In previous matchups with the Steelers, the Ravens have had trouble containing Pittsburgh's speed and big-play potential at the wide receiver position.
On Sunday, defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano will debut a new cornerback rotation, hoping some fresh faces can hold the Steelers' explosive passing game in check.
After a strong training camp and preseason, third-year cornerback Cary Williams is set to start at corner against Pittsburgh, which would mark just his second time cracking a starting lineup in 24 career games.
"It feels great," Williams said yesterday. "It's been a long time coming, a lot of prayers, a lot of hard work. It feels good that all my hard work paid off and I'm getting to play now and showing off my ability and things like that. I just thank God for the opportunity."
A seventh-round pick of the Titans back in 2008, Williams slowly worked his way up the depth chart in camp, overtaking veterans and high draft picks in the process. The 6-foot-1 cornerback's size and physical play endeared him to Pagano, who loves big, aggressive corners.
Williams was the Ravens' most consistent cornerback in practices and game action, and he'll be rewarded with a starting role to begin the regular season. It represents quite a rise for a guy who went to Division II Washburn University (fun fact of the day: nicknamed the Ichabods), started his pro career on a practice squad, and toiled as a special teams player for the last two seasons.
What was the key to his increased playing time?
"Just hard work and just getting things done on the field," Williams said. "Coming out here every day and trying to be a pro and continue to take each day one at a time and continue to work hard. That's what paid off."
Now that Williams has staked claim to one of the Ravens' starting cornerback spots, the question is who will occupy the other.
It certainly seems like rookie Jimmy Smith has done enough this camp to earn a starting role, and if I was calling the shots around Ravens headquarters, I'd give him the gig.
Domonique Foxworth has seven years of experience under his belt and has spent the last two years under Pagano, but the veteran corner is coming off ACL surgery last year. There's a chance he's worked into the starting lineup on Sunday, although the Ravens would probably prefer continuing to take a cautious approach with their recovering corner.
Smith, on the other hand, might go through his share of rookie growing pains, but he, like Williams, has a mix of size and speed that fits right into how Pagano hopes to attack offenses - by putting his cornerbacks on an island and trusting them to play 1-on-1, freeing up other defenders to get pressure on the quarterback.
The Ravens' 2011 first-round pick says he isn't sure whether he'll start or come off the bench on Sunday against Pittsburgh, but knows he's in line for playing time, either way.
"They're going to mix me in, obviously," Smith said. "I'm a first-rounder, so they're going to play me. It's up to me to know everything I need to know and when I get on the field to be productive. That's the only way I'm going to get on the field."
Smith and Williams might get a lot of time on the field Sunday. If they do, matching up against the likes of Pittsburgh's Mike Wallace, Hines Ward and Antonio Brown will be a nice test for what could be the Ravens' brand new starting cornerback duo.