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Pregame Zone Blitz: Steelers Defending Home Turf From The Unibrow

There isn't a Ravens fan alive who thought they'd be down a game in the AFC North to the Chaz Batch-led Steelers before their Week 4 showdown in Pittsburgh. And yet, here we are. After the Steelers put up dominating performance at Tampa Bay last week, the Ravens march into a place where they haven't won since 2006, losing 8 out of 10 since 2001. Still, with the average point differential between these teams in their last five games being less than five, assuming a final score of something in the ballpark of 20-17 is a pretty safe bet. It's the most physical rivalry in the NFL, and PZB has it all covered, from jokes on Joe Flacco's unibrow to a Steelers redemption in their secondary.

Opponent Web Sites/Forums

Baltimore Beatdown wonders which current Ravens statistic is the most worrisome.

Why are they fining Michael Oher? Didn't they see the movie? He's a hero!

Will Pittsburgh only rush four against Baltimore?

WR Anquan Boldin became the first Raven since Qadry Ismail in 1999 to win AFC Offensive Player of the Week.

As if anyone actually thinks Ray Rice is not playing in this game.

Last Game

Underestimate Charlie Batch at your own risk. That's the kind of effect Raymond James Stadium in Tampa has on the Steelers. Outside of long touchdowns from defensive players, their quarterbacks tend to play well, especially when focused on one receiver.

Batch rolled back the clocks and performed fairly well, as the Steelers found themselves winning their third straight, complete with a new set of heroes.

That seems to be the motif of the team. A good one, at that. The mark of a great team is seeing someone step up each week. This week, Mike Wallace made the highlight reel plays (albeit on underthrown passes against rookie safeties and tipped passes in the end zone), while Rashard Mendenhall provided the consistency throughout the game. Batch chipped in with a 24-yard scamper on 3rd-and-6 (perhaps the most pivotal play in the game, considering the Buccaneers had engineered a 15-play drive on the previous series, and it was 97 degrees out)side, and the defense held an impressive future stud Josh Freeman in check all game.

In the opener, Bryant McFadden held Roddy White down long enough for Troy Polamalu to get a pick. In Week 2, James Harrison destroyed what is typically a strong pass blocking group in Nashville. Sunday, it was the offense, labeled as anemic through two games, exploding to a 31-6 lead in part by the Batch-to-Wallace combination.

Fresh off the momentum from two huge road victories, the Hated Ravens come to Pittsburgh to face a much better Steelers team than they imagined. And this is coming one week after something called Peyton Hillis torched the highly vaunted Ravens defense for 144 rushing yards. 

Harrison Holds: Two - 1 called

The weekly tally of holds on All-World OLB James Harrison, both called and uncalled

Harrison gave way to a monster game from LaMarr Woodley, but he still had an impact, and possibly beat on LT Donald Penn long enough that he had a frustration-venting penalty in the fourth quarter.

Not Called:

  • 1. 6:25 remaining in first quarter, Penn fairly pushes Harrison wide, but Harrison cuts back, Penn pulls on his left shoulder.


  • 1. 6:58 remaining in third quarter, Penn is called for holding Harrison. Penalty declined.

Of Note:

The second half saw a different look from the Steelers defense. Harrison was seen blitzing from the inside, and pounding on Tampa Bay LG (former Steeler) Keydrick Vincent. ILB James Farrior blitzed off the edge, and in some cases, DE Brett Keisel was an outside linebacker.

Harrison started getting spelled at about the 12:45 mark of the fourth quarter. There was another borderline hold at 12:10 of 4Q (the play in which helmetless Troy Polamalu snared a sideline interception, much to the delight of the crowd), but in a 38-6 game, that's not going to be called.

It's unclear what Penn did to draw the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on LeGarrette Blount's touchdown run. Hopefully, he assaulted Blount off-camera for celebrating his touchdown like his team just took the lead.

Season Tally

Week 1 - 3 uncalled, 1 called

Week 2 - 1 uncalled, 0 called

Week 3 - 1 uncalled, 1 called

TOTAL - 5 Uncalled, 2 Called

Opponent Spotlight: NT  Haloti Ngata

It's tough to find a lineman with more versatility than the monster in Baltimore. Evidence of that is shown in the fact the Ravens are able to excel defensively in both 3-4 and 4-3 looks. That's not exclusively due to Ngata, but it's fairly close. On one hand, moving him to end in their 3-4 makes Kelly Gregg, an excellent run-stopper, a 2-gap tackle, which is his strength. Plus, Ngata holds the edge perhaps only as well as Steelers DE Aaron Smith. That frees up ILB Ray Lewis to attack the strong side.

When the Ravens show a 4-3, he handles the athletic under-tackle position, and can maintain the center of the line of scrimmage. He's a better run defender than he is a pass rusher, but the attention that needs to be paid to him due to his freakish athleticism and strength draws the rest of the line inward, freeing up the outside pass rushers for 1-on-1 blocking.

