Surviving Armageddon Once Again

As playoff games go, you can't get matchups more emotionally fraught for Steelers fans than the Ravens and, potentially, the Patriots. Dealing another fatal blow to the Ravens would not only be joyous because it would advance the Steelers to their eighth conference championship game in the last 17 seasons, but the win would be a triumph in itself to be cherished for years to come. A win over the Ravens in the postseason is one of those things that finds its way onto best win lists at the end of the decade, regardless of what happens in the following weeks.

While Roethlisberger has won six in a row against Baltimore, only the first in that streak could be considered an easy win. You can be certainly be confident that the Steelers were come away with another devastating win over Baltimore, but it'll have to be hard earned as always.

The Ravens got a decisive victory last week in Kansas City, but the Chiefs had one of the worse approaches to playing the Baltimore offense I've seen this season. Todd Haley committed all his attention to taking away the Ravens' deep passing game while leaving Ray Rice uncovered out of the backfield, while committing little attention to Todd Heap as well. Not that Joe Flacco can't hit a deep ball, but c'mon. Unibrow is more than content to be the checkdown king and dump the ball off to the Ravens' best offensive player. All things considered, you'd always want Flacco to try to beat you deep.

Heap had himself quite the game against the Chiefs, and Baltimore certainly missed him in the last meeting, as the Steelers missed Heath Miller in the second half after Jameel McClain got away with an incredibly dirty helmet hit to knock Miller out of the game. Heap makes Baltimore's offense more difficult to defend, but he was there for the first meeting in Pittsburgh and managed only three catches for 35 yards. Not exactly game changer-type stuff. In general, both teams are about as healthy as they can reasonably get right now. The Ratbirds get Le'Ron McClain back. Roethlisberger took a little while to get going in the December game in Baltimore trying to adjust to his injured foot and, of course, trying to focus after the Ravens were basically allowed to break his nose without consequence.

Getting Aaron Smith in any capacity for this game would have been tremendous, but it doesn't look like it's going to shake out that way. Not that he could have started at this point, but getting him in the mix gives better depth once Ziggy Hood gets off the field.

The offensive line played well toward the end of the season, but I'm not going to entertain any delusions that Terrell Suggs won't make his presence known, in ways besides generally being a braying jackass. The Ravens know the Steelers try to run right as often as possible, knowing there's no much stock in placed in Jonathan Scott's run blocking, so expect more unbalanced defensive fronts out of them that place Ngata closer to the right side. Were Arians ever to consider running a screen, you could probably easily exploit the lack of attention played to the left side.

Because I feel like being discursive, a few assorted notes:

- LaMarr Woodley has two sacks in each of the four playoff games he's appeared in in his NFL career. Woodley had none in the two games against Baltimore in the regular season, but did generate a ton of pressure in the second game in Baltimore. Getting two on Saturday would undoubtedly be huge.

- Manny Sanders has become more and more a part of the offense as the season has gone on, but Hines came through with a big production day every so often. He finished with only 755 receiving yards on the season, but still posted four 100-yard receiving games. So it's feast of fame this year with Hines. Against the Ravens, though, it was the former - only three catches for 27 yards. Whatever gets the job done of offense is fine with me, but nothing gets Rattard fans rankled like Hines smiling, so let's hope he gets a little more work in tomorrow.

- Mike Wallace, meanwhile, was absolutely on fire toward the end of the season, posting three-straight 100-yard performances. He hasn't had fewer than 76 yards receiving in a game since the start of December. It really speaks to how the guy has arrived as a complete receiver. Teams gameplan to take him away and the Steelers find a way to keep him involved. The Ravens can't simply sit back and hope to take away the huge bomb. Wallace can kill them in other ways.

The showdown of superstar safeties has favored Polamalu head-to-head as much as it has the Steelers themselves.

I respect Ed Reed as player and it sucks what he's had to go through with his brother, but Reed has been invisible as far as impact plays against the Steelers. The last turnover he forced against the Steelers was during garbage time in a blowout loss in 2007. Since then, Polamalu has put together quite the string of highlights when he's been available against the Ravens. If there's another one on Saturday, there's more than a good chance it means the Steelers are moving on yet again.


Steven said...

Most sites/people are saying the same thing...close game, tough rivarly, blah, blah, blah. But you've touched on what I believe are potentially the keys to the game. I think the Steelers come out passing like vs colts 05. I think the Ratturds will focus on Wallace and not have an answer for Manny. While it might be close early on, I believe gay lewis & co have a major beat down coming. Beware the Black Storm is coming, GO STEELERS!!

Jim Philips said...

well sorry Ravens but it has to go int hat way and Sportsbook Online community feels your sadness.