Countdown: Steelers vs. Ravens

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Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3) vs. Baltimore Ravens (5-3)
Sunday, Nov. 2, 2014
Heinz Field
8:30 p.m.; NBC

SERIES HISTORY: Steelers lead, 23-17, (3-0 postseason). The Ravens have won the previous two meetings and five of the last seven. Baltimore also has won three of the last four regular season meetings in Pittsburgh.   

LAST MEETING: Ravens 26, Steelers 6, Sept. 11, 2014, M&T Bank Stadium. Baltimore outscored Pittsburgh, 16-3, in the second half and scored the final 16 points of the game unanswered while doing so. The Steelers turned the ball over on the game-opening possession and on two more occasions in the fourth quarter. Ravens QB Joe Flacco threw a pair of touchdown passes, both to TE Owen Daniels. Baltimore possessed the ball for 35:08.   

LAST WEEK: The Steelers exploded for 51 points behind QB Ben Roethlisberger's 522 yards passing and ambushed Indianapolis, 51-34. The Ravens surrendered a last-minute touchdown and had an even later potentially game-winning score nullified by an offensive interference penalty on WR Steve Smith in a 27-24 loss at Cincinnati. That completed a sweep of the Ravens by the Bengals.

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The Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for the game against the Baltimore Ravens.

WHEN THE RAVENS HAVE THE BALL**: They'll rely on their revamped rushing attack to grind out yards and set up the play-action game, while continuing to compensate for what they no longer have.

The Ravens used to maintain a recognizable identity – RB Ray Rice working the outside-zone runs and catching passes in the flat, WR Torrey Smith stretching the field, and TEs Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels creating mismatches. With Rice long gone and Pitta on IR, the Ravens have had to improvise a bit. RBs Justin Forsett (571 yards, a 5.5 average per carry and three rushing touchdowns) and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro (two rushing touchdowns against the Bengals, four on the season) have done a nice job keeping the ground game going. And WR Steve Smith has sparked the passing game and added some swagger. Smith can still run and he can still run after the catch. Torrey Smith has four receiving touchdowns (as does Steve Smith) but only 308 receiving yards. He has drawn enough pass interference penalties that it appears the Ravens are throwing it deep on occasion in search of either a catch or a flag.

The offensive line got LT Eugene Monroe and LG Kelechi Osemele back from injury last Sunday. When whole the unit is capable of providing what's necessary for the ground game and for Flacco, who hasn't been sacked in four of eight games and dropped just once in two others. He's thrown 10 touchdown passes and one interception in his last eight games against the Steelers.

WHEN THE STEELERS HAVE THE BALL: They're not likely to throw for 522 yards and amass 639 total net yards, as they did against the Colts. But they'll be out to continue maximizing possession with production, which was a frustrating problem more often than not prior to meeting Indianapolis.

To pull that off again they'll have to run it effectively enough and protect Roethlisberger well enough to neutralize a Baltimore pass rush that has become less reliant on blitzing but remains formidable. Baltimore's 17 sacks in eight games isn't an attention-getting number, but the Ravens can still generate pressure. They'll rely heavily on DT Haloti Ngata, OLB Terrell Suggs, OLB Elvis Dumervil and/or OLB Pernell McPhee, among others, to consistently win one-on-one battles on the way to the quarterback. All four are more than capable toward that end.

The Ravens secondary is something of a mystery to the Steelers due to injuries suffered by CBs Asa Jackson (IR) and Jimmy Smith (out this week). CB Lardarius Webb will likely spend a lot of time following WR Antonio Brown. Mismatches the Steelers might potentially exploit could be WRs Marcus Wheaton, Martavis Bryant and/or Lance Moore against whatever the Ravens come up with in terms of sub-package and/or slot defenders.

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SPECIAL-TEAMS HEADLINERS**: WR Jacoby Jones is No. 5 in the NFL in kickoff returns (27.9 per) but has been putting the ball on the ground on punt returns and was replaced in that capacity by rookie WR Michael Campanaro at Cincinnati (Campanaro eventually left the game injured). The Steelers drew the Colts offside on a field goal attempt, the third time they've been able to do that to an opponent this season.

THE X-FACTOR: The Ravens-Bengals game was a "no flinch" game according to Cincinnati Coach Marvin Lewis. How tough might it be for Baltimore to engage in a second consecutive grinding, grueling, physical battle on the road? And what type of energy and emotion might the Steelers glean from hosting the Ravens on the night Joe Greene's No. 75 jersey is officially retired?

THEY SAID IT: "You need to be ready for those guys to make some plays, especially when you're going to Pittsburgh. They're going to make their plays and the crowd is going to get into it and they're going to feed off that. You have to prepare yourself for the fact that it's going to happen. When it does happen, you don't overreact to it. You just continue to go play." – Flacco on playing the Steelers at Heinz Field.

"It's personal." – Steelers OT Marcus Gilbert on playing the Ravens.

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