Pregame Zone Blitz: Steelers Look For Creativity In Match-Up With Baltimore

BALTIMORE MD - DECEMBER 19: Ed Dickson #83 of the Baltimore Ravens runs in for a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints at M&T Bank Stadium on December 19 2010 in Baltimore Maryland. The Ravens lead the Saints at the half 21-14. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)

Cast your mind back to Week 12 of 2009. A concussed Ben Roethlisberger is unable to play against hated rival Baltimore, a game set for Sunday Night.

Without their best player, the Steelers are forced to re-group and figure out a way to beat the favored Ravens.

And they sure came close to pulling it off.

Dennis Dixon made his first career start, and with key throws, plays with his feet and a reliance on a tough defense, he took them to overtime. Unfortunately, the one turnover he made was in overtime, setting the Ravens up for the win.

The Steelers, likely down three of their starting linebackers - the core of their defense - will have to coax similar performances out of Chris Carter, Stevenson Sylvester and possibly Jason Worilds if they're going to pull out a huge home victory.

As PZB will point out, the answer lies within their own roster. The Ravens will counter with one versatile weapon, and two teams will slug it out in what could be the best game of 2011. 

Opponent Web Sites/Forums

Bruce Raffel of Baltimore Beatdown suggests there were too many flags thrown in the Ravens 30-27 win over Arizona.

If we have to keep asking "is Joe Flacco an elite quarterback?" shouldn't you take that as your answer?

We all know how good Antonio Brown is and will be, but it's confusing why LaDarius Webb (the guy responsible for the blown coverage of Brown on 3rd-and-19 last year) would bother goading Mike Wallace.

Last Game

Answer: Crisp. Fluid. Precision.

Question: What are three words PZB would never use to describe Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger.

And yet, that's what he was for the majority of Pittsburgh's 25-17 win over New England in Week 8. Declining the enticing deep options like a dieting man passes over pie, Roethlisberger instead went with quick gainers to establish an extended running game. That in turn opened up the running game for similar kinds of gains (23 carries for 98 yards, 4.3 yards a carry), and the offense was on the field nearly as long as the officials were.

It's perhaps unrealistic to expect a similar kind of offensive output, especially considering the Steelers aren't likely to throw 50+ times against Baltimore when they arrive in Pittsburgh for Sunday Night Football (as Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said this week, "We aren't going to throw 50 times against Baltimore. They can sack you, intercept you and fumble you."). But the Steelers will need the top-to-bottom kind of production they received from their skill players, including a huge first quarter by TE Heath Miller, and key down-and-long receptions from WR Antonio Brown.

Those kinds of plays aren't likely to be as makeable, considering the Ravens have much more talent in their linebacking and secondary units, but as it usually is in Steelers/Ravens, there are a few big plays that need to be made at some point in the game.

Roethlisberger appears to be on point and ready to make them. He provided a whole new roll of film for the Ravens to study. It wasn't "Go Deep First, Checkdown Later," Roethlisberger. He may not throw it 50 times Sunday, but he's showing every reason the Ravens should fear his ability to move the ball. 

Opponent Spotlight: TE Ed Dickson

Ray Rice is going to run for yards. Terrell Suggs is going to get sacks. Joe Flacco may even complete a pass or two.

If the Ravens are going to complete the series sweep - it would be their first since 2006 - much of it will depend on Dickson's ability to perform with and without the ball.

The Ravens clearly have an advantage in the running game. A banged-up Steelers linebacking unit will put unfamiliar players on the field. Dickson will be used on the strong side and weak side (2-TE set), and be the target on play-action passes. He can be locked into coverage on OLB Chris Carter, or force the Steelers to go into their dime package and draw the coverage of CBs Cortez Allen or William Gay. His ability to force that will dictate which personnel packages the Steelers will use, and that will in turn determine their play selection.

Dickson's primed for a breakout game, and a few big third down catches and a few key blocks could give Baltimore the edge in time of possession they'll need to win this game.

Steelers Spotlight:  SS Troy Polamalu

If the Ravens use Suggs as their Steelers tormentor, Pittsburgh throws Polamalu back at them. Suggs gets the sacks, Polamalu gets the game-changers.

There's the strip-sack and ensuing fumble. There's the pick six in the AFC Championship game, will there be a new one this year?

Polamalu will be a critical component to this game. With so many Steelers defenders out, he will play at the line, in the box, down the seam and in deep zone. He lined up as an inside linebacker, an outside linebacker, a slot defender in coverage and a deep safety in last week's win. Expect him to do much of the same against Baltimore.

On one hand, it's being done to disguise his intentions. On the other, it's being done out of necessity. The Steelers are too thin at linebacker to defender the run as per usual. They're going to have to get creative.

The Steelers did not line Polamalu up on the weak side in an effort to chase down the stretch run in Week 1. He's done it most of the time since, and mostly, the Steelers stopped that running scheme. Expect the Ravens to counter by going 2-TE and putting one of them exclusively on Polamalu in the run game, and try to get a release and down the field in the passing game.

However they do it, Polamalu's going to have to live near the line, and look for Baltimore to design their game plan around the space in which Polamalu is not present.

I See You

I see you, Manny Sanders. While your colleague and draft-mate Antonio Brown broke out hugely against the Patriots, your quiet five-catch, 70 yard performance went largely unheralded. You were right there with the rest of the receiving corps, perhaps providing the best overall passing attack the Steelers have ever seen in one game.

I see you because of the challenges you now face. A knee injury combined with the loss of your mother, it's a lot to take. We understand your pain, and all we can really say is we've got your back, and are looking forward to seeing you return to build even more on your budding career.

Key Stats

  • The Steelers got safeties in consecutive games
  • Baltimore's 25 sacks is the most they've ever had through their first seven games
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