The rivalry between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens has been one of the best ever in the history of the NFL. Two times a season (sometimes three!) these two teams play a tough physical match that have provided fans on both sides of the fence with unforgettable moments. And while the rivalry has evolved over the last few seasons with certain players from both teams no longer part of the roster, there is a deep seeded hatred amongst the teams and their fans. That was during the ‘glory years’ when these two franchises dominated the AFC North and continually were head to head on who would finish at the top for a playoff spot come January. But what about now?
The Steelers are 1-4. They are almost dead last in rushing yards per game on offense. The red zone, offensive line, and special teams woes continue from the last few years. The defense is faltering in bucking the label of being ‘old, slow, and done.’ Once a #1 ranked defense for two straight seasons, this year’s defense is soft and can barely stop the run anymore. There has been a lack of focus most of the season thus far, and the team only began to have brief moments of looking like its ‘old self’ during the second half of last Sunday’s contest against the Jets. Without a doubt there is a lack of ‘nasty’ that used to be the driving force of this team – underdog or favored.
The Ravens are a mediocre team and far from the ‘threat’ these reigning Super Bowl Champs were just a season ago. At 3-3, the Ravens are in the middle of the division. The offense is far from the threat it was last season when Ray Rice tore up the field with the run game, and Joe Flacco along with Torrey Smith connected deep several times a game. That kind of combination made facing the Ravens a headache for any defensive coordinator. Flacco had a huge supporting cast, and has lost a large portion of them this season. This, the season following his self proclaimed ‘elite’ness,’ is a season where he has more interceptions than touchdowns (8-7), and each week shows how much he is NOT an elite quarterback (maybe it’s that fat contract weighing him down). They have no idea where their next offensive points are going to come from. In many ways they seen in just as bad a shape as the Steelers – falling to team like the Bills, within a breath of losing to Miami, and failing to overcome a battered and lost Packer squad.
So will this game really be as intense, nasty, and just down right fun as the others that have preceded it? Has the rivalry faltered at all? Is it watered down? There are many throughout NFL punditry that have already vaulted other rivalries above the Steelers vs. Ravens. The ‘Niners and Seahawks are now mentioned in the same sentence – a comparison that I would not have even thought of three years ago.
The Ravens still have the ugliest man in the universe in Terrell Suggs. The Ravens still have Joe ‘Bert’ Flacco leading the offense, and Ray Rice and his Terrible Towel waving arms. John Harbaugh is still a big baby about every little thing, and if he is well enough, the Steeler offense will have to contain Haloti Ngata. However, guys like Ed Reed, Ray ‘Stabby’ Lewis, and Anquan Boldin are all gone.
The Steelers still have Big Ben – who will play in his first game against the Ravens since 2011. Troy Polamalu still has the potential to wreak havoc in the backfield for Rice and Flacco (hold onto that ball, buddy). Ryan Clark might be finally energized from a good week last week and use more of his body than his mouth to play this game. Even though James Harrison is gone, LaMarr Woodley might be able to find an edge even if B Mac is a scratch.
Yes, there is the potential for this game to be like of the ol’ Classics of yester-years. I know for damn sure that, even at 0-12, Steeler Nation would flood into Heinz Field with Towels waving. The noise level and energy would be that of a playoff game – as it always has been when these two teams when they face off against each other. The teams will stare each other down from the sidelines. There will be big hits, there will be ‘extra curricular activity’ after the whistle, and there will lots of yelling and pointing.
The rivalry may have shifted a bit over the years with players coming and going. But no matter what the records may be of these two teams at the time they square off, you can be certain that it will be hateful, nasty, and down right fun to watch.