Key vs. San Diego
Offensive balance. The Steelers have not exactly been their usual running selves this season. They ranked 23rd in the league in rushing during the regular season. Willie Parker and Mewelde Moore, neither of whom is a power runner, combined for just 1,379 yards on the ground. Compensating for the mediocre run game is a Ben Roethlisberger-led passing attack that produced four players with over 500 yards receiving (Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Heath Miller and Nate Washington).
But Sunday against San Diego, the Steelers stayed vibrant through the air, and also pounded the rock consistently for four quarters, dominating the tempo in the second half (particularly the third quarter). Willie Parker looked fresh in gaining 146 yards on 27 carries. Obviously the Pittsburgh defense – which has carried the load all season – did its part, as well.
Key vs. Tennessee
Takeaways. It’s easy to look at Tennessee’s 12 penalties and three turnovers and say the Titans gave this game away. They didn’t; it was stolen from them by a furious Ravens defense. The three turnovers weren’t Titan giveaways – they were Raven takeaways. All three turnovers were a result of either ferocious hitting or savvy play-reading by Rex Ryan’s crew. Yes, Baltimore looked tired throughout this hard-hitting contest….and they still won.
Key to Ravens @ Steelers
Pittsburgh’s pass protection. It’s been the Steelers’ Achilles heal all season – Ben Roethlisberger was sacked more times than any AFC quarterback – mainly because all five members of the offensive line have had issues diagnosing opponents’ blitz schemes. Rex Ryan is not as heavy a blitzer as you would expect, simply because Baltimore’s pass-rush is so complex and star-studded that he doesn’t have to bring a fifth guy. If the Steelers can block the Ravens in the passing game, they’ll win. If they can’t, you’ll see more forced turnovers, and ultimately another victory, from arguably the nastiest team in football.
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