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fordfixer
01-17-2009, 01:07 AM
Breaking down Ravens vs. Steelers


http://www.sportingnews.com/blog/jzala5/181116


Jan 16, 2009 11:49 AM |
The AFC Championship comes down to one of the biggest rivalries in the league. These Ravens/Steelers matchups are the reasons mothers don't want their sons playing football. The game is so physical and the hitting is so hard that the injury report will read like a scroll after the game. The first game of the year knocked Rashard Mendenhall and Kendall Simmons out for the season. In years past, Hines Ward knocked out Ed Reed with a concussion and threw a devestating block on Bart Scott that almost knocked his head square off his body.

These teams are almost mirror images. They both rely on a stingy 3-4 defense where the Steelers have the #1 unit and the Ravens are right behind at #2. They both depend on super athletic linebacker units. The Ravens are led by Ray Lewis and Bart Scott in the middle with T-Suggs and Jarret Johnson on the outside. The Steelers are led by James Farrior and James Harrison with Larry Foote, LaMarr Woodley and developing star Lawrence Timmons. They each have safties who are all over the field. Ed Reed is the most ballhawking safety we have seen, and Troy Polamlu is the most all-out blend of physicality and speed who hits like a linebacker and runs like a corner. Each safety is teamed with an unheralded teammate that makes them tick. The Ravens have Jim Leonhard who makes play after play and never gets recognition despite being in on most plays. The Steelers have Ryan Clark who third leading tackler despite missing 2 games with a seperated shoulder. He is a hard-hitting safety who is great in coverage which allows Polamalu to line up near the line of scrimmage most of the game. Each defense has dominating defensive tackles who own opposing centers and free up the linebackers to make plays. Haloti Ngata and Casey Hampton eat blockers for lunch and are immovable.

On offense, each time depend on veteran receivers who never lose a step and are ALWAYS open. Hines Ward and Derrick Mason have been around for ever, yet, still lead the team in receptions and yards and never slow down. Both receivers are flanked by excellent deep threats. The Ravens have Mark Clayton who stretches the field, while the Steelers counter with Santonio Holmes and Nate Washington. The reason both teams can stretch the field is because they both have excellent pass catching tight end's who command coverage over the middle. Todd Heap and Heath Miller don't put up huge numbers but they are both good blockers and receivers. At QB, many columnists and on-air personalities are comparing Flacco to Big Ben, so there is an obvious correlation there. In the running game, each time has running backs that have been injured or ineffective (McGahee and Parker) and unsung heroes who came out of nowhere (McClain and Mewelde Moore) to help shoulder the load.

On top of all of those similarities, both teams have very young coaches. Tomlin is 36 and in his 3rd career playoff game while Harbaugh is in his early 40's and also in his 3rd playoff game. Both of these coaches were smart and humble enough to keep members from the previous regime on staff. Tomlin promoted Bruce Arians from WR coach to O-Coordinator when he took the job and left Dick LeBeau as the D-Coordinator. Harbaugh left Rex Ryan in charge of his defense.

Here's how I think this game will be determined:

1 Ravens fighting the injury bug
The Ravens haven't had a bye in 17 weeks. They also had a grueling and physical matchup with the Titans which left many walking wounded. Coming in to the game, reports have surfaced that CB Samari Rolle is already ruled out. The weakens a secondary that was leaking last week against the Titans. The secondary has already lost Dawan Landry and Chris McAllister to the IR earlier in the season which leaves Fabian Washington and rookie Frank Walker to start in the secondary. Another huge factor will be Terrell Suggs injury. Now, I am no doctor, but even if Suggs plays with a seperated shoulder I can't see him having a huge impact in the game. It has to be impossible for him to wrap up a running back or QB when he can barely move his arm. Also, LaRon McClain sprained his ankle and has been limited in practice along with Derrick Mason, Marc Clayton, Justin Bannon, Todd Heap and Jarrett Johnson. This is a great defense, but not great enough to overcome all of those injuries.

2 Ravens D dealing with extreme fatigue
As mentioned, the D is banged up at the wrong time. They are also worn down at this point of the season. Look at how easily the Titans moved the ball up and down the field against them. Chris Johnson had 72 yards and was well on his way to having a big game before leaving with an injury. Chris Johnson and Willie Parker are pretty much the same type of back but Parker has more experience. Kerry Collins threw for 281 yards and was sacked only 1 time. Roethlisberger is way more dangerous than Collins and the Steelers receivers are 5 times more dangerous than the Titans corps.

3 Can the Steelers protect the ball?
The only reason why the Ravens won last week was because Tennessee continually shot themselves in the foot. They had a ton of stupid penalties and awful turnovers. Normally, the Ravens D forces turnovers, but the fumbles last week by White and Crumpler were inexcusable. They were more of the reason for the fumble than the Ravens D was. If the Steelers can protect the ball in the running and special teams game and Ben doesn't turn it over, then the Steelers would be in great shape to win this game.

4 Does Flacco finally start playing like a rookie?
Flacco has been unflappable in the playoffs. How many times have you heard that? He hasn't had a great completion percentage, but he has not turned the ball over, and made big plays when the team needed them. Flacco struggled mightily in the last game against the Steelers (22 QB rating). However, that was over a month ago and he has been a far better QB since that game.

5 Which Steelers Offensive Line shows up?
Is it the unit that put together the best game of the season like in the San Diego game, or is it the one that has allowed 46 sacks and opened now running holes for Parker and Moore? Was last week indicitive of the line finally coming together, or is it more that the San Diego defense made it look good. If the Steelers can pick up blitzers and give Ben time to find a receiver, they have a great chance to go to the Super Bowl. If blitzers come in untouched and knock Big Ben into next week, then the Ravens may be the AFC representative in the Super Bowl.

6 Which team can run the ball
This game comes down to what team can take pressure off the QB. The Ravens have been the only team to have success with the run against the Steelers. McClain has caused problems for the Steelers and ran for 76 yards in the first meeting and 96 in the second. If he can do that, and prove his ankle is 100 %, it majorly improves the Ravens chances. If not, McGahee will have to step in and shoulder the load. Remember, this Steelers D just held "all-world" Darren Sproles to 15 yards on 11 carries last week. For the Steelers, it's on Willie Parker's shoulders (or should I say legs?). If he does what he did against SD last week, then the Steelers win this game. If he performs like he has his whole career against the Ravens (2.8 yards per carry against B'more) then this is a winnable game for Baltimore.

All that said, I think the Steelers have the advantage and should win. They are more rested and healthy, and are playing at home. However, they must shrug off AFC Championship game collapses at home against the Patriots in 2005 and 2002. It should be a close, low-scoring game. My prediction is 17-10 Pittsburgh. They are the better team and more rested. However, as the Titans and Giants if the better teams always win.

I also am going out on a limb and saying that the most yards covered in this game will be by the trainers running on and off the field!