Baltimore Ravens: 10 Reasons Why They Finally Take Down Pittsburgh Steelers
While the Ravens have picked up their fair share of regular-season victories against the Steelers, they have largely played second fiddle to the Steelers when it comes to postseason success.
Two of the past three seasons, the Ravens have seen their season end at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Both times, the Steelers went on to play in the Super Bowl.
The Ravens appear to be a team on the verge of reaching new heights. With a franchise quarterback in Joe Flacco, and the same old brand of in-your-face defense, Baltimore could be a very dangerous team.
It is clear, however, that if the Ravens are to fulfill their Super Bowl aspirations, they will have to find a way to beat the Steelers.
Beating the Steelers is not an impossible task for the Ravens. It seems each time the two teams play, the game is not decided until the final drive.
Here are ten key off season developments that could be the key to the Baltimore Ravens finally surpassing the Pittsburgh Steelers for AFC supremacy.
10. The Harbaugh Family Rivalry Comes to the NFL
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Both have been very successful in their football coaching careers. John has a few years before Jim will be able to right the ship in San Francisco.
It would kill John if his brother, who has a reputation for engineering quick turnarounds, is able to lead a team to a Super Bowl before he does.
Unseating the Steelers would ensure that John remains the Harbaugh brother with the brightest NFL star for at least a few more seasons.
9. Distractions Piling Up in Pittsburgh
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With the exception being Ben Roethlisberger's off-field indiscretions, the Steelers have been a model franchise when it comes to player behavior off the field.
That all changed this offseason.
Whether it was Rashard Mendenhall questioning the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Hines Ward picking up a DUI, or James Harrison calling out the NFL commissioner and a handful of his teammates in a magazine interview, this was not a quiet offseason for the Steelers.
Whether this will have any affect on the team's ability to focus on the field or its team chemistry remains to be seen, but it is hard to believe there will not be at least a little trickle down affect from these problems.
The Ravens could capitalize on the turmoil in the Steel City.
8. Sergio Kindle Shows He Can Still Play
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Big 12 offensive coordinators may still be having nightmares about the havoc Sergio Kindle wreaked in their backfields during his time at Texas.
It was his performance with the Longhorns that prompted the Ravens to select Kindle in the second round of the 2010 draft. He seemed destined to be the perfect bookend to Terrell Suggs, rushing from the outside.
Then Kindle suffered a freak accident that resulted in a fractured skull. He missed the entire season and is still recovering.
Kindle played in the Ravens preseason game, and the results were promising.
With the exception of Suggs, the Ravens pass rush last year was nonexistent. Kindle's return could provide a spark. With a pass rusher to complement Suggs, Ben Roethlisberger may not find it so easy to make something out of nothing when the pocket starts collapsing.
7. Haloti Ngata Has Lost Weight
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Haloti Ngata has reported to camp nearly a full 20 pounds lighter. When playing at full strength, Ngata is one of the best run stuffers in the league.
Losing weight will not hurt his ability to clog holes. Rather, it will help him stay fresher as the season drags on. Ngata is also more adept at rushing the passer than most line cloggers who play defensive tackle. The increased quickness he picks up from playing 20 pounds lighter should help him get to the quarterback a few more times.
Ngata is one of the most important players on the Ravens defense, and anything he does to make himself better, like losing weight, will make the Ravens better. A lighter, quicker Haloti Ngata will give the Steelers offensive line fits.
6. Jimmy Smith Is the Real Deal at Corner
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Stopping the run has not been an issue for the Baltimore Ravens in their rivalry with the Steelers. The pass, on the other hand, is a different story.
Time and again, Ravens cornerbacks lost their man in coverage while Ben Roethlisberger scrambled around in the pocket buying time.
In the draft, the Ravens sought to fix this problem by drafting Jimmy Smith with the 27th pick. Smith is far more talented than his draft position would imply.
At Colorado, he was dogged by issues with drug use. With the Ravens, Smith finds himself in a perfect situation. He will be surrounded by older players who will help him deal with his issues and keep him in line.
Smith has the ability to be a lockdown corner in the NFL. The Ravens need him to be able to blanket his man, no matter how long the play goes on. All indications are that he will be able to do this.
With Smith providing lockdown coverage, Roethlisberger may not find it so easy to find receivers as he scrambles out of the pocket.
