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2011 Week 9 Preview: Steelers and Ravens

November 2nd 2011 17:51
When these two AFC North heavyweights met in the first week of the season, I was way off in the Ravens surprised and unrepeatable drubbing of the Steelers. Since then, the Ravens are coming off of a devastating loss and a game that was much closer than it should have been. And this was to a team that the Steelers easily handled the week before. Last Sunday, Ben Roethlisberger put in an absolutely dominating performance to shred the Patriots and cement the team's status as contenders.

The Steelers have one of the worst lines in the NFL, but they showed signs of life against the Pats. Although their opponent's interior pass rush played well, the rest of the guys weren't quite as effective going after the quarterback. Still, right tackle Marcus Gilbert absolutely dominated, and I don't recall him ever putting his quarterback under pressure. He was also a force in run blocking, but that may be due to a very favorable matchup against the mightily struggling Rob Ninkovich. Right guard Ramon Foster wasn't quite as good in run blocking, but I also believe that he didn't give up pressure at all and was a key cog in a surprisingly stable right side.

However, the left side is still a mess with Jonathan Scott and Chris Kemoeatu. The left guard was beaten quite handily by the Pats defensive tackles, and Scott might just be the worst left tackle in the NFL right now. Props to J'Marcus Webb and Charlie Johnson who are in serious consideration for this "award".

Things look dire when you look at the two monsters they are slated against; Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata. After a surprisingly anonymous display against the Jags, Ngata showed the Cards whose boss in an inspired display that showed us why he gets his contract. A common misconception is that Suggs is an outside linebacker, but he actually plays most of his snaps at defensive end. Not only is he one of the best pass rushers in the game, but Suggs might just be one of the five best players against the run. The sleeping giant was always solid this season, but he has really turned up the heat the past two weeks.

The Patriots were taken down by the Heath Miller show, and I expect him to be a factor in this game. Ray Lewis is a pretty good player in coverage, but I trust that Ben will find the soft spots- like he did last week- and hit up Miller. Mike Wallace was focused on heavily in the team's last game, but I think this deep threat will have a dagger or two in this one.

I have absolutely no idea as to why Cary Williams is the starter right now.
His display in the last game that these two teams met in pretty much sums up his overall ability; he stinks. Williams gives up far too much space to receivers, and that's not exactly helpful when going up against the best deep threat in the NFL (yeah, I said it). Look, Chris Carr and rookie Jimmy Smith are better players in just about every way. Carr embodies the description of what a solid cornerback is, and Smith has the potential to be a difference-maker in the secondary.

Michael Oher owned last week, and he has been a player who I have often criticized. However, he didn't give up much pressure at all and had arguably his best game in pass pro as a pro. Marshal Yanda and Matt Birk are two of the best in the business, but I can't say the same about left tackle Bryant McKinnie. If Ben Grubbs doesn't play, Andre Gurode will be a severe downgrade at the position. Although he was fantastic the last few years with the Cowboys, Gurode has been stinking it up as a Raven.

The good news is that the Steelers defensive line hasn't been lighting it up this season. While Casey Hampton has been average and is consistently not bad, only Brett Keisel has made much of a difference for the team this season on the line.

An even bigger concern is the fact that James Harrison will miss yet another game. The best linebacker in the NFL, Harrison is obviously a huge key to what the Steelers do on defense. What makes things even worse is the team's moronic decision with regards to who they have replaced him with. Although Lawrence Timmons is one of the best inside linebackers in the NFL, the same cannot be said for his ability on the outside. Simply put; he can't rush the passer at all. I think he has only had a couple of pressures at the position, and that's simply pathetic.

It's not that he is in a funk; it's just that Pittsburgh isn't utilizing him correctly. Thus, he is struggling because he can't rush the passer at a position where that skill is put at a premium. Timmons is still making plays in run defense and hasn't been a liability in coverage, but the Steelers are best served moving him back to the inside and playing Justin Worilds. The drop off in quality from Worilds to Foote in the starting line-up is worth it. The good news is that LaMarr Woodley has been a revelation since Harrison's injury and has been one of the most productive OLBs in the NFL since that point.

I really don't get Joe Flacco right now, and his inconsistency is frustrating. This game really depends on Ike Taylor. Although penalties have been an enormous problem for him this season, he has still shown that he is one of the premier cover corners in the league. In fact, he is the only guy in the Steelers secondary who can take a competent receiver mano a mano. If he can effectively seal Anquan Boldin, then this is a win for the Steelers. If Boldin gets seven catches and rips off some big ones, then this probably isn't a win for the Steelers.

