In Baltimore it’s “Steelers Week” and in Pittsburgh it’s the opening week of the season—two very different perspectives from the top two teams in the AFC North.
That does not mean it isn’t an important game for the Steelers, it's just not a make-or-break game for them. Although, they really want to win.
“It’s a divisional game, any time we play a divisional opponent it means a little more for all of us,” Ben Roethlisberger said. “It’s the first game of the year, it doesn’t matter who we are playing, we are going to get up and excited for it.”
“If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. We consider them one of the best.”
One of? I think Roethlisberger is right. For the Ravens to be the best, they must beat the Steelers.
Pittsburgh has won the AFC North five times in its nine-year existence, including three of the past four. Baltimore has only won the division twice.
But according to Larry Foote, history does not matter.
“You get these two teams together, it doesn’t matter. It’s going to be fireworks,” said Foote. “When these two teams match up, records are thrown out the window.”
They’re thrown out the window for good reason. The Steelers-Ravens game almost always provides fans with a brutal matchup between two of the most physical teams in the league.
For the Steelers, it will be business as usual. The only “new” starter in the lineup is Doug Legursky at right guard.
Meanwhile, the Ravens welcome a number of new faces with the departure of veterans such as Todd Heap, Derrick Mason, Willis McGahee and Kelly Gregg.
The sudden turnover of part of the roster, as well as issues with the offensive line and defensive backfield, give the Steelers the edge in the Week 1 match.
Pittsburgh’s attacking defense should be able to exploit the Ravens offensive line, which may be in worse shape than the Steelers'.
Recently-signed Bryant McKinnie will start at left tackle and he is not in top physical condition. This move will shift Michael Oher to right tackle.
Even an unhealthy James Harrison has the potential to have a field day against the slow-footed McKinnie.
Much of Baltimore’s hopes with the cornerbacks hinge on rookie Jimmy Smith.
He will not be enough; the Steelers will be able to send out Mike Wallace, Hines Ward, Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown and Jericho Cotchery.
Quite simply, two of the Steelers’ strengths will create huge mismatches against two of the Ravens’ biggest weaknesses.
Maybe this game won’t be such a smash-mouth game.
Roethlisberger and the Steelers are perfectly equipped to spread out the Ravens defense and attack them through the air.
As history shows, Joe Flacco has not been able to defeat a Roethlisberger-led Steelers team and Baltimore does not want to get into a shootout.
Then again, we have to revisit Foote’s quote: “When these two teams match up, records are thrown out the window.”
The bottom line is that the Steelers need to win to gain the early edge in the AFC North.
Mike Tomlin summed this up perfectly.
“The root of the matter is, we have two very good football teams with the same intentions, and that is to dominate the AFC North and put themselves in positions to chase the Lombardi,” Tomlin said. “That is why we will always have issues with these guys because I expect that their goals will be unchanging like ours. So two trains are on the track. See you Sunday.”
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