Ravens-Steelers: The three keys

Happy gameday.

Let the countdown continue: We’re less than eight hours away from kickoff between the Ravens and Steelers.

Pittsburgh was abuzz with playoff fever yesterday. Everywhere you turned, someone was either wearing Steelers gear, talking about the matchup, or saying that Terrell Suggs can go you-know-what himself.

Yes, they heard about Sizzle’s t-shirt up here.

With the game suddenly just hours away, here are three keys to the Ravens coming out of today’s contest with the win:

Let Joe fling it

The Steelers’ secondary cannot match up with the Ravens’ depth in the passing game. They simply can’t. Put Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Todd Heap on the field at the same time, Pittsburgh will be forced to go to their nickel or dime package with extra defensive backs, and one of the Ravens’ receiving threats will get open. But quarterback Joe Flacco will only be able to find the open man if he’s given time to throw. We’ve talked at length about the need for the offensive line to slow down the Steelers’ pass rush, so I won’t beat that to death. But I will add that if the Ravens can consistently keep Flacco upright without having to go with max protection, there will be opportunities for them to exploit matchups and make plays down the field.

Point out Polamalu

See that guy with the long, curly, Head & Shoulders-washed hair who wears No. 43? It might be a good idea to block him when he’s rushing the passer and to avoid throwing the ball to him when he drops back in coverage. Troy Polamalu has been a major thorn in the Ravens’ side the last few years (they’re not alone in that regard), making big sacks and snagging bigger interceptions. The last time these two teams met, left tackle Michael Oher failed to slide over and pick up a blitzing Polamalu, and the Ravens left M&T Bank Stadium with a frustrating loss. Polamalu will be limited by an Achilles injury today, but he’s still a game-changer, and must be accounted for on every play.

Lean on Cundiff

You might have heard by now: Billy Cundiff had a pretty decent 2010 season. In addition to trying the NFL single-season record for touchbacks, the Ravens’ kicker went 26-of-29 on field goal attempts, numbers which helped send him to his first career Pro Bowl. As we’re all well aware, Ravens-Steelers games are seemingly always very close affairs - the last four matchups between these teams have all been decided by a field goal - and so the kickers will play a huge part in deciding this one. While Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham has done well in his seven games since signing with Pittsburgh (14-of-15), he’s only 3-of-6 in his postseason career. Cundiff appears to have an edge over his kicking counterpart, which could be big for Baltimore.

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