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Steelers vs. Ravens preview

December 02, 2010 By: Admin Category: Pre-Game Analyses

It’s that time again.  Time for the second installment of the semi-annual “Smashmouth Bowl”.

Twice a year (and sometimes 3 times per year) the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens get together for what is probably the most hard-hitting rivalry in the NFL.

These two teams are mirror images of one another (except the Ravens are loaded with criminals).  Both of them play tough, physical defense (although our defense is better than theirs), both like to set up the pass by running the ball (although our running game is better than theirs), both have talented young quarterbacks (although our quarterback is better than theirs), and both have passionate fans (although our fans are better than theirs).

Okay, perhaps Baltimore would be better described as a pale reflection of Pittsburgh, but you get my point.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure what to expect from this year’s “Smashmouth Bowl”.  The two teams met earlier in the year, and Baltimore managed to get a last second win.  But that was before the Steelers had Ben Roethlisberger back.  Big Ben ALWAYS beats the Ravens.  So this game should be very different from the first meeting.

More importantly, this will be the first time that the two teams have met since Roger Goodell instituted his new “kinder, gentler” rules.  The new rules seem to outlaw the very type of football that the Steelers and Ravens excel at.  Will this change the very nature of the war between these two teams?

Will the game still be the same if players aren’t leaving on stretchers?  Will it still be exciting if James Harrison can’t drive Joe Flacco into the ground?  Will it still be manly, even if Ray Lewis doesn’t get to break one of our players’ collarbone?  Will it still be the “Smashmouth Bowl” even if Hines Ward doesn’t get to knockout a Ravens defensive back (or two)?

Hopefully, the referees will understand the nature of this rivalry, and will not go overboard with the flags.  Frankly, I didn’t enjoy watching the flag-filled game against the Oakland Raiders.  I don’t want to see that many flags in this game.

The Raiders have already won the first game in this year’s series.  The Steelers will try very hard to not allow them to sweep the series.  We need this win to stay atop the AFC North.  In fact, a win on Sunday will put us in the drivers’ seat.

The Ravens have only swept the Steelers one time.  That was back in 2006.

The Steelers, on the other hand, have swept the series 4 times, and in 2008 we defeated the Ravens 3 times.  So history seems to be on our side.

The one factor that does make me nervous is the health of the offensive line.  The Ravens have some gigantic defensive linemen to throw at the Steelers.  If the offensive line is unhealthy, it could be a long day.

I predict a typical, physical Steelers/Ravens game.  But when the dust finally settles, I anticipate a Steelers win.  Big Ben just has the Raven’s number.  Remember, the Ravens’ last two wins over the Steelers came with Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch at the helm.  Big Ben changes the dynamic completely.

I predict a 24-13 Steelers win, and the Steelers taking sole possession of the AFC North lead.  Can I get an “Amen”?


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Steelers get ugly win over Ravens

December 28, 2009 By: Admin Category: Post-Game Reports

It wasn’t pretty, but a win is still a win.  That’s the way most of Steeler Nation must have been feeling after watching the Steelers defeat the Baltimore Ravens 23-20.

Following a 5-game losing streak, the Steelers have won two consecutive games to keep their playoff hopes alive.  Both wins have been narrow wins, but we’ll take wins of any type at this point.

Santonio Holmes runs for TD

There were quite a few positive aspect to the game.  Probably the most important is that the Steelers defense did not allow a single point during the fourth quarter.  When was the last time we were able to say that?

Not only did the defense not allow the Ravens to score in the fourth quarter, but they also made key defensive plays in the 4th quarter to stop the Ravens.  That has been one of the primary differences between the 2008 Steelers defense and the 2009 edition.  The 2008 unit made plays when the team needed them, while the 2009 unit doesn’t.  At least they didn’t until this game.

On the Ravens final possession of the game, the Ravens were driving when LaMarr Woodley sacked Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco on 2 consecutive plays.  On the second sack, Woodley also forced a fumble which was recovered by rookie Ziggy Hood.  That pretty much sealed the victory for the Steelers.

Other positives for the Steelers included Rashard Mendenhall surpassing 1,000 yards rushing for the season.  That is a first for Mendenhall.  Hopefully, it will be the first of many for the talented young rusher.

