OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh has never beaten Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Neither has quarterback Joe Flacco, or the other Ravens who joined the team within the past four seasons.
Similar to Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, Roethlisberger has been one of the biggest thorns in the side of the Ravens (8-3). Roethlisberger is 5-0 against Baltimore since 2007 and 7-2 in his career against his biggest rival. The only two losses came in 2006, which was the year of Roethlisberger's motorcycle accident.
"That's a horrible stat," Ravens linebacker/defensive end Terrell Suggs admitted this week.
Can Baltimore break its five-game losing streak against Roethlisberger in Sunday's matchup against Pittsburgh (8-3) at M&T Bank Stadium? With first place in the AFC North hanging in the balance, this would be a perfect time for the Ravens to end their drought.
The AFC North blog teamed up with its resident scout -- Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. -- to map out four ways the Ravens can beat the two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.
1. Bring pressure, collect sacks
Analysis: Roethlisberger was sacked eight times in his two losses as starting quarterback this season against the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots. The Buffalo Bills also sacked Roethlisberger five times during last week's 19-16 overtime win for the Steelers. That was a common theme in the three games Pittsburgh's offense struggled under Roethlisberger. Rushing the passer hasn't been Baltimore's strongest area, but it seems to be improving and getting more disruptive as of late. Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman was flushed out the pocket several times and looked uncomfortable last week in Baltimore's win.
"I would come after them," Williamson said. "I think Pittsburgh's blitz recognition, as a whole, is a weakness. Their blockers don't pass off blitzers very well, and a lot of Pittsburgh's linemen don’t have a lot of experience, including Maurkice Pouncey, who is their best guy."
2. Win the pre-snap battle
Analysis: Something I believe the Steelers do very well is mask their blitzes. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is very good at showing different fronts to confuse the quarterback with who's coming and who's dropping into coverage. By the time Pittsburgh shows its coverage, it’s too late because there’s pressure on the quarterback. I think the Ravens and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison can better implement disguises in their defense to confuse Roethlisberger. If so, Roethlisberger's penchant for holding the ball too long could result in sacks and perhaps a big turnover or two.
"I don't think Roethlisberger is a very good pre-snap quarterback," Williamson explained. "A guy like Peyton Manning is tremendous pre-snap, recognizing the defense well before the ball is even snapped. Ben is more reactionary, more sandlot: The ball is snapped, this is what I see, now make something happen and get it there."
3. Take advantage of offensive line woes
Analysis: Pittsburgh's offense line is banged up and has a lot of moving parts. The Steelers lost starting left tackle Max Starks (neck) for the season and have rotated players at both guard positions. Baltimore's defensive line, led by Pro Bowler Haloti Ngata, should be able to win most battles at the line of scrimmage. That would stuff Pittsburgh's running game and put Roethlisberger in a lot of 3rd-and-long situations.
"If you look at the Steelers' guards, they are really bad, and [tackle] Jonathan Scott on the edge is a real problem," Williamson said. "There's a lot of one-on-one matchups there that favor Baltimore's defensive front. We saw a huge one last week with [Buffalo] defensive tackle Kyle Williams."
4. Use Ed Reed to take away the deep ball
Analysis: In his first press conference after returning from his four-game suspension, Roethlisberger noticed something while watching the games on television. "It looks like Mike Wallace got faster," Roethlisberger said. The quarterback was very excited about the prospect of connecting with Wallace on big plays this year, and the pair hasn't disappointed. Wallace is having a breakout season, already setting new career highs in yards (792) and touchdowns (eight). Wallace is averaging 22.0 yards per reception, as he has been able to consistently get behind the defense. This is where Reed comes in. The dynamic safety was absent from the first meeting due to offseason hip surgery. But Reed is back and making big plays again. He already has four picks in five games. If Reed can help keep Wallace under wraps, a big part of Pittsburgh's offense will be taken away from Roethlisberger.
"I think they will take shots downfield every game if they can," Williamson said of the Steelers. "Ben is a very good deep thrower and it ties in very well with Wallace, who is obviously an elite deep threat with crazy speed. Pittsburgh is aggressive in that way. They don't have any reservations about throwing deep, and I think they want to go deep no matter what defense they're playing."
If Baltimore can accomplish these four things, it has a great chance of ending its five-game losing streak against Roethlisberger. This is one of the many great chess matches in this rivalry, where the winner will have the inside track to capture the AFC North division title.