World War III: Will Steelers prey on mistakes again?

Lombardi's Way World War III: Will Steelers prey on mistakes again?

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Saturday will mark the eighth time in the last three seasons that the Ravens and Steelers have taken the field together. There is little that these teams don’t know about each other and there is little reason to believe that Saturday’s Divisional Playoff won’t be a close game. Five of the past six regular-season meetings have been decided by three points and the other was decided by four points.

There will be no surprises and the victorious team will be the one that executes more efficiently and makes the fewest mistakes.

Given the makeup of each team and how similar they are most prognosticators will lean towards the team with the quarterback who is more capable of bigger plays. And if that’s your primary key to victory it’s hard not to side with the Steelers when comparing the resumes of Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco.

But what these quarterbacks have done against the rest of the league really doesn’t matter. As we’ve seen NFL games are all about the match ups and when it comes to this pair of signal callers competing against each other, the numbers are surprisingly close.

Player

G

Att

Comp

Yds

%

TD

INT

Rating

Fumbles

Fum. Lost

Flacco

7

219

117

1,425

6

7

69.5

7

3

Roethlisberger

5

168

91

1,204

5

3

79.6

2

1

The most glaring difference between the pair is the total number of turnovers, 10 for Flacco and 4 for Roethlisberger. However 5 of those 10 turnovers for the Ravens’ signal caller occurred during his rookie season. In the four games since Flacco has 5 turnovers and his QB rating against the Steelers has climbed to 89.2 while tossing 5TD’s v. 2 INT’s. Roethlisberger faced off against Flacco in 2 of those games and posted a QB rating of 75.6.

So it isn’t as though Roethlisberger has consistently outperformed Flacco. As of late the numbers actually suggest the opposite. However Roethlisberger has delivered big plays in clutch situations whereas Flacco has not. The last meeting at M&T Bank Stadium is a case in point. Flacco made three miscues that cost the Ravens a victory, the most obvious being the fourth quarter fumble after being sacked by Troy Polamalu.

Then there was the errant pass to a wide open Ed Dickson on fourth and 2 that essentially ended the game and any hope of a tying field goal or a go ahead touchdown.

An overlooked mistake from Flacco took place on his 67 yard connection with Donte Stallworth in the second quarter. Had Flacco hit a wide open Stallworth in stride he would have scored and extended the Ravens lead to 14-0. As we know that didn’t happen.

Yet it is those kinds of plays that Roethlisberger finishes and it’s unlikely that he misses a wide open tight end and given his experience, he probably would have changed the blocking assignments to assure that his opponent’s best play maker was accounted for.

If Flacco can correct these mistakes, there’s no reason he can’t outperform is more accomplished adversary.

Here are the keys to the game…

WHEN THE RAVENS HAVE THE BALL

1.      Win first down ~ Joe Flacco was very efficient on first down against the Chiefs, getting the ball out on time and into the hands of his receivers, primarily Anquan Boldin, Todd Heap and Ray Rice. The Ravens should do more of that in order to win first down, open the playbook and prevent the Steelers potent pass rush from pinning back their ears, disrupting Flacco and forcing mistakes.

2.      Pass Protection ~ The running backs and tight ends will be needed to chip and pick up the blitz. The Ravens did a better job of that in Pittsburgh than they did in Baltimore in part because Le’Ron McClain and Todd Heap were injured.

3.      Slow down 43 ~ Troy Polamalu is the Steelers big play maker on defense and he needs to be accounted for at all times. The more the Ravens can involve Heap in the passing game the better off they’ll be because Polamalu may draw that assignment at times.

4.      Manage field position ~ The Ravens have struggled in short yardage offense and they should be mindful of that weakness and not risk fourth down attempts on the outer edge of Billy Cundiff’s range particularly at Heinz Field which is hardly a placekicker’s paradise. Punter Sam Koch’s right foot has been as effective as a pitching wedge in Phil Mickelson’s hands. The Ravens can’t be afraid to use that weapon in order to lengthen the field for the Steelers’ offense.

WHEN THE STEELERS HAVE THE BALL

1.      Contain Roethlisberger ~ This is easier said than done but in the past Roethlisberger has hurt the Ravens when they’ve failed to contain him. This is especially true when the huge quarterback rolls to his right.

2.      Wear down Pouncey ~ The Steelers’ rookie center has had an excellent season but has shown signs of wearing down. The recent emergence of Terrence Cody and all of his 365 pounds is the last thing Maurkice Pouncey wants to see, particularly when tasked with taking on Haloti Ngata. Tiring Pouncey weakens the Steelers running game and can help the Ravens defense force the Steelers into a one dimensional attack. If they do the Steelers’ offensive line weaknesses will be exposed.

3.      Bracket Wallace ~ WR Mike Wallace hasn’t really hurt the Ravens much this season as the team’s primary home run hitter in the passing game. In the two games this year he has had a total of 7 catches for 100 yards and no scores. The Ravens were effective against the Chiefs and Dwayne Bowe with a bracketing scheme. They should do the same with Wallace.

4.      Tackle ~ The Ravens have had spurts during games this season when they’ve been undisciplined tacklers. They can’t allow that against the Steelers. It cost them 6 points and eventually the game in Baltimore during the waning moments of the fourth quarter

FAST FACTS

  • Ed Reed did not play in the first game in Pittsburgh and Ray Rice was limited. Le’Ron McClain didn’t play in Baltimore and Todd Heap took only one snap before leaving the game with a hamstring pull. All are healthy this week.
  • The Ravens are the only NFL team to win at least one playoff game in each of the past three seasons (2008-10).
  • Joe Flacco now owns four career road playoff victories, which tie for the most by a QB in NFL history. Len Dawson, Jack Delhomme and Roger Staubach are the other QBs with 4 playoff road victories in their careers.
  • The Ravens are 7-3 on the road in all-time postseason play, producing the best road winning percentage (.700) in playoff history. The Ravens are 4-2 on the road during the John Harbaugh Era.
  • In just 10 all-time postseason games on the road, Baltimore has tied for the third-most away playoff victories in NFL history.
  • The Ravens are one of five teams to make the playoffs in at least four of the past five seasons. Indianapolis has earned a postseason berth in nine consecutive seasons, while the Ravens, Patriots, Chargers and Eagles have all made the playoffs in four of the past five years.
  • During the regular season, the Ravens were tied for first in the AFC with 17 interceptions using a nickel defense.

PREDICTION: The Steelers have enjoyed a week of rest and to a man they seem to have enjoyed it. Perhaps they even needed it being the oldest team on average in the league. And that might be an advantage under normal circumstances but when these teams collide, it’s never normal – it’s personal and consequently it inspires 100% effort 100% of the time.

Plus the Ravens defense was only on the field for 39 snaps and a tad over 18 minutes against the Chiefs last week and it was then that the Ravens perhaps learned a bit about themselves and what they are capable of when they are firing on all cylinders.

The Steelers in the past have preyed upon Ravens mistakes in critical situations and they’ll be counting on that again. But the Ravens confidence is soaring and they could catch the Steelers early when they are readjusting to game speed.

This game like so many others in this series will be physical and low scoring but this time the Ravens won’t make that critical mistake that has too often left the door open for Pittsburgh. Instead they’ll close the door on the Steelers’ season.

Ravens 20, Steelers 17

 

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