It's Ravens week. Time for the blood to start boiling. Let's take a look at some of the keys to victory:
* Hit 'em in the mouth early. In last year's two losses, Baltimore raced out to an early lead in both contests. In our first encounter, Baltimore led by 17 by intermission. The consequence, only 10 rushes for FWP on the day and 41 pass attempts for Big Ben. In our second meeting, Baltimore again took the early lead, and FWP carried the ball only 13 times. With an offensive line as shaky as ours, we're going in be in big trouble if Big Ben is forced to throw the ball 35+ times while we play catch up.
* Get after McNair. Guess how many sacks we recorded in our two games against Baltimore last year? If you guessed 0 you're a winner. To his credit, one of the few things McNair still does well is get rid of the ball quickly. He's not going to make people miss and get outside of the pocket anymore, but McNair is savy enough to recognize blitz packages and unload the ball before the pocket completely collapses on him. McNair's only taken 9 sacks in 7 games so far this year. Our chances of winning go up exponentially if we can find a way to get that number to 12 by week's end. My guess is we will bring more pressure than we have in recent weeks. There's no reason to play a soft Cover-2 type scheme against the Ravens. They don't have the playmakers to burn us, and McNair loves to dink and dunk. Let's not afford him that luxury.
* Please be patient Big Ben. This Ravens offense isn't designed to gobble up huge chunks of yards quickly. Let's make them engineer multiple 80+ yard drives by being content playing the field position game when need be. That means no idiotic mistakes Mr. Roethlisberger. The Ravens are expecting you to gift-wrap at least one turnover for them. Don't do it.
* Big Snack better be hungry. Casey Hampton hasn't quite been himself since returning from injury. Willis McGahee is the AFC's second leading rusher, and he's been pretty consistent from week to week. His lowest output of the season was in Week 6 against the Rams, when he only totaled 61 yards on 25 carries. Other than that game, McGahee has been held under 80 yards just once, and under 90 yards one other time. Having Aaron Smith alongside Hampton would help, but only if he's far enough along in his recovery to make a difference. Regardless, it starts with Hampton, who hasn't quite been up to snuff the past two weeks. We'd be well served to get our run-D back on track after a sub-par showing against the Bengals last week.
* Bruce Arians must have his best game to date. I haven't rewatched the tape, but I believe I remember the offensive play calling being suspect last year against Baltimore. Playing smash-mouth football between the tackles rarely works against the Ravens, and it's equally difficult to get sustained success running east-west against these speedy LBs. That doesn't mean you abandon the running game and drop back to pass 40 times like we did in our first game last year. Although we typically don't do so, I'd like to see a few screen passes in Arians' plan this week. We're going to need something to slow down the Ravens' pass-rush (I fully expect them to blitz Roeth all day), and it probably isn't going to be Max Starks and the rest of the line who stand in their way. Instead, we need a number of quick-hitting plays like some screens or some seam routes to Heath Miller.
* Who's going to make their man miss? Both the Steelers and Ravens are well-coached defensively, meaning both teams probably aren't going to find themselves wide-open too much on Monday. Whichever team can find a way to amass some YAC should have the upper hand.
* Anthony Madison and the rest of the ST'ers, please make a contribution. Using the same logic as above, it's going to be imperative we make the Ravens have a long-field all game. No drives starting at the 40 yard line or better please. The Ravens have a dynamite return guy in Yamon Figurs who's taken a punt to the house, and nearly a kickoff as well.
These are but a few of the important things to think about heading into the game. I had to throw this together somewhat hastily for my taste, so please chime in with other thoughts, and insights about the game. and questions about the game.
And if you have any questions, our resident guru DaTruth4Life informed me his busy schedule prevented him from writing this week, but that he would be participating in this thread.