Baltimore Ravens: Does Roethlisberger's Injury Give the Ravens the Division?
Last night, during one of the most boring Monday Night Football matchups of the season, the Ravens and their fans were very much invested in the outcome. Although it seemed impossible, hope remained that the Kansas City Chiefs could pull off a Monday night miracle and beat the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Well, the Chiefs are who we thought they were—essentially a team that is dead-locked on contending for the No. 1 overall pick. They almost have an aversion to winning at this point, which was painfully on display with the Steelers' multiple attempts to give the game away.
Two touchdowns called back on careless penalties, a missed field goal and drives being kept alive because of penalties, yet the Chiefs were still unable to win.
Honestly, this game was a lot like the Ravens' game against the Chiefs a few weeks back. Both the Ravens and the Steelers deserved to lose, yet both teams found ways to grind out the win.
And though the Ravens didn't get the upset they were hoping for, they got an even more valuable gift.
This gift came courtesy of Justin Houston and Tamba Hali teaming up for a third-quarter sack on Ben Roethlisberger. The sack gave Roethlisberger a sprained shoulder that was so bad he had to leave the field before the game was done.
Now, word is spreading that Roethlisberger could be out (per ESPN.com) for multiple games. The injury to his throwing shoulder is supposedly a serious one that could take weeks to heal.
This is not an opportune time for the Steelers to lose their offensive leader. An odd scheduling quirk has Ravens-Steelers occurring twice in the next three weeks. With the Ravens only one game up on the Steelers, these two games should determine the division champion.
How will the Steelers do against the Ravens without Big Ben?
There is no denying that without Big Ben, the Steelers are a weaker team. Like him or hate him, Roethlisberger is one of the top quarterbacks in the AFC and he was playing at an MVP level prior to the injury.
Still, the Steelers have for many years had one of the best backup quarterback situations in the NFL. For years, it was the reliable Charlie Batch as the primary backup and he does a good job of playing efficient, mistake-free football.
Batch is still in Pittsburgh, but he is now the third string. The Steelers' playoff hopes now rest with Byron Leftwich, a journeyman quarterback who hasn't started a game since the 2009 season.
Leftwich has had NFL success, primarily during his first couple of seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He also stepped in for the Steelers four years ago to get a win against the Washington Redskins.
Let's also not forget that, as ugly as last night was, Leftwich still got the win.
When push comes to shove, though, Leftwich is no Roethlisberger. He has a slow release and, unlike Big Ben, he has difficulty getting away from sacks. He's also injury-prone himself and had a lowly completion rate of 50 percent last night.
This is the type of quarterback that past Ravens defenses would eagerly lick their chops over. Even with this season's struggling pass rush and a weak run defense, the Ravens should have success against a Leftwitch-led offense.
Especially with the Steelers going with a weak running-back-by-committee approach and having a porous offensive line.
The Ravens' main concern on defense should be the pass offense. Leftwitch has valuable weapons in Mike Wallace and Heath Miller, so he could potentially still exploit a weak Ravens secondary.
Let's also not forget that the Steelers defense is still very fierce. Even without the frequently injured Troy Polamalu, the defense ranks first in both passing and total defense. Not an ideal matchup for Joe Flacco and an offense that averages 17 points on the road.
The Steelers defense is a big reason why the team went 3-1 without Roethlisberger in the first four games of the 2010 season. It's also one of the reasons the Steelers are 9-5 without Big Ben since 2004.
The Steelers are still a very good team and a very dangerous team without Roethlisberger. I have my doubts about Leftwich, but if he limits mistakes, he can win them games. It also plays into his hand that the Ravens should have difficulty scoring points.
In crunch time, though, Leftwich will not be ready. The Ravens are 3-0 against the Steelers without Roethlisberger since 2007. All three of these games were won by six or fewer points and I expect more of the same this time.
A Ravens win here will put them up two on the Steelers. In Baltimore, with Leftwich starting, the Ravens should win comfortably and pull a season sweep.
It's a sad truth, but injuries can have major impacts on games. Unless Roethlisberger gets healthy, the Steelers are contenders for a wild-card spot at best. This injury makes the Ravens AFC North front-runners and takes away a lot of intrigue for the division race that could have been this season.
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