Well this has certainly been the more hyped matchup (as expected), and Steelers-Ravens is always a game to watch. First there were bragging rights on the line. Then there was the AFC North Division Title on the line. And now there is a Super Bowl berth on the line. If the first two games are any indication, this will be one hell of a game- if anything, we will see our share of injury time outs. I cannot believe that the Ravens are in the AFC Championship game, it is absolutely incredible as a Ravens fan that they have gotten this far. As last week, we are going to have a much more involved preview session for playoff season. Here is our schedule for the next few days:
Today: What I’m Wondering
Friday: Steelers Offense vs. Ravens Defense
Saturday: Ravens Offense vs. Steelers Defense
Sunday: An Extended Rundown with Predictions
What I’m Wondering:
Will Flacco stay unflappable? Will he stay upright?
Joe Flacco was sacked 5 times in the Ravens first matchup against the Steelers. He was only sacked twice the second time around. However, he also happened to throw 2 interceptions and only complete 11 passes en route to throwing for only 115 yards- his 22.2 passer rating was worst for his rookie season, including the playoffs. I am not certain what the Steelers saw in the tape, but it is likely that without those interceptions the Ravens might manage a touchdown or at least hold onto the ball longer than the first time around. Joe Flacco will not only need to be competent this weekend and not make mistakes, he will have to make plays for the Ravens to win. And not just the occasional bomb to Derrick Mason, either. With the Steelers stuffing the box with defenders against the run, Cam Cameron will have to open up the playbook on those 3rd and longs to enable Flacco to have a variety of 1st down options- and it will be up to the rookie to complete them. Is Joe Flacco ready to win versus “not lose” a ballgame?
Which stellar defense will step up this week?
Well, while much of it was in garbage time, the Steelers did allow 24 points to the Chargers despite them being completely one-dimensional on offense. The Ravens allowed the Titans to rack up 391 yards and pierce the red zone 3 times, but forced 3 turnovers in their own territory and took advantage of a missed field goal to hold Tennessee to 10 points. It is hard to say which is better, and it is hard to say which one will perform better this week. The Ravens are banged up, worn out, and gassed after playing for 17 straight weeks. Also, they happen to be playing Ben Roethlisberger, who always seems to pull a rabbit out of his hat in the 4th quarter this season- and the Ravens, if the last couple weeks are any indication, will be out of bodies and out of energy by late in the game. Add in injuries to Samari Rolle, Terrell Suggs, and the mere presence of Corey Ivy on the field, and I can’t say the Ravens will outplay the Steelers. Even if the Ravens can throw on Pittsburgh, the Steelers are too well rested to get gassed in the 4th. Will the Ravens be able to overcome injury, aches, and pains to play in midseason form?
Which injury will hurt the Ravens the most against the Steelers?
This one is tough. You could make the case for Suggs, but I believe that the Ravens have linebackers in waiting who, while not as good as the Pro Bowl pass rusher, can still do a decent job- there is not as huge a dropoff in talent as there are at other positions. Samari Rolle will be a tremendous loss if he cannot play, but only because it would wind up with Corey Ivy as the nickel back. I don’t want Corey Ivy on anyone, much less an underrated receiver like Nate Washington. Believe it or not, I am going with Le’Ron McClain. Against the Steelers, the biggest need on offense is for a running back who can punish the Pittsburgh defense as much as they punish the running back. Last weekend McClain was running like a big back, but not a powerful back. He wasn’t getting a push at the point of attack, and whatever was wrong with his ankle really showed. I am sure he will play this week, but if he cannot drag defenders or hit the lane with determination, the Steelers will drop him right at the line. I am more comfortable with our depth on defense than on offense- I don’t trust Willis McGahee to carry the load this week and be successful.