NFL is all about points
Defense is becoming less associated with winning in today's game. All teams have made offensive adjustments to the increasing amount of spread offensive variations, which is another way to say teams are putting four receivers on the field with one running back, and they're running successfully as well as throwing with a high rate of completions. Looking at these two teams, at least based on their Week 1 performances, the Steelers are clearly better equipped to play that style of game. That's a good thing for the Steelers, considering fans now entering middle school weren't alive the last time the Steelers had a running back rush for 100 yards. Baltimore is probably the stronger defensive team of the two, but stopping Pittsburgh's space-moving offense and its dynamic playmakers like Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell will be a tough test for any defense. It may just be too much for the Ravens.
I'm inclined to think the Ravens, a well-coached and disciplined team, will respond more positively than negatively to the release of Ray Rice and the subsequent media hailstorm surrounding it. Still, that kind of thing has to take some kind of toll. In a game where every inch counts, and on a short week, the lack of distraction seems critical. As well-prepared as this Ravens team is in nearly all of their games, this might be one they just didn't have enough time to wrap their hands around and redirect.
Lack of continuity
In the same vein and from a bigger-picture perspective, the Ravens have had three offensive coordinators in their last 24 games. Gary Kubiak's debut was marked with a substandard, 62-attempt performance from Joe Flacco. He threw for 365 yards, the same total as Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, who needed 32 throws to reach that spot. Week 1 is sloppy like that and things happen, but without a running game to bolster a general game plan which very likely will need to emphasize the run (a shortcoming of the Steelers), it just doesn't seem like the Ravens will be able to get on schedule in this regard on a short week.
No-Huddle vs. No-Huddle
It's very difficult and borderline pointless to run a no-huddle offense if a team is unable to run the ball. The damage Cleveland did to the Steelers on the ground was the result of their offensive line simply dominating the point of attack. One could argue Cleveland, player for player, has a stronger run-blocking offensive line than the Ravens do. That helped set up the Browns' success in their no-huddle offense. Baltimore can speed the game up, but without the horses to pull the ground-game cart, it won't have the same level of success. Plus, the no-huddle concept is grounded in creating fatigue. If the Steelers had been able to get one incompletion, enabling them to get a switch on their defensive line, things may have been different. Credit Cleveland with excellent work in that phase of the game. Can Baltimore have that kind of success? It's unclear this early in the season, but the Steelers are more dynamic and more capable of stringing together plays and wearing the Ravens down.
Lack of pressure
One of the odder Week 1 stats I saw is the goose egg next to "sacks" on the box score in Baltimore's 23-16 loss to Cincinnati. Are Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and Elvis Dumervil suddenly incapable of getting to the quarterback? No, it's simply that not even Lawrence Taylor in his prime could consistently get pressure on a quarterback who's dropping, setting and throwing in two seconds. The Steelers have been building their offense along the same lines as Cincinnati - quick passing to underneath receivers in the hope of not putting their quarterback in harm's way. Good decisions, quick releases and supplementing the running game with 4-6 yard passes. The Steelers can do that to a high degree, and this can help protect their struggling edge-protection from the beasts that are Suggs and Doom.
To buy tickets, visit the NFL Ticket Exchange.