Steelers Receivers vs. Ravens Secondary
The Steelers top 2 receivers are Mike Wallace and Hines Ward. When they go to 3 and 4 receiver sets, Antwaan Randle El and Arnaz Battle fill out the ranks. According to the Steelers official depth chart, David Johnson is the starting TE and Heath Miller is his backup. Of course, Johnson is only listed as the starting FB, and he has 1 catch this year for 9 total yards while Miller has 32 receptions for 375 yards. I'm going to go with Miller as the starter here.
Wallace has the speed to stretch the field (he's averaging 22 YPC) while Ward is the possession receiver that Baltimore fans love to hate (but he backs it up on the field and is on pace to end the season with 59 catches for 741 yards and 6 TDs). Miller is one of the better pass catching TEs in the league and is having another solid season.
The Ravens will be countering this with starting CBs Josh Wilson and Chris Carr, with Lardarius Webb as the nickel back and Fabian Washington playing the dime packages. Ed Reed is the FS and Dawan Landry is the SS (but w/Landry's concussion last week, Haruki Nakamura or Tom Zbikowski could be sliding into the rotation covering for Landry and relieving Reed. As mentioned yesterday, the team released Ken Hamlin to make room for a backup FB for LeRon McClain.
None of the Ravens CBs are shutdown corners. Webb has potential, but he is still learning how to play CB after playing FS in college. They are all decent at covering receivers, but they need the front seven to get pressure on the QB because they can be beaten if the QB has some time to let the receivers find a soft spot in the coverage. Reed is still one of the best in the league, but he is still bothered by the hip and neck problems from previous years as well as other nagging injuries that every player incurs during the course of a season. Reed does like to gamble, and while he is often right when he is wrong it usually means 6 points for the opposition. Landry is a hard hitter (his nickname is Wop, for the sound his pads make when he hits somebody), but he does not always take the best route to the ball.
Advantage: Steelers. Their receivers know their role and know their offense, and are at their best when the play breaks down. The Ravens can cover, but they are not as adept as they have been in the past and it shows when they are covering receivers for more than a few seconds (which isn't nearly as bad as it sounds since most plays develop within 5-7 seconds from the snap of the ball, especially with the prevalence of 3 step drops and timing patterns).
Ravens Receivers vs. Steelers Secondary
A lot has been made of the Ravens improved receiving corps, with Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason, and TJ Houshmandzedah being the first trio of receivers on the same team to all have 600+ career receptions, and Donte Stallworth is working his way into the game after missing the first 2 months with a foot injury. The Three Amigos are all good possession receivers with okay speed, but Stallworth is the burner that the team has been lacking. Todd Heap is the TE, but rookies Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson are excellent pass catchers that are slowly working their ways into the lineup.
The Steelers counter with Bryant McFadden and Ike Taylor on the corners with William Gay and Anthony Madison filling the extra DB packages. Ryan Clark is the FS and Troy Polamalu is the SS. In many ways, the Steelers secondary is a lot like the Ravens secondary, with competent corners who are not elite, and a safety who is one of the best players in the league in Polamalu. The biggest difference is that the Ravens receivers are not as good at getting open after all hell breaks loose with the QB under pressure, but they are better at getting open in the first place. And if you count Ray Rice as a receiver (which he is used for quite a bit), that creates a lot of match-up problems for the Steelers. Either a TE or a RB is going to have a LB covering them, and that usually means advantage: offense. And so...
Tomorrow, the rest of the defense for both squads vs. the offensive lines.