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Ravens vs. Steelers: Pittsburgh needs to attack Baltimore's safety-heavy secondary

It's a risk but attacking the Ravens deep could be a successful strategy for the Steelers if they can stifle Baltimore's dominant pass rush.

Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

With the exception of quarterback Joe Flacco, the Baltimore Ravens could least afford an injury to a starting cornerback heading into Week 9.

The Ravens have adapted their stout defensive philosophy to be bigger and stronger than it was last season, and the results have been positive so far this season. The issue they're going to face against Pittsburgh, down CB Jimmy Smith, is the bigger look their secondary has taken on actually might be considered a limitation.

Due to a lack of depth and injuries, Baltimore has been playing its safeties in outside defensive-back positions, relying on them to handle shorter zones with deep help. The Steelers' offense is evolving into one having an excellent balance of size and speed, all of which reflects a high level of athleticism.

Antonio Brown needs no introduction and Lance Moore has been around the league long enough for teams to develop an opinion on his production. Little is known about rookie Martavis Bryant, except he's tall, he can run really fast and he tracks the ball in the air at a high level.

The Steelers tend to approach games against their division rival with a bit more caution; not risking turnovers against a fierce Ravens pass-rush or their ball-hawking secondary. Putting this game on their offensive line and asking them to protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger long enough to sustain drives down the field against Baltimore's deep secondary, might be the best option.

Judging by how Indianapolis collapsed on Brown in the short field, and how their man-scheme fell apart facing Roethlisberger's balanced distribution of targets, it's a certainty Baltimore will remain mostly in zone coverage. Add in the explosive athleticism of the Steelers' receivers and it wouldn't be a surprise to see them continue in their own variation of the Big Nickel. While that package is set to allow a team to be bigger up front against the run, while keeping a strong number in coverage, the Steelers' offense has shown it can break that kind of zone.

If - IF - they can establish quality protection, that is. No easy feat against one of the league's top pass-rushing teams year in and year out. Look for the Steelers to aim to get the ball deeper in this game than they have in previous games against Baltimore. It may simply come down to how long the OL can hold up.