Ravens v. Steelers
These clubs have met once in the playoffs, the forgettable 2001 Divisional round game when the Steelers won 27-10. The Ravens only touchdown came on Jermaine Lewis’ 88 yard punt return. Quarterback Elvis Grbac threw three interceptions leaving many to wonder why Brian Billick didn’t turn to back up Randall Cunningham. The most telling statistic in the game – 22 yards rushing for the Ravens….. Ravens are 1-0 in Conference championship games, beating the Raiders in Oakland 16-3 on the way to Super Bowl XXXV. The Steelers are 6-7 in AFC Championship games, and are 4-5 at home in these contests, including losing as home favorites to San Diego in 1994, the Broncos in 1997, and the Patriots in 2001….
Both of head coach Mike Tomlin’s predecessors, Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher lost their first AFC championship game and both games were in Pittsburgh, Noll to the undefeated 1972 Dolphins, and Cowher in 1994 to San Diego…. Joe Flacco is just the 10th rookie to start a league or conference championship game. Ben Roethlisberger started the 2004 AFC Championship as a rookie but lost to the Patriots. Of the previous nine rookies to start a championship game just three have won, the last, Bob Waterfield with the 1945 Cleveland Rams. He beat the Redskins 15-14 in the championship game. Waterfield a Hall of Famer, was better known back then for being the husband of actress Jane Russell than for being a pro football player….
Steelers won both meetings this season 23-20 in overtime in Pittsburgh, 13-9 in Baltimore, with the controversial Santonio Holmes touchdown being the difference….Flacco completed 27 of 60 passes for 307 yards with one touchdown and 2 interceptions in 2008 v. the Steelers, he suffered 7 sacks…. twelve of Flacco’s 20 completions this post season have gone for first downs….Roethlisberger was 36-64, for 437 yards, 2 scores and one interception, the Ravens got to him for six sacks in 2008…. Flacco has not thrown an interception or been sacked in the Ravens’ playoff wins in Miami and Tennessee…. Ravens could not score a touchdown in their three visits inside the Steelers’ 20 in the week 16 game…Ravens rushed for just 50 yards last week vs. the Titans. LeRon McClain had just twelve yards. He gained 150 yards on 39 carries and scored a touchdown against the Steelers this year….Willie Parker gained 146 yards rushing and scored twice last week against San Diego. He has never gained more than sixty three rushing in a game against the Ravens….Ravens out gained the Steelers 215 to 160 yards on the ground in their 2 games this year….
Titans Chris Johnson had 72 yards rushing on 11 carries before injuring his ankle last week against the Ravens….Titans outgained the Ravens by 180 yards last week and had 21 first downs to the Ravens 9…Derrick Mason had 11 receptions for 160 yards vs. Pittsburgh in 2008….Hines Ward had 10 catches for 164 yards against the Ravens in 2008….
While this statistic does not seem important, field position probably will determine the winner of this game. In the week 16 game here in Baltimore, Steelers’ punter Mitch Berger had six punts, none were downed inside the 20. Sam Koch landed 4 of his 7 punts inside the Steelers’ 20 that game and the Steelers still won…Ravens have allowed the Dolphins and Titans to convert just 6 of 24 third down conversions. Roethlisberger in week 16 converted 8 of 17, 47%…
Steelers are not listing many injuries, both safety Troy Polamalu and center Justin Hartwig will be slowed some by injury but both will play….for the Ravens, as of now, it appears that Samari Rolle and Terrell Suggs are the most serious injuries. If either plays they too will be at less than 100%. Frank Walker and Jameel McClain would be the next men up and may have to play key roles to get the Ravens to the Super Bowl…. The Ravens offensive key to the game is to have Joe Flacco throw downfield early in the game and on first down to get the Steelers’ safeties to play back to in order to provide space for McClain and Willis McGahee to navigate and give Flacco more man coverage on medium and sideline passing routes.
Defensively they must pressure Roethlisberger, the Ravens with 34 sacks this year did not pressure Kerry Collins last week without blitzing him, when they did he was not effective, although he did complete 10 passes to Justin Gage….the Steelers will use Parker, Mewelde Moore, and Gary Russell in the backfield early to try and establish a running game. If they are not able to move on the ground, keep an eye on reserve wide receiver Nate Washington. The Steelers will go to three wide receiver sets on first and second down especially if Rolle is not playing and passes to Moore and Parker out of the backfield will be a part of their game plan. The Ravens’ linebackers have not been covering well…safety Jim Leonhard is an unrestricted free agent after this season. He has to be signed, his performance in coverage, pass rushing, and kick returns this week could be the difference in what should be a close game,…. after more than sixty years a rookie quarterback is due to win a conference championship, especially for a city that won it’s first championship 50 years ago with a quarterback who was a native of and cut by his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers.