GAME DAY EARLY BIRD: 3 under the radar matchups

GAME DAY EARLY BIRD: 3 under the radar matchups
November 28, 2013, 7:00 am
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Ravens face challenge of short week



GAMEDAY EARLY BIRD: Happy Thanksgiving! Waking up with the Ravens, as they prepare for tonight’s showdown against the Steelers.

Two-minute topic: Three under-the-radar matchups to watch tonight.

1. Steelers WR Jerricho Cotchery vs. Ravens secondary

Cotchery leads the Steelers in touchdown catches with seven. He doesn’t have great speed, but finds ways to get open, particularly over the middle and in the red zone. In third down situations, Cotchery is often Ben Roethlisberger’s first look. The Ravens will have to account for Cotchery, or he will make catches that hurt them.

2. Ravens center Gino Gradkowski vs. the Steelers nose tackles

Pittsburgh’s starting nose tackle Steve McClendon (ankle) won’t play, meaning the Steelers may start Loni Fangupo, or Al Woods, or use a three-player rotation that could also include Ziggy Hood. Whatever the case, Gradkowski needs to play well. When the Ravens want to run, Gradkowski needs to prevent the nose tackle from penetrating. In pass protection, Gradkowkski must anticipate blitzes, call out the proper line adjustments, and keep pressure from coming up the middle at Joe Flacco. Gradkowski has been through a challenging season in his first year as a starter. But if he wins Thursday’s matchups, the Ravens may have some success running inside.

[RELATED: Harbaugh guarded in response to Flacco's objections]

3. Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell vs. Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau

At age 76, LeBeau is still going strong, dialing up zone blitzes that can be challenging and confusing. The Ravens’ inability to run has made play calling more difficult for Caldwell. The Ravens want to give their running game a chance, but they also want to start fast, and give Flacco some opportunities to take shots downfield. This will be another chess match between two veteran coaches.

Morning thought: “We’re proud to be a part of it. We’ve got our archrival coming in here, who we’ve got great respect for. We enjoy playing them, we know it’s a tough game.” Ravens coach John Harbaugh, on playing the Steelers on Thanksgiving night.

More Ravens news: Ihedigbo: 'Buckle your chinstrap' for Ravens-Steelers

Game preview: Steelers at Ravens