Five Questions Ravens vs. Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger talks to Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco after the Steelers defeated the Ravens 13-10 at M & T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on December 5, 2010. UPI/Kevin Dietsch

Matchup: Ravens (13-4) @ Steelers (12-4)
Kickoff: 4:30PM ET, Saturday

1. Can Polamalu stay healthy?
When Troy Polamalu intercepted at least one pass during a game this year, the Steelers were 6-0. I could go on about how important he is to Pittsburgh’s defense but I don’t need to – everyone knows how vital he is to the Steelers’ success. He’s been battling an Achilles/ankle injury for the past month and he didn’t practice all last week. He’ll be held out of early practices this week too, as the Steelers want to limit the risk of further injury. He’s not going to miss a playoff game, but can he make it all four quarters of what should be the most physical battle of the year?

2. Can the Steelers’ O-Line hold up?
Just because Pittsburgh scored 68 points in its final two games doesn’t mean that its concerns along the offensive line have disappeared. (Plus, those 68 points were collectively scored on Carolina and Cleveland.) Baltimore has a superior defensive line, led by tackle Haloti Ngata and while Ben Roethlisberger usually does a great job of holding up against pressure, no quarterback wants to throw with defenders in his face. The Steelers’ O-line will be tested this Saturday.

3. Can the Ravens slow Mike Wallace?
The Ravens have allowed an average of 10.2 yards per competition through the air this season, which ranks them eighth in the league. They generally don’t give up big plays but if there were ever a homerun threat they needed to be weary of this weekend, it’s Mike Wallace. The second-year pro is averaging 21.0 yards per catch this season, so he’s doing most of his damage downfield. In the season finale against Cleveland, Wallace only caught three passes but they went for 105 yards and one touchdown (off a 56-yard bomb from Big Ben). The Ravens held Kansas City wideout Dwayne Bowe to zero catches last weekend, but can they have similar success against Wallace?

4. Can the Steelers protect the ball?
Pittsburgh hasn’t turned the ball over much this season. In fact, the Steelers are second to only the Patriots in turnovers per game at +1.1. But the Ravens defense is playing at a Super Bowl level right now and in the past two games, they’ve forced 10 turnovers (five fumbles and five interceptions) and have held their opponents to 14 total points. It goes without saying that teams usually don’t win when they lose the turnover battle, but it may be especially true this Saturday in Pittsburgh. The Steelers can’t give Baltimore extra opportunities.

5. Can the Ravens avoid a collapse?
In back to back games in early December, the Ravens had dominated this same Steelers team for three quarters before Pittsburgh mounted a comeback in the fourth. A week later in Houston, the Ravens needed a Josh Wilson pick-six in overtime to beat the Texans after they coughed up a three-touchdown lead early in the third quarter. The Ravens also blew a lead in Atlanta when they were up with 22 seconds remaining and gave up a late Roddy White touchdown to lose. Baltimore is one of the hottest teams in the league and a legit Super Bowl contender but neither side of the ball can get complacent this Saturday. Given what’s at stake and whom they’re playing, chances are they won’t but they can’t forget what happened last time these two teams met.

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