Wednesday, November 2, 2011

It's Steeler Week

Going back to week 1, when the Ravens routed the Steelers 35-7, Ravens fans felt as if they'd already clinched an appearance in the Super Bowl. I can't lie, it felt good. Damn good. The Ravens had just gotten revenge on the Steelers following a heartbreaking playoff loss in Pittsburgh, where the Ravens led at halftime, 21-7.

But the feelings following that big opening day win have slowly tapered off. The Ravens failed to show up in the following game at Tennessee, losing to the Titans, 23-10. And outside of a blowout of the Rams in St. Louis, the Ravens are 1-2 on the road and their offense has been inconsistent regardless of where the games have been played, culminating in an embarrassing performance on Monday Night Football in a 12-7 loss to the Jaguars in Jacksonville a little over a week ago.

The following week, the Ravens needed to mount the biggest come-from-behind win in franchise history to beat the 1-6 Cardinals in Baltimore. Now they travel to Pittsburgh to take on the 6-2 Steelers on Sunday night.

Meanwhile, the Steelers haven't looked back following their last loss to the Texans in Houston in week 4, and are playing their best football, coming off of a big home win over the Patriots. Ben Roethlisberger, who started the season slowly, has thrown 11 touchdowns and 2 interceptions in his last 4 games. And the Steelers defense, while still flawed, is playing better than they were at the start of the season.

The Ravens are once again a team searching for an identity on offense. Cam Cameron's play calling fails to put players into positions for success. All Pro RB, Ray Rice, isn't used like he should be and outside of a big game against his former team last week, Anquan Boldin has been a non-factor in the passing game. And Flacco, who has gone on the record saying he wants to lead a pass-first offense, has been erratic in the pocket, completing a career-worst 53% of his passes and failing to produce a QB Rating above 78 in his last 4 games, throwing 4 interceptions to just 1 touchdown in that time frame.

However, in the second half of the comeback win over the Cardinals, the Ravens stumbled into an offensive game plan that actually worked. Down 21 points late in the first half, Cameron had Flacco lining up in a shotgun hurry-up offense. It is the same kind of offense Flacco led at Delaware, where he excelled. Many fans, frustrated with Cameron's conservative offensive play calling, which included short out routes and crossing patterns, resulting in minimal receiver separation, wondered why Flacco rarely lined up in the shotgun offense he ran so effectively in college. And after watching Flacco get into a grove for the remainder of the game, hopefully Cameron employs the offense against the Steelers, who may be missing LB's James Harrison and Lamarr Woodley and whose secondary the Ravens exposed in week 1.

But the Ravens cannot expect to call the same week 1 plays against the Steelers this Sunday and produce the same results. You can bet your bottom dollar that the Steelers will have memorized the week 1 game film and will be fired up to seek revenge on the team that embarrassed them to the tune of 7 turnovers. Head coach Mike Tomlin is a great coach and I'm sure he'll be in the players' ears all week, reminding them of the week 1 rout. This game was circled in the Steelers locker room as soon as the last second expired from the game clock in week 1.

So I don't have high hopes for this game. I don't believe Cameron will be able to put together a game plan that will take advantage of the Steelers weaknesses on defense while at the same time putting our offensive players in the best position to win. Cameron is notorious for being stubborn, case in point his failure to adjust in the Jacksonville loss where he only ran Ray Rice 8 times in a game the Ravens never trailed by more than 9 points.

It's the simple case of two teams passing each other on opposite directions. The Steelers are back to playing at their usual high-level, while the Ravens are once again struggling offensively. I expect a close game, much like many of the Ravens/Steelers contests of recent memory, one where the game comes down to a play being made, or not being made, late in the game.

It pains me to say it, but I see the Steelers taking this game to the tune of 20-13.

I hope I'm wrong.

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