After last year’s Bengals anomaly, sanity has been restored to the AFC North. The Pittsburgh Steelers face their first rematch of the season Sunday night with division supremacy hanging in the balance. Across the field will be our bitter rivals, the Baltimore Ravens.
Since I already wrote a comprehensive Know Thy Enemy post earlier this season, I figured we’d change things up the second time around. Conoon Kim over The Purple Chaos agreed to answer some questions about his beloved Ratbirds. Just like last week, my questions in bold, his answers in italics.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs. RAVENS OFFENSE
When last we left Pitt reject Joe Flacco, he had thrown more picks (5) than touchdowns (4). Since then, our pal Joey has gotten his act together enough to bring his ratio up to a fairly impressive 18/8. Of course, Flacco always seems struggle against the Steelers and, until Bryan McFadden decided to let TJ Housyourdaddy sprint right past him, did so once again earlier this year.
So, Conoon, how would you assess the progress of your third year QB?
Flacco certainly didn’t meet the expectations that I had for him at the beginning of the season, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t progressed well. From a stand point of seeing how Flacco was a no-name quarterback from Delaware less than 3 years ago, I think he’s progressed tremendously well. The greatest thing is that he’s still young, so there is many years for him to continue improving. Yes, he has struggled against the Steelers, but I think it’s a little hump he will eventually get over.
Flacco will have a full complement of weapons at his disposal, including frequent nemesis Ray Rice. With the addition of so many talented receivers, Rice is having a bit of an off year with only 3 TDs (all rushing) to his credit. He was terrible in our first meeting, mustering only one catch (where he usually does his damage) and a measly 20 rushing yards.
One thing of note, LT Michael Oher left last week’s game against Tampa after having his knee grotesquely contorted while caught up in a play. He practiced with it heavily taped although is expected to play. The Ravens did a good job keeping Flacco clean during the first meeting so a gimpy tackle protecting his blind side could be a break for the Black and Gold. As we saw in that heartbreaking final drive, when the Steelers can’t get to the QB, bad things happen.
If by some unfortunate turn of events the Ratbirds manage to pull another win out of their ass, who on offense needs to come up big?
Offensively, it will be on the shoulders of Joe Flacco. As you mentioned above, Flacco has struggled against the Steelers. So he needs to step up, analyze the defense, recognize the blitz, quickly go through his progressions, and most importantly, not turn the ball over.
Defensively, the Steelers appear to be all hands on deck. For three weeks now I’ve been saying Bret Keisel is ready to return and I’m pretty sure he’s going to give it a go this week. He may have to since his replacement, Nick Eason, sprained his MCL against Buffalo. B-Mac is nursing a sore hamstring which isn’t exactly the ideal injury for a pitifully slow corner. He already provides comfy 5 yard cushions to everybody so slightly hobbled he may start backpedaling before the snap.
If for some reason he can’t go or is ineffective, Willie Gay will take his place with Anthony Madison taking over in the nickel. We saw how well that worked out last week. Although if Dick LeBeau decides to roll out his dime package again, I’d rather see Troy or Ryan Mundy line up as the fifth DB than the inept Kennan Lewis.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs. RAVENS DEFENSE
Since week 4, the Ravens have also lost twice. Once to the Falcons and once to the hated Patriots. In both cases, they held leads only to see them vanish thanks to stunning defensive breakdowns. Against Atlanta, Matty Ice took his team 80 yards in less than a minute, capped by a 33 yard TD to Rowdy Roddy White. Naturally, Ratbird fans whined about a push off that didn’t occur because they can never lose with dignity. Meanwhile, the Patriots made up a 10 point deficit in the 4th quarter as Brady-to-Branch hooked up seven times, including twice in OT to set up the game winning field goal.
What aspect of your team has been the biggest disappointment this season?
The biggest disappointment about the Ravens is their lack of shut-down ability in the defensive backfield. Our corners are a huge weak link of the team, and it’s no secret. Luckily, Ed Reed has returned to give the corners some much-needed support. Still, even with Reed and the signing of CB Josh Wilson, the big pass plays have killed the Ravens all season long.
Good to know the Steelers aren’t the only ones with that problem.
How about what part of the team/player has been the most pleasant surprise?
The biggest surprise has been the dominant play by Ray Lewis. This season, he was a part of 4 different plays that sealed a “W” in 4 different games. Yeah, Lewis is a future Hall of Famer, but the guy is 35 years old and still making plays today. Just a couple weeks ago, he caught an interception and returned it for a touchdown. I never expected him to do what he’s done this season. 15 seasons in the NFL, and he’s still doing things that never fails to amaze me.
The fact that Ratbird fans love to call the never tried, never charged, never convicted Ben Roethlisberger a rapist yet refer to convicted murderer Ray Lewis as “God’s Linebacker” never fails to amaze me.
The Steelers have been getting crushed by zebras since the NFL’s crackdown on vicious hits. As painful as it is to admit, the Ravens play a similar brand of smash mouth hard-hitting football. How has your team fared?
I think the NFL has targeted a single player on the Steelers rather than the entire team itself. And it’s pretty obvious I’m referring to LB James Harrison. I think the biggest thing the NFL is concerned with is trying to avoid helmet-to-helmet collisions, which Harrison has been a part of on numerous occasions. So it’s not too much of a surprise that the NFL is after the player that tends to frequently lead with his helmet. Not many Ravens lead with their helmet, so it hasn’t been too much of a concern on our side.
Wonder how much he was fined for that… *Fires up the Google* Ngata, er, Nada. Shocking.
Hmm… I’m sensing a pattern. Fine? *Fires up the Google* $10,000. Yep, sounds about right.
If by some unfortunate series of events, the Ravens are to win, who on defense do you expect to have a big game?
Terrell Suggs. It’s going to come down to the pass rush, and Suggs needs to get to the QB. Even if he can’t get sacks, putting the pressure on Roethlisberger and keeping him in the pocket will be key to winning this game.
Of course, the big news on Big Ben is his foot injury. News media are saying it’s broken. The Steelers, who would never ever lie, say it’s not. They claim it WAS broken some time in the past and he just broke some scar tissue. The bottom line is he’s spent the week walking around in a boot and has a super duper steel plated reinforced shoe he’s going to wear on Sunday.
Ben is saying he will play and the Steelers are saying he will play. Then again, his symptoms may magically worsen 48 hours before kickoff like they did last year when he bailed on a crucial season-altering Sunday night game with some phony made-up concussion. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if his vagina foot injury became crippling hours before game time, I think the Big Drama Queen realizes he owes it to his team to man up after what he’s put them through the past two off-seasons.
The story of the first meeting was missed chances. The Ravens turned it over twice and both drives ended when brand new 49er Skippy Reed missed FGs. If the Steelers convert either of those, the outcome is radically different. With Rashard Mendenhall and Hines Ward coming off their best games of the season and the Ravens giving up big pass plays (Hello, Mike Wallace), all we need is a QB capable of taking advantage of those opportunities.
According to the annoying ticker which runs along the bottom of ESPN’s screen, the winner of this game has almost a 90% chance of winning the AFC North. So unlike in past weeks when I’ve said a game is big, this game really is BIG. With only one tough game on the horizon (Jets), the Steelers would have the inside track to a division title and possible first round bye with a victory. A loss and they’d need to basically run the table and hope for a Baltimore stumble just to win the division.
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