Ravens vs. Steelers: Why Does NFL's Fiercest Rivalry Lack Buzz?

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Ravens vs. Steelers: Why Does NFL's Fiercest Rivalry Lack Buzz?
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The NFL’s fiercest rivalry will be renewed Sunday night when the Baltimore Ravens take on the Pittsburgh Steelers as the two battle for control of the AFC North—does it get any better than this?

Not according to the head coaches from both football teams.

After sweeping the Steelers last season, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh is once again emphasizing the importance of this game (via CSN Baltimore).

"It’s the best week of the year. It’s where we feel our most comfortable. … That’s a defining-type of a rivalry. It means so much to both teams. We like being in this week. We love playing these guys. We love the preparation for these guys."

Mike Tomlin is equally as excited as he prepares his team for what figures to be one of their toughest games of the season (via Steelers.com).

 “It’s Ravens’ week for us,” said Tomlin. “This is going to be an awesome game. It always is. They are a talented bunch as they are perennially. They are a very good football team.”

But what has traditionally been a hard-nosed, physical matchup does not have the same intensity that it has in previous years.

Why is that?

 

Road Woes

Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images
Joe Flacco has struggled on the road this season.

The Ravens and Steelers have been two of the best teams at home in recent years, including going a combined 9-0 at home this season.

However, as good as each team has been at home, they have both struggled on the road combining for a 4-5 road record.

This clearly gives the edge to the Steelers this week, but why have the Ravens been so bad on the road?

Baltimore’s road woes can be placed squarely on the shoulders of Joe Flacco.

Flacco’s home-road splits this season have been staggering.

Flacco has completed an impressive 66.5 percent of his passes for 1,612 yards, 10 touchdowns and only three interceptions.

Over 41 percent of his passes have gone for first downs and he has been able to go deep with 29 passes of 20 yards or more while being sacked only eight times.

The road is an entirely different story. To say Flacco’s numbers on the road are terrible would be an understatement.

In four road games, Flacco has completed only 52.2 percent of his passes for 787 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions.

His first down percentage falls to 23.5 percent and he only has nine completions of 20 yards or more. He has also been sacked 11 times.

Flacco’s home quarterback rating is 108.3 while he is only at 62.7 on the road.

After struggling early in his career against the Steelers, Flacco turned it around last season when he swept them for the first time in his career, but unless he changes his performance on the road, the Ravens will have trouble leaving with a win.

 

Defense Anyone?

Nick Laham/Getty Images
James Harrison and the Steelers defense have struggled to get to the quarterback this year.

Words typically used to describe the Steelers-Ravens rivalry are “physical,” “hard-hitting,” “not for the faint of heart,” but not this year.

These aren’t the Steelers and Ravens of old. Neither team is playing dominating defense like they used to.

On paper, the Steelers have a very good defense ranking at the top of the league in yards allowed. Part of the reason they have been so good is the pass defense, which is statistically the best in the league while the rush defense still highly rated at 6th in the league.

Even the scoring defense has been one of the best in the league, ranking 7th in points allowed (19.7). But the lack of turnovers has prevented the defense from being dominant.

Meanwhile, the Ravens have been surprising bad one defense, ranking 27th in the league as they allow 390.2 yards per game.

The pass defense is 26th as is the rush defense, but they are significantly better in points allowed, ranking 12th in the league (21.8).

Neither team has done much rushing the passer either, as they are tied for 22nd in the league. Baltimore has forced 18 turnovers to only nine by Pittsburgh.

Besides the statistics, neither team is as physical as we had become accustomed to. No longer do we see as many big hits on a weekly basis that we used to and that is unlikely to change on Sunday.

 

Missing Stars

Hines Ward's physical play will be missing on Sunday night.

How is the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts rivalry now that Peyton Manning is in Denver? If you’re unsure, it isn’t much of a rivalry anymore.

That isn’t the case of the Steelers and Ravens, considering they are division foes. However, there are a lot of players missing who made this rivalry something special over the years.

Ravens’ linebacker Terrell Suggs recognized this, but realizes that is still a rivalry game (via BaltimoreRavens.com)

"It’s going to suck not seeing the tradition of players that have played in this game. Both sides are going to be missing pieces that makes this rivalry everything that it is. It’s going to be different but the game must go on, the show must go on."

For the first time ever, Hines Ward and Ray Lewis will both miss this game and that alone takes a lot of buzz from the game.

Ward—who retired this offseason—was known for his bone crushing hits on a number of the Ravens players, including Ed Reed in which he immediately signaled for a trainer to come over.

Meanwhile, Lewis—the leader of the Ravens—is out for the season has made quite a mark over the years. One of his biggest hits came when he broke Rashard Mendenhall’s shoulder.

But it is just more than these two players. Pittsburgh is also without Troy Polamalu and Ben Roethlisberger.

Both Polamalu and Roethlisberger have made game-changing plays against the Ravens over the years such as when he intercepted Flacco to seal a trip to Super Bowl 43 or to set up a game-winning score on a forced fumble by Flacco.

One of the defining moments of the rivalry is when Roethlisberger had his nose broken by Haloti Ngata.

But while many of the faces that made this rivalry famous won’t be playing Sunday night, it will still be an intense game and one more than worth the price of admission according to Tomlin (via BaltimoreRavens.com).

"The names and faces inside the helmets are going to change; that’s the nature of professional football. But, the spirit within the men, the history of this game and the fact that both teams remain competitive will always make this rivalry what it is."

The show must go on and while it will be without some of its famous pieces, it is still Steelers-Ravens Sunday night and it is one of the best rivalries in all of football.

 

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