This will actually be lime one hundredth 'post or 'shot here about the game on this coming Saturday, but I haven't written anything for a while (can I please go back on vacation?), and I thought I'd share my thoughts on the third episode of the 2010 rendition of the football's best rivalry, as well as on the 2010 regular season.
There isn't much to say about the 2010, we all know what the Steelers have been through, both good and bad. I thought I would just make one point about this year's Steelers. We are 2-4 against the teams that went to the playoffs. Doesn't sound good at all, but if you think about it, we were out of only one of those losses, the Pats game. The Saints game was close for most of the time, we lost to the Ravens (without Ben) with 30 or so seconds to go, we were a few inches away from winnig the Jets game. [Speaking of the four-game stretch without Ben, Steelers went 3-1 against the teams that finished with combined record of 41-23, .640 winning percentage]
What is more important to me, however, is that we won all 10 games we played verysus non-playoff teams, and did so convincingly. Perhaps the only exception is the Buffalo game. Everything else, even with the Miami phantom fumble and a near-comeback by the Bengals, I felt we had under control. What I loved about this season is that you could feel confident about the Steelers in the 4th quarter. No more blown leads. No more opponents' combacks. In fact, the Steelers went 10-0 when leading at the halftime. There's your difference between 12-4 and 9-7. And I love it about these Steelers.
There's a clear drop-off ni offensive stats from last year, in great part due to the "emergency" game-planning for the first quarter of the season. But you could feel that the offense is becoming quite strong, the O-line plays well enough, and the youngsters step up. The defense was to its old good days, and while statistically it was not very impressive (except for the rushing aspect), I bet about 28 other NFL teams' GMs would trade their souls for a defense like this one. I am again very surprised that the injuries to two key players, Aaron Smith and Troy Polamalu (which was a consensus reason for the "abysmal" 9-7 season a year ago), were not such a big factor. I thought that the defensive front was outstanding, with Ziggy Hood making strides to become a full started in a couple year's time, and even a couple of games without Troy were not as bad as we could have thought, Ryan Mundy did a good job filling in (especially in the Jets game).
Now, it doesn't look as if we will get Smith back (NFL.com is reporting that the soonest he could come back is the Super Bowl), but with Polamalu rested, as well as other players having time to heal, I feel pretty good about this team.
Now, the Ravens come to town. I'm not going to offer any unorthodox thoughts, I too think it will be a defensive battle, and the D which forces most turnovers will likely win the game.
I think that the reason the Steelers' defense will prevail actually lies in the Ravens' offense. While many think that the Ravens' O is multidimensional, I believe that it simply lacks an identity. Baltimore hasn't run consistently this year, and its passing game was on and off. This isn't to say that Flacco and Co. aren't dangerous. I am very impressed how he works the middle of the field with Heap and WRs, with Rice being the safety valve of sorts.
This puts extra pressure on one particular group of our defenders which happens to be out strongest link - the linebackers. In additionn to pressuring Flacco to prevent long and intermediate plays, they will have to be excellent in coverage and tackling. I've seen enough this year to say that they are very much capable of doing so. If the D-line has enough push to disrupt the pocket, with Harrison coming off the edge where Oher has been horrible over the past couple of weeks, that seems the key to our success.
Regarding the offense, I am pretty certain that Ben's performance will be key - either in leading his trademark long drives late in the game, or in consistently converting third downs. I am afraid Ben will have to win is DESPITE Bruce Arians' play-calling. It will be tough (but not impossible) not to abandond the run and avoid many third-and-longs. Oh well.
Finally, I don't think that emotions will play a role in determining the outcome. Both teams will be fired up (they are already, with Suggs doing a little Jets thingy with his t-shirt), but the emotions are always channelled to the playing field and making plays. Let's just hope that after all the plays are made, the Steelers are at least one point up on the scoreboard!