Knowing all that, it's amazing to see how the Browns ran so well on Baltimore. RB Peyton Hillis has excellent vision, and often avoided Ngata's gap assignment. He still gashed them between the tackles often enough to show teams how to run effectively. Or maybe it was an off-game for a usually stout run defense.

The latter is more likely.

The parallels between the Browns offense and the Steelers aren't apparent. Cleveland attacked Ngata and the Ravens with a fullback for a large chunk of the game, and they got helmet-on-helmet at the line of scrimmage. Isolating Ngata requires two players, and could force the Steelers to cut their typical two TE sets to include a fullback in front of Rashard Mendenall, who generally runs to the outside in his best performances.

Steelers Spotlight:  OLB LaMarr Woodley

With visiting Baltimore threatening a last-ditch game-winning drive last season, LaMarr Woodley single-handedly pounded that idea into the ground.

The Ravens visited Pittsburgh last season, both teams needing wins to keep flickering playoff hopes alive. It was typical Steelers/Ravens hoopla, and right in line with the best rivalry in the league, neither team disappointed, or failed to back up the attitude they brought to Heinz Field.

Facing a critical 3rd and 7 from his own 38 yard line, Flacco dropped back to pass, finding only Woodley breaking free. The beating he'd given spot-starter Oneil Cousins had been paying dividends in the second half, and he offered little resistance.

Fourth down wasn't any different, except for the fumble that Woodley caused, which was recovered by then-rookie Ziggy Hood. Game over.

That game was the thesis statement of Woodley's dominating performance in the second half of games, over the second half of the season. He's going to wear you down. He's 265 pounds crashing into tackles for 60 minutes. Most offensive linemen are D-U-N done by the fourth quarter. Cousins certainly was.

The game-clinching sacks gave Woodley 6.5 in five career starts against Baltimore. He's got a new playmate for Week 4. Marshal Yanda, a lineman he saw when the two competed in the Big 10 (Woodley at Michigan, Yanda at Iowa), was moved from right guard to right tackle this season, and has performed well. He's an adept pass blocker, and will be counted upon to slow Woodley down.

The Ravens will likely use multiple tight ends to provide help to Yanda with Woodley as well as LT Michael Oher with OLB James Harrison, and RB Ray Rice will chip at Woodley, looking to set up screen passes and provide Flacco with an outlet in the flats. If not, Flacco will have to throw down the field, which isn't one of his strongest characteristics.

I See You

I see you, William Gay. You were busted down from starter to nickel back, a demotion that sounds even worse than the band that carries that name. But against Tampa Bay, your sack and two open field tackles on third down went largely unnoticed in the media.

We saw them, though. A big part of the early success of this defense has been the lesser-recognized contributions from the entire group. You don't have to be a starter to make an impact, and instead of getting down about the demotion, you've taken back the role at which you excelled in 2008, and established the nickel package as a formidable weapon to use, especially against teams with deep receiving personnel.

Perhaps that's not Tampa Bay, but with you taking away the slot, the other four members of the secondary on the field with you in whatever variation are holding opposing passers to a paltry 68.1 rating and 6.2 yards per pass (both are top five in the AFC).

Baltimore will be a tough test. A pretty deep receiving corps with one of the better pass catching tight ends in the game, all accented by arguably the most versatile running back in the league. But you've given us plenty of reasons to be confident the Steelers can play a nickel Cover 2 and still stifle the offense.

Key Stats

  • Peyton Hillis became the 4th running back in the last 19 games to run for 100 yards against Baltimore
  • Pittsburgh's opponents are 6-0 when not playing the Steelers
  • Baltimore's opponents are 2-4 when not playing the Ravens
  • Pittsburgh sacked Joe Flacco nine times last season (1-1)
  • The last five Steelers/Ravens games have been decided by a total of 22 points (Steelers are 4-1, and 3-0 at Heinz Field)


It's Always Sunny in Baltimore: Probably not of interest to most people, but as a former hack journalist (one who covered Ravens RT Marshal Yanda at the prestigious Northern Iowa Area Community College in the thriving metropolis of Mason City, Iowa), part of the reason I love Ravens Week is actively reading the Ravens coverage by the Baltimore Sun. They provide as outstanding coverage as any other publication in the country.

Why Wasn't PZB Invited?: Follow-up coverage from a story posted on BTSC, it looks like Cowboys WR Dez Bryant's gallant decision to not carry WR Roy Williams pads came back to haunt him. The lesson here, ladies and gentlemen, when a dude tells you to carry his pads, do it. If you don't, that person will invite an entire team out to a steakhouse, and you'll pay 55 large for the experience.

Tough FFL Loss Masked By Great Name: SteelerWife's first ever fantasy football season isn't off to the best of starts, dropping a heartbreaker thanks to Green Bay's piss-poor effort at Chicago last week. But her team name, the Flaccobrau Waxers, is good for at least eight victories this season.