Just as they did the previous three games against some of the NFL's elite defensive linemen, the Steelers will identify Baltimore's Haloti Ngata as a player they need to neutralize if they want to beat the Ravens.
If that plan goes as well as the previous three assignments, the Steelers likely will take a huge step toward their fourth consecutive victory tonight against Baltimore.
"Haloti Ngata is who he is," coach Mike Tomlin said of the Ravens' four-time Pro Bowl nose tackle. "There are a lot of constants in their defense, things that are known issues but are issues nonetheless. They have people that we have to work to neutralize so that we can do what it is that we desire to do."
Ngata (6 feet 4, 340 pounds) is just the latest in a series of defensive linemen who are the cornerstones, if not the dominant player, in a defense the Steelers will be attempting to solve. He played only half his usual snaps in a victory Sunday against the New York Jets after missing the previous game with a sprained knee.
But that not does not diminish the Steelers' concern about trying to neutralize Ngata in an attempt to run the ball -- something they did better than they have all season in the first meeting Oct. 20 at Heinz Field.
"He's a load," right tackle Marcus Gilbert said.
The task of blocking Ngata falls to right guard David DeCastro, who has been the Steelers' best offensive lineman the past nine games and quickly has developed into one of the best guards in the league. And it will be quite a task: Ngata is one of the most athletic linemen in the league, a player who stuffs the run (476 tackles), pressures the quarterback (23½ sacks) and even drops into coverage (three interceptions).
But, in the previous three games, the Steelers faced players with similar pedigrees and ability, and their ability to shut out those defensive linemen were among the major keys to their three-game winning streak.
And they literally shut them out.
Buffalo defensive end Mario Williams, Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and Cleveland nose tackle Phil Taylor were identified as linemen the Steelers needed to neutralize if they wanted to have a chance at victory. They were players who could not be allowed to do what they do best -- disrupt opposing offenses by controlling the line of scrimmage or sacking quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Not only did those three players fail to do that, they also failed to register a statistic of any kind against the Steelers. Not a sack, not a tackle, not an assist, not even a hurry or a pressure. Nothing.
Is that game-planning at its best or just coincidence?
"That's pretty good," said DeCastro, the Steelers' 2012 No. 1 pick. "I think it's us playing good football. I don't think it's game-planning because you can't block every guy who's going to be blocked in the game plan. It's guys being on their keys and communicating well."
That might be part of the reason for the improved pass protection. Roethlisberger, who was sacked 35 times in the first nine games, has been sacked just once in the past two games. He was sacked four times against the Bills, but he wasn't pressured or even touched by Williams, who was leading the league with 11½ sacks. But it hasn't had a huge impact on the running game, which has managed 125 yards on 61 carries the past two games.
Gerry Dulac: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @gerrydulac.