Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 11/15/12
The odd scheduling of this year’s much anticipated Ravens-Steelers showdowns finally begins in Week 11 this Sunday night in Pittsburgh.Game two of the punishing series will then take place in just two weeks on Sunday December 2nd when the Steelers travel to Baltimore.  The Ravens come in at 7-2 and are flying high after hanging a smooth 55 on the hapless Raiders last week in Baltimore, in a game that Oakland politely declined to attend. The Steelers are 6-3 after hanging on for a win at home on Monday night over a physical Chiefs defense in overtime, 16-13. In that game, played in the cold rain, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sustained a sprained shoulder and more serious dislocated rib injury, which have ruled him out from this week’s important game against the Ravens. With first place in the bruising AFC North division potentially up for grabs in the next three weeks, here are several keys to this week’s game.The Right Wich?With Roethlisberger not playing, Pittsburgh turns to ten-year veteran backup and former first-round Jacksonville draft pick, Byron Leftwich. Leftwich is similar in stature to Big Ben, at six-foot-five, 250 pounds, has a big strong arm, and at one point in history, was also pretty mobile. Pittsburgh will likely lean on the run more with Roethlisberger not playing, but when they do throw, the Ravens must get pressure on Leftwich so he can’t sit back and find speedy receivers Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, and reliable tight end Heath Miller. If he has time to scan the field he is more than capable, but fortunately for the Ravens, Leftwich’s last start came in 2009 and his best playing days are in the rear view mirror.Pittsburgh’s Three RunnersPlaying at home and playing their backup quarterback, the Steelers will look to rely heavily on their running game, which this week features the return of starter Rashard Mendenhall, as well as stud backups, Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer, who each chipped in with big individual efforts in Mendenhall’s absence. The Ravens continue to struggle stopping the run and are ranked 26th in the league in rushing defense, giving up 132 yards per game. Terrell Suggs’ return and the continued improvement of rookie Courtney Upshaw bodes well for the defense, but a banged up Haloti Ngata remains a cause for concern. Ngata played sparingly against Oakland, which hopefully allowed for needed rest, because heading down the stretch, there is simply no foreseeable time to get healthy.  Let’s Go to Joe’s HouseRavens quarterback Joe Flacco has led the team on a last minute game-winning touchdown drive in each of his past two regular season trips to Pittsburgh. This season, aside from a few bright spots, Flacco has not looked good on the road due to his inaccuracy, crowd noise, play calling, good coverage and poor protection. If I weren’t painted purple right now, I’d consider sending in his Houston tape from a few weeks back to Bob Saget, because I can sorta kinda see his performance falling under the realm of comedy (N.B. It was bad). Let’s hope Steeler killing Joe as opposed to Antiques Road Show Joe arrives for the game this week in Pittsburgh.Opportunity in the Lions’ DenAs legendary former Ravens coach Billick likes to remind us, “You don’t tiptoe into the lions’ den...”  The fact is, we don’t wish injury upon anyone in this brutal game, but with Roethlisberger not playing, the Ravens have a big opportunity to take this one in Pittsburgh, improve to 8-2, and grab a stronghold of first place in the division.   With a trip to San Diego coming up next week, followed by the Steelers quickly again in Baltimore, and both Manning brothers still waiting in the wings, every potential win proves crucial for pivotal playoff positioning. 
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