The Baltimore Ravens rebounded from the hellacious beating the Pittsburgh Steelers handed them in the AFC championship game two years ago to earn another playoff berth last year. They pounded the Patriots in Foxboro in the Wild Card game before doing their annual choke job against the Colts in the divisional round.
This season, the Ravens were handed the season opener against the Jets thanks to about a billion penalties against New York’s Antonio Cromartie. They quickly forgot about the refs’ help after losing a defensive struggle in week two, which sent Ray Lewis and Ratbird fans into one of their typical crybaby hissy fits. Last week, they trailed 17-14 in the fourth quarter agains the Browns before rallying late and holding on for dear life.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs. RAVENS OFFENSE
This off-season the Ravens added WRs Anquan Boldin and TJ Houshmandzadeh to help balance an offense which relied heavily on RB Ray Rice (over 2,000 total yards from scrimmage) last year. If Chris Johnson is the best running back in football, Rice may be the best overall offensive player. He’s a dual threat, equally dangerous toting the rock or catching a swing pass out of the backfield. When he’s on track, the rest of the offense clicks.
Other than a certain goofball up in Dallas, Joe Flacco is the most overrated quarterback in football. Remember years ago how the knock on Big Ben was that he was “just a game manager?” Of course, he’s since proven that to be total nonsense. Flacco, however, is the very definition of a game manager. Boldin’s a stud while Housh and Mason comprise an excellent receiving corps and yet through three games, Joey has a lower QB rating than Derek Anderson, Sam Bradford, and Shaun Hill. Before he padded his stats with three TDs against the hapless Browns, he was staring at an ugly 1/5 TD/INT ratio.
The Ravens would’ve probably been better off drafting Tyler Palko.
Bottom line is if the Steelers can take Rice out of the equation and force Flacco to beat them, they’ll be in great shape. Considering what they did against Chris Johnson, I like our chances of at least holding Rice in check. Lawrence Timmons may be the fastest LB in the game and his tackling has gotten so much better that now when he runs with a back or TE, he is sure to bring them down as soon as they get the ball. And good luck throwing against a swarming Steelers defense with Troy Polamalu running all over the place making plays.
I’m putting the over/under on Troy picks this week at two.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs. RAVENS DEFENSE
This is where things get strange. The Ravens are currently the #1 ranked defense in the NFL. They’re surrendering about 240 total yards per game, a league low 117 yards passing per game, and a smidge less than 14 points per game. On paper, this is a very good defensive unit.
What’s confusing is these ranking are the opposite of what one would expect. CB Dominique Foxworth was lost for the season and Mr. Glass Ed Reed will not play due to a bad hip. Meanwhile, 35 year old Ray Lewis is still playing at an elite level. Elsewhere, LB Terrell Suggs came into camp in the best condition of his career while Haloti Ngata continues to establish himself as the heir apparent to Casey Hampton as best nose tacke in football. Given this information, one would conclude the Ravens D would be suspect against the pass but great against the run.
Thus far, it’s been the opposite. As mentioned, they’re #1 in pass defense but rank all the way down at 22nd against the rush. Some nobody named Peyton Hillis dropped 144 yards on them last week. A HUNDRED AND FORTY-FOUR YARDS. In one game!
This is why I’m pretty comfortable with Charlie Batch starting at QB. He has to throw enough to keep the defense from stacking the box but I believe you can count on Rashard Mendenhall carrying the load. All you want from your QB is smart, cool decision-making, maybe taking a shot when one presents itself, but otherwise taking care of the football. Batch played well last week against a vastly inferior team and was also the recipient of some really good luck but he’s also not the type to take any foolhardy chances which would give the otherwise inept Flacco a short field to work with.
A heavy dose of Rashard and maybe a sprinkle of Mike Wallace wreaking havoc on a depleted Baltimore secondary and voila! You have a recipe for success.
Regardless of the outcome on Sunday, three victories against at least two playoff quality teams is a fantastic accompishment for this team. Doing so not just with their backup QB but their FOURTH STRING backup quarterback makes it even more incredible. The Steelers have earned the top spot in Sports Illustrated‘s power rankings thanks to all they’ve accomplished thus far. A win against their key division rival with our superstar QB coming off suspension would vault the Steelers pretty far on their climb up the stairway to seven.
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