Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Ravens-Steelers Preview

With all the praise that the Steelers have received this year, the Ravens have taken a back seat to them. That’s all about to change on Saturday. In recent years, the Ravens have surged in the AFC North, and even the Bengals won a title last year. But it’s been pretty much all Steelers, as they have a chance to win their third Super Bowl in six years. However, this Ravens team is much different than ones in previous years, and they have what it takes to win in Pittsburgh in a divisional rubber match.

In the playoffs, Joe Flacco gives off the vibe of a veteran quarterback. He’s won four playoff games already in his short career. The point being made is that he has never beaten Ben Roethlisberger. The only times Flacco has beaten Pittsburgh is once last year and earlier this year. The starting quarterbacks were Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch. Roethlisberger receives all the postseason credit in the world, but it seems like now it’s Flacco’s time. His receiving core has received an upgrade from Anquan Boldin and T. J. Houshmandzadeh. And he showed last week that when a defense takes those options away (like Troy Polamalu very well may do), he can still rely on his veteran players like Derrick Mason and Todd Heap. Sure, Flacco isn’t going to go into Pittsburgh and put on an aerial clinic. But I feel like he can do just enough, and more importantly, not create turnovers in crucial moments of the game.

The biggest key to the Ravens success is going to be none other than running back Ray Rice. The three year man out of Rutgers is going to get more of his yards through the air than on the ground. John Harbaugh is going to have to keep this offense very balanced, and Rice will need pick up enough rushing yards to keep the Steelers defense honest. But the way they’ll be able to move the chains is to throw Rice the ball. His size and strength makes him a tough matchup for the Steelers and the screen pass will be Baltimore’s best friend. Mix that in with shots down field to the receivers as well check down passes to Heap and you have yourself a dynamic offense that the Ravens have the potential to be. Last week’s matchup at Kansas City showed that they are peeking at the right time, and this game should deliver as another nail biter that these teams normally produce.

Even if the Ravens offense plays to its full potential, it alone cannot win the football game. This is still a defensive football game that will produce just a slightly higher score than recent matchups. Roethlisberger has guided his team so well, but now is the time that everything will catch up to him. The Ravens defense showed glimpses of the past when they were just as stingy as Pittsburgh. Ed Reed is playing with a purpose after the death of his brother and despite injuries (and a run in with some fire), he is playing at as high of a level as ever. Ray Lewis continues his dominance in leading this defense that has forced 10 turnovers over the past 2 games. They’re going to get to Big Ben and force him to make throws that he isn’t capable of making. While I still feel that the Steelers are overrated, they are obviously a very good team. The element of Mike Wallace and the deep ball really juice up their offensive attack. But Rashard Mendenhall is not an elite running back and isn’t one to catch balls out of the backfield like Rice. And if anything happens to Polamalu, this defense could certainly fall apart. The Ravens have the best chance out of anyone in the AFC of beating the Steelers because they match up so well with them. These are two defensive minded teams who now have an explosive offense to back them and that is a sure fire recipe for a close low scoring game that has been the trend of Ravens-Steelers games in the past. So what’s the final prediction? Ben Roethlisberger should get his traditional deep touchdown to Mike Wallace just because that man has rockets on his feet. However, the Ravens defense is going to make Roethlisberger cough up a couple turnovers and capitalize off of the field position they’ll get. Flacco will lead a balanced Ravens attack but he probably won’t be able to get a touchdown pass unless Rice can break a screen pass for a long one. He should, however, get them in position for Rice or even Willis McGahee to score a goal line touchdown. In the end, it will be defense and special teams that win it. A late turnover by the Steelers will set the Ravens up for a game winning field goal by Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundif. He will deliver like he has all season, and this may not only be Flacco’s first win against Roethlisberger, but also a passing of the torch in this division. NFL fans are in for a treat with this rubber match as the Ravens should continue their push to the Super Bowl.

Prediction: Baltimore 16, Pittsburgh 13

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