The contenders began separating from the pretenders in Week 12. The Steelers beat a plucky Bills team, and the Ravens dominated Tampa Bay. With the game moved to prime time, this chapter of the Steelers/Ravens rivalry has all the same elements it usually does; division championship pretty much on the line, great defensive players doing battle, a few injuries for both teams and probably a lot more after the game.
While the Ravens can't boast the best QB in the AFC North, he does play remarkably well at home. Even with that, their stalwart front seven stud is playing other-worldly, and even siding with the Steelers' own dominant defender. PZB again sees a certain running back, and the "Us vs. The World" mentality was cranked up to 11 this past week.
It's Steelers/Ravens week...pass out the ammunition, there's gonna be a fight Sunday Night.
Opponent Web Sites/Forums
Baltimore is encouraging a "Purple Out" for the Sunday night game by passing out purple towels before kickoff. This is the latest in a long string of efforts to rip off the Terrible Towel.
Mike Preston of the Baltimore Sun accuses Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger of "playing the injury card" and "bringing drama" to Sunday night's game.
Bringing the drama on Baltimore's end, DE Terrell Suggs (more on him in a minute) points out the league has its "favorites," and goes as far as to say James Harrison clearly isn't one of them.
Speaking of Suggs, he's the AFC's Defensive Player of the Month.
Here's a little-known but well-understood rule. Any game in which the team's kicker is the MVP, the fan base is likely upset with its team's offensive performance.
K Shaun Suisham drilled four field goals in Pittsburgh's 19-16 overtime win over host Buffalo. Steelers spotlight player Mike Wallace had three catches for 33 yards. Bills spotlight player Stevie Johnson dropped five passes, including what would have been the game-winner in the end zone during overtime. Both were in the spotlight, but for the wrong reasons.
Those things happen against teams like Buffalo. As Steelers coach Mike Tomlin would say, Pittsburgh gave them a blade of grass, and they advanced on it aggressively.
Aggressive wasn't the word to use to describe the Steelers offense, which gave Buffalo a 30 percent increase in their sack total for the year. Muddled is a good word. Or convoluted. Or constipated. A team that held a first-half time of possession advantage of 24-6 got completely dominated at the point of attack in the second half, blowing a 13 point lead. Much of that is placed on the offense. RT Flozell Adams appeared to believe the game was a half-speed walkthrough in preparation for the real game. Chris Kemoeatu helped little known DT Kyle Williams vault himself into New Contract Status. Moving Trai Essex into a tight end position helped on the first few drives of the game, then the team resorted to a 3-WR set for much of the rest of it (muddled).
What are we trying to accomplish on offense (convoluted)? The Steelers certainly ran the ball (Isaac Redman was excellent in short yardage, more on him in a minute), but it was another game in which the team needed two first downs late in the fourth quarter to seal it (constipated), and failed to do so.
Baltimore was the last team who forced a late punt, putting its offense on the field to win it for them. The Steelers travel back there for an AFC North showdown that will essentially decide the division championship.
Hopefully the offensive line makes the trip.
Us Against The World
How utterly ridiculous is it that James Harrison makes a football act and gets fined $75,000, and Richard Seymour, despite whatever happened to provoke him, slugs a player on national TV in full view of the cameras and knocks him to the ground -- and gets fined $25,000. Weak. Very weak.
This week, it's WR Hines Ward leading the charge of Us vs. The World. Of course, that comes off the steam of Harrison's latest and equally ridiculous $25,000 fine. In a classic Eff You manner, Ward, among other things, calls the NFL "a bunch of hypocrites" for their half-assed approach to enforcing player safety, one Harrison fine at a time.
As you saw earlier, even Steelers adversary Terrell Suggs thinks the league is targeting Harrison. The official in the Bills game clearly was, he was throwing the flag before Harrison even touched Fitzpatrick, meaning, they can rule out "slamming the QB to the ground" as part of the penalty and fine, because clearly his mind was made up.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin does the right thing, publically supporting his player, and trying to bring the amount of money he's being docked into perspective.
Even if that perspectiveis being scoffed at by PFT's Mike Florio and that dweeb off to his left.
Opponent Spotlight: DE Terrell Suggs
T-Sizzle. Revered and hated Ravens DE/OLB. He could go by several two-word or sentence fragment descriptions, none of which fully explain the value he has on the Ravens defense.
In fact, PZB would possibly even make the argument they're a .500 team without him. This is not the same Ravens defense that used to smother its opponents week in and week out. Suggs seems to be the only legacy of that; while LB Ray Lewis isn't the same sideline to sideline, and DT Haloti Ngata doesn't have the same passion.
