It will be the Ravens


DATE: Saturday, Jan. 15
TIME: 4:30 p.m.
SITE: Heinz Field

FAST FACTSRavens' record
: 13-4
Steelers' record: 12-4
Series record (including playoffs): Steelers lead, 20-12

Steelers: Bye, as the AFC's No. 2 seed
Ravens: Defeated Kansas City, 30-7

Ever since Coach John Harbaugh's rookie season ended with a loss to the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game at Heinz Field, the expectation has been that the Ravens would take the next step and advance to the Super Bowl. It hasn't happened yet, and if there is something to say about not being able to win a division title and earn the home playoff games that come with that, this also is a team unfazed by having to go on the road in the playoffs. In 2008, the Ravens won twice on the road before falling at Heinz Field. In 2009, they went to Foxborough and became the only team to beat the Patriots with Tom Brady at quarterback in the last 31 outings, and the score was a decisive 33-14. And it was a physical beating the Ravens put on the Chiefs last Sunday in the Wild Card round to advance to Heinz Field. A game against the Ravens is physical and violent, a lot of hard work even by NFL standards, and nobody knows that better than the Steelers.

It seems as though this will be the critical area for this team throughout these playoffs. Can this offense generate enough points to complement a defense that might not be as dominant as in the recent past but still is the heart of this team? The pieces are in place, but the results of late haven't been what any team is going to need to win a championship. And the natives are growing restless.

According to a story written by Mike Preston that appeared in The Baltimore Sun, "(I)f you look closely at this team, this is a sensitive time. The lackluster offense is close to causing some division, because a poor offense keeps gassing a good defense. Fullback Le'Ron McClain voiced his displeasure earlier this week, and a defensive tackle complained about the offensive coordinator at halftime (of the regular season finale against Cincinnati) loud enough to be heard by other team officials."

What do the Ravens want to be on offense? In that playoff win over the Patriots a year ago, the Ravens rushed for 234 yards, with Ray Rice accounting for 155 on 22 attempts to go along with a couple of touchdowns. In keeping with the theme of the importance of running the ball vs. an opponent with a great quarterback, the Ravens used 153 yards and a touchdown from Rice to defeat Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in Week 15 of 2010.

But the passing attack has not taken the next step that was envisioned when the team added Anquan Boldin and Donte Stallworth during the offseason, and as the Ravens entered the playoffs there was some frustration over this. The return of Todd Heap from injury could open things up for the guys on the outside, and he was a big factor in the win over the Chiefs.

"For us, we've just got to go out there and make it work," said WR Derrick Mason. "I guess that has to be the theme of the playoffs -- whatever is being called, we have to make it work. We can no longer point the finger. We've got to make it work as an offensive unit. There are no more excuses, because excuses are going to get you beat. The teams that make excuses are going to have to sit at home next week, so we can't make any more excuses. Whatever play is called, we've got to make it work … Whatever it is, we have to make it work."

Rushing: Ray Rice (307 att; 1,220 yds; 4.0 avg; 5 TDs)

Passing: Joe Flacco (489 att; 306 comp, 62.6 pct; 3,622 yds; 25 TDs; 10 INTs; 93.6 rtg)

Receiving: Anquan Boldin (64 rec; 837 yds; 13.1 avg; 7 TDs)

There doesn't really need to be a lot said here. Judging this Ravens defense against some of the franchise's previous units can leave the current one lacking, but that has nothing to do with whether it's good enough to win a championship. The Ravens have just one big-time pass rusher, but Terrell Suggs can dominate a football game. The cornerbacks aren't when they were back in the days of Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle, but Ed Reed led the team with eight interceptions despite missing the first six games of the season because of a hip injury. And if their defensive line isn't as deep as it once was, well, Haloti Ngata is one of the NFL's best players at his position.

And they still have Ray Lewis, a man who has been the face of that franchise for over a decade. "It's just about being a swarming defense. Anytime you have a swarming defense, you're going to have turnover possibilities. That's a credit to the way we practice, to what we feel about each other. And that is never let another man see you loafing on the field."

Tackles: Ray Lewis 139

Sacks: Terrell Suggs 11

Interceptions: Ed Reed 8

This is an underrated part of the Ravens' success this season, and they can thank the Dallas Cowboys for one of their primary weapons here. Dallas cut PK Billy Cundiff, and he won a training camp battle for the position with the Ravens. In addition to being reliable with field goals, Cundiff also led the NFL with 40 touchbacks during the regular season. When you combine that with a punter in Sam Koch who finished with 39 kicks inside the 20-yard line, the Ravens can complement their rugged defense nicely.

Scoring: Billy Cundiff (39-39 PAT; 26-29 FG; 49 long; 117 pts)

Punting: Sam Koch (81 punts; 43.6 avg; 4 TB; 39 In 20; 39.2 net)

Punt returns: Lardarius Webb (21 ret; 199 yds; 9.5 avg; 35 long; 0 TDs)

Kickoff returns: David Reed (21 ret; 616 yds; 29.3 avg; 103 long; 1 TD)

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