Ravens at Steelers Game Preview

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The Ravens are set to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers Monday night at Heinz Field (8:30 p.m. ET). BR.com offers a breakdown of Baltimore's Week 4 opponent as the team prepares to go 3-0.

Rankings

Total Offense - 29 (255.3) Total Defense - 2 (234.0)

Rush Offense - 18 (111.0) Rush Defense - 2 (64.3)

Pass Offense - 29 (144.3) Pass Defense -9 (169.7)

Points Per Game - T23 (18.0) Points Per Game - 3 (12.7)

Sizing Them Up

The Steelers are perennially one of the top teams in the AFC, and it goes to show over the last five seasons when they've won the AFC North twice (2004 and 2007) and even took home the Super Bowl XL trophy in a year when they were a Wild Card.

Led by second-year head coach Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh is still the tough team that they were for many years under former coach Bill Cowher, featuring a stout run attack and a smash-mouth defense. Tomlin has the Steelers out to a 2-1 record, coming off a 15-6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is continuing his progress in his fifth year. Last season, he was named to his first Pro Bowl after passing for 3,154 yards and a team-record 32 touchdowns. This year, he already has three scores and is completing 66.1 percent of his passes.

Roethlisberger's favorite target is wideout Hines Ward, a four-time Pro Bowler who has caught every one of Pittsburgh's touchdowns in 2008. Ward is one of the most hard-nosed receivers in the game, especially noting his well-documented feud with Ravens linebacker Bart Scott on the field.

The Steelers were used to getting it done on the ground with Willie Parker, but the 2007 Pro Bowler will miss at least two contests with a sprained left knee. That leaves rookie Rashard Mendenhall, the 23rd-overall selection in this year's draft, as the main runner. Mendenhall only has 10 career carries for 28 yards.

Defensively, Pittsburgh lives by the zone-blitz schemes of coordinator Dick LeBeau. He employs pass-rushing linebackers LaMarr Woodley, James Harrison and Lawrence Timmons on the edges, while James Farrior and Larry Foote control the middle.

The Steelers will miss massive nose guard Casey Hampton, who is sidelined with a groin injury, opening the way for veteran backup Chris Hoke to start. On the back end, it's impossible to miss hard-hitting safety Troy Polamalu, not only for the flowing black hair that sticks out from under his helmet, but also for his ability to play both the run and pass. Polamalu has made an interception in each of Pittsburgh's first three games.

What's Up?

Bob Labriola of Steelers.com offers his take on four matchups to watch in the contest, highlighting Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco against the Steelers' defense.

"Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is in for a bigger shock, because what Dick LeBeau will unleash on him this Monday night will not only be a physical test, but a mental and psychological one as well."*

*

Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Bruce Arians takes the blame for the Steelers allowing nine sacks last week, according to Gerry Dulac of the Post-Gazette.

"Arians said he is to blame for the performance of his offense, which even wide receiver Hines Ward said looked "confused" in a 10-6 loss to the Eagles."

Ed Bouchette, another writer for the Post-Gazette, writes about the Steelers' warning Mendenhall about Ravens trash talking.

"They offered advice to Mendenhall about what to expect from the renowned Baltimore Ravens defense when he makes his first pro start Monday night at Heinz Field."

And this is an interesting nugget from ESPN.com's James Walker. Apparently, Mendenhall mistakenly sent a text to Ravens rookie Ray Rice saying he was going to have a big game Monday.

"Obviously, Rice, who often praises the Ravens' defense as "scary," passed the text message along to his teammates, who are not taking Mendenhall's proclamation lightly."

Awards

Offensive - It would be easy to say Roethlisberger, but Ward is a big reason why the Steelers maintain their tough image on the offensive side of the ball. Ward is a vicious downfield blocker and a gritty receiver that always seems to laugh off a big hit. He has 15 receptions for 169 yards and three scores this year.

Defensive - Polamalu is the guiding force behind Pittsburgh's defense. He can line up on scrimmage and take on offensive linemen, blow up tight ends coming across the middle and sprint with receivers in coverage. Polamalu's three picks show the extent of his ball-hawking skills, as well.

Emerging Star

Outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, the 46th-overall draft pick last year, made his first start in a season-opening victory over the Houston Texans and did not disappoint. The Michigan product finished with three tackles, one sack, an interception and a fumble recovery. Woodley even earned GMC Defensive Player of the Week honors for his efforts.

The 6-foot-2, 265-pound linebacker already has four sacks this season to go along with 15 stops.

Key Matchups

Ravens ILBs Ray Lewis and Bart Scott vs. Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall

The Ravens are known for stopping the run, which is again going to be a focus for the Monday night showdown. Mendenhall rushed 10 times for only 28 yards in Week 1 against the Texans and hasn't toted the rock since. The job of hunting Mendenhall will largely fall on Scott and Lewis' shoulders. Lewis and Scott finished Nos. 1 and 2 on the Ravens' 2007 tackle charts, respectively. Also, Mendenhall lost three fumbles in the final two preseason contests, so expect the Ravens to try to poke the ball out.

Ravens RT Adam Terry vs. Steelers DE Aaron Smith

Smith is as powerful and explosive of a defensive end as there is in the league. The 298-pounder already has two sacks this year, and is leading all Pittsburgh defensive linemen with eight sacks. Terry – and right guard Marshal Yanda – will be faced with the task of stopping Smith, but the right side of Baltimore's offensive line has been gelling of late.

Quotable

Tomlin on the Steelers' offensive line play against the Eagles:

"I think to say anything other than the fact that Philly did a nice job would be a discredit to them. That needs to be said first, but from our standpoint there were a lot of things we could have done better, both players and coaches, and we acknowledge that. We're about the business of making those corrections this week, and all we can do is swallow it whole and prepare for our next opportunity to perform, which is Monday night."

Ward on Mendenhall:

"He's a promising rookie. Just like any rookie, he's excited to get his opportunity. And yes, that's unfortunate what happened to Willie [Parker], but in this business when one guy goes down, the next man has to go in there. We can't lose a beat, so the expectation level is going to stay the same with Rashard in there. We've just got to go out and make sure we execute better than we did last week."

Duff's Take

It's always a fun battle when the Ravens and Steelers play. It's a division game between two football teams that are very similar in their tenacious defenses and emphasis on the run.

The key for Baltimore to win on the grand stage of Monday Night Football comes down to what they've done well to this point – control the line of scrimmage. The Ravens have done it in their previous two victories, but on the scrappy turf at a hostile Heinz Field, things might not be as simple.

It helps that 325-pound load Casey Hampton won't be plugging up the middle, which may allow the interior of the Ravens' line to open a few more holes for Willis McGahee, Ray Rice and Le'Ron McClain. And, with rookie Joe Flacco in at quarterback for his first road outing, grinding out yards on the ground is imperative.

Also, Flacco must take care of the football. An interception here and a fumble there, and the Pittsburgh faithful will jump all over him.

Baltimore's defense is going to be keyed up, just like it usually is when feeding off the hatred of a pro-Steelers crowd. If the offense can move the chains with a solid ground attack, it could be a good night for the Ravens.

If not, the Ravens might be left saying, "Good night."

Ed. note: These aren't necessarily the beliefs of the Ravens organization.

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