Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Two ways to look at Ravens-Steelers

Patch emailed me something from sbrforum today, an analyst or handicapper looking at the individual players in this Sunday's Ravens-Steelers game. It was very interesting. And it got me to thinking.

There are two distinct ways of looking at this game. And depending on which viewpoint you adopt, it's obvious who should win the game. I mean it's utterly, completely clear who's going to win. What's not obvious is which viewpoint is the correct one. ( I guess it'll be obvious during or after the game, but what fun is that?)

Viewpoint #1:
The Steelers are playing well this season, and the Ravens are not.

Pittsburgh is #3 in the FO's ratings this week (#1 in "DAVE"), Baltimore is #18. Some people have the Steelers as the best team in the NFL. They have won all their games, some against good teams, and they have looked like themselves doing it. The D is baaa-aaack; in particular, Troy Polumalo and Aaron Smith. And the running game is back: Rashard Mendenhall is the NFL's 4th-leading rusher. Meanwhile, Baltimore has not played well. Their offense was AWOL the first two games of the season, while Flacco thew 5 INTs. When the offense finally showed a pulse in week 3, the defense got pushed around. The Ravens gave up 173 yards on the ground, to Cleveland. 6.0 yards per carry!

This, then, is the Ravens-Steelers matchup: two teams going in opposite directions. And the best team in the NFL, playing at home, will blow the Ravens off the field.

Viewpoint #2: The Ravens & Steelers are very, very evenly matched, so the significant players who are out will determine the winner.

From 2008 on, the Ravens & Steelers have played 5 games against each other. These have been the final margins:

3 pts (overtime)
4 pts
9 pts (iced by a late 4th Q Polumalu INT return)
3 pts
3 pts
That 2008 AFC Championship game was a 2-pt game with 4 or 5 mins to go, until Flacco threw the pick-6.

Ravens-Steelers games have been exciting, hard-fought – the rivalry has become must-see football, one of the most anticipated matchups in the league. Pittsburgh has won 4 of those games, so they have been better (they were the 2008 SB Champs, after all); but the margin separating these teams has been thin. Distinct, but thin.

So now these two teams line up against each other again, but with some key people out. The Ravens are missing starting RT Jared Gaither, and the Steelers are missing –

Ben Roethlisberger.


Now, Jared Gaither is an important player. But, can we all agree that Ben Roethlisberger is miles and miles more important to the Steelers than Jared Gaither is to the Ravens? I mean, it's not close, right?

I know Rashard Mendenhall is a big-time player now, and the Steelers have a new offensive identity that they haven't had in recent years. Fine. But (no matter what it looked like last week against Cleveland) you just can't earn a living running against the Ravens D. It is not going to happen. The difference-maker for the Steelers offense has been Big Ben hanging in the pocket on third down and miraculously keeping drives alive. If he's not there, the Steelers are not going to move the ball, and their biggest threat to score will be Polumalu. Meanwhile the Ravens also have an added dimension on offense, courtesy of Anquan Boldin.

This, then, is the Ravens-Steelers matchup: the usual slugfest, but without Big Ben's miracles. The game will look like a replay of the Ravens-Jets Monday Night season opener: two teams slogging it out, with the home team unable to do a thing offensively, and the Ravens stringing together just enough offense to leave with the win.


So. One of those viewpoints is obviously right. But, uh, which?



Chris emailed me me after the post went up: "Jim – No mention of Reed as a pretty important player missing for the Ravens?"

Uh, oops.

I still think the salient part of viewpoint #2 is that Ben Roethlisberger has been the most important difference-maker for the Steelers in their games against the Ravens (more important even than Polumalu), and he's gone. (You could even argue that without Big Ben back there, the Ravens don't need Ed Reed.)

We'll see how it plays out.


  1. This is the Balt D ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in Rush D, giving up 130 yds per game? Really, you can't run on them with a top 10 RB?!?

    I'd say it's much more likely that Batch can't throw on them.

  2. Yeah, really.

    That below-avg ranking in rush D is a mirage, will not be true by the end of the season. The Jets can run on everyone, sure, but the Cleveland game was an anomaly.

    The Ravens dressed fewer D-linemen than usual for Cleveland, to get more spec-teamers in to deal with Cribbs. Then Cory Redding got a concussion in the first half, and the Ravens were in trouble. The D-linemen were all gassed in the 2nd half. Plus Hillis is huge, and Cleveland has that great O-line.

    Pittsburgh managed 3.1 y/a for the game. That's actually pretty good, considering their QB situation. But not enough to control the game.


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