Flacco, Roethlisberger better be ready for the blitz
Gary Horton knows what to pay attention to during the Ravens-Steelers MNF game.
This week's "Monday Night Football" game (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET) features the Ravens on the road versus the Steelers. Scouts Inc. has all the story lines to watch in this AFC North showdown.
Take advantage of the blitz
Even though QB Joe Flacco is a rookie, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron might try to open up the passing game versus the Steelers' defense. Pittsburgh will go after Flacco with every conceivable blitz, but that also will usually mean the corners will be on islands in man-to-man coverage without a lot of safety help. If the Ravens can hold up in pass protection, especially on the edge, Flacco could find some favorable perimeter matchups leading to explosive plays -- and the Ravens have a history of making big plays versus the Steelers' secondary.
Pittsburgh must always account for Ravens DE Haloti Ngata. Not only can he play all three spots on the defensive line and control the point of attack with his great size and power, but he can drop into coverage on zone blitzes. Quarterbacks certainly do not expect a 345-pound lineman to be sitting in coverage in the short zone.
Use Heap more
When the Ravens are in the red zone, they like to get physical and run the football. They will run behind an unbalanced line that is loaded with big players and extra offensive linemen. They often will run the ball between the tackles; however, don't be surprised if they use play-action and get the ball to TE Todd Heap, who has been underused. Steelers SS Troy Polamalu is very aggressive, so Heap could find a hole over the middle in the area vacated by Polamalu on play-action.
Call gadget plays
Cameron is an innovative coordinator and has spruced up the Ravens' stagnant offense. He uses a lot of shifts, motions and pre-snap movement. Plus, he pulls out some gadget plays such as reverses with WR Mark Clayton.
Force Flacco to throw
Obviously, the Steelers' defensive game plan is to take away Baltimore's rushing attack, especially RB Willis McGahee, and put the ball in Flacco's hands. He still struggles to recognize defenses, and the Steelers, under coordinator Dick LeBeau, have one of the most intricate and exotic schemes in the NFL. The Steelers will blitz Flacco from every direction and concentrate on taking away the edges in the passing game. That's where Flacco is most comfortable. This will force him to throw the ball between the hashes, which is where he struggles.
The Steelers really would like to run the ball to set up play-action, but that will be difficult versus the Ravens' physical front seven. RB Willie Parker is out with a sprained left knee, so rookie RB Rashard Mendenhall will make his first NFL start. He has excellent explosiveness through the hole, but the Ravens are extremely stingy up the middle versus the run. They play a lot of two-gap techniques, which makes it difficult to create running lanes. This allows their defensive linemen to control the line of scrimmage and make the play or occupy blockers and let the inside linebackers step up and make plays. Either way, Pittsburgh might have to widen its running game and attack the outside linebackers to try to get Mendenhall in space.
Receivers must get open
There is a lot of pressure on the Steelers' receivers to step up their games. As poorly as the offensive line played this past Sunday, some of the blame for the sacks and hits taken by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger against the Eagles should fall on the receivers. The Steelers don't have a very fast receiver corps, but they usually have success by running disciplined routes and being physical. Against Philadelphia, they had trouble getting separation versus tight man coverages. Expect the Ravens to try a similar tactic. Roethlisberger will look early for his receivers, but then he will roll out of the pocket to buy time. He is willing to wait until the last second to release the ball -- even if it means taking a hit. Against Philadelphia, that separation didn't always happen and the receivers failed to go to their hot routes, which left Big Ben holding the football. The Steelers must remedy this problem before Monday night because the Ravens will be just as aggressive as the Eagles.
Use Moore in the red zone
Pittsburgh's red-zone offense has been pretty successful (six touchdowns and a field goal in seven trips), which is somewhat surprising considering its pass protection problems. The Steelers love to get the ball to WR Hines Ward or TE Heath Miller, but it might be time to get RB Mewelde Moore more involved. He is a good third-down back and an underrated receiver out of the backfield. Moore could become a valuable red-zone weapon.
Gary Horton, a pro scout for Scouts Inc., has been a football talent evaluator for more than 30 years. He spent 10 years in the NFL and 10 years at the college level before launching a private scouting firm, The War Room.