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Sunday, October 3, 2010Ravens-Steelers primer, Week 4
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October 3, 2010

Ravens-Steelers primer, Week 4

The starting point for Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh is turnovers. If the Ravens have a chance to deal the Steelers their first loss of the season, it almost certainly will have to come on the heels of a defensive resurgence.

Three games into the season, the Ravens don’t have an interception. Their only turnover came when a Jets running back hit his own blocker and fumbled the ball. Even with Ed Reed in the secondary, you have to wonder how much better the turnover stats would be.

The Ravens need to recover the defensive intensity they had on opening night in the Meadowlands. That was a magnificent effort. It has been missing since, however, and with that restored, they can menace Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch enough that he will put the ball up for grabs.

Of the starters in the secondary now, cornerback Chris Carr has the best hands and is more likely to get a pick. Lardarius Webb is another candidate to make a play that turns the game. And perhaps 6-foot-1 cornerback Cary Williams will get a shot in the secondary, where his size and play-making ability can make a difference.

The Steelers are winning because they are plus-6 in turnovers this season, best in the league. The Ravens are tied for last in turnover ratio with Carolina at minus-6. That has to change fast.

Finally, the Steelers are missing both Ben Roethlisberger (suspended) and Santonio Holmes, the big-play receiver who has bedeviled the Ravens over the years and moved on to the Jets last offseason. The situation is perfect for the Ravens. But unless the defense recovers its swagger this week, the Ravens will lose more ground to the Steelers.

Here are some other areas of the game to focus on:

THIRD DOWN: The Ravens have the best third-down defense in the NFL, holding opponents to a 20 percent success rate (8 for 40). The Steelers rank ninth in the league at 36.4 percent. The Ravens also have a big edge in third-down offense, too, where they are converting 45.7 percent of their opportunities (21 for 46), compared to the Steelers’ 26.3 percent (only the 49ers and Redskins are worse). Converting and capitalizing are two different things, though. Sunday the Ravens need to convert and capitalize.

SPECIAL TEAMS: If it’s Pittsburgh week, it’s about field position. Always important, it will go a long way toward determining Sunday’s winner. Steelers rookie Antonio Brown has an 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, and the Ravens have already given up a 60-yard kick return, so that bears watching. Pittsburgh’s Jeff Reed is 8 for 10 in field goals, missing from 55 and 40 yards. Billy Cundiff is 3 for 4, missing from 51 (off the upright). More significantly, Cundiff has reached the end zone nine times in 11 kickoffs, compared to Reed’s 6 of 17. Kicking in Heinz Field is like kicking in another dimension, however.

PASS PROTECTION: The Steelers and Ravens have the same DNA on defense. They pressure the quarterback and stop the run. The Ravens have had a lot of trouble getting LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison blocked recently in this series. They went with the unbalanced line a lot last year and still gave up nine sacks. Now that Jared Gaither is no longer in the mix, and Oniel Cousins has retreated to the bench, it’s up to Marshal Yanda to stop Woodley, and it’s up to Michael Oher to block Harrison. Having three…

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