RB Rashard Mendenhall

Another milestone was Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger becoming the first Steelers quarterback to pass for over 4,000 yards.  As Big Ben is so fond of reminding us, the Steelers are now a pass-first team.  His new Steelers passing record just proves that point.

Despite the win and the many positive performances on the Steelers side of the ball, the game was not a total masterpiece.   The Steelers allowed the Ravens to rush for 175 yards.  Ray Rice accounted for 141 of those yards.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am really starting to hate that guy.

Besides the rushing yards allowed, the Steelers also got some lucky breaks due to penalties by the Ravens.  The Ravens had two touchdowns called back due to penalties.  They had a third touchdown dropped in the endzone by Derrick Mason, who is usually their most dependable receiver.

So just as the Steelers have often left games this season feeling that they beat themselves, the Ravens probably felt the same way.  But who cares how the Ravens feel?  This win keeps our playoff hopes alive, and so we’ll happily accept it.

Playoff picture:

The NFC playoff teams are set.  The only thing that has to be resolved is the playoff seeding.

In the AFC, on the other hand, things are as clear as mud.  Seven teams have a chance to win the two remaining wildcard playoff positions.  Five of the teams have an 8-7 record going into the last week of the season, and two teams have a 7-8 record.  Tie breakers are certain to be needed to determine which teams will ultimately make the playoffs.

The only thing that we know for certain is that the Steelers have to win their final game.  If they don’t do that, all other discussion becomes moot.


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Mike Tomlin’s comments on Ravens Game

December 28, 2009 By: Admin Category: Post-Game Reports

The Steelers kept their playoff hopes alive with their 23-20 win over the Baltimore Ravens.  Click the video below to hear head coach Mike Tomlin’s comments on the game.


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Steelers lose in Dixon’s debut

November 30, 2009 By: Admin Category: Post-Game Reports

The Steelers suffered their third consecutive loss last night, losing to the Baltimore Ravens 20-17.

Prior to the game, most of the comments that I received from Steelers fans expressed fear.  Most thought that with Dennis Dixon making his first NFL start, the Steelers had no hope of beating an opponent like the Baltimore Ravens.  In fact, I can’t ever remember seeing such a prevalant sense of hopelessness among Steeler Nation.

As it turns out, Dixon played much better than most expected.  He was almost flawless in the first half, going 8-10 for 87 yards, with one TD and no interceptions.  His passer rating at the end of the first half was 136.2.

Steelers QB Dennis Dixon

Steelers QB Dennis Dixon

In the second half, things didn’t go quite so well for Dixon.  The Ravens came out after half-time seemingly intent on flustering the young quarterback.  They started out with an array of blitzes that had Dixon rushing passes.  Then they transitioned into more of a zone defense that made it hard for Dixon to find open receivers.  Dixon ended up going 4-16 after the half.

But it wasn’t Dixon who was most responsible for the Steelers loss.  No, that distinction goes to the defense……and the coaches.

The vaunted Steelers defense seemed to completely forget how to tackle.  On multiple occasions, a Baltimore runner seemed ready to be tackled by a Steelers defender, only to see the defender completely miss the tackle.  William Gay, Ryan Clark, and James Farrior had some very noticeable missed tackles.

Another missed tackle

Another missed tackle

As the season progresses, I’m noticing that William Gay is emerging as the weak link on the Steelers defense.  Teams even seem to be targeting him now.  He’s not a sure tackler, and he is very vulnerable to double moves when in coverage.  Whenever the Steelers get beat for long pass plays, Gay and Ryan Clark always seem to be the defenders who are in the area.  Clark is the free safety, so I expect him to be in the area.  But Gay’s presence is a too common occurrence.

The Steelers’ special teams also turned in a poor performance.  But that has been a consistent theme this season, so it’s almost not worth mentioning.  Almost.

But the real culpability in the loss probably belongs to the Steelers’ coaches.  I don’t consider myself to be a mind reader, yet I was able to predict almost every play that offensive coordinator Bruce Arians called.  If I was able to predict his calls, I’m sure the Ravens were able to do so as well.

Run, run, pass.  Run, run, pass.  Sound familiar?

