OLBs Jason Worilds and James Harrison vs. OTs Michael Oher and Kelechi Osemele
A big part of the reason why the Steelers were able to hold Baltimore to just 200 yards of offense was because of Harrison’s and LaMarr Woodley’s ability to dominate their edges. Harrison had arguably the best game of his 2012 season, dominating Oher and any Ravens TE they (foolishly) put out there to block him.
Even with Woodley out, the Ravens will likely show a few unbalanced formations, bringing in a tackle to block Harrison and try to jump-start a running game that only gained 47 yards on the ground in their 13-10 win in Week 11. In even formations, they’ll run stretches at Worilds, which will require him to again show the improvement he’s shown all season against the run.
CBs Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis vs. WRs Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin
The Steelers put Taylor on Boldin in their Week 9 loss to the Ravens in 2011, and Smith tore them up throughout the game. The surging improvement of Lewis gives the Steelers more flexibility, and moving Taylor on Smith yielded great results in their Week 11 meeting.
Smith was held to just one catch – including an outstanding over-the-top pass break-up by Taylor – and the Ravens’ offense failed to score a touchdown. Considering the Ravens have a three-game lead on the division, and the Steelers’ woeful injury status on the offensive side of the ball, the Ravens are likely to make the Steelers’ coverage duo prove their outstanding Week 11 performance. They will throw deep, particularly early, looking to gain a two-score lead – one the Steelers’ offense will struggle to stay with score for score.
RB Jonathan Dwyer vs. Baltimore defensive front seven
Much was made out of Steelers coach Mike Tomlin naming Dwyer the Steelers’ primary running back this week. Dwyer, a restricted free agent in 2013, has clearly been the Steelers’ most productive runner, but sloppy technique and injuries have hindered his progress this season. Considering injuries along the offensive line and to quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich, the Steelers need to establish the run more in this game than they have in any game the last two seasons. Dwyer must step up and fill the duties of a featured runner if the Steelers will have any chance of winning this game.
The Ravens’ front seven is nowhere near as dominant as it has been in the past, both due to injuries and technique. Missed tackles have plagued them all season, and it’s dropped a perennial top five rushing defense to 26th overall (128.5 yards per game). There hasn’t been much on film to suggest the Steelers can pass effectively enough without Roethlisberger over the last 10 quarters, so expect Baltimore to sell out to stop the run and force as many third and long situations as possible.
P Drew Butler vs. PR Jacoby Jones
Simply put, the Ravens defeated the Steelers in Week 11 because of Jones – the only player in NFL history to return two kicks in the same season for 105 yards or more. His 61-yard punt return score gave the Ravens their only touchdown of the game, giving the Steelers a loss in perhaps their finest defensive performance of the season. Jones, the AFC’s Special Teams Player of the Month in November, has outstanding quickness and speed, but his vision makes him as dangerous as any returner in the game. Butler will likely sacrifice distance for accuracy, as the Steelers’ punt-coverage unit has to contain him and protect field position. Their offense is bland enough that 17 points may be all the Ravens need to pull off the victory, so the Steelers’ defense needs all the help they can get to make the Ravens move down long fields to score.