Matchups to Watch: Ray and Rashard

Five key battles that will be major factors in Sunday’s Steelers game.

Posted by Mike Duffy on Saturday, October 2nd, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Categories: 2010 Season, Mike Duffy, Week 4 at Steelers

As the Ravens head into the first of their bi-annual battles with the Pittsburgh Steelers, there is no love lost between these two AFC North rivals.

Here is a look at five key battles that will go a long way into deciding the outcome of Sunday’s matchup:

1. ILB Ray Lewis vs. RB Rashard Mendenhall
Two years ago, Lewis broke a rookie Mendenhall’s shoulder with a bone-crushing hit up the middle.  Since the Ravens are coming off a rough day in run defense against the Cleveland Browns, Lewis needs to establish his presence again. Last year, Mendenhall gashed the Ravens for 95 yards in one meeting, but Baltimore clamped down to only allow 36 rushing yards later in the season. With backup quarterback Charlie Batch in the game, the Steelers will likely rely heavily on the NFL’s current fourth-leading rusher.

2. LT Michael Oher vs. OLB James Harrison
The Steelers boast one of the league’s best pass rush tandems in Harrison and fellow outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley. Harrison, whose 16 sacks in 2008 earned him the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award, will face the second-year Oher all afternoon.  Thus far, Oher has been a solid pass protector at left tackle, but this is definitely his biggest test of the season. In 2009, Oher got one crack at Harrison when Jared Gaither was out, and he helped hold Harrison to a four-tackle, no-sack performance.

3. CB Lardarius Webb vs. WR Mike Wallace
The speedy Wallace hauled in two touchdown passes of over 40 yards in Week 3 at Tampa Bay. He’s obviously a deep threat.  With a 19.4-yard per reception average, he led the NFL last year as a rookie.  Webb could be the guy charged with keeping pace with the Ole Miss product, as he looked solid through two games after coming back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Webb really only played in sub packages, but matching his speed with Wallace’s might be the Ravens’ best bet.

4. QB Joe Flacco vs. S Troy Polamalu
Polamalu is one of those rare players opposing quarterbacks must account for on every play.  He will line up anywhere and disguise a lot of what he’s doing, not unlike the Ravens’ Ed Reed.  Flacco must make sure he locates Polamalu and doesn’t get baited into throwing somewhere dangerous.  Polamalu took a Flacco interception to the end zone in the 2008 AFC Championship, a score that sealed a Steelers’ win, so the Ravens’ quarterback knows what he’s up against.

5. NT Kelly Gregg vs. C Maurkice Pouncey
Word out of Pittsburgh is that Pouncey, the 18th-overall draft pick last spring, is the real deal.  He beat out veteran Justin Hartwig in training camp and has really solidified the Steelers’ interior offensive line.  But just as important as Lewis is to stopping the Pittsburgh rushing attack, Gregg plays an important role in standing Pouncey – and perhaps a guard, as well.  If Gregg can hold at the point of attack, then Lewis and the Ravens’ other linebackers will have an easier job collecting tackles.

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