Earlier in the week, Jamison Hensley of ESPN wrote a post on the subject of Terrell Suggs’ Achilles injury, and how Steelers players had not reveled in Suggs’ and Baltimore’s misfortune. Granted, it never puts a smile on my face to see somebody’s season end with an injury, and I can say with full effect that seeing an ultimate competitor like Suggs go down sort of takes a bit away from the current Steelers vs. Ravens rivalry. However, I do understand what the loss of Suggs means to Baltimore’s Defense and team as a whole from a leadership and statistical standpoint. Thus, today I would like to discuss Suggs’ success against Pittsburgh over his career, and why I believe that his absence might be the key to the tipping of the balance of power in the A.F.C. North back in the Steelers’ direction this season.
How Awesome Has Suggs Been from 2003-Present Against the Steelers?
Even if you have watched the Steelers with a passing interest over the last decade, or have even lived under a rock for most of the 2000′s, you still would know that Terrell Suggs has played like an absolute monster against Pittsburgh over his first nine seasons. And when I say “monster” I mean it, the guy has just shown up when both teams have played. As much as it pains me to say it, but kudos must go to Suggs and the fact that he (and some of his other teammates) has brought his “A Game” essentially every time both of these rivals have clashed during his career. How good has Suggs been from statistical and overall impact standpoints though? Let’s take a look:
Over his career, Suggs has logged 13.5 Sacks and made two extremely key Interceptions which led to Ravens victories. The first of which led to a game winning Field Goal in Overtime in 2005 and almost helped to derail a Super Bowl season for Pittsburgh. The second of which helped to thwart a Pittsburgh drive deep into Baltimore territory last season. You remember that one don’t you? Where Suggs along with every other person at Heinz Field and who watched at home read the patented “Bubble Screen” which to his credit Suggs read and subsequently snagged on an athletic play.
As for the Sack numbers, those really speak for themselves as Suggs has been Baltimore’s most lethal pass-rushing threat for almost his entire career. With Haloti Ngata eating Offensive Linemen for lunch and taking on double-teams up front for the last six seasons, Suggs has flourished as an all-around beast off the edge.
Compounding Suggs’ recent production in terms of the havoc he has wreaked off the edge has been Pittsburgh’s declining play at Tackle during the last three to four seasons. When matched up against an oft-injured Max Starks, an ineffective Jonathan Scott, and an elderly once-Pro Bowler in Flozell Adams, Suggs has mostly had his way with them. And if you take away some of Big Ben’s most awesome “escapes,” (the one where he shook Suggs off in the 4th in Baltimore in 2010), Suggs might even have more Sacks against the Steelers. Yet the regular season is not the only place where Suggs has showed up against Pittsburgh. In fact, Suggs has taken his game to even more ridiculous levels against the Steelers when the stakes have been at their highest: the postseason.
In two playoff games against the Steelers, Suggs has logged 5.0 Sacks, forced a Fumble which went for a Touchdown, and played overall good football. I know that I feel a bit dirty as an Arizona alumni and a Steelers fan to tip my cap to a former Sun Devil and current Ravens player, but credit must be given when it is due, especially after that 2010 Divisional Playoff Game at Heinz Field. After that wacky yet exciting contest on that cold afternoon, I actually felt bad for Suggs as he left the field that day. Suggs notched 3.0 Sacks and forced the fumble which went for a Touchdown and helped the Ravens take their first lead in the game. It was more Baltimore’s Offensive miscues which let Pittsburgh back into the game, not the Ravens’ Defense. Sure, Antonio Brown was allowed to convert that 3rd and 19 bomb, but that game should never have gotten to that point in the first place had Borat, Rice, and Cameron done their jobs.
How the Steelers Can Take Advantage
I am sure many of you are saying: “Sure, Suggs is out. But does that mean the Steelers will take advantage? Baltimore’s Defense might be old, but they still perform at a high level.” While those things are true, Pittsburgh is in quite a position to use Suggs’ absence as a positive for themselves this season.
Helping out with the fact that Suggs will likely be sidelined for both meetings this season is that Pittsburgh might have finally found some adequate depth as well as terrific talent along their Offensive Line. Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams are the most gifted players that the Steelers have had at the Tackle position in a very long time, and figure to be the bookend Tackles for quite some time. Plus, with the interior of their Line being shored up with a hopefully healthy Willie Colon, Rookie David DeCastro, and All-Pro Center Maurkice Pouncey, the Steelers actually have something for Offensive Line Coach Sean Kugler to work with in the coming seasons.
Also working in the Steelers’ favor is the fact that they appear to have an Offensive Coordinator which will attempt to tailor his game-plans to his team’s strengths on that side of the ball. No more Ben being at the mercy and taking 5 to 7-step drops against Baltimore and being at the mercy of Suggs, Ngata, and the rest of their pass rushers. Haley will hopefully try to protect Big Ben against teams like Baltimore who want to get after him, and get the ball out of Ben’s hand in a timely manner. And hey, it does not hurt that the Steelers have some incredibly talented guys at the skill positions.
Yet the thing which the Steelers can take the most advantage of is the fact that Baltimore has almost no experienced depth at Outside Linebacker. Not only has Suggs been shelved for the immediate future, veteran Jarret Johnson went to San Diego as a Free Agent, and youngster Michael McAdoo is also out for the year with an Achilles injury as well. Baltimore’s pass rush and the slack left by Suggs which needs to be picked up will be left up to 2012 2nd Round pick Courtney Upshaw, the underachieving Paul Kruger, and Sergio Kindle, a guy which has yet to play any sort of significant football for Baltimore since being drafted in the 2nd Round in 2010.
While I do like Upshaw quite a bit, I am not as sold on this group as a whole being able to replace Suggs’ statistical production on the field. Furthermore, I am not sold in the least of either of these players being able to replace Suggs as a pass-rusher and matchup nightmare this season. In time, I believe Upshaw could develop into that player, but similar to the Steelers’ Mike Adams at Tackle, we will see what happens.
This post is by no means a statement or belief that the Steelers will hang 30+ points per game on Baltimore in their 2 or more meetings this season. I am simply stating that because one of the biggest thorns in Pittsburgh’s side over the decade is missing, things should at least be a bit better for Big Ben and the Steelers’ Offense when going up against the Ravens in 2012. It is my belief that Suggs’ absence could hurt Baltimore much more than they think this season, and it could cost them even more when they play the division rival Steelers, a team which Suggs has played arguably his best football against over the course of his terrific career. To me, with their improved Offensive Line and solid Offensive personnel (pending Mike Wallace signing of course through this season), Pittsburgh is in a prime spot to overtake the Ravens this season for control in the division, and take advantage of Suggs’ possible absence.
This is however the way I look at the possible scenario of Suggs missing both 2012 regular season matchups. What do you readers think?
Will the Steelers take advantage if Suggs is indeed out for the year? Can they take advantage, and why? Let me know.
Stats Courtesy of: Pro Football Reference.com