And the fates have their way with the match-up everyone figured was coming and the Ravens claim to have been cheering for in retrospect. Believe me, there's nothing more the Steelers want than to quell the homefield demons with silencing all the Ravens who carped for weeks about Walt Coleman.
Most Steelers fans, myself included, aren't entirely convinced the offensive line magically turned a corner last week against the Chargers. FWP went for over 100 in the first game against San Diego and it seemed just as likely he would do it again. Granted, the line allowed three fewer sacks the second time around, but I'm not ready to pronounce them a satisfactory unit just yet. What would really help - what helped last week to get the offense going better than fake punts, what helped to get the first TD against the Ravens in Week 4 in Heinz - is the no-huddle. I figure with it taking Arians 17 weeks to embrace the I-formation, looking at multiple no-huddle drives in a playoff game may be a bit of a stretch, but if they go to it and build a lead, they can bury the rookie early.
Obviously, the run won't come easy, no matter how good it looked last week. Willie Parker's career high against the Ravens is 63 yards. He missed the first game at home, when the Steelers had to try to run half the game with Carey Davis and still won. Remember that Rashard Mendenhall was breaking off some nice runs until the Ravens pulled a Chris Johnson on him (or maybe they pulled a Rashard Mendenhall on Chris Johnson?). That said, if Willie peels off something in the range of 70-80 yards, we're looking at a good day.
As always in these contests, the key is turnovers. The Steelers conceded momentum in the first contest early when Ben had the ball slip out of his hand on the interception to Ngata and got it back with the strip-sack for a touchdown. In the second contest, the Ravens got an easy score of Santonio's fumble near our own end and the Steelers kept themselves alive by causing Flacco to fumble the ball out of field goal range on the Ravens' final drive.
The Ravens strategy with protecting Flacco has been a steady diet of dump passes followed by the occasional play-action chuck down the field to keep defenses from crowding the line, while hoping for a lucky snag or drawing a penalty. Flacco hasn't played all that well in the playoffs, but he has a big arm. The severity of Troy's injury is a concern here. If he's completely healthy, he can continue to play near the line and give Joe Brow a lot of deceptive looks. If not, he'll be playing deep the entire time and I'm sure the Ravens may take a shot or two deep against him. McClain being hampered and Ray Rice appearing to be MIA does them no favors in the running game. A big dose of McGahee seems like a pretty ideal scenario for the defense.
I'm sure Ravens fans are hoping for a make-up call for the goal line Santonio call, but they used up all their bad officating karma last week in Tennessee. Maybe the refs will even calls a hold when they get silverback in a headlock coming off the edge. Not that they did last week.
Bart Scott is making more promises of retribution he won't live up to. With Terrell Suggs possibly out, that means the Ravens have to employ a three-man shift to replace him. Does that mean they also have to split any bounties three ways? I'd prefer that Suggs play. The less Ravens fans have to whine about if their team losses, the better (And they'll take anything). Not that it matters. Hines has his battle hat on. He's ready for all comers.
Get a decent lead on the rookie and it's time to tee off. Joe Flacco can be unflappable when he doesn't have to make plays. It's incumbent on the Steelers offense not to surrender a lead with mistakes, because the Ratbirds can't take it otherwise.