Steelers (8-3) @ Ravens (8-3)
The Pittsburgh Steelers bring their 8-3 record into town this week looking to take control of the AFC North from the Ravens, and – despite what may be best for my mental and cardiovascular health – I’m going to be parked in front of the tv for the game. Popular hyperbole is that you can throw the records out the window when these two teams clash, but when they are both an equal 8-3, and the winner assumes the inside track for not only the division crown, but for a first round Playoff bye…yeah, the records matter.
Pittsburgh is coming off a game against the Buffalo Bills. A game in which, just like the Ravens in Week 6, they needed a small miracle in overtime to pull off the victory. For the Ravens, it was of course Ray Lewis’ strip and fumble recovery long after a whistle probably should have blown. For Pittsburgh, there were no less than 3 instances where Buffalo should have won the game. First, the Buffalo kick returner likely would have taken the opening kickoff of OT to the house – or at least into short field goal range – but he tripped over his own man just past midfield. Next, Pig Ben fumbled at the Steelers’ one-yard line, but recovered it himself. And finally – the one we’ve all seen by now – wide receiver Steve Johnson dropped a wide open touchdown pass in the end zone that would have given the Bills the win. It really sucks that the Ravens don’t come into this game with a full game lead on Pittsburgh already, but hopefully they used up every last bit of luck they had in that Buffalo game, and all bounces go for purple on Sunday night.
The Steelers once again boast the league’s number one run defense coming into B’More. Allowing just 64 yards per game, it will be rough sledding for Ray Rice and Willis McGahee. Add on the fact that lead blocker Le’Ron McClain remains extremely questionable for Sunday, and the Ravens’ prospects of ground success look pretty bleak. However, Pittsburgh also had the #1 run defense in 2009, and the Ravens managed to put up 132 and 175 yards in the two contests, with Ray Rice going for 141 by himself in Pittsburgh. In the first meeting this season, though, they managed only 70 yards on the ground. The run game as a whole has been disappointing in 2010 – and they proved in Week 4 that they don’t NEED to run the ball to beat the Steelers – but this would be a great week for Rice and Willis to finally bust out, and repeat some of the success they found against Pittsburgh a year ago.
In the Steelers’ two non-Raven losses this year, they have been carved up by two of the league’s premiere quarterbacks. Drew Brees of New Orleans threw for 305 yards and 2 TDs, and Tom Brady of New England put up 350 and 3 scores. Joe Flacco does not possess the quick release nor mastery of the short passing game that those two QBs exhibit, but the blueprint is there on how to attack this Pittsburgh secondary. Flacco showed in the first game, when he easily and efficiently drove 40 yards in 36 seconds for the game-winning strike to T.J. Houshmandzadeh, that he can move the ball through the air even when Troy Polamalu is, as he will be Sunday, roaming back there. In fact, since his disastrous rookie year against them, Joe has been decent against the Steelers in general, with ratings of 100.8, 83.1, and 82.7 in the three games (100.8 was in Baltimore).
Joe was sacked nine times by the Steelers in the two games in 2009, but only once in the first 2010 meeting. Tackles Michael Oher and Marshal Yanda did a superb job against linebackers Lamarr Woodley and James Harrison, and will need to repeat that success on Sunday night. Pittsburgh, as always, is right at the top of the NFL in sacks, tied for second with 32. Woodley has hit a bit of a dry spell lately, registering just one sack over the previous three games. Harrison has three in the last two games, and is as much of a beast as ever. He is hurting his team as well though, as “Silverback” has become the NFL’s poster boy for what it deems malicious hits. Harrison has been penalized and fined more than any other player (by a lot) for illegal hits, especially on quarterbacks. It was one thing – and not surprising at all – for Harrison to get penalized and punished for hits on glamor boys Brady and Brees. Last week, though, he was flagged and fined for a hit on Ryan Fitzpatrick. It’s safe to say at this point that the refs are keeping a close eye on #92 in black and yellow. If the Ravens benefit from another questionable penalty on Harrison Sunday – as long as Flacco or anyone else isn’t injured on the play – I’m certainly not going to complain. It is a bit ridiculous though, but that’s a topic for another day.
The towel waving throngs have been beating the drum of “yeah well we didn’t have Ben” ever since that Week 4 Ravens victory. Putting aside for a second the fact that the drama queen now apparently has a broken foot – of course he does – coming into the game, Pig Ben isn’t near the conqueror of Charm City that Steelers fans would have us believe. Ben has a total of ONE win in B’More in his life. One more victory at M&T Bank Stadium than you or I have.
- 2004 – Ben enters game for injured Tommy Maddox. Ravens win.
- 2005 – Ben hurt, Maddox starts. Ravens win.
- 2006 – Ben plays, sacked 9 times. Ravens win 27-0.
- 2007 – Ben sits, Steelers having clinched Playoff spot. Ravens win.
- 2008 – Ben plays, needs miracle last second questionable touchdown to win.
- 2009 – Ben hurt, Dixon starts. Ravens win.
Yes, he’s 7-2 against the Ravens in his career. Six of those wins though, came in Pittsburgh (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2008), and three came against a rookie quarterback (2008, 2008, 2008).
The real Raven-killer isn’t Pig Ben, it’s the now departed Santonio Holmes. Holmes against the Ravens? Lights. Out.
- 2007 @ Pitt – 4 rec, 110 yards, 2 TD
- 2007 @ Bal – 4 rec, 98 yards, 1 TD
- 2008 @ Pit – 3 rec, 61 yards, 1 TD
- 2008 @ Bal – 3 rec, 21 yards, 1 (game winning) TD
- 2008 @ Pit – 2 rec, 70 yards, 1 TD
- 2009 @ Bal – 6 rec, 74 yards, 1 TD
- 2009 @ Pit – 5 rec, 86 yards, 1 TD
Eight touchdowns in seven games, and at least one in all seven. If and when the Ravens face the New York Jets again, be scared of Santonio. Don’t be scared of Ben.
Of course, the Ravens also have Ed Reed back for this game. Reed missed the first Steeler game as well, something yinz always seem to forget when whining about Week 4. Reed has four interceptions in five games in 2010, and barely missed his fifth in five on back-to-back plays against Tampa.
With Holmes out of the picture, Reed’s attention will need to be focused on Mike Wallace. Wallace, the second year former college teammate of Michael Oher, leads the NFL in yards per reception, and has eight touchdowns already in 2010. In Week 4, the Ravens did a very good job on Wallace, especially Lardarius Webb, who knocked a potential touchdown pass out of his hands in the end zone. I love Webbie, but I’d like to see him getting some help from Fast Eddie Sunday night. Webb allowed Bucs’ receiver Michael Spurlock to beat him deep last week, and Wallace – should he break free like that – won’t drop the ball the way Spurlock did. Let Hiney Cheap Shot and Heath Miller work underneath, but don’t give up the big strike to Wallace.
On the ground, the B’More defense will have to bottle up Rashard Mendenhall the way they did Michael Turner and, to a lesser extent, LeGarrette Blount in previous weeks. Though not as inept as Willie Parker before him, Mendenhall never seems to get untracked against the Ravens. His best performance was a 24 carry 95 yard one in Baltimore last year. In the last two, he has managed only 2.1 and 3.2 yards per carry.
The Ravens should be able to take advantage of Pittsburgh’s extremely banged up offensive line. Terrell Suggs (the AFC Defensive Player of the Month for November) and Jarret Johnson have cranked up the pressure in recent weeks, and could be in for a field day. The Steelers allowed five sacks to Buffalo (22nd in the league in sacks), and offensive lineman were called for something like eight holds on top of that. The best player on the OL, rookie center Maurkice Pouncey, has even struggled recently, perhaps hitting the proverbial “rookie wall.”
The last thing I want to mention is these stupid ass towels that the Ravens are handing out prior to the game. As Goob said in his pre-game video, don’t wave these damn things Ravens fans. Yell, clap, bang on the back of the chair in front of you – anything to you know, MAKE NOISE, when the Steelers’ offense is on the field. Memo to Ravens PR/Marketing departments: WE DO NOT WANT TOWELS. WE MAKE FUN OF STEELERS FANS FOR THEIR TOWELS. STOP TRYING TO GIVE THEM TO US!
They did this shit last year too, remember? If not, read what WNST’s Glenn Clark had to say about it then. Everything still applies.
Everything the Ravens set out to do in 2010 is still sitting right in front of them. Sunday they get the chance to really grab their destiny by it’s throat.
Ravens 23 Steelers 16