PITTSBURGH - I’ve arrived in Pittsburgh after a long but relaxing drive up I-70 and a then not-so-relaxing half-hour search for my surprisingly hidden hotel.
My GPS couldn’t help me and the Google Maps app on my iPhone couldn’t help me. Had to use the good old-fashioned method of blindly driving around and asking strangers for directions to get me where I needed to go.
Tuning in to the local Pittsburgh sports talk radio on my drive in, one of the hosts was complaining that unlike the Ravens, the Steelers don’t have any super-charismatic, boisterous guys in their locker room that can talk trash leading up to these big rivalry games.
I think I know who he wishes the Steelers had on their roster.
Before I throw on my fancy press box clothes and head over to Heinz Field, here are my three keys to tonight’s game from the Ravens’ perspective:
1. Avoid the big play from Pittsburgh’s D
The Ravens have had second-half leads in both of their two most recent losses to the Steelers, but have made mistakes on offense late in those games which have cost them dearly. I’m referring, of course, to the Troy Polamalu strip/sack of Joe Flacco last December and the three second-half turnovers in the AFC divisional round loss. Baltimore’s offense has to do a better job of protecting the ball and making smart decisions late in the game today if it hopes to emerge from Heinz Field with a win.
2. Limit the Steelers’ YAC
We know that Pittsburgh wide receivers Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown have the speed to beat the Ravens deep down the field and turn in big plays the traditional way. But those two are also incredibly effective when they get the ball in their hands on short to intermediate routes, because they can then turn on the jets and pick up big-time yardage after the catch, or YAC. The Ravens’ defenders need to do a good job tonight of wrapping up the Pittsburgh speedsters when they make catches underneath and limiting them to short gains.
3. Be strong on early downs
The simple formula for defensive success in the NFL is as follows: Force your opponent into third-and-long. The more that the Steelers’ face third-and-7 or greater tonight, the more that Terrell Suggs, Paul Kruger, Pernell McPhee and company can tee off on Ben Roethlisberger, as they did repeatedly back in Week 1. If Pittsburgh faces a lot of third-and-short situations tonight, Baltimore’s defense will have to look for both the run and the pass. But if the Ravens can hold tough on the early downs and force the Steelers to throw on third down, defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano can dial up the pressure and send his guys after Big Ben.