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Game Week: Baltimore Ravens - A First Look

Let's avoid this on Sunday, Ben. Cool?
So, Pittsburgh's still gotta win a couple games for all this playoff talk to mean anything. It all starts this Sunday with the Steelers tilt against Baltimore and their #2 ranked defense. And lest we forget, the first contest was not close. Baltimore picked off Ben Roethlisberger twice, and turned him over a third time on a forced fumble. As a team, Baltimore compiled nine sacks of Roethlisberger - a disgraceful performance for Bill Cowher's club.

The Steelers are an improved football team since that game. In fact, you could argue that the ugly loss to the Ravens marked the turning point of the season for Pittsburgh; they've won three straight games, and done so playing their brand of football. The Steelers are running the ball well, protecting turnovers, and tightening the defense.

Still, we have to note that the winning streak has come against some of the league's weaker competition. Cleveland and Tampa Bay have completely fallen off a cliff, while Carolina is in a full-fledge tailspin. The Ravens, meanwhile, continue to play strong football. This is Pittsburgh's sternest test in a month.

I think you have to pin a lot of Pittsburgh's hopes on offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, who's had an up and down season. The Steelers have gotten back to doing what they do best - running the ball and executing a limited, but well-timed passing game. They'll need a lot of that Sunday, as Baltimore's just neutering opposing offenses right now. One thing we'll be watching closely - Big Ben's timing. Roethlisberger has been holding on to the ball for far too long this season, leading to the surge in sacks allowed. Against the Ravens (remember: nine sacks in the first meeting), that kind of indecision is lethal. Watch early on to see how Roethlisberger's doing with getting his throws off quickly - if he's hanging on to the ball too long, the Steelers are in big, big trouble.

Pittsburgh's efficiency against Baltimore will go a long way toward deciding how competitive we can be in this game. A low scoring game seems probable here - especially if Kyle Boller's manning the quarterback position - so protecting field position, limiting turnovers, and avoiding sacks will all be critical.

One more win and Pittsburgh's got a very reasonable shot at playing for a playoff berth in the season finale.

Go Steelers!