January 15, 2009
By Donald Starver
The time is finally here. It’s the AFC Championship game, and appropriately, the two roughest, toughest, meanest teams in the NFL are going to square off for the right to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. The NFL’s #1 defense (the Pittsburgh Steelers) will battle the NFL’s #2 ranked defense (the Baltimore Ravens). Perhaps the old saying really is true; “defense wins championships”.
On Sunday at 6:30PM ET, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens will square off at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. This will be the two teams’ third meeting this season.
There will be no surprises in this game. The Steelers and Ravens are long-time rivals in the AFC North. They know one another very well. And they don’t like each other.
This will not be a game of finesse. You won’t see any West Coast offense here. Nope, what you’re going to see is pure, unadulterated smash-mouth football. You’re going to see football the way it was meant to be played. The way Dick Butkus played it. The way Ray Nitschke played it. The way Jack Lambert played it. The way Ray Lewis and Ed Reed play it. The way James Harrison and Troy Polamalu play it.
This will be a battle of pure testosterone. Only real men need step onto the field. Reggie Bush couldn’t play in this game. Matt Leinart either. Braylon Edwards would wet his pants. Nope, the soft need not apply. No sissies allowed.
Both teams expect to lose players to injury during this game. That’s just what happens when these two teams play. Both teams walk onto the field, but they usually limp or even crawl off of it. So the crew at Heinz Field had better have lots of crutches and bandages available. Order a few extra stretchers, and have the paramedics standing by. You’re going to need them.
Here is a little video clip of captures the intensity of the game. At first we thought these were scenes from a Steelers-Ravens game, but then we noticed that the players were wearing boxing gloves.
I know they were wearing boxing gloves, but are you SURE that wasn’t a Steelers-Ravens game? It sure looked like one to me.
On offense, both teams are going to try to run the ball and impose their will on their opponent. Both will use the run to set up the play action pass. And most importantly, both teams know that they must keep turnovers to a minimum. This is not going to be a high scoring game, and the team that turns over the ball most will likely lose.
On defense, both teams will try to stop the run. At all cost. Afterall, neither of these teams has allowed a hundred yard rusher since….. well, too long for anybody to remember. The Steelers’ defense gives up only 237 yards per game. Total. Doesn’t Drew Brees pass for that many yards in a quarter? The Ravens are right behind them, yielding only 261 yards per game.
Last week against the San Diego Chargers, the Steelers defense gave up 15 yards rushing. No, not 15 yards in the first 3 minutes of the game. That would be pretty normal for most teams. Nope, the Steelers gave up 15 rushing yards in the ENTIRE GAME. That’s what I call defense. The most impressive part is that it was Darren Sproles that they contained. You know, the same guy who had torched the Indianapolis Colts’ defense for 328 all-purpose yards just one week earlier.
Suffice it to say that nobody on the Ravens or Steelers is going to be running for 328 yards, all-purpose or otherwise. 28 maybe, but not 328.
The Steelers come into the game with a slight advantage, but only slight. The steelers advantage comes in the form of what I call the “3 H’s”.
The first “H” is “history”. These teams have already faced one another twice this season, and the Steelers have won each time. That is a decided advantage. The Steelers know that they can beat this team. The Ravens on the other hand………. There are some who have used twisted logic to imply that having lost twice is actually an advantage for the Ravens. They say that it is very difficult for a team to beat another team three times during the same season. Therefore, the odds are in the Ravens’ favor. Huh??!! That’s some pretty convoluted reasoning. Under closer scrutiny, it just doesn’t hold water. I debunk that myth here.
The second “H” that is working in the Steelers’ favor is “health”. The Ravens are banged up. Really banged up. They are coming off a brutal battle against the Tennessee Titans last week. The Ravens won on the scoreboard, but they took a beating physically. Terrell Suggs hurt his shoulder, and is questionable for Sunday’s game. Samari Rolle is also hurt, but he is likely to play. Other Ravens nursing injuries include Ed Reed, Fabian Washington, Todd Heap, Le’Ron McClain, Willie Anderson, and Derrick Mason. They’ll all take the field on Sunday, but they won’t be at 100%.
To make matters even worse, the football gods played a cruel joke on the Ravens when the 2008 NFL schedule was formulated. The Ravens got their bye in week 2. That’s right, week 2. They really needed it then, after that brutal pre-season (in which the starters barely play) and one regular season game (yes, that’s sarcasm you hear). Since then, the Ravens have played for 17 straight weeks with no rest. That’s not good for any team’s health.
The third “H” is “home field advantage”. The Steelers are playing at Heinz Field. One of the best home field advantages in the NFL. Not only will the Steelers have Steeler Nation behind them waving their Terrible Towels and rooting the home team to victory, but they’ll also have the added advantage of the Heinz Field turf. Heinz Field’s turf is notoriously bad. The NFL players voted it the worst playing surface in the NFL. Sure, the Steelers have recently had the turf replaced, and they say that the field is in great shape. But does anyone really believe them? “Great shape” is a relative term. It may be in great shape relative to the normal sloppy, cratered disaster area that the Steelers call a playing surface, but relative to any other field in the NFL, it would probably be found wanting.
Because of those 3 H’s, it’s hard for me to bet against the Steelers. Well, I’d never bet against the Steelers anyway, but if I weren’t so biased, then I still wouldn’t bet against the Steelers. The odds are in their favor, and it doesn’t take a biased homer like me to see that.
Because these two teams have faced one another twice, I’ve already done some pretty extensive analysis of the two teams and the key matchups in the game. Rather than recreate that, I’m going to ask that readers refer to those articles for additional information. We try to provide some of the most comprehensive pre- and post-game analysis available anywhere. Please take a look at them. I’ve provide links below:
We also wrote the following articles pertaining to the two Steelers-Ravens games earlier this season. There is very good information here as well for those who are less familiar with the Steelers-Ravens rivalry. It is good background information before watching Sunday’s game:
Steelers vs. Ravens: A tale of good versus evil (I highly recommend this one)
Purple dragon slain (Part 2 of the story above. Highly recommended.)
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