The No. 1 key to a win in Pittsburgh: Protect Flacco

During his Monday afternoon press conference, John Harbaugh was asked how he would evaluate his team's pass protection of late.

He paused for a second.

"I think it's good enough," Harbaugh responded.

The play of the Ravens offensive line might have been "good enough" to get them to this point, but if the pass protection isn't bumped up a notch this weekend, the divisional round of the playoffs could be the end of the road for the boys from Charm City.

Joe Flacco was sacked four times in Sunday's win over the Chiefs, adding to the 40 times he was brought down in the regular season. He was pressured throughout much of the game by Tamba Hali and the Kansas City front-seven, and only because of his Michael Vick-like scrambling abilities (what, did I take that too far?) was he able to avoid a few more big hits.

The issues up front weren't exclusive to the Chiefs game; Flacco has now been sacked at least three times in seven of the Ravens' last eight contests.

While he showed impressive elusiveness in Kansas City, Flacco is much more effective when he stays in the pocket. Unlike Ben Roethlisberger, Flacco is not all that effective making plays while on the move, and excels when he has clean throwing lanes to work with and time to work through his progressions.

This Saturday in Pittsburgh, the Ravens will face a huge test. The Steelers posted an NFL-best 48 sacks this season, and create havoc up front for opposing offenses.

Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is known for his exotic blitzes and brings consistent pressure to the quarterback. He has quite possibly the best outside linebacker duo in the league in James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley (more on them in a bit), and doesn't shy away from sending cornerbacks or safety Troy Polamalu in blitz packages as well.

As far as I'm concerned, the Ravens ability to slow the Pittsburgh blitz and protect Flacco is the No. 1 key to the game on Saturday.

Back in Week 4, the Steelers only sacked Flacco once, and he completed 65 percent of his passes for 256 yards and the game-winning touchdown. In a Week 14 loss to Pittsburgh, the Steelers were more effective with their pass rush. Flacco was sacked four times, completed just 52 percent of his passes, and the Ravens lost the game on a Polamalu sack/fumble late in the fourth quarter that turned into the game-winning TD.

The pressure will primarily be on tackles Michael Oher and Marshal Yanda to slow down Harrison and Woodley, but it will be a group effort to keep Flacco clean. The guards will need to help double the two outside linebackers from time to time, and tight ends and running backs will be counted on to chip and provide help on the edges as well.

If Flacco stays upright for most of the game and can work with a clean pocket, the Ravens might be in good shape. Pittsburgh's secondary is the weak spot in their defense, and Flacco will have opportunities to make plays down the field.

But the offensive line will need to deliver a better performance on Saturday than they have for much of the last couple months.

Oh, and just an idea - they might want to block Polamalu this time.

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