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Ravens-Steelers scouting report

January 14, 2011

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Ravens on offense: Joe Flacco looked calm, cool, and collected as he helped lead Baltimore to a relatively easy wild-card victory over Kansas City. Can he put back-to-back performances together? Flacco (6 feet 6 inches, 230 pounds) has a big arm and can make all the throws. His accuracy suffers when he’s flushed from the pocket, but as he showed last week, he’s pretty mobile for a man his size (though he has to work on his slide technique). Tight end Todd Heap (decent speed, soft hands) had his best game of the season last week, but you can bet your bottom dollar he’ll get assaulted at the line early and often in this one. Receivers Anquan Boldin (one word: explosive) and Derrick Mason (one word: consistent) are solid. Ray Rice is still the key. The 5-8, 205-pound tailback has the vision, patience, and quickness to attack the line and get to the second level.

Steelers on defense: Troy Polamalu is the biggest star in this star-studded lineup. The big safety with the big hair flies all over the field with reckless abandon. He’s a hit-first-ask-questions-later player. He has decent coverage skills, a nose for the ball, and hits like a linebacker. Linebackers Lawrence Timmons (instinctive), James Harrison (brutal), and James Farrior (powerful) cause nightmares for opposing coaches and ball carriers.

Steelers on offense: Ben Roethlisberger is a frustrating man to play against. The 6-5, 241-pounder has amazing escapability for a man his size. Just when it appears he’s going to get wrapped up, he breaks free and either scrambles for a first down or launches a pass (while falling). Hines Ward (reliable, tough, and dirty) is Big Ben’s favorite target. Second-year man Mike Wallace (21 yards per catch) has speed to burn and great hands. Antwaan Randle El is clutch, and tight end Heath Miller has a knack for making the big catch over the middle. Rashard Mendenhall has carried the mail for the Steelers all season. A well-built, rugged runner, Mendenhall (324 carries, 1,273 yards) has taken a lot of hits, and he’ll need plenty of ice packs after this one, too.

Ravens on defense: Baltimore features plenty of girth up front in tackles Kelly Gregg (6-0, 320) and Haloti Ngata (6-4, 350). Both are quick (surprising) and powerful (not surprising) and will occupy blockers, allowing the linebackers to bury the running backs. The ferocious linebackers are ageless wonder Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs. Lewis is Baltimore’s emotional leader and he’s always around the ball. Suggs is a superb tackler. Ed Reed is the best safety in the universe, bar none.

Special teams: Rookie receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown handle the majority of the return duties for the Steelers . . . Sanders has a 25.1-yard average on 25 kickoff returns (with a long of 48) . . . Brown has a 23.4-yard average on 17 kickoff returns (including an 89-yard TD) . . . Brown has also returned 19 punts for 110 yards . . . The Steelers’ Shaun Suisham has nailed 14 of 15 field goal attempts (with a long of 48) since replacing Jeff Reed (cut) in Week 11 . . . Pittsburgh punter Jeremy Kapinos (41.9-yard average) has taken over for the injured Daniel Sepulveda . . . Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff was 3 for 3 on field goals last week after hitting on 26 of 29 during the regular season, including a 51-yarder . . . David Reed (29.3 yards) and Jalen Parmele (23.4) handle the kick returns and Lardarius Webb (9.5 yards) returns punts.

Miscellany: Baltimore’s John Harbaugh last week joined Barry Switzer as the only NFL coaches to win playoff games in each of their first three seasons . . . Reed has seven INTs in eight postseason games . . . Baltimore has 29 picks in 14 playoff games . . . Steelers have won 31 postseason games. Only the Cowboys (33) have more . . . Pittsburgh hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in 14 straight postseason tilts.

JIM McBRIDE

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