In what has become one of the most anticipated and hardest fought rivalries in the NFL, the 6-2 Pittsburgh Steelers face the 5-2 Baltimore Ravens in the second matchup of the division rivals this weekend in the big Sunday night game.
And if anyone had any doubt about the level of animosity between these teams, Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs summed up his feelings pretty well, saying, “They already declared war on us. We’re taking 53 men to the apocalypse and we ain’t bringing flowers.”
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was a little more understated than Suggs, but had the same level of urgency. “We’re playing the Baltimore Ravens. It’s a significant game, we like being in significant games. It’s an awesome thing to be a part of,” Tomlin said. “It’s just NFL football.”
Over the years, this has traditionally been a very close rivalry with both teams sporting dominating defenses and strong running games. In fact, the last six regular reason meetings between these teams prior to this year were all decided by 4 points or less, with two games going to overtime.
The first meeting this year was very different, as the Ravens trounced the Steelers 35-7. Joe Flacco threw for 3 TDs, Ray Rice ran for 107 yards and 1 TD, and the Ravens D held the Steelers to 66 yards rushing, recorded 4 sacks and forced 4 fumbles. It looked as if the Ravens young offense had finally gelled and was firing on all cylinders, while the Steelers seemed to have slipped from last year’s Super Bowl runner up.
Since that game, the Steelers have gone 6-1, including a strong showing over the New England Patriots, finally beating Tom Brady who had a 6-1 record against the Steelers going into the game. And the Steelers head coach has been looking like Air Tomlin the last few weeks, as they have changed their “ground and pound” strategy and gone to the air much more often than in the past.
Roethlisberger has 2,306 yards passing and 14 passing TDs this year. The past two weeks, he has thrown for over 360 yards each week, along with 5 TDs. The Steelers have four receivers who have caught more than 25 balls and more than 250 yards, led by Mike Wallace who is averaging 100 yards per game. These aren’t the Old School Steelers anymore.
The Steelers defense hasn’t changed much, not that you’d want them to. They are first in the league at stopping the pass, giving up only 172 yards per game, and eighth stopping the run, giving up under 100 yards per game.
Ray Lewis and the Ravens defense also continue to be dominating, as they are third in the league in both rush and pass defense, giving up only 174 yards per game passing and less than 90 yards per game on the ground.
The Ravens offense still lives and dies by the running game, despite the weapons they have in the passing game, with Flacco having Anquan Bolden and Torrey Smith to throw to. In fact, in games where Ray Rice has at least 15 carries, the Ravens are 4-0 and averaging 32 points per game. In games where Rice has under 15 carries, the Ravens are 1-2 and averaging only 19 points per game. That’s a huge swing.
Ultimately, the two defenses are both dominating, and it will come down to Roethlisberger and the Steelers air attack against Ray Rice and the Ravens ground game. And in a game this close, you have to go with the revenge factor of the Steelers.
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