Divisional Round Matchup: Steelers vs. Ravens
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When the Ravens have the ball: Joe Flacco already is tied for most road playoff wins by a quarterback in a career (4), but one of his two road playoff losses was in the 2008 AFC Championship game in Heinz Field when he was sacked three times and threw three interceptions. But Flacco beat the Steelers in the regular-season meeting this season at Heinz Field when he completed all four pass attempts on the winning touchdown drive. He has become adept at reading coverage and using the whole field to run crossing routes. Flacco relies on three veteran receivers -- Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason and T.J. Houshmandzadeh -- in addition to RB Ray Rice, who was second on the team with 63 catches. Boldin led the team with 64 catches and seven TDs in the regular season. Rice is the only running back in the past 50 games to rush for more than 100 yards against the Steelers.
When the Steelers have the ball: The Ravens' biggest problem is QB Ben Roethlisberger, who is playoff-tested and finished the regular season with 158 consecutive passes without an interception. Roethlisberger has won his past six games against the Ravens and is 8-2 against them in his career. His nose was broken in the first quarter of the last meeting, but he made the winning plays when he had to in the final minutes. Despite the presence of S Ed Reed, Roethlisberger won't be afraid to attack deep with WR Mike Wallace, who has become the most dangerous big-play receiver in the NFL. Teams have been trying to take advantage of MLB Ray Lewis in third-down situations by isolating him in coverage with a running back or tight end. RB Rashard Mendenhall had 124 yards on 44 carries in two games against the Ravens this season, but he didn't have a run longer than 11 yards.
TE Todd Heap ... The Ravens wanted to use him more in the game in Baltimore, but he injured his hamstring running a deep route on the first play and did not return. Heap had 10 catches for 108 yards in the wild-card victory Sunday against Kansas City, and the Ravens are hoping to get him isolated in mismatches against linebackers. The Steelers have allowed four TD passes to a tight end in 2010 -- three by New England's Rob Gronkowski.
Intangibles ... Five of the past six regular-season meetings have been decided by three points. The other was decided by four points. ... The Steelers (8-0) have never lost to a division team in the postseason since the 1970 merger, with two of those victories coming against the Ravens in 2001 and 2008. They are 8-1 in their past nine wild-card or divisional playoff games at home. ... The Steelers were 5-3 at home this season; the Ravens were 5-3 on the road.
1. Have Flacco on the attack. He must spread the field and throw at least 35 times if the Ravens want to advance to the AFC Championship game.
2. Break Ben. The Ravens don't fear any player as much as they do Roethlisberger, who beats them even when he has a broken nose.
3. Be Bold with Anquan. Boldin had five catches for 118 yards and one touchdown against the Steelers in the previous meeting.
1. Fry Rice. He has nine games with 100 or more yards from scrimmage in 2010, including a career-best 233 against New Orleans in Week 15.
2. Mug Suggs. Not only is Terrell Suggs difficult to block, he is difficult to locate because he moves around so much.
3. Put Todd in a heap of trouble. The Steelers might have to use Polamalu to match against the Ravens' tight end.
Steelers (12-4) vs. Baltimore Ravens (13-4).
When: 4:30 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Heinz Field.
Radio: WDVE-FM (102.5), WBGG-AM (970) and the Steelers Radio Network.
Favored: Steelers by 31/2.
First Published January 14, 2011 12:00 am