1) Blocking the rush ends: When facing Pittsburgh, the primary objective of an offense is to protect the quarterback and pick up the blitz. To extend that point further, an offense must contain the blitzkrieg duo of James Harrison and Lamar Woodley at the outside spots.
As 3-4 outside backers, the two linebackers are essentially rush ends who can put their hands down and move past the outside shoulders of the tackles they face. If extra blockers are used to help the offensive tackles, then they will need to do an adequate job of slowing down either rusher before quarterback Joe Flacco gets rid of the ball. This is easier said than done, considering that the two backers are able to overpower smaller blockers.
Overall, if the Ravens are to have a viable passing attack against Pittsburgh, Woodley and Harrison cannot be as disruptive as they were when the two teams met earlier in the season.
2) Running from the spread: Running the ball successfully against the Steelers is a difficult task. The Ravens had some success piercing the Pittsburgh front seven in the Monday Night contest. They were able to run the ball well in the first half using power formations. But the running game tapered off in the second half when the Ravens had trouble sustaining offensive drives.
On Sunday, the Ravens may have a better chance of hitting on some running plays out of the shotgun spread formation. By spreading the formations, the Ravens could move defenders out of the box and open up gaps up the middle for the backs to crack through. In particular, rookie runner Ray Rice is effective on inside draws and delay runs. He could aid the Ravens’ cause provided he’s healthy enough to take the field.
The Ravens should employ these gap hitting rushes away from nose tackle Casey Hampton. In addition to operating from the shotgun spread, they should look to run the ball in situations when the Steelers expect the pass.
3) Pump and Go: Against the Steelers, it is nearly impossible to run a long-developing pass play. However, if the Baltimore offensive line is able to pick up the blitz, there will be opportunities to hit on a big play or two.
The Baltimore offense executed a perfect double move pattern against the Redskins last week, and if it runs an assortment of underneath curls and comeback routes, the double move could be in play again. Both Mark Clayton and Derrick Mason run such hard, in-cutting routes, that either player has the suddenness to break open on a second move over-the-top.
The key for hitting on another double move pattern against the Steelers will be moving a safety off of his landmark and again, giving the Flacco enough time to release the ball.
1) Zone scheme on third down: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has burned the Ravens so many times because when the blitz does not get home, Roethlisberger makes defenders pay. Specifically, if he is able to avoid the rush, Roethlisberger has been one of the best playmakers in the league, as a runner or a passer.
This is not to say that the Baltimore defense should not blitz Big Ben. The Steelers still struggle to pick up the blitz, especially off tackle. Moreover, the Ravens have had great success getting hits and sacks on Roethlisberger through the course of a game.
However, on third down, Baltimore will need to be careful. Roethlisberger made the right adjustments to defeat the Baltimore blitz in the first matchup. He was able to find the check downs and the slants over the middle, where the gaps were vacated by blitzing backers.
To get off the field on third down, the Ravens should attempt to play zone and rely more on their front four to compress the pocket.
2) Quick substitutions: When Pittsburgh got back into the Monday contest against the Ravens back in Week 3 they did so by running a hurry-up attack. That move sparked the Pittsburgh offense and it was able to get back into a rhythm.
It would not be a surprise to see the Steelers attempt to run more hurry-up drives against the Ravens on Sunday to keep the Baltimore substitutions to a minimum and to force the defense to stay in more conventional formations. In addition, Roethlisberger is very comfortable as the director of this hyper-speed chorus, even in a noisy environment like M&T Bank Stadium.
The defense will need to stay alert and ready to face the quick count.
3) No mental errors: Over the past few Sundays, the Ravens have proven themselves against stiffer competition because they have not succumbed to the careless errors that they committed at the beginning of the season.
Considering the tone of this game, it will be even more vital that the defensive players maintain their composure at all times. Any slight mistake could cost the team dearly. The defense will need to play hard, physical and fast, but more importantly, with discipline and intelligence.