Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Steelers vs. Ravens: Two Trains on a Track

Mike Tomlin summed it up well in yesterday’s news conference:

“Who's angry, who's not, we all know that's irrelevant by game time.  The root of the matter is that you have two very good teams with the same intentions -- to dominate the AFC North and to put themselves in position to win the Lombardi  It's two trains on a track.  See you Sunday."

All righty, then.  Why wait?  

Let’s jump right into the deep end of the regular season already:  First game, Sept. 11 no less, Steelers vs. Ravens, a playoff atmosphere right off the bat, and a swing game to open the season.  What more could you want?

It’s going to be an intense, knock-down, drag-out fight, as always.

The closeness of this rivalry spanning the past several years nearly defies belief and merits scrutiny, if only for fun.  

Over their past 17 meetings preceding last January’s AFC Championship game — which the Steelers won, 31-24 only after being down 21-7 at halftime, and which the Ravens may well have gone on to win if only T.J.Houshmandzadeh had caught Joe Flacco’s late 4th-and-23 pass that merely hit him squarely in the numbers ...

  • The Steelers had nine wins; the Ravens eight
  • Each team had scored 303 points.
  • Each team had about 265 yards per game on offense.
  • The Ravens had committed 33 turnovers; the Steelers, 34.

This is almost certainly going to be a close game, as games between the Steelers and Ravens always are.  The Post-Gazette's Gene Collier today cites how similar the stats for both teams were during last season’s regular season: 

“The similarities between the 2010 Steelers and Ravens were so plentiful as to be almost eerie:
  • The Steelers averaged 23 points per game, the Ravens 22.
  • The Steelers averaged 18 first downs per game, the Ravens 19.
  • The Steelers averaged 32 minutes of possession time per game, the Ravens 31.
  • The Steelers scored 41 touchdowns, four of them on returns, the Ravens 40 touchdowns, four of them on returns.
  • The Steelers averaged 44 yards per punt, the Ravens 44.
  • The Steelers averaged 6 yards per punt return, the Ravens 7.
  • The Steelers averaged 24 yards per kickoff return, the Ravens 25. 
  • The Steelers wore black and gold, the Ravens black and gold and purple. 
  • Two of their three meetings last year were decided by a field goal as were five of the past eight."
And, as Collier reiterates, last January's playoff game could well have been won by the Ravens:  “On Jan. 15, the Steelers committed two turnovers, allowed six sacks, drew nine penalties totaling 93 yards and still beat these guys.”

For all that, Joey Porter’s Pit Bulls like the Steelers’ chances on Sunday.  The Ravens made a lot of changes during the off-season, have a lot of moving parts right now, and they are vulnerable.  

We’ll take a closer look at this matchup over the next few days. There is much more to discuss.