5 Things We Learned from the Steelers and Ravens Week 1 Game
Every time the Steelers and Ravens meet it is a hard-hitting, brutal slobber-knocker! This is arguably the most heated rivalry in the NFL. Several players from both teams have flat out stated they hate the other team.
That being said, this game was atrocious for the Steelers. Turnover after turnover after turnover. Every time the Steelers seemed to be shifting the momentum their way Ben threw a pick or someone got stripped of the ball. The Steelers defense seemed to have no answer for Ray Rice. It's too early to start pushing the panic button in Pittsburgh, but the Steelers have a lot of work to do in the next week. Mike Tomlin is likely as furious at his team as they are with themselves. Expect their Week 9 rematch to be a monster hitting blood bath!
On the flip side of that coin, the Ravens have to be extremely excited. They got off to a quick start against a team that has seemed to have their number for the last several years. I wouldn't turn around and crown the Ravens as AFC North champions after Week 1, but that was a walloping. There are several things to be taken from this game.
Pittsburgh's Offensive Line Needs a Lot of Work
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The Ravens front seven dominated the Steelers offensive line all day. Even Maurkice Pouncey looked overwhelmed at times. Jonathan Scott could not hold the edge well and Willie Colon, as per usual, was a walking, talking false start and a liability. Pittsburgh just paid him a boatload of money and the only thing he was doing even close to efficiently was run blocking. Even that was mediocre at best.
The surprising thing was how much pressure the interior of the line was giving up, but I guess it shouldn't be surprising considering Haloti Ngata was lined up in the middle most of the day.
Most analysts and announcers suspected the offensive line would be an issue but I'm not sure anyone thought it would be that bad. Not all of the Steelers offensive woes can be attributed to the O-line, as Big Ben made a number of bad throws and decisions. However, this will continue to be an area of concern as the season goes on.
The Ravens Offensive Line Looks Really Good
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Count me as one of the people that assumed Baltimore would suffer similar offensive line problems as they did last year. I was surprised at how well that group played together considering how late in the summer Bryant McKinnie got in to camp.
One of the best moves the Ravens made was getting McKinnie in at left tackle and switching Michael Oher back to the right side. Despite the movie "The Blind Side" being about Oher, he was not nearly as effective as a left tackle as he was on the right. His move back to the right also allowed Marshall Yanda to kick in to right guard where he played extremely well.
It was amazing to see how seemingly easy it was for Baltimore's offensive line to neutralize James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. McKinnie looks like he could easily be returning to Pro Bowl form. Expect great things out of this unit as they become even more cohesive as the season continues.
The Ravens Defense Looks Much Improved
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The Ravens defense is always good, but under previous coordinator Greg Mattison they did not look as aggressive last year as they did today. New coordinator Chuck Pagano looks like he has brought new life to this group.
Ray Lewis looked about 25 years old again as he was flying into the backfield constantly. Haloti Ngata was simply dominating in the middle of the line. The Steelers had zero answers for him. Even after losing Jimmy Smith in the first couple minutes of the game, the secondary looked much improved from last year. Ed Reed looks like his usual ball-hawk self.
Don't be surprised to see Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata in the running for Defensive Player of the Year. This defense will finish in the top five.
The Ravens Run Game Is Scary
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It seemed like prior to this game the Ravens run game was going to suffer a drop off. They let running back Willis McGahee and Pro Bowl fullback Leron McClain walk in free agency and brought in Vonta Leach and 34-year-old Ricky Williams.
Vonta Leach is an absolute hammerhead that blew up big holes for Ray Rice to run through. Ray Rice got it done big time and looked better than he ever has. He was catching everything coming his way out of the backfield and Pittsburgh's vaunted defense was having an awful time trying to tackle him. Even Ricky Williams was looking good after a 26-yard run; he absolutely tore a hole in the middle of the Steelers defense.
Ray Rice looks like an early Pro Bowl favorite and looks to put up Madden-type numbers this year. This running game is going to rip apart a lot of defenses.
Pittsburgh's Pass Defense Is in Trouble
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Usually, even though the Steelers secondary gets shredded by good quarterbacks, their front seven puts serious pressure on said quarterback to make up for it in the pass defense. However, this game the Steelers linebackers and defensive line rarely got to Joe Flacco and there was an enormous amount of pressure on the secondary.
Ike Taylor had decent coverage most of the game but no one could cover tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta. Dickson and Pitta looked scarily like the Patriots Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, which does not bode well for the Steelers Week 8 matchup with the Pats.
Pittsburgh has to get this situation figured out quickly. Luckily a quarterback like Tarvaris Jackson, who they face next week, should make things a lot easier and help them get their confidence back.