The Steelers' running game situation is one problem; and one that won't go away before 8:15 p.m. ET, when the Steelers and Ravens kick off in the AFC Wild Card round of the playoffs. The Steelers haven't put up dominant performances on the ground against Baltimore since 2004.
The Steelers can and should have confidence in their receivers against Baltimore's weakened secondary. They just need to find a way to get their receivers some time to exploit it.
Therein lies the challenge for the AFC North champions.
Baltimore's trio of pass rushers, Elvis Dumervil, Terrell Suggs and Pernell McPhee, is the Ravens last and best chance of dramatically altering this game. Today's NFL essentially dictates if you have the ability to rush the passer, you can win games - just ask the 9-7 Houston Texans. Baltimore's pass rush is arguably the best in the NFL, and while their secondary and offensive lines may be banged up, the front seven is where turnovers are made.
James Harrison destroyed the Baltimore Ravens.
The Steelers have given Ben Roethlsiberger good protection this season. The 33 sacks allowed are more par for the course for a quarterback who simply does not throw the ball away. He'll take sacks, and he'll make plays. Battering Roethlisberger, like the Ravens did in their Week 2 win (and tried to do in Week 9, both games saw Ravens players take 15-yard roughing the passer penalties that drew fines from the NFL), can have results.
Certainly, the Steelers' defensive line looks to get after Ravens' QB Joe Flacco as well, and did exactly that when Baltimore was playing with their starting offensive tackles - Rick Wagner is now out for the year and Eugene Monroe may not play after an ankle put him out of the team's Week 17 game. Rookie John Urshel would start at right guard with Marshal Yanda moving to right tackle, and James Hurst would start at left tackle.
But the three-headed monster will loom and lurk, and it will knock Roethlisberger around - during and after he releases the ball.
The Steelers turned the ball over three times in a 26-6 loss at Baltimore in Week 2. It notched two takeaways and didn't turn it over once in a 43-23 win in Week 9. One turnover or two will make the difference in this game, regardless of who's injured and who's playing. That makes what's basically a 50/50 proposition, even though the Steelers may still have the player-to-player advantage.
The Steelers must be careful with the football. They likely won't be able to establish much of a running game, like they haven't for the most part in the last decade of games against Baltimore. Look for a shorter passing game utilizing their speed in short spaces to serve as their ball-control medium.
We've seen Steelers offenses that do not look to stretch the field vertically - or are otherwise unable to do so. This will most likely be much of the same.