Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Steelers Can Put the Ravens in Very Deep Hole

The Steelers have a chance to bury the Ravens on Thursday. It's tough for a team to recover from starting the season 0-2 in the division -- with both losses at home, no less -- and that's what Baltimore is facing at home on Thursday vs. the Steelers.

Here's a guarantee: The Ravens, with their collective back to the wall and reeling from the disgraceful Ray Rice situation, are going to adopt the requisite "Us Against the World" mentality. Somebody in that locker room is saying "Nobody's giving us a chance!"

Against this backdrop, at home and on national primetime TV, the Ravens are going to be very, very tough for the Steelers to beat.

No-huddle Coming
Baltimore fans must be very proud.
Another guarantee: The Ravens' offense will go no-huddle early and often. The Browns showed that the hurry-up offense works against the Steelers, and until Dick LeBeau's defense proves it can stop the no-huddle, other teams will press it, too.

There's a catch here for the the Ravens, though, and a hopeful sign for the Steelers. The Ravens panicked early in their game vs. the Bengals, missed chances and failed to establish any sort of identity on either offense or defense.

It's almost never a good thing when your quarterback passes 62 times in a game, as Baltimore's Joe Flacco did on Sunday vs. the Bengals in Baltimore for the season opener between the two AFC North rivals.

In the first half, the Ravens held Cincinnati out of the end zone, but the Bengals compiled five goals en route to a 15-0 halftime lead. After an early fumble by running back Bernard Pierce and with no Ray Rice, Flacco went to the air.

Flacco completed 35 of 62 pass attempts (56.5%) for 345 yards and one touchdown. The  Ravens' receivers did Flacco no favors, though, dropping seven passes. The Bengals sacked Flacco three times.

The Ravens had no rhythm on offense and a sense of disconnect across the board.

As John Eisenberg on the Ravens' website noted, "Their first game of 2014 felt a lot like 2013. That’s not a compliment. The offense experienced an early power outage marked by a rash of mistakes. The defense struggled to get off the field, yet fought hard and kept the score reasonably close. A late rally showed heart and gave the Ravens a chance to win, but the other team made a key play and won, deservedly so. It’s a familiar narrative, one the Ravens didn’t want to reprise."

Where was the Ravens' running game?
During the off-season, the Ravens, Bengals and Browns all stated, repeatedly, their commitment to the run. Of the three, only the Browns backed up that commitment, despite trailing by 24 points at halftime. The Browns ran 30 times for a total of 183 yards (6.0 avg.) vs. the Steelers. The Bengals ran 26 times for only 79 yards (3.0 average) in Baltimore. The Ravens attempted just 20 runs for a mere 91 yards (4.0 avg.) at home vs. the Bengals.

The Steelers? They had 28 running plays (for 127 yards) and 34 pass attempts (for 365 yards) vs. the Browns. We'll see if they can keep scoring 30 points a game, but it wont be easy on the road against a Ravens squad desperate to avoid going 0-2 in the division.

How important is it to avoid going 0-2 in the division to start the season? According to Terrell Suggs, “It’s everything. It’s everything. You don’t want to come out of an 0-2 hole, especially giving up two at home. Wins in the NFL are hard to come by, so that’s why you’ve got to win your home games.”

This is the Steelers' chance to bury the Ravens. Beat them on Thursday, and they'll be forced to climb uphill the rest of the season.

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