Fourth Quarter Passing
With high playoff stakes on the line for both teams, don't be surprised if fourth quarter passing plays a major role in determining the winner.
Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco have nearly identical completion rates in the final quarter. The Steelers quarterback has connected on 65.7 percent of his throws versus 64.4 percent by the second-year Ravens quarterback. Both have been sacked too frequently in the final period with Roethlisberger being dropped 13 times and Flacco tallying 11.
The Ravens quarterback holds a slight edge in touchdown passes by a count of seven to five, but the one large margin that is very noteworthy is that the Flacco has thrown five interceptions during the final period this year while Roethlisberger has yet to throw one.
Wide receiver Hines Ward is clearly Roethlisberger's go-to guy during the final 15 minutes. His 33 passes to Ward have resulted in a team-high 20 fourth-quarter catches for 260 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Meanwhile, Flacco's split 28 pass attempts each between running back Ray Rice and wide receiver Derrick Mason. Rice has caught 82.1 percent of those throws for 316 yards and one touchdown while Mason has grabbed 53.6 percent for 230 yards and three scores.
Neither team likes to throw much when they have a first-and-goal situation. Flacco has only thrown three passes in that situation this year and completed just one--but it was for a touchdown. Roethlisberger has completed two of five passes--both for touchdowns--but was sacked twice and threw an interception on the other attempts.
In The Zone
Joe Flacco has provided much-needed stability at the quarterback position in Baltimore.
Larry French/Getty Images
When Baltimore is in the red zone, Flacco's favorite targets are wide receiver Derrick Mason and Ray Rice. Mason has caught seven of 11 chances (63.6 percent) for an average gain of 9.7 yards and three scores. Rice has caught five of nine passes (55.6 percent) for an average gain of just 3.8 yards, but has yet to score during a red-zone pass. Although he's the third favorite target, tight end Todd Heap has been the most effective of the trio, grabbing four of five opportunities (80 percent) for an average gain of 9.8 yards, scoring on all four catches.
Pittsburgh's Heath Miller has been deadly in the red zone, catching ten of 12 passes (83.3 percent) for five touchdowns and an average gain of 7.2 yards. Roethlisberger's other favorite target inside the opponent's 20-yard line is Hines Ward who's caught just six of 16 throws (37.5 percent), but has scored five times with an average gain of 8.8 yards. Wide receiver Santonio Holmes has been given nine opportunities, but has snared only three of them (33.3 percent) for an average gain of nine yards and no touchdowns.
Ray Rice has converted six of 13 third-down rushing opportunities for the Ravens this season with an average gain of 7.0 yards per carry. Le'Ron McClain has succeeded in earning a first down on three of six tries (50 percent) with an average gain of 5.5 yards. Flacco has the same number of attempts and successful runs as McClain, but his average gain is just 2.33 yards.
Pittsburgh's most effective rusher on third down has been Roethlisberger--whether by design or simply while scrambling for his life. He's successfully moved the chains five out of eight times (62.5 percent) for an average gain of 4.5 yards. Running back Rashard Mendenhall is only gaining an average of 2.5 yards per carry on third down, but that's been good enough for six first downs on 12 attempts (50 percent). Mewelde Moore has converted three of seven opportunities (42.9 percent) for an average gain of 2.86 yards.
When the Steelers have the ball, keep an eye on whether their offense or the Baltimore defense draws more untimely penalties. Both of these units have been getting plenty of attention from the officials.
Pittsburgh's offense lead the league in offensive holding penalties with 23 after 14 games. Tackle Max Starks has been the worst offender with five offensive holding calls, followed closely by guard Chris Kemoeatu's four. Center Justin Hartwig and tight end Heath Miller have tallied three while tackle Willie Colon, tight end Matt Spaeth and wide receiver Hines Ward have two. Two other players have just one each.
Baltimore's defense leads the league with 12 pass interference calls and is tied for second for roughing the passer with five infractions.
Cornerbacks Frank Walker and Domonique Foxworth have each drawn three pass interference flags while safety Dawan Landry has two so far. Safety Ed Reed and linebacker Ray Lewis have one call each against them, as do cornerbacks Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb--both of whom are on the team's injured reserve list.
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