Game Preview: Ravens vs. Steelers

A classic rivalry kicks off in Week 1. How does that change the importance?

Posted by Ryan Mink on Saturday, September 10th, 2011 at 9:40 am | Categories: 2011 Season Gameday, Ryan Mink, Week 1 vs Steelers

Besides the natural rivalry between two of the NFL’s most physical teams, Ravens-Steelers clashes always have so much on the line, whether it’s a playoff berth, a division title or more.

In this Week 1 edition, however, there will still be 15 games and plenty of time for a leader in the AFC North to emerge afterwards – win or lose.

There’s no denying, it’s a different feel. But how much does that affect the importance of Sunday’s game at M&T Bank Stadium?

“I don’t want to downplay it, because that would be a little disingenuous to downplay it. It’s a big game,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said.

“Whoever wins this game is going to have a leg up in the division, but it’s just an early leg up.”

Linebacker Ray Lewis harkened back to 2000, when the Ravens beat the Steelers, 16-0, to kick off their Super Bowl winning season.

“It’s never too [early] to get it on,” Lewis said. “What it defines right now is not what your season is going to be like or not. What it defines is; it’s an AFC team, it’s in your division. Deal with what you’ve got to deal with right now.”

“The stakes are the same,” linebacker Terrell Suggs added. “The stakes are always the same. In this game, it always comes back to this game between the two teams.”

Game Preview: Ravens vs. Steelers
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It’s a chance for the Ravens to wipe some of last year’s bad taste out of their mouth. Pittsburgh has won six of the team’s’ last eight meetings, including in last year’s divisional playoffs.

“For the Steelers, it doesn’t have to be a big game to be a big game,” linebacker Jarret Johnson said.

3 Matchups To Watch

Ravens OT Bryant McKinnie vs. Steelers OLB James Harrison
McKinnie will be playing in his first game for the Ravens after being a late addition to the roster, and it’ll be interesting to gauge his game shape. Will his talent and experience be enough against the big-hitting pass-rusher? Harrison, who had back surgery this offseason, says he’s at 75-80 percent.

Ravens CB Jimmy Smith vs. Steelers WR Mike Wallace
It’s unknown whether Smith will draw Wallace, but the blazing Steelers wideout thinks he will. Wallace, who was second in the NFL with a 21-yard per reception average, said this week that Smith should be worried. The big-bodied rookie will be playing in his first game and expects to be tested often.

Ravens WR Lee Evans vs. Steelers CB Bryant McFadden
One aspect the Ravens haven’t had in their recent matchups with the Steelers was that reliable burner down the field. Evans could change this rivalry with his speed and ability to stretch Pittsburgh’s defense. With top corner Ike Taylor likely on Anquan Boldin, watch Evans square off with McFadden.

3 Questions To Answer

Will The Ravens’ O-Line Hold Up?
The Ravens’ projected starting offensive line hasn’t ever played together in a game. Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher will be in their first games at left and right tackle this year and Matt Birk and Marshal Yanda are coming off injuries. They have a tough task battling Pittsburgh’s tough front and linebackers.

Can the Ravens Beat Roethlisberger?
Baltimore hasn’t defeated Ben Roethlisberger since 2006. It seems he always gets out of a key tackle or scrambles before making a deciding completion versus Baltimore. The Ravens must solve that puzzle if they’re going to knock off Pittsburgh and claim the AFC North crown.

Can Ravens Run The Ball?
The Ravens invested in improving their running game this offseason, inking Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach and re-signing guard Marshal Yanda. Baltimore averaged just 2.3 yards per carry versus Pittsburgh last year, but if they can improve on that it would greatly help take pressure off of quarterback Joe Flacco.

What They Have Done Lately

Pittsburgh is looking to avoid the Super Bowl hangover after losing to the Green Bay Packers in Dallas last year. They Steelers missed the playoffs entirely following each of their last two Super Bowl appearances.

They have looked sharp in the preseason however, reeling off three straight wins including impressive victories over the Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons. Pittsburgh didn’t add many players this offseason and instead focused on trying to maintain as much of last year’s roster as possible.

2010 Rankings

Total Defense – 318.9 (10)
Rush Defense – 93.9 (5)
Pass Defense – 224.9 (21)
Points Allowed Per Game – 16.9 (3)

Total Offense – 322.9 (22)
Rush Offense – 114.4 (14)
Pass Offense – 208.4 (20)
Points Scored Per Game – 22.3 (16)

Total Defense – 276.8 (2)
Rush Defense – 62.8 (1)
Pass Defense – 214.1 (12)
Points Allowed Per Game – 14.5 (1)

Total Offense – 345.3 (14)
Rush Offense – 120.3 (11)
Pass Offense – 225.1 (14)
Points Per Game – 23.4 (12)

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