5. Ricky Williams Will Take Load off Ray Rice
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Yes, Ricky Williams is getting up there in age, but the Ravens do not need him to be an every-down running back.
What the Ravens need is a back who can take the load off Ray Rice. Willis McGahee is gone, but last season made it clear that he had lost a step.
Meanwhile, Rice continued racking up touches at an alarming pace. In addition to his 307 carries, he also had 63 receptions.
It is important that Rice remain a part of the passing game. With Todd Heap and Derrick Mason gone, he may be Joe Flacco's favorite safety blanket.
This is where Williams comes in. If he is able to take even five carries a game from Rice and provide the same level of production, it would go a long way in keeping Rice fresh for the playoffs and key games with the Steelers.
When he is fresh, Rice is a dangerous weapon. He needs a reliable sidekick to keep him at his best when the games matter most: the playoffs.
Williams could be that sidekick.
4. Vonta Leach Will Open Huge Holes
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Vonta Leach has played 92 games in the NFL and has carried the football a grand total of three times. He is also one of the biggest keys to the Ravens beating the Steelers this season.
Le'Ron McClain was a very good fullback for the Ravens while he wore the purple and black, but he wanted to carry the ball more than a fullback should in the NFL of today.
The best fullbacks in the league today are the guys who take pride in blocking and relish their anonymity. Leach is exactly that kind of player.
He does not want to carry the ball. He wants to hit linebackers and pick up blitzes. This is what the Ravens need when they play the Steelers.
Ray Rice's diminutive status will allow him to glide through holes right behind the hulking Leach. In passing situations, Leach should be doing nothing but locating Troy Polamalu at the line of scrimmage and blowing up his blitz attempt.
A solid blocking presence is key in the smash-mouth football games the Steelers and Ravens play. Finally, Balitmore has found that presence with Vonta Leach.
3. Joe Flacco Finally Has a Deep Ball Partner
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For a quarterback with the arm strength of Joe Flacco, operating with the receivers the Ravens gave him last year may have felt a little bit like a Formula One driver being handed a Dodge Ram.
He could still drive it, and get good results, but the F1 driver yearned to show what he could really do behind the wheel of a sleek Ferrari.
Flacco finally got his Ferrari last week when the Ravens traded for Lee Evans.
The Ravens finally filled the one missing hole in their offensive attack by picking up a deep threat. Evans may not be as capable as Derrick Mason at running the underneath routes, but that is what Anquan Boldin is for.
Having too many possession receivers in their corps held back the Ravens passing attack last season. With Evans, they can finally attack the Steelers where they are weak. Like the Ravens, the Steelers are also struggle against the pass compared to their run stuffing ability.
Giving Flacco a deep threat, something Ben Roethlisberger has always had, could be the key to pushing him over the top and into the ranks of superstar quarterbacks. It could also be a key to scoring enough points to beat the Steelers.
2. Pittsburgh's Offensive Line Is in Shambles
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There is a chink in the mighty Steelers offensive armor. Their offensive line is simply not very good.
The Steelers offensive line of Jonathan Scott at left tackle, Chris Kemoetau at left guard, Maurkice Pouncey at center, Ramon Foster at right guard and Willie Colon at right tackle is a collection of players returning from injury or with very little experience.
For a team that prides itself on running the football, this unit does not measure up. The Ravens will not struggle to stop the run with the likes of the Steelers offensive line trying to block them.
Baltimore has put Ben Roethlisberger under constant pressure in the two teams' recent meetings. The pass protection will not improve this year. Big Ben is very good at making the most out of broken plays, but working with this bunch may be too much for even Roethlisberger to escape.
1. Ray Lewis Wants to Win Now
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Lewis does not want to miss his son's high school- and college football-playing days, and who could blame him. He has accomplished far more in his NFL career than almost any other linebacker in history.
If anyone could draw the fire and desire required to make a Super Bowl run out of their teammates, it would be Ray Lewis. Baltimore Ravens fans have grown accustomed to witnessing Lewis on the sidelines imploring his teammates to dig deep and make the required plays.
Lewis knows what he wants and knows whom he has to beat to get it: the Steelers. I, for one, would not bet against Lewis doing exactly what he says he wants to.