Ravens can take command of the division this weekend

Did everyone enjoy that laugher last week against the Raiders? It’s a maxim that west coast teams don’t play well on the east coast at what is really 10 AM their time. True to form, by the middle of the second quarter the Raiders had already mailed it in and were looking for their airline boarding passes. As soon as the Ravens got their 55th point, it was out of the seats and down the exit ramps for me, with over 12 minute left in the game.

The organization had some nice take-aways from the game: injured vets were rested, backups got some needed playing time, and there was even a Tyrod Taylor sighting. The NFL Network showed the Ravens coaching staff yucking it up on the sideline. I hope the coaching staff has used their time wisely this week because there will be no laughers Sunday night when the Ravens visit Heinz Field.

Originally picked as underdogs, the Ravens caught a huge break Monday night when Ben Roethlisberger was dropped in a Chiefs’ coverage sack and separated his shoulder and also dislocated a rib dangerously close to his aorta. How important is Ben? When the impact of Ben’s injury became apparent, the Vegas line quickly slid from -4.5 Steelers to -3.5 Ravens.

But in so many ways it doesn’t matter in this game. Pittsburgh remains a very tough opponent that is once again at the top of several defensive categories. They possess three very capable running backs, and several excellent receivers led by Pro Bowler Mike Wallace. These are areas in which the Ravens defense has not exactly distinguished themselves this year and are legitimate causes for worry. Using a cast of nobodies, the Cowboys gained 227 yards on the ground and most Ravens fans have probably forgot that, while he was mentally checking in for his flight back to Oakland, Carson Palmer threw for 360 yards in a 35-point loss.

So what happens Sunday night? I think several things have to happen for the Ravens to win. Regardless of who quarterbacks Pittsburgh, it’s always a good idea to keep the ball out of their hands. That means using the play clock to the our advantage – something else missing in this 2012 season – and running Ray Rice early and often. When we pass, use play action to keep the Steelers linebackers honest. Watch for Dick LeBeau’s inventive blitzes. And run the no-huddle. Finally, the absence of Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark should mean there will be more opportunities in the Steelers secondary for tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson.

Defensively, the Ravens should be prepared for a ground barrage led by Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman. Everybody knows it’s coming. But I think the key to a Ravens win is to Make Byron Leftwich Beat You. He’s old, he’s rusty, and he has a wind up slower than Jim Palmer. On passing situations, the Ravens need to get their hands up in the air and bring the heat.

A win will give the Ravens a two-game division lead and allow them to put a final stake in the heart of the Steelers when they play here in two weeks. It won’t be easy, but in a tightly played, emotionally charged game I look for the Ravens to replicate their success of November last year.

Ravens 20 Steelers 16

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