Battle Plans: Ravens vs. Steelers

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Offense

1. Crossover

Dick LeBeau uses every blitz combination in the book and he definitely saves something extra for obvious passing situations. More often than not, he’ll dial up a few cross dog blitzes where his inside backers will split the A gaps.

In anticipating LeBeau’s tendency to use the inside blitz, the Ravens will need to have an assortment of crossers in the pipeline. The Ravens have had success in the past using slants against the Pittsburgh corners and that should be a featured route as well.

In addition, the interior linemen will need to be sharp in their blitz recognition and pick up the cross blitz to give Flacco enough time.

2. Tight End Flex

The Ravens broke out their two tight end formations against Oakland and the move paid immediate dividends. To counter Pittsburgh’s blitzes and edge rush, Dickson and Pitta should be active yet again, especially as outlet receivers in passing situations.

Specifically, Pitta or Dickson have the ability to slip out on wheel routes and flare routes coming out of the backfield. Either player could also prove to be a mismatch out wide against the Pittsburgh linebackers. Keeping them on the field on early downs will give the Ravens the best chance to run a multi-faceted offense.

3. Backs to the Wall

As much as the Baltimore tight ends will play a big role in this game as outlet receivers, the same could certainly be said for Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. Both of these players will be counted on to help control edge rushers LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison, as well as pick up any other free runners.

Their ability to read the blitz and handle their blocking assignments will play a crucial part in Baltimore’s passing success, especially for completing downfield throws.

Defense

1. Blitz the Blind Side

The Ravens will encounter Byron Leftwich, a quarterback who is notorious for having a long wind up and a slow delivery. Every time he cocks the ball back to deliver a strike, he’s practically inviting the defender to strip the ball from his grasp.

The Baltimore defense will have to find a way hit Leftwich as often as possible from his blind side. The game plan should be to use a few overload looks and deceptive corner blitzes, not only from the slot, but from out wide. With an aggressive pass rush strategy, the Ravens could generate a big play or two going the other way.

2. Hold the Fort

With Big Ben on the bench, the Steelers will look to grind out a running game with their three-headed monster of Mendenhall, Dwyer and Redman. All three of these backs share a key feature: They can get downhill and gash the middle of the field.

Baltimore has had trouble with straight ahead rushing attacks all season. Opposing offensive lines have been able to drive the Baltimore front seven off the ball and inside runners have feasted.

If the Ravens are going to win the battle in the trenches, the front three of Ngata, Jones and Cody will need to hold their ground and keep blockers off of the linebackers. This game will be come down to their ability to play physical, tough and technique-strong.

3. Safety Valve

When the Ravens had Lardarius Webb in the lineup, they were able to use the lone cornerback to check Mike Wallace on vertical routes. No defender can run stride-for-stride with the Pittsburgh speed demon, but Webb played with tremendous technique and always found the ball at the top of its flight.

Fast forward to Sunday’s matchup, and Wallace will need to be handled by a committee of defenders. Safety Ed Reed should shade to Wallace’s side and in general, there should be deep support over the top to keep the receiver bottled up.

One-on-One Matchup of the Week

Bernard Pollard vs. Heath Miller

In a game where receiver Antonio Brown may not see the field, Miller takes on an even bigger role for controlling the middle. Miller is having a banner year. He remains a top-notch red zone threat and is especially dangerous on seam patterns. Pollard will be responsible for picking up Miller when he stretches the deep half of the field. As an open field tackler, Pollard can be devastating and he’ll have to play physical against Miller on Sunday night.

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