco and coach John Harbaugh are 0-3 at Pittsburgh. The Ravens can't let penalties become a problem again. Undisciplined behavior nearly cost them against Cleveland last Sunday (seven penalties in the second half). It was a year ago in Pittsburgh that the Ravens saw two touchdowns negated by penalties. The Steelers are 38-11 (.776) at Heinz Field over the past seven seasons. Under Harbaugh, the Ravens are 2-5 in the month of October. And losing Trevor Pryce, a strong presence in the locker room, was an unexpected distraction.
The Ravens' defense will be the first one to take advantage of the Steelers' not having Roethlisberger. Timely interceptions of Batch will be the difference in this closely contested grudge match. The Ravens leave Heinz with a share of first place and the title of best defense.