Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Steelers-Hated Ravens Preview

I was really going to write a preview and review for the Bills game. Seriously, I was. I was going to try to come up with some clever padding and some extra fluff around the fact that the Steelers needed to win the game and should win the game, then talk about the fact that they narrowly won. But, really, that's so last week.

The past two weeks, the Steelers played the Raiders and the Bills, the hated Ravens played the Panthers and the Bucs. Both teams had to have one eye on this game the whole time, even though the coaches and players will say that they were taking it one week at a time.

This is a huge game. The Steelers have the 2-9 Bengals, the 1-10 Panthers, and 4-7 Browns left, but also have the 9-2 Jets. The hated Ravens have the 5-6 Texans, 2-9 Bengals, and 4-7 Browns left, but also have the defending champion Saints.

Whoever wins this game probably ends up 12-4 with an excellent chance to become the #2 seed in the AFC. Whoever loses it probably ends up 11-5 and a wild card. The Browns and Bengals are out of it, so this game is for the division title.

Baltimore is at home where they are 5-0, but the Steelers are 5-1 on the road and the hated Ravens already won at Heinz Field, so the home team is not invulnerable by any stretch.

Ray Rice was limited in the first game and is Baltimore's best weapon, but the Steelers held Michael Turner, Chris Johnson, Darren McFadden, and Peyton Hillis in check. I think this game will come down to whether or not Joe Flacco can win it. He hasn't done well at all in against the Steelers in the past, but he beat them in October. So there's that.

The thing I keep thinking about is the fact that the Steelers would have won that first game if Ben Roethlisberger was the starting quarterback and he's starting on Sunday night. Roethlisberger would have hit Mike Wallace on a couple of deep balls that Charlie Batch missed and the Steelers would have won 24-17. He's 6-3 in his career against the hated Ravens and Flacco is 2-3 against the Steelers. If it comes down to the quarterbacks, Roethlisberger has the edge.

For the most part, though, the hated Ravens are the hated Ravens because of their hated defense, the hated Ray Lewis, the hated Haloti Ngata, and the hated Ed Reed. This is still a great defense, but it's no longer a defense that scares the hell out of me. It's a defense that likes to blitz and is good at it and Roethlisberger has been vulnerable to the blitz this season, so it's possible that the hated Ravens could break him down on Sunday night. It's also possible that he could bust out of a tackle and hit Wallace deep against a fairly suspect secondary.

If it comes down to a field goal, we know from last week that Shaun Suisham can be trusted on the road. At Heinz Field, I'm still not sure. But, I guess that's tomorrow's problem.

This game is tough to call. Both teams are 8-3. Both teams lost to the Patriots. Both teams snuck by the Bills in overtime. Both teams have tough, physical defenses. Both teams have great quarterbacks and like to run the ball. Both teams hate each other. A lot.

I keep thinking that holding calls and roughing the passer calls, which have plagued the Steelers in recent weeks, might help decide the outcome of the game. That concerns me, but good teams overcome penalties to win.

But, I keep coming back to the fact that the Steelers would have won that game in October if Ben Roethlisberger was under center.

You can take out home field advantage, because it hasn't mattered in the past and neither team thinks they will win or lose based on the venue. You can take out emotion, because both teams are fired up. You can take out motivation, because both teams understand that this game basically decides the division title. You can take out the running game, because both teams can and will take that away. If either team is able to run the ball, the team that is able to accomplish that feat will win. You can take out kickers, because both kickers can be trusted. You can take out special teams, because the Steelers have been solid in that area and the hated Ravens don't have a major threat.

Once you start taking away stuff, you find out that it comes down to quarterbacks. I trust Roethlisberger over Flacco.


Steelers 21, Ravens 17

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