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Big Changes Since Ravens, Steelers Last Met

The Ravens' last trip to Pittsburgh was one to forget.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger tossed six touchdown passes in a 43-23 win over Baltimore, which was the most lopsided loss of the season.

Much has changed since that game, and here's a look at the difference eight weeks can make:

Ravens Have A New Secondary

The day after that loss to Pittsburgh, the Ravens cut cornerbacks Chykie Brown and Dominique Franks. Now the starting cornerbacks are Lardarius Webb and Rashaan Melvin. Webb is looking like his old self in the last month after recovering from a lingering back injury, and Melvin has been a pleasant surprise since getting inserted into the starting lineup. The secondary was playing its first game without cornerback Jimmy Smith in the last game against Pittsburgh, and the group has adjusted since then to life without their top corner. The unit will certainly get tested by Roethlisberger, but the secondary has made significant strides over the last two months.

Banged Up Offensive Line

The offensive line was a strength throughout the season for the Ravens, but the group has suffered some serious injuries in recent weeks. Right tackle Rick Wagner was lost for the season with a foot injury in Week 16, and left tackle Eugene Monroe could miss his second-straight game with an ankle injury. Undrafted rookie James Hurst would fill in for Monroe if he's unable to play, and then Pro Bowler Marshal Yanda would take over at right tackle like he did last week. Rookie John Urschel would then play right guard. The re-shuffled offensive line will have its hands full against a strong Pittsburgh front that sacked quarterback Joe Flacco four times in Week 9.

Big Questions In Steelers Backfield

The most significant question for the Steelers going into the wild-card game is the status of star running back Le'Veon Bell. He suffered a hyperextended knee in last week's game against the Bengals, and his status for Sunday is uncertain. The Steelers even went out and signed veteran free agent running back Ben Tate as an insurance policy. Bell is the bell-cow in Pittsburgh's offense, and he topped 2,000 all-purpose yards this year. If he's unable to play, the Steelers offense will have to make some signifncant adjustments to deal with the loss of one their top players.

More Productive T. Smith

Wide receiver Torrey Smith had a slow start to the season, and he had just 308 receiving yards and four touchdowns going into the Week 9 game. He's had a big second half of the season, putting up 459 yards and seven touchdowns since then. Smith is coming off a game where he had his biggest catch of the season – a 53-yard snag that propelled the offense to a fourth-quarter comeback over Cleveland to get them in the playoffs. Smith has some great memories at Heinz Field – especially that game-winning catch in 2011 – and now he's playing the best he has all season.

Emergence Of More Targets

In addition to Smith's involvement, the Ravens have also seen the emergence of other key targets in the passing game. Wide receivers Kamar Aiken and Marlon Brown both went into the last Pittsburgh matchup having made limited offensive contributions, but they have proven to be valuable assets since then. Aiken had a pair of touchdowns last month and 19 of Browns' 24 catches came in the second half of the season. Their development prevents opposing defensive coordinators from putting all of the attention on Steve or Torrey Smith, and that creates opportunities for the offense as a whole. The Steelers had the 27th ranked pass defense this year, and having so many targets for Flacco could make a difference this week. 

As the AFC North rivals prepare to clash Thursday night, take a look back at some of their classic battles.

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