SCOUTING REPORT Jamison Hensley
Ravens run offense vs. Steelers run defense: Pittsburgh has the NFL's top-ranked run defense, continuing its run of excellence over the years. The Steelers are giving up 64 yards rushing per game, which is an amazing 16 yards fewer per game than anyone else in the league. Only one running back has gained over 60 yards on Pittsburgh this season (New England's BenJarvus Green-Ellis). Ravens running back Ray Rice has produced at least 70 yards rushing in five of his past seven games. In four career games vs. the Steelers, Rice averages 62.3 rushing yards per game, the best average of any opposing RB against the Steelers' defense since 2008. Willis McGahee has become a non-factor over his past four games, totaling 64 yards rushing and scoring no touchdowns. Fullback Le'Ron McClain is questionable with an ankle injury.
Ravens pass offense vs. Steelers pass defense: Joe Flacco is looking to exploit the NFL's 22nd-ranked pass defense again. He threw for 256 yards against the Steelers two months ago, winning the game on an 18-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh with 32 seconds remaining. The Ravens picked on cornerback Bryant McFadden and look to do the same this time. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin has disappeared lately, but his physical style suits this rivalry. The Ravens offensive line is looking to repeat its success from the previous meeting, when it held the Steelers to one sack. Offensive tackle Michael Oher, who is questionable with a knee injury, would line up against James Harrison (10 sacks). Right guard Chris Chester is scheduled to return after missing two games with a bacterial infection in his lower leg. The Steelers are 0-2 when allowing a 300-yard passer this season.
Steelers run offense vs. Ravens run defense: It's always a mystery as to which Ravens' run defense will show up. In the past six games, the Ravens have allowed 100 yards four times and have limited teams to less than 75 yards twice. Pittsburgh's Rashard Mendenhall has been mildly effective against the Ravens. In the past three meetings, Mendenhall has averaged 70 yards rushing and has scored three touchdowns. He hasn't broken a run longer than 15 yards against the Ravens. Mendenhall is at his best when running wide right, where he has gained his most yards and has scored three touchdowns. Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata had a season-high 11 tackles in the first meeting.
Steelers pass offense vs. Ravens pass defense: Ben Roethlisberger has a 96.8 quarterback rating in his past five games against the Ravens. He is the fifth-rated passer in the NFL this season, throwing 12 touchdowns and four interceptions. But he re-injured his foot last Sunday, which could limit his mobility. Hines Ward is the leading receiver (40 catches) but the bigger concern is Mike Wallace. One of the fastest wide receivers in the NFL, Wallace has averaged 22 yards per catch and has scored on eight of his 36 catches (22 percent). The Steelers' banged-up offensive line, which has lost both starting tackles and has four different starting combinations this season, has given up the eighth-most sacks in the NFL. The Ravens have only intercepted Roethlisberger once in the past three meetings. Strong safety Dawan Landry is questionable after sustaining a concussion last Sunday.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The biggest edge is with the placekickers. Billy Cundiff leads the NFL in touchbacks and has converted 15 of his past 16 field goals. Shaun Suisham made all four of his field goals in his first game with the Steelers last Sunday, all of which were from beyond 40 yards including a 41-yard game-winning in overtime. But there's a reason why he has bounced around six teams in five years. His career field-goal percentage is 79.8. A big play could come from kickoff returns. The Steelers have a dangerous returner in Emmanuel Sanders, who is averaging 25.1 yards. Ravens rookie David Reed has been very aggressive in running back kickoffs the past couple of games.
INTANGIBLES: Roethlisberger hasn't lost to the Ravens since 2006, winning his last five starts against his AFC North rival. The Ravens have a streak as well, winning their past eight games at M&T Bank Stadium. That's the longest current home winning streak in the NFL (when including playoffs). The Steelers have not been sharp on the road, where they've lost at New Orleans and New England and nearly fell at Miami and Buffalo. The Ravens have been playing to the level of their competition and have struggled to put away Carolina and Tampa Bay the past two weeks. The past five regular-season meetings in this rivalry have been decided by four points or less. With the AFC North lead on the line, this is a huge December game for both teams.
Prediction: The Ravens have struggled to beat Roethlisberger, but the Steelers have struggled to protect him this year. Increased pressure on the Steelers quarterback — and an edge in the kicking game — will prove enough for the Ravens to take control of the AFC North.