I’m already in my seat so keep your hands off my caramel corn!
The NFL’s fiercest rivalry gets back after it this Sunday night in Pittsburgh on a national stage as the 5-2 Baltimore Ravens visit the 6-2 Steelers. This has the feel of a playoff game because it is a playoff game…
If Baltimore has any chance of sweeping the season series and getting the upper hand in the AFC North, here’s what needs to happen.
Let’s face it: For Baltimore Ravens fans, Week 1 was as rewarding as any game in recent memory. After the lockout shortened preparation time for all NFL teams, the Ravens came out clicking and smacked the Steelers in the mouth, winning 35-7.
You’d better believe the Steelers remember.
The Ravens need to forget that game altogether. Pittsburgh’s righted the ship and is going for their seventh straight home victory Sunday night. If Baltimore thinks this is Week 1 continued, they’ll leave Pittsburgh like they left Tennessee and Jacksonville: with a loss.
When the Ravens travel to Heinz Field once (sometimes twice) a year, one thing’s for certain: Pittsburgh’s faithful can be counted on to go bananas! These are some of the league’s most rabid fans and you can almost feel the breeze from the Terrible Towels in your living room. If Baltimore wants to take the “loud” out of the crowd, they’ll need to execute early.
Just as rewarding as Week 1 was for Ravens fans, the Jacksonville game was equally as painful. The Baltimore offense wasn’t able to gain a first down until deep into the third quarter, ensuring defeat to the then-1-5 Jaguars.
This Sunday night the Ravens need to get off to a fast start to build Joe Flacco’s confidence and to take the crowd out of the game.
When the Ravens play their brand of football, Ray Rice is a big part of the game plan. Once again, two games this season tell the story of how the Ravens win or lose by forcing other teams to “eat their Rice.”
Against Pittsburgh, Rice had 19 carries for 107 yards and a TD, demoralizing a proud Steelers defense from the very first carry. Throw in his four receptions for 42 yards and another score and the story becomes clearer. Get Ray the ball and things work out.
On the other hand, two weeks ago in the Jacksonville loss, Rice and the Ravens struggled. He coughed it up once and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron stopped feeding him the ball with Rice finishing with 28 yards on just eight carries. Once you get away from Rice the pressure shifts to Flacco and we saw the results. Baltimore suffered its worst offensive showing of the season in a humiliating 12-7 loss on national television.
Get the ball to Ray Rice and Anquan Boldin and the “D” will do their thing. They usually do.
Baltimore’s defense came up big in the first game against Pittsburgh, forcing a franchise-record seven turnovers and sacking Ben Roethlisberger four times. Pittsburgh’s peaking at just the right time, coming off a 25-17 victory over New England for their fifth straight win. Big Ben’s got an impressive stable of receivers and how they match up with Baltimore’s secondary will be key.
The oft-injured Hines Ward returns and he’s always tough on the Ravens, whether catching passes or de-cleating defenders with his downfield blocks. Add in speed-demon Mike Wallace and second-year breakout star Antonio “Young Money” Brown and you have one of the deepest receiving corps in the league.
The Ravens defensive backfield, led by the ageless Ed Reed, will be under fire Sunday night. Rookie CB Jimmy Smith has been injured much of the season and is learning on the fly. Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams will have to play near-perfect football if the Ravens hope to slow down Pittsburgh’s air show.
These two teams know each other so well and play each other so closely that it may be time to spice things up a bit offensively. All teams practice those special plays that rarely see the light of day. Sunday just might be the time for Baltimore to bust one out.
A well-timed flea-flicker or halfback option could prove to be the difference in a tight game. Over the years Pittsburgh’s shown they’re not afraid to get tricky.
The Ravens may need such a play to ensure victory over their reviled rival.