When the Ravens have the ball: Stop if this sounds familiar. The Ravens brought in Juan Castillo to be their run-game coordinator and introduce more finesse and zone-blocking in the offense. But, after six games, they rank 27th in the league and average 2.7 yards per attempt, lower even than the Steelers (3.1). Ray Rice looks nothing like a three-time Pro Bowler. Bernard Pierce, who leads the team with 208 yards, averages 2.8 ypc. Do not be surprised if the Ravens revert to their old style of power, combo-blocking against the Steelers, who have allowed an 114.8 yards rushing per game. Part of the problem has been the offensive line, where LT Bryant McKinnie has been replaced by newcomer Eugene Monroe, injuries have hampered G Kelechi Osemele and G Marshal Yanda, and C Gino Gradkowski has struggled. Additionally, QB Joe Flacco has been sacked 19 times. That should help the Steelers, who have only seven sacks in five games. Flacco, though, remains one of the best deep passers in the league. His favorite target is WR Torrey Smith, who averages 20.3 yards on a team-high 28 catches.
When the Steelers have the ball: The Ravens lost many key players from their Super Bowl defense. But their front seven remains strong, led by NT Haloti Ngata and OLB/DE Terrell Suggs. And the free-agent addition of OLB Elvis Dumervil has strengthened their pass rush. Suggs is off to one of his best starts after losing 20 pounds. He and Dumervil (5), who plays mostly in sub packages, have combined for 12 of the team's 22 sacks. Daryl Smith, signed in free agency from the Jaguars, has played better than expected and leads the team with 53 tackles and two INTs. Jimmy Smith is big and physical and has emerged as the team's top cornerback, but Lardarius Webb is coming off his second reconstructive knee surgery in three years. They will have to contain Antonio Brown, who has 30 catches for 370 yards in his past three games. The Ravens have replaced safeties Reed and Pollard with rookie Matt Elam and James Ihedigbo, and that has created problems in the middle of the field.
Keep an eye on:
TE Dallas Clark ... The Ravens have been trying to find a replacement for tight end Dennis Pitta, who is on short-term injured reserve, and Clark is starting to fill that role. After a slow start in which he dropped passes and looked stale, Clark, 34, has come on to catch 20 passes for 256 yards -- four for 81 yards in last week's loss to the Packers. With the loss of Pitta and trade of WR Anquan Boldin, Clark has been a welcome target for QB Joe Flacco.
The Ravens have won three consecutive regular-season games at Heinz Field and three of the past four meetings overall. ... Overall, the road team is 5-1 in the past six. ... This is the first time since 2002 that neither team has a winning record heading into the game. ... Since John Harbaugh became the Ravens coach in 2008, each team has won five times. Eight of the past 10 meetings have been decided by three points or fewer, including both games last season (Ravens, 13-10, on Nov. 18; Steelers, 23-20, on Dec. 2). ... The Steelers are 115-59 in October since 1970 -- the best mark in the NFL. They have not lost their first three home games of any season since 1986.
To win, the Ravens must ...
1. Have Rice be nice. The Ravens running back has been bothered by a hip injury and doesn't have a run longer than 14 yards.
2. Bar Heath. The Ravens have had coverage problems in the middle of the field, allowing tight ends to catch 22 passes for 389 yards in six games.
3. Fly fast. The offense has been a notorious slow-starter, scoring just 10 points in the first quarter and only 47 of their 134 points in the first half.
To win, the Steelers must ...
1. Sack-o Flacco. Only three QBs -- Ryan Tannehill, Geno Smith and Terrelle Pryor -- have been sacked more than the Super Bowl MVP.
2. Mug Suggs. The five-time Pro Bowler has 151/2 of his 911/2 sacks against Roethlisberger, the most by a Steelers opponent.
3. Have Elvis leave the building. Dumervil comes in on third-down situations and has five of the team's 22 sacks.
First Published October 19, 2013 8:00 PM