Suggs is the rare combo lineman/linebacker who supports the run as well as he rushes the passer, and he will be a key indicator of the level of success the struggling Steelers offense has. With a beat-up offensive line, they're going to have to get creative and downright nasty to stop him.
Keep in mind, this is the same dude who put Roethlisberger on his back twice in 2008 while playing with a separated shoulder. And that was against Max Starks, the Steelers best pass blocker that year.
Jonathan Scott, as well as whatever help he'll get from Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, David Johnson and Rashard Mendenhall (maybe all at once), must slow him down, being wary of the fact their quarterback has a bum foot, and mobility will be a factor. The crowd noise at M&T Bank Stadium will disrupt audibles, so when things begin to break down, all hands on deck must go to slowing Suggs down.
If the Steelers want to keep in the thick of the AFC 2-seed race, they will have to limit Suggs' time spent in the backfield.
Steelers Spotlight: QB Ben Roethlisberger
If there's a Ravens killer on the roster, it's Roethlisberger. He carries a 7-2 career record against Baltimore, including wins in his last five starting efforts.
Since 2007, the Ravens and Steelers have squared off eight times. Pittsburgh is 5-0 when Roethlisberger starts, and 0-3 when he does not (Charlie Batch in a useless Week 17 games in 2007, Dennis Dixon in a road loss in overtime in 2009, and Batch again in Week 4 this year).
In that time, he's thrown eight touchdown passes to two INTs, mostly off the speed of arguably the best game of his career, a 13-for-16, 209 yard effort on Monday Night in 2007, where he threw five touchdowns as the Steelers blew the doors of Baltimore at Heinz Field.
The odds of Roethlisberger having that kind of a statistical game are unlikely, but Baltimore has seen it happen, and their defensive game-plan will have to be a bit more than it was against Batch earlier this season.
Steelers/Ravens games come down to which team can make more big plays - whether that's an interception, a forced fumble or just a big special teams return. Roethlisberger has, in two weeks, made two huge runs at critical times to lead the Steelers. He scored from 16 yards out to help the Steelers get out to a 14-3 lead over the Raiders in Week 11. It was a critical touchdown, because it put a running team, the Raiders, down two touchdowns early, forcing them to abandon their game plan.
Against Buffalo, on 3rd-and-18, Roethlisberger escaped to his right and dove head first for a first down. Plays like that are defining Roethlisberger this season, and are typically the kinds of plays made by the winning team in this knock-down-drag-out rivalry.
While the Steelers have to be hoping he's playing possum with a sprained foot absorbed during one of Buffalo's five sacks in Week 12, a lack of mobility may affect the outcome of this game. With Pittsburgh coming off one of the worst performances by its offensive line this season, and Baltimore's pass rush starting to pick up steam, eyes will be on Roethlisberger to maintain control of the offense, and lead the team in an emotional game that is, essentially, for the division title.
I See You
I see you, Isaac Redman. This isn't the first time, either. Back in Week 4, you stepped up to the Ravens pass rush, stonewalling, amongst others, the legendary (just ask him) Ray Lewis. This time, it was your hard-nosed rushes, converting four third-downs on four tries on the road against Buffalo.
That may not be the greatest competition in the world, but retrospectively, Pittsburgh likely would have lost that game in regulation if you were unable to get those extra two and three yards when your number was called. It wasn't warm in Orchard Park, and working on four carries a game won't help keep you loose, but you came in as if the conditions were perfect.
- Steelers K Shaun Suisham was 4-for-4 in Week 12, with all four field goals coming from 40-49 yards
- Former Steelers K Jeff Reed was 0-for-4 from that range this year
- RB Rashard Mendenhall's 36 carries is a career high
- Pittsburgh has been called for 24 penalties in the last two games (2-0)
- Flacco hasn't thrown an interception in his last eight home games
Innegan: Titans CB Cortland Finnegan will now simply be known as "Innegan," because Texans WR Andre Johnson beat the F out of him. In what's typical for fights among non-professional fighter athletes, wide-swinging haymakers came from one of the participants, while the other just kind of sat there. Most people will give Johnson the fight, mostly because it appeared Innegan's main goal was to remove Johnson's helmet, and when he did that, he gave up. Johnson's tremendous reach advantage was too much for Innegan, but ultimately, it will result in a fine for both players, but no suspensions, because there was neither a quarterback nor James Harrison involved.
If The Playoffs Began Today: In the AFC, it would be 1. Jets (head-to-head advantage over Patriots), 2. Ravens (head-to-head advantage over Steelers), 3. Chiefs, 4. Jaguars (head-to-head advantage over Colts), 5. Patriots, 6. Steelers. First round: Steelers at Chiefs and Patriots at Jaguars.