I really don't care for anybody else in the wideouts vs. secondary battle, aside from Troy Polamalu and Torrey Smith. The rookie wideout is a deep threat who doesn't do much else, and it's up to Polamalu to make sure he doesn't burn the Steelers. Do you really trust Bryant McFadden to prevent Smith from making a big play? Let's not kid ourselves, because this game rides on Flacco as it does for every quarterback in every game. However, it seems to me like this is a statement game for Flacco; we will see who he is as a quarterback.

As far as the running game goes, I think Ray Rice will be able to make himself a factor. The Steelers run defense hasn't looked impenetrable right now, so it won't take a Trojan Horse to get past the gates of Troy. No, Rice's pure ability as a runner will be enough for him to remain productive. It seems likely that he will be able to snare a few balls in as a receiver, but I don't expect him to own the Steelers. However, it is feasible to think that he will gain 80 or so yards on the ground.

Even though I like the Ravens defense more than the Steelers, there are too many "What ifs?" with regard to the Ravens offense. We have no idea as to what we will get from Joe Flacco. This is going to be a very close game, and I am going with the team who has the quarterback that I believe in. Gimme Ben Roethlisberger.
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10 Comments. [ Add A Comment ]

Comment by James Rickard

November 3rd 2011 14:30
I'm rooting for the Ravens but I think the Steelers will pull it out. If this was nearly any other game I'd pick the Ravens because they need it more and the Steelers are riding a high after the Pats but the Steelers don't fall into that trap.

ON THE OTHER HAND--IF the Ravens would win, I wonder if it will begin another second half of the season collapse for the Steelers?????

Comment by Joe Soriano

November 3rd 2011 15:24
Hey, thanks for dropping by man, really appreciate it. I don't think the Steelers are going to collapse, but this game would be a devastating loss. I mean, going 0-2 against a divisional rival puts you in a hole mentally as well as in the standings. This game is basically the head-to-head tiebreaker for who wins the division if these teams finish with equal records. And oh by the way, the Ravens would be in command of the division with the win, most likely forcing the Steelers to settle for a wild card spot.

Comment by Michael Wasco

November 4th 2011 00:51
The last time the Ravens swept they won the division. I read that since 2000 there have been only 3 season sweeps? This rivalry is so difficult to call in games like this, because they always mean so much, there's always so much riding on them and both teams play incredibly hard in the game. I think the Steelers are going to win because Ben is clearly the better QB, but it's going to be a long, long night...

Comment by nbageek

November 4th 2011 02:38
Great preview as always why read,, or if you can read great previews here, like the steelers also

Comment by Joe Soriano

November 4th 2011 07:35
Thanks guys for dropping by, and thanks for the praise nbageek. It means a lot, and I would strongly recommend listening to ESPN's Football Today podcast. Matt Williamson is the best scout or writer in all of sports, and former offensive lineman Ross Tucker is also on the podcast and does a good job too.

Comment by Rick Gillispie

November 4th 2011 13:39
Pittsburgh wins this one easily. It will be a great Sunday night game in the first half but come second half Pittsburgh pulls ahead. Win by 13

Comment by TimmyH6

November 4th 2011 19:49
The thing that I like most about being a Steelers fan is I have no idea what they are going to do from week to week. It's a big game, but there are still two months of football left to play. I don't really care how the Steelers get to January as long as they do. Then if the two teams meet I put my game face on.

Comment by Randy Inman

November 6th 2011 11:54
Flacco is starting to smell like a bust.

Comment by Joe Soriano

November 6th 2011 13:51
Randy, there is absolutely no way that Flacco is anything resembling a bust. He's easily a top 15 quarterback, it's just that he has been through a rough patch recently, has two poor tackles- although Oher was terrific last week- and has only one (very) legit receiver. My main problems with Flacco are his accuracy on deep throws- despite great arm strength- and his poor play under pressure. However, he is one of the better QBs in the league and wouldn't have been a bust even if he was the 8th pick in the draft.

Comment by Randy Inman

November 6th 2011 14:02
Flacco makes dumb moves on the field and he can't seem to reach the elite level. Maybe not a bust but I wouldn't call him top 15.

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