Despite Dennis Dixon’s mobility, they seldom utilized it.  When they did, he threw for a touchdown, ran for a touchdown, and had a 31 yard run called back due to holding.  So why didn’t they put him in motion more often?  I understand that that they may not have wanted to subject Dixon to too many hits, since his backup had just been signed to the practice squad last week.  Nevertheless, there are “safe” ways to put a quarterback in motion.

They also didn’t seem to be interested in involving Mewelde Moore in the passing game, despite the fact that dumping the ball to the running back is probably the best safety valve that they could have provided to a young quarterback.  But the Steelers dumped the ball to Moore a grand total of 0 times.  That’s right, zero.  In fact, they only threw to their running backs twice during the entire game.   Moreover, the team seemed to be more interested in throwing the long pass than in attempting safer short passes.

I am not one of those people who is constantly calling for offensive coordinator Bruce Arians to be fired.  But I was very disappointed in his play calling in this game.

So the Steelers have dug themselves even deeper in the hole when it comes to the playoffs.  They are not mathematically eliminated, but things get tougher with each loss.

Ordinarily, I’d take great solace in the fact that the Steelers next two opponents are the Oakland Raiders and the Cleveland Browns.  But the way the Steelers have played lately, I’m not sure those are guaranteed wins.  In fact, if the Kansas City Chiefs game is any indication, we might actually lose one of those games.

Hopefully, some of the injured players like Troy Polamalu and Big Ben will be available to play soon.  But even with them, something tells me that the remainder of the season is going to be an emotional roller coaster for Steelers fans.


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Challengers to the throne

July 12, 2009 By: Admin Category: Uncategorized

July 12, 2009
By Donald Starver

I was asked by Most Valuable Network (MVN) to write a 2009 season preview on the Steelers.  In this article, I made a statement that upset some Steelers fans.  I stated that I didn’t think that the Steelers were the best team in the NFL last season.

If you think back to the 2008 season, you’ll remember that the Steelers were soundly defeated by the Philadelphia Eagles.  Frankly, I wasn’t looking forward to facing them again.  Similarly, the Tennessee Titans manhandled the Steelers during the regular season.  Perhaps it is blasphemous for me to say this, but I breathed a sigh of relief when the Baltimore Ravens knocked the Titans out of the playoffs.  The New York Giants had also beaten the Steelers during the regular season.  Though that game was much more competitive than the Eagles or Titans games, I still think the Steelers and Giants were pretty evenly matched, and a rematch could have gone either way.  Lastly, who predicted that the Arizona Cardinals, the lowest seed in the NFC playoffs, would take out the top-seeded Carolina Panthers?  The Panthers were probably the hottest team in the NFL going into the playoffs.  One could have made an argument that any of these teams was actually better than the Steelers.

So were the Steelers the best team in the NFL in 2008?  There’s no way of knowing.  But the Steelers got it done when it counted, and that is all that anyone will ever remember.  Moreover, that’s all that counts.

Going into 2009, the Steelers appear to be just as good as they were in 2008, if not better.  The team returns almost all of the starters from their Super Bowl championship team. They are likely to  get a greater contribution from their 2008 rookie class (which made almost no impact last year).   They also had an excellent 2009 draft.  Combine that with a much easier schedule than they had in 2008, and the Steelers appear to be guaranteed to make another deep playoff run.

Unfortunately, the rest of the NFL isn’t just going to hand the Steelers the title.  If the Steelers want to repeat as champions, they are going to have to hold off several worthy challengers to the throne.

Below is my list of the teams that may pose the greatest challenge to the Steelers’ continued dominance.  Please note that these teams are not listed in any particular order:

New England Patriots - Let’s face it.  The Patriots just aren’t the same team without Tom Brady.  As much as I hate to admit it, Brady may be the best quarterback in the NFL.

In 2007, the Patriots almost went undefeated.  Brady and Randy Moss rewrote the record books.  Matt Cassell’s Patriots of 2008 were a mere shadow of the 2007 team.  But the 2009 Patriots should be very reminiscent of the 2007 team.  Only they’ve added Fred Taylor and Joey Galloway.  Gulp!

The Patriots are the most important hurdle for the Steelers to overcome.  Not only must the Steelers prove that they are more than just interim champs who were merely keeping the throne warm until Tom Brady’s return.  They must also establish their dominance over the Patriots in order to prove that they, and not the Patriots, are the team of the decade.

