Ravens' roster changes present challenge for Pittsburgh

You know what's insane? Turning on the TV at close to 11:30 p.m. and watching the first inning of a baseball game.

A baseball game being played on the East Coast.

A baseball game being aired live.

I cannot believe that the Orioles and Yankees were forced to take the field after a four hour, three minute rain delay last night, and then made to continue to play in an absolute downpour. Oh how I wish O's manager Buck Showalter could have been mic'd up during that debacle. Would've made for great TV, although I'd imagine much of the audio would have needed to be bleeped out.

While one Baltimore team is up in New York battling against their arch rival (and pneumonia), the other is still in the Charm City area preparing to take on their own division foe.

The Ravens will kick off the regular season this Sunday against a familiar opponent as the Steelers will come to town, and while these two franchises know each other very well, Pittsburgh might not recognize the team that they line up against this weekend.

A host of brand new faces will make their regular season Ravens debuts on Sunday, including at least three (and as many as six) starters, depending on how the lineup is crafted. That's something which Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin acknowledges is a concern for his squad going into this ever-fierce battle.

"As I sit here today, I'm probably a little bit more uneasy than I normally am when we play these guys because they've got so many new guys that we've got to account for," Tomlin told Pittsburgh reporters yesterday. "At this juncture in this matchup, they probably know more about us than we know about them.

"I think Ozzie Newsome and company have been very active this offseason in terms of improving their team, and it's evident when you look at preseason tape with some of the very new guys that they have playing key positions for them."

Tomlin's point is well-taken. On offense, three - and possibly even four - starters will be seeing their first Ravens action on Sunday.

Bruising fullback Vonta Leach is a guy the Steelers haven't faced since Week 1 of the regular season back in 2008. Pittsburgh's linebackers will need to adjust to matching up against his smash-mouth style. Wide receiver Lee Evans gives the Ravens' offense a new big-play potential that it hasn't possessed in previous seasons, and he'll test the straight-line speed of the Steelers' cornerbacks.

On the offensive line, left tackle Bryant McKinnie will provide a new look for Pittsburgh outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, while Andre Gurode - if he starts at center - would be a fresh matchup for defensive tackle Casey Hampton.

Flip to the other side of the ball, and Pittsburgh will likely have to deal with a thumper of a strong safety in Bernard Pollard (assuming he starts over Tom Zbikowski), whose style is much different than his predecessor, Dawan Landry. Pollard will take a receiver's head off if he gets caught looking down, and is a threat to blitz at any time. Additionally, if rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith gets significant minutes, his physical brand of play and willingness to play press coverage will be an adjustment that the Steelers' wideouts will also need to adjust to.

Overall, the Ravens have 20 different players on this year's 53-man opening roster compared to the one they opened the 2010 season with. The Steelers, on the other hand, have added just seven new players to their 2010 roster, which marks the fewest changes from last year to this year in the NFL. Of those seven, none are expected to crack the starting lineup.

All the new faces could certainly turn out to be a detriment to the Ravens if they don't mesh well early on, but they could just as easily give John Harbaugh's squad an edge. And when you've lost six of your last eight games against a team, you need an edge wherever you can find it.

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