Ravens (2-0) @ Steelers (2-1)
This week, the purple and black travel to the big ketchup bottle up in Steel town to take on the AFC North defending Champion Squealers. For the second consecutive year, the Ravens get the “privilege” of playing this crucial division road game on the National stage of Monday Night Football. It is certainly a chance to exact some sweet revenge on ‘dem stillers (Ben Stillers?) for the drubbing they handed our boys in this game last year, but the Ravens will have to bring nothing less than their “A” game.
We have heard the rumblings all around town, as well as on national TV broadcasts and internet sites; “sure, the Ravens are 2-0, but they have only beaten the Browns and Bengals, who are a combined 0-6!” This is very true. However, nobody seems to mention the flip side of that argument, which is the record of the Steelers’ opponents. The Steelers’ 2 victories have come against:
1. Those same Browns
2. The Houston Texans (0-2)
So the record of the teams that Pittsburgh has beaten is…0-5. Sure, they played a close game against the 2-1 Eagles in the City of Brotherly Love…but they still lost. There are plenty of things working against the Ravens in this one, but please, no more about thm having not beaten anybody of note; Neither have the Squealers!
On to the meat and potatoes (I’ll have mine sans peirogie, thanks very much) of the matchup:
The Ravens and Steelers come into Monday Night as the #1 and #2 ranked defenses in the NFL, respectively. No surprise there, as these have been 2 of the most consistent units in the league over this entire decade. The faces change, but the results of Rex Ryan’s (or Marvin Lewis’ or Mike Nolan’s before him) and Dick Lebeau’s schemes are consistently dominant. Both teams are missing one of their key run stoppers, with Kelly Gregg out for B’More and ‘Burgh taking the field without nose tackle Casey “I’m too fat to play defensive line” Hampton. Gregg has not played yet in 2008 for the Ravens, and they have not missed a beat, with reserve Justin Bannan stepping up in a big way. Ravens coaches have been quoted as saying that Bannan would be a starter on most teams in the league. Not having Hampton could be a bigger issue for the Steelers, though, as NT is a key position in the 3-4 defense, and they are already without defensive end Brett Kiesel.
This bodes well for the Ravens rushing attack, currently ranked #2 in the league, which will be relied upon heavily to take pressure off rookie QB Joe Flacco, who is making both his first road and first nationally televised start. “Joe Cool” has been just that so far, but going into the most hostile of territory in front of the entire country against the fastest, most aggressive defense he has ever seen (except, of course, in practice in Owings Mills)…..well, it will be a test, to say the least. One intangible that he does have going for him though is that he has been to the big ketchup bottle before; Flacco, remember, spent 2 years as a backup for the University of Pittsburgh. So that mess of mud and grass seed they call a field, and those swirling winds, will be nothing new to him.
Ravens fans should cross their fingers that Willis McGahee, who still has blurred vision after being poked in the eye by the Browns, will be at 100% by game time. Le’Ron McClain is also a bit banged up, reportedly suffering from some migraine headaches this week. The 3-headed RB-monster will need to be in full force at Heinz for the Ravens to really be able to exploit Hampton’s absence.
The Steelers are a bit banged up on the offensive side of the ball as well. They are without Pro Bowl RB Willie Parker, and Baby Ben left the Philly game early with a hand boo-boo after being sacked for the EIGHTH time. Filling in for Parker will be rookie Rashard Mendenhall, who has seen very limited action so far after displaying quite a case of fumbleitis in the preseason. The Steelers have undoubtedly made some adjustments on offense to try to compensate for their sieve of an offensive line, knowing full well that the Ravens can bring as much pressure as any team. We expect some 3-step drops, screen passes, draws, and other trickery from Bruce Arians’ offense; hopefully Rex and the purple curtain do too, and aren’t caught off guard (or off-tackle, as the case may be).
We see points being at quite a premium in this game, so the Ravens special teams (which have been stellar to date) will have to make a play or two as well. Return specialist Yamon Figurs returns after missing the Cleveland game, when Jim Leonhard filled in admirably. Matt Stover is only 1-for-3 so far in 2008, so this is a great time for him to get on track; hopefully he gets a few attempts at the closed end of the stadium, rather than the open end, the Bermuda Triangle of field goals.
Unlike the one-sided Browns-Steelers rivalry, this one actually has some back-and-forth to it. B’More has won 4 of the past 5 meetings, and 6 of 9 dating back to the final game of the 2003 season.
Let’s make it 7 out of 10.
Ravens 16 Steelers 13