New York Giants - The Giants won the Super Bowl the year before the Steelers did.  Moreover, they beat the Steelers in 2008.

The Giants are a very well-balanced team, finishing 2008 in the top 10 in both total offense and total defense.

Perhaps their only question mark is their receivers.  Amani Toomer is done, and Plaxico Burress will never play for the Giants again.  However, the Giants have several receiver waiting in the wings to fill the void.  Sinorice Moss may finally be ready to be the field-stretching receiver that he was drafted to be.  Super Bowl hero David Tyree is still in the mix.  Former Michigan star Mario Manningham is highly regarded by the team, and 1st round draft pick Hakeem Nicks may be the best of the bunch.  Suffice it to say that wide receiver should emerge as a strength for the Giants.

Oh yeah, did I mention that Osi Umenyiora will be returning to the line-up?

Philadelphia Eagles - I don’t understand Philadelphia fans.  Donovan McNabb has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL for a long time.  He consistently takes the Eagles to the playoffs, yet at the end of each season it seems like Eagles fans are trying to run Donovan out of town.

Personally, I think the Eagles will once again be a playoff contender.  Besides McNabb, the Eagles still have Brian Westbrook, arguably one of the best running backs in the NFL.  Wider receiver DeSean Jackson will be an experienced veteran, and should be even better than last year.  Rookies Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy should contribute during their freshman year.

If you look at the offensive weapons that the Eagles have provided Donovan McNabb, one could easily argue that this year’s Eagles could be even better than the Terrell Owens team that went to the Super Bowl a few years back.

Chicago Bears - The Chicago Bears haven’t had a good quarterback since…..well, ever.  Now they have a young Pro Bowl caliber quarterback in Jay Cutler.

The Bears almost made the playoffs with Kyle Orton at the helm.  What will they do with a star QB running their offense?

Cincinnati Bengals - Just joking folks.  I just wanted to see if you were paying attention.

Indianapolis Colts - Sure, Tony Dungy is gone.  But the Colts shouldn’t lose a beat under the leadership of Dungy’s hand-picked successor.  Besides, Peyton Manning runs this team.  As long as he’s under center, the Colts will be a force to be reckoned with.

Baltimore Ravens - The Ravens were the 2008 AFC runner-up.  Thus, they have to be considered to be a contender.  However, with Rex Ryan leaving as defensive coordinator, Ray Lewis getting yet another year older, and Bart Scott no longer on the team, I don’t think the Ravens will be in the Steelers’ class.

Tennessee Titans - The Titans had a great season last year.  But I don’t expect to see a repeat performance from them this year.  Albert Haynesworth was the heart and soul of that team.  I’m not sure if there is another defensive player in the league who is as important to his team as Haynesworth was to the Titans.  The Titans’ defense should see a significant decline without him.

On offense, I think “smash & dash” will prove to be one-hit wonders.  I just don’t believe that LenDale White can be a consistent threat in the NFL.

Carolina Panthers - Is there a better running back tandem in the NFL than DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart?  Julius Peppers will be back with the team next year.  So will Steve Smith.  The only thing holding this team back is Jake Delhomme.  It’s too bad the Panthers signed him to a 5-year, $42.5 million extension.

San Diego Chargers and Dallas Cowboys - Both teams are better on paper than their on-field performance indicated in 2008.  I expect the return of Shawn Merriman to help the Chargers.  Similarly, the Cowboys should benefit from the removal of distractions like T.O., Tank Johnson, and Pac-Man Jones.

Notice I didn’t include the Arizona Cardinals.  Despite making it to the Super Bowl last year, the Cardinals are still……..the Cardinals.  They were the lowest seed in the NFC playoffs last year, and I believe that the Bears and Cowboys will be greater threats in the NFC in 2009.

I feel much better about the Steelers’ chances this year than I did last year.  With a better team and a much easier schedule than they had last year, a 14-2 regular season record is very feasible this season.

Will they bring home another Lombardi Trophy?  Only time will tell.  After all, anything can happen in the playoffs.  But one thing seems certain, if the Steelers can stay healthy they will be a playoff team.

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