THE GRAPEVINE: Will the third time be the charm for the Ravens v. Steelers?

Lombardi's Way THE GRAPEVINE: Will the third time be the charm for the Ravens v. Steelers?

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Around town you keep hearing that the odds are in the Ravens’ favor because it is difficult to beat the same team three times in the same season. Are you buying that?


It’s bunk!


Look, if you are better than another team, what difference does it make if you beat them twice before within the past four months? The outcomes are mutually exclusive and for those of you who want to point towards history as an indicator, keep this in mind – playing the same team three times in the same NFL season doesn’t happen all that often and THAT’s why a three game sweep is relatively rare.

According to 24×7’s research, teams that have had a chance to beat a team in the playoffs that they swept during the regular season are 9-6 since 1970.

Since 1958 13 teams have beaten a team for the third time in a season.  The Giants have done it three times: Browns in ’58; Redskins in ’86 and the Eagles in ’00.


Since 1934 11 teams have found that the third time is the charm in the same season, winning the third game after losing two and of those 11 teams winning only the third of 3 games, six were on the road.  The Ravens are trying to become the seventh such team on Sunday.


Some believe that the Titans during Week 16 showed the world how to beat the Steelers’ defense.  Many have concluded that the Titans did the same this past Saturday against the Ravens, offering clues on how to move Ray Lewis & Company backwards. The fact of the matter is on Sunday, the Ravens and Steelers know each other extremely well.  It boils down to execution and making plays.  There will be no surprises.


Or could there?


 "I’m sure there will be new wrinkles on both sides and a lot of the same on both sides," John Harbaugh said yesterday. "When we played the Titans the second time, there were a lot of new wrinkles and a lot of the same. It’s going to be a football game. Whoever plays the best and makes the most important plays is going to win the game."


Might those new wrinkles include some gadgetry?


The Ravens have executed some gadget plays against inferior opponents with a relatively high degree of success.  Yet they seem timid about the slight of hand when playing tougher defenses.  Against teams like the Titans, Steelers, Eagles and Cowboys, the Ravens have played it very close to the vest and it begs the question, “Why run gadgets against teams that you can beat straight up if you are never going to use them against the teams that are more difficult to score on?”


I have spoken to defensive players and scouts about gadget plays and almost to a man they will tell you that such plays do linger in the back of your mind.  They make you think a bit more.  They make you hesitate for a split second just to be sure that you aren’t being sucked in and that slight hesitation could be the difference between a successful basic offensive play and an unsuccessful one.  He who hesitates allows for separation and as we’ve seen so many times, football is without question a game of inches.  Just ask Al Pacino.


You could make the argument that the Ravens could have won either of the two games during the ’08 regular season against the Steelers and that could tip the scale and influence the law of averages more so than “the third time’s a charm” argument detailed above.

"It’s going to be a battle to play a team three times in one year, especially the rivalry that we have," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "I think it’s going to be one for the ages."

Unfortunately, the Ravens have three big things going against them this Sunday…

First, they aren’t healthy.  Not that they have been described as healthy at any point during the season but now the Ravens are forced to deal with injuries to Terrell Suggs, Samari Rolle, Le’Ron McClain and Willie Anderson. The Ravens have played with a tremendous amount of heart in ’08 and these players are certainly among those who have gutted it out.  All say they will play on Sunday but for how long? It’s an issue and it is something that the much healthier Steelers will put to task.

Secondly, the Ravens looked tired against the Titans.  The optimist will hope that the weariness was the result of a short week and with the extra day of rest the team will have an extra bounce or two in their collective step.  The pessimist might conclude that the Ravens are just flat worn out by a season that really afforded them no true bye week.

And finally, it’s almost naïve to think that the Ravens can suddenly turn on the offensive afterburners and attack the league’s No. 1 defense after they appeared very sluggish, arguably sheepish and unimaginative against the Dolphins (mostly in the second half) and the Titans.

It’s not impossible that the 6 point underdogs could shock the nation and head to Super Bowl 43. But there just seems to be too many obstacles standing in the way of a Ravens victory. It will take a great game from Joe Flacco and an A game plan from Cam Cameron to get it done on Sunday.  That’s a lot to ask of a team that has been pretty poor in the red zone while taking on the best defense in the land.  There’s a better chance that the vanilla offense will place Flacco in too many third and long situations and if that happens, it isn’t hard to envision turnovers costing the Ravens dearly.

I hope I’m as wrong about this game as I was about my suggestion to bench Ed Reed during Week 5 of the regular season: Steelers 20, Ravens 6.
Photo by Sabina Moran
Kurt Backert contributed to this article

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Tony Lombardi

About Tony Lombardi

Tony is 24×7 Networks, LLC’s founder (the parent of and His work has been featured on various sports websites and he is a regular guest on 105.7 The Fan and he hosts “The Fanimal” also heard on 105.7 The Fan, Saturdays from 8-9AM. Among his favorite things in life are his wife, kids, family, friends, The Beatles, Breaking Bad, Gladiator, The Godfather, Guinness, orange crushes, meatballs and Key West, not necessarily in that order. Follow Tony on Twitter @RSRLombardi.

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