Another chapter will be added to the classic Ravens-Steelers rivalry Saturday night.
Here are five things to watch as the Ravens look to get their first playoff win in Pittsburgh:
How Does Line Handle Harrison?
Outside linebacker James Harrison was a game wrecker for the Steelers in their Week 9 victory over the Ravens, and Baltimore's offensive line can't let that happen again. The line could likely have to operate without both starting tackles again this week, and that means that rookie James Hurst has to hold his own against the veteran defender. Quarterback Joe Flacco needs time to be at his best, and keeping Harrison out of the backfield is critical to make that happen.
Ngata Making Presence Felt
Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata got the chance he was hoping for when the Ravens made the playoffs. It allowed him to play again this year. Ngata said that he owes his teammates after serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's performance enhancing drug policy, and he's motivated to have a big day. Ngata has come up big for the Ravens before in these rivalry games – he had an interception in Baltimore's Week 2 victory – and the Ravens are counting on him to make a difference in his return.
Does Polamalu Take The Field?
For many years, safety Troy Polamalu was an iconic figure in the Ravens-Steelers matchups. But he's in the twilight of his career, and the Steelers have put him on the shelf lately. Polamalu has been a full participant in practice this week after missing four games with a knee injury, but there is speculation that Pittsburgh won't play him even if he's healthy. Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin didn't commit to playing the veteran safety even if he is healthy. Polamalu has tormented the Ravens before in these games, so it would be a strange sight to see a healthy Polamalu watching the playoff contest from the sidelines.
Can Ravens Run The ball?
The running game has sputtered lately, especially early in games. Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak acknowledged that the ground game had hit a bit of a wall the last month, and it's a priority to change that. Kubiak's offense is built on the ability to run the football, and the Ravens need to get running back Justin Forsett involved early. The yards won't come easy against a stout Pittsburgh front, so the Ravens could also try to use the passing attack to help set up the ground game.
The Ravens offense couldn't do much of anything for three and a half quarters against the Browns last week, and then wide receiver Torrey Smith came up with a 53-yard catch to jump-start a fourth-quarter comeback. The Ravens need those kinds of plays from their skills positions. Torrey Smith and Steve Smith Sr. have made plenty of those plays over the years, and the Ravens need them to come up with more of them. Flacco will give his receivers opportunities to make plays, and they have to capitalize.
As the AFC North rivals prepare to clash Thursday night, take a look back at some of their classic battles.