Behind The Steel Curtain has never fit in with the mainstream crowd. Other media outlets will take the injury to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as a death march to their season. Others will make lame jokes pushing the same agenda.
We fully admit there is plenty of concern with the possibility Roethlisberger may be on the shelf for any number of games, particularly with three divisional games on deck, including two against division-leading Baltimore.
We just don't think it's all over in Pittsburgh - even without the Steelers' team MVP.
Quarterbacks watch film, go over plays and mentally execute every playcall in his head hundreds of times in the days leading up to a game. When you have a set starter, particularly one who was playing at the level Roethlisberger was, he takes all the snaps in practice. The upside to that is you have a quarterback who should be thoroughly prepared to face his opponent. On the downside, you have back-ups who probably didn't take more than a spattering of reps during the week.
Leftwich likely got zero prep time in the Steelers' week of practice leading into their Week 10 game against Kansas City. If Roethlisberger won't play in Week 11 against Baltimore, Leftwich will have a full compliment of snaps to shake off some of the rust that appeared to cover him in the second half of the cold and blustery night at Heinz Field.
This isn't Tyler Palko playing at Pittsburgh last year. Leftwich has started 59 games in his career, and has been in the league since 2003. No one is casting their Hall of Fame ballot with his name on it, but, if nothing else, he knows how to prepare himself to start at quarterback.
In an era of statistical rule and misunderstanding, and an over-emphasis on Fantasy Football and The Next Big Thing, we fail to recognize how important experience is. It's Leftwich's biggest strength.
While the Steelers struggled against a tough, motivated and aggressive Chiefs rushing defense in their 16-13 (OT) win in Week 10, the Ravens have not proved they can consistently stop the run, especially on the road, where they've allowed an average of 160 rushing yards per game this year (129 at Philadelphia, 214 at Kansas City, 181 at Houston and 116 at Cleveland).
The Chiefs' run defense is stronger than Baltimore's, plain and simple. The Steelers struggled greatly to run the ball in the second half, largely due to the Chiefs' stacking the box after Roethlisberger's injury. With more time to get acclimated, Leftwich will be able to hit a few passes to keep the Ravens' safeties out of the box. That will open up the Steelers' power running game.
Element of Surprise
The Ravens have not had to prepare for Byron Leftwich the starter since 2005 - when Leftwich's Jaguars whipped Baltimore 30-3. A bit has changed since then. Leftwich hasn't started a game for the Steelers since he returned after a brieft stint in Tampa Bay in 2009. The Ravens don't have a solid idea of the kind of game plan the Steelers will employ with Leftwich under center. Advantage: offense.
When in doubt, lean on the defense. It came up with a big play against Kansas City (upon second watching, Matt Cassel's pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage, so it wasn't as poor a decision as most are making it out to be), and while the Chiefs - a very talented running team - ran on Pittsburgh, the Steelers only allowed 13 points and less than 300 total yards.
The Ravens put up fairly pedestrian numbers offensively against the Chiefs, much like the Chiefs did, but the Steelers have the advantage of having played against that strong running team the previous week. The Ravens thrashed a hapless Raiders team, which, while impressive, doesn't fit the "iron sharpens iron" mentality of the Steelers.