Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Will the Steelers Have Answers for the Ravens This Time Around?

It's All Souls Day, aka "Day of the Dead"
The Steelers looked so good on Sunday vs. the Patriots, it's easy to forget how bad they looked Sept. 11 vs. the Ravens in Baltimore, first game of the season.

The Steelers' offense committed seven turnovers that day. Seven!  Ravens running back Ray Rice ran roughshod over the Steelers' defense, which ESPN analyst Merril Hoge described as looking "complacent" and which NFL Network blowhard Warren Sapp famously said looked "old and slow."

Today, however, the Steelers are 6-2, lead the AFC and their defense looks anything but "complacent" or "old and slow."  Still, this season, the Steelers have looked bad and good; the Ravens have looked good and bad.

Which teams will show up on Sunday at Heinz Field?  The Steelers looked awful in losses to the Ravens and Texans; struggled in wins over the Colts and Jaguars; and looked awesome defeating the Cardinals and Patriots the past two weeks. The Ravens looked awful in losses to the Titans and Jaguars; struggled to defeat the Cardinals last Sunday; and looked awesome in defeating the Rams and Steelers early in the season. If anything, the Steelers have improved since the season began; the Ravens appear to have regressed. Maybe both teams simply have found their true level.

Joe Flacco getting sacked, Week Two, vs. Tennessee.
The Ravens' offense has sputtered off and on this season -- mostly "off" in recent weeks. Joe Flacco and company looked mostly bad on Sunday at home vs. Arizona. They looked absolutely abysmal in the Monday night game the previous week (Oct. 24) vs. Jacksonville. Words can't describe how bad they looked, and that performance prompted intense criticism not only in the media and among fans in Baltimore, but also in the Ravens' locker room. Flacco and his offense also played horribly in the Oct. 2nd Sunday night win over the New York Jets. Flacco and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron have  become a lightning rod for criticism in Baltimore.

Despite occasional flashes from receivers Torrey Smith, a rookie, and Anquin Boldin, a veteran, the Ravens still don't have a consistent deep threat. For all his flaws, though, Flacco does throw as pretty a deep pass as any quarterback in the NFL.
Lest we forget: Bryant McFadden and Anquin Boldin, Week One 
Looking Forward, Looking Back
This Sunday, presumably, Baltimore head coach Jim Harbaugh will apply much the same game plan he did Sept. 11.  Steelers corner Bryant McFadden started that day, and Boldin victimized him for a touchdown on the first possession. Tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta roamed freely in the secondary all day. Even more disturbingly, Ray Rice romped at will the entire game behind the lead blocking of fullback Vontae Leach. It was ugly.

On the other side of the ball, it bears repeating: The Baltimore defense had seven takeaways. It was embarrassing. Nose tackle Haloti Ngata, totally disruptive, absolutely dominated the line of scrimmage. Rashard Mendenhall probably still has bruises from the fumble-forcing hit that Ngata laid on him in the second quarter. Safety Ed Reed intercepted two passes. Ray Lewis and fellow linebacker Terrell Suggs imposed their will. Linebacker Jarret Johnson hit Hines Ward harder than probably he's ever been hit in his life.

The entire debacle was humiliating.

The Steelers cannot allow anything like any of the above happen again on Sunday.

Just sayin'.