Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 11/29/12
This Sunday, in NFL Week 13’s late afternoon headliner, the 9-2 Baltimore Ravens have the opportunity to all but lock up first place in the AFC North division by knocking off the 6-5 Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. The Ravens look to cap off an undefeated three-game stretch, which has been described as the most difficult part of their schedule. They first beat the futile, Byron Leftwich-led Steelers in Pittsburgh in Week 11, and then rode a Ray Rice miracle 4th and 29 conversion to an overtime victory last week in San Diego. The Steelers, without starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, have lost their last two games, including last week to division doormat Cleveland, where Pittsburgh turned the ball over eight times, but still somehow only lost by six. Roethlisberger’s status for this week’s game remains uncertain, as he’s battled through a dangerous dislocated rib, while the Ravens have now won an NFL-best 15 home games in a row. Here are some keys to the game.Ben-less in Baltimore?The news out of Pittsburgh has been cloudy at best regarding Ben Roethlisberger’s ability to play against the Ravens. Several articles have pointed toward the conclusion that he will not go, but you know he will do everything in his power to play with the season on the line. The Steelers may also not want to reveal his status if he is planning to play, so that the Ravens are kept in the dark and forced to prepare for both Ben and veteran backup Charlie Batch, which will also give Pittsburgh an energy boost closer to game time. If it’s the immobile Batch, the Ravens should apply pressure, especially to the right side where the Steelers line is weak, to create crowd-inspiring sacks and force him to throw the ball downfield. Batch threw three picks last week against Cleveland. If it’s the elusive, former MVP Roethlisberger, then game on, this will be a fun one!Dwyer DayThe Steelers have named Jonathan Dwyer as their starting running back for this week, and he is their most talented and effective runner.  He combines punishing power with underestimated downhill speed, and always tends to fall forward for an extra two yards when being tackled. The Ravens run defense has been Swiss cheese at certain points in the season, specifically against Jamaal Charles, DeMarco Murray, and Arian Foster, but they have tightened up in recent weeks. Their better performances have coincided with the noticeable improvement in their one-on-one matchups on the line, and with defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ move from the sideline to the press box. The Ravens are still ranked 26th in the league in run defense, giving up 129 yards per game and must find a way to corral Dwyer and get their defense off the field.Offense is DefenseThe Steelers boast the No. 1 ranked defense in the league, giving up only 257 total yards per game. Their front seven, despite the pull of father time, remains as good as any in the NFL with the likes of Timmons, Woodley, Hood, Keisel, Hampton, Harrison, Heyward, and Co. These guys are physical and can play with anyone. Combine that with the facts that All-world safety Troy Polamalu is expected to return from a calf injury that has sidelined him since Week 5, and that the Ravens failed to score an offensive touchdown in Pittsburgh two weeks ago, and purple concern appears appropriate. Fortunately, the Ravens have been a high-powered offense at home this year as compared to their struggles on the road. Something’s got to give.San Diego SurgeLast week’s wild overtime win over the Chargers, sprung by the Herculean individual effort from Rice, and the ‘genius-in-hindsight’ decision by Joe Flacco to hit the check down route on 4th and 29, was the type of game that should give the team a surge of momentum and confidence for heading down the final stretch of the regular season. Despite commentator Dan Fouts’ darkest nightmares, Rice did make the first down marker, and Torrey Smith did follow that up with an incredible back shoulder grab on third down in overtime, and Bernard Pollard’s unsportsmanlike conduct flag in the 4th quarter should not have been a penalty. The Ravens overcame incredible odds and utilized some needed luck to beat San Diego, and they should not let this week’s opportunity slip away to put their perennial bitter rival Pittsburgh Steelers’ season to bed.        
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