Monday Night Football's ping-pong display of scoring the past two weeks is about to end when two of the NFL's top two defensive teams play in Pittsburgh's Heinz Field.
The Steelers have the No. 2 defense in the NFL, the Baltimore Ravens are No. 1. The Steelers offense is No. 29, the Ravens' No. 19 after playing AFC North lightweights Cincinnati and Cleveland at home.
Can you say 6-3 final?
Pittsburgh has problems on offense, but its defense has been superb. The fact it won one game and was in another near the end even though the offense scored only a combined 16 points the past two games shows how good they are. The Steelers also have the top defense against the run after three games and coordinator Dick LeBeau's schemes are known for giving rookie quarterbacks fits.
Part of the improvement is the return to full health of their two safeties, Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark, for different reasons. Polamalu plays strong safety but he lines up all over the field, bouncing around to different spots before the snap of the ball. He makes plays once the ball is snapped too -- his three interceptions are three more than he had all last season when injuries slowed him down.
Clark is the team's steady hand and last line of defense. He calls plays and puts people in position and rarely lets anything get over his head. He's one reason Pittsburgh has not allowed a play as long as 25 yards this season. He missed half of last season when his spleen was removed.
That defense will be tested up front this week, not only because Baltimore likes to run and is good at it but because two-thirds of their line will be missing. Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton has a groin injury and defensive end Brett Keisel continues to rehab a calf injury. Chris Hoke has filled in well for Hampton in the past but they have no backup to him, and no one to spell him. Travis Kirschke replaced Keisel on the right side in Philly, and Orpheus Roye spelled him.
The Ravens have to think they can run on the Steelers with Hampton out especially.
"The standard of expectation will not change for us," coach Mike Tomlin said. "It is an opportunity for some people to step up. Brett Keisel got hurt and did not play last week; Orpheus Roye stepped up and did a very good job. As a matter of fact, his hustling caused the first turnover of the game. We expect those guys to step up and deliver for us and we know that they will."
The good news for the Steelers is defensive end Aaron Smith is still playing. He is one of their most valuable defensive players, and it showed when he went out with a torn bicep last December 11 and the Steelers lost three of their next four games and were not very good against the run.
The real concern with the injuries is not as much Hampton's replacement but what happens if Chris Hoke needs a blow. Tomlin has designated Kirschke as his backup but that's not really viable because Kirschke is no nose tackle, although he did play some in San Francisco in the 4-3. They have one nose tackle, Scott Paxson, on their practice squad but seemed inclined not to add him to the 53-man roster this week.
SERIES HISTORY: 26th meeting. Pittsburgh leads the series, 15-10, with a 6-6 record in Baltimore and one victory in the playoffs. The Ravens won the last meeting, 27-21, their fifth straight victory over the Steelers in Baltimore, where the Steelers won six of their first seven games since the Ravens moved from Cleveland in 1996.