David Steele wrote a column today saying that the Ravens may have finally lost their underdog status, the status that has defined this team for its entire existence. But less than 24 hours after learning that the Ravens division rival Pittsburgh Steelers will be the foe in the AFC Championship, I have yet to see the tide change much for the Ravens in the national media—or at least with ESPN.
In John Clayton’s early analysis of the matchup, the focus is almost entirely on the Steelers. His questions are fair; the answers are loaded. According to Clayton, the Steelers have more to prove, the Steelers have the difference maker in Willie Parker, the Steelers have the edge in the series—and we’re not just talking records—and his bottom line: You have to put your money on the Steelers.
In his early analysis, ESPN’s AFC North blogger James Walker is heavy on Steelers talk as well. Walker has done a fabulous job all season and it’s nice of both teams to repay him with such success in the postseason. But still, the talk is leaning slightly to the Steelers.
But perhaps most disrespectful to the Ravens has to be the analysis in last night’s SportsCenter Special Report with analysts Merril Hoge and Cris Carter. Cris Carter who has gone a pathetic 1-7 in his postseason picks so far this year (his only correct pick was the Steelers last night).
Steele might be right. The tide might be turning for the Ravens. But the early analysis is all Steelers and its getting to be frustrating. I don’t want or need or expect the Ravens to be favored. I don’t even want the experts to be picking the Ravens: I like my inferiority complex just the size it is.
But it would be nice if, based on their comments, we could walk away with at least the notion that some of these guys have watched the Ravens play more than once.
Let me poke a few holes while I have the chance.
From John Clayton: Willie Parker will be the difference maker.
Willie Parker looked great last night—against the Chargers. Those Chargers of the league’s 25th-ranked overall defense and 11th-ranked rush defense. Cris Carter adds that the Ravens struggled against Chris Johnson in Tennessee, so watch out for Willie Parker.
But Parker isn’t quite as fast as Johnson, and the Steelers line isn’t quite a nimble as the Titans.
If we really want to get into the nitty-gritty of it all, let me bring it up this way: In six career games against the Ravens, Parker has averaged just 43 yards a game. In his last four games against the Ravens, Parker has not even topped 43 yards a game.
In fact, his only games with more than 50 yards against the Ravens were both in 2005, when he was splitting carries with soon to be Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis.
Also from Clayton: The Steelers won’t be surprised by anything the Ravens do on Sunday.
These I hate. Are we supposed to expect that the Ravens will be surprised by anything the Steelers do, though? The teams are familiar with each other. Beyond familiar. How Clayton can so easily report that the Steelers are therefore at an advantage is beyond me.
If anything, I would say that the familiarity favors Joe Flacco more than anyone else. Even a Steelers linebacker, in Clayton’s article, is quoted as saying that Flacco gets better every game, every week.
And from Walker: Roethlisberger made the important plays in the early season match-ups, Flacco didn’t.
Perhaps Walker should review his own blog, or even Clayton’s article. Flacco, for all his early mistakes, engineered a beautiful drive against the Steelers in the first matchup to tie the game with just minutes remaining.
Remember that? It was eerily similar, in fact, to Big Ben’s drive against the Ravens in Week 15. Head-to-head, I’d say that Flacco and Ben have both had their drives.
Ben certainly has the edge in many ways in these match-ups, but to say that Flacco hasn’t been able to make the plays when they count is somewhat absurd. The whole Ravens offense failed five weeks ago, not just Flacco.
I won’t even bother with Cris Carter.