Sunday, December 14, 2008

Steelers- Ravens Preview

One of the NFL's best rivalries of the last decade gets its latest chapter written today, and no I'm not talking about that Seattle/ St. Louis clash of the titans. Of course, it's the Steelers/ Ravens, a game always filled with lots of trash talking, hard-hitting, defense, running plays, sacks, turnovers, and this year, bounties.

-Expect the spotlight to be on the one and only Hines Ward most of the day, as you know he'll be doing his best to level a bone-jarring block or draw a dumb penalty from whoever today's Jarrett Johnson is. And you also know that, as much as the Ravens may claim they aren't looking for a revenge shot on Hines, Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and whoever else would love nothing more than to knock him into next week.

-Lots of worries and concerns from all over Steeler Nation about the little divide that has emerged between Fast Willie and our beloved Head Coach Mike Tomlin. The thing I'm not sure Willie understands here is that, if the Steelers had a consistently productive back who could be counted on to move the ball late in games, I'm sure Tomlin and Bruce Arians would be falling all over themselves to use it a lot late in games. Unfortunately, our running backs have been nothing short of inept the past few weeks, and being that they are playing a team today that has almost always shut down the Steelers' backs in the past, I don't think we will see a heavy dose of the Parker/Moore/Russell trio. In a late season, frozen game like this one, with Parker still clearly not 100% against a very hungry and dangerous defense, this reeks of one of those games where Parker has about 25 yards on 14 carries midway through the third quarter. Anyway, I guess my point is this: someone needs to tell Willie that if he stepped up more consistently and played like he did for the better part of the last three seasons, be quite certain the Steelers would be feeding him the ball 20+ times a week.

-It's crazy that in all likelihood neither Troy Polamalu nor James Harrison will wind up with the Defensive Player of the Year, when really I think they should be finishing 1-2 in that voting. They will most likely take votes away from each other, because just when you think you've figured out which one is more important to the Steelers D, the other one goes and makes a game-changing play. For my money, even though I campaigned for Harrison for MVP earlier this year, Polamalu is the guy right now, though that could change if Harrison single-handedly destroys the Birdies like he did last season. Harrison may have more plays on the stat sheet and is a force of nature coming off that line of scrimmage, but Polamalu has been the best player in football the last several weeks, and continues to re-define the safety position as we know it.

-In case you weren't aware, this is a matchup of the top two defenses in football, which means this could be one of those games where first team to 14 wins or something like that.

-While Joe Flacco was certainly nothing special in their first meeting, I was impressed by his poise and think he definitely showed all the reasons why he was highly touted coming out of Delaware. I think he will develop into a nice QB down the line, and I will be very interested to see how he fares today with some game experience against this ferocious defense in a late-season, incredibly important ballgame. And of course, every time I see his name, I curse Walt Harris and the early Dave Wannstedt for allowing this kid to leave Pitt so they could instead start the great Tyler Palko and then suffer through last season, what would have been Flacco's senior season, with the sinfully bad Pat Bostick/ Kevan Smith/ Bill Stull trio of quarterbacks.

-As always against the Ravens when Ben Roethlisberger's involved, I expect to see them get to our beloved number 7 a decent amount, and I can pretty much guarantee he'll drive Steeler fans to scream at their TV at least 2 or 3 times: "Get rid of it Ben!" as he scrambles around with 4 Ravens chasing him down before heaving one downfield to a covered receiver. But hey, if you are expecting him to change at this point in his career after all his successes, then you clearly aren't familiar with the man.

-Harrison, Polamalu, Woodley, Farrior, Reed, Lewis, Suggs, Scott. Some of the best defenders in football go toe-to-toe today, and though the offenses will certainly have something to say about this one, I think one of the two defenses ends up taking a turnover back for 6, and I'll be hoping it's the black-and-gold. My bet is Steelers 17 Ravens 13.

That wraps things up for me, I'll leave you with this:

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