Friday, November 04, 2005

Steelers vs. Ravens

Well, I either underestimated the Ravens or overestimated the Steelers because the game was much closer than I expected. I've spent all week trying to rationalize why a game that should have been 35-3 ended up 20-19 and I've concluded that I really don't give a shit. A win is a win. The Ravens outplayed the Steelers statistically, but the Steelers only trailed for 1:45 of the game, so I don't think it's fair to say that either team deserved the win more than the other. I know that inter-divisional games are always tough, and the Ravens are bitter rivals and are going to be a difficult game no matter what the records are, but I'm not in the business of offering excuses for wins. Nevertheless, here is my humble analysis of what went right and what went wrong for the Steelers on Monday night.

Everyone knew that Baltimore was going to put eight men in the box and rely solely on Chris McAllister and Samari Rolle (two of the best CBs in the game, by the way) to shut down the Steelers receivers. The Ravens secondary held up their end of the bargain and really limited the Steelers passing attack. The thing that surprised me was that the Steelers seemed almost eager to abandon the run. The yards were by no means coming easy against the Ravens, but Willie Parker did manage to run the ball 14 times for 63 yards (4.5 yard average). That is pretty respectable considering that the Ravens defense was focusing so much of their attention on him. I think that if the Steelers would have stuck with their ground attack a little longer you would have started to see the Ravens defense wear down and eventually Willie Parker could have broken loose for a 40 or 50 yard run. I think Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Wisenhunt bought into the theory that if a team is going to bring their safeties up to stop the run you have to try to beat them in the air. But the Ravens CBs are too good to really take advantage of the one-on-one coverage. Indeed, the Steelers seemed to find the most success throwing to their rookie TE Heath Miller, who had two touchdown receptions on the night. The Ravens played well on defense, but the Steelers offensive performance on Monday simply lacked inspiration. That isn't unusual for the Steelers. It happens to every team, but the good teams are the ones that can manage to win those games regardless. The biggest difference between the Steelers of the past and the current squad is that now they seem to have enough talent on the offensive side of the ball to put up just enough points to win the close games. The defense didn't look spectacular, but for those who doubt the Steelers' defensive effort I would point you toward my recap of the Steelers/Chargers game. Everything I said about that game is applicable for this game.

As I'm sure everyone is aware, Ben Roethlisberger underwent surgery on Thursday to remove cartilage from his knee or some shit like that. I think that now would be an appropriate time for anyone who may be reading this to pause and reflect and perhaps say a little prayer if you're so inclined for Big Ben.... What this means is that the Blonde Bomber will be unavailable against the Packers on Sunday and possibly against the Browns on November 13. This presents quite a dilemma for Bill Cowher. On the one hand you have Tommy Maddox who single-handedly lost the game against the Jaguars three weeks ago. On the other you have Charlie Batch who hasn't started a game since 2001 when he was in a Lions uniform. Personally, I don't like either one of them and think they should let Hines Ward or Antwaan Randle-El play QB this week. Cowher, however, decided to go with Batch, which indicates that the team has lost all confidence in Tommy Maddox. The fans, of course, don't support Maddox at all after the Jacksonville game. But this week's game is in Green Bay, so it isn't like Maddox would get booed off the field if he played. The only logical conclusion is that the players themselves were as disgusted by his gutless performance against the Jaguars as the fans were. My biggest concern is what would happen if Batch really sucks this week against the Packers and Big Ben is unable to go next Sunday night at home against Cleveland. Would the Steelers dare let Maddox start again at QB in Pittsburgh where the fans will be all over him no matter what he does? The next two weeks will be interesting, but no matter who plays QB the Steelers are going to be playing three yards and a cloud of dust style football to try to keep the ball out of their QB's hands as much as possible.

As I mentioned above, the Steelers head for the frozen tundra this week to take on the woeful Packers who have won only one game this season. The Steelers are clearly the better team, but will be playing without their franchise QB. Will it matter? The Packers themselves have been ravaged by injuries, and are now completely reliant on Brett Favre's make-or-break QB play. The possibility exists that Favre will have a monumental game and rally the Packers to victory, but, frankly, at this point in his career there is probably a better chance that he'll throw three or four interceptions to go along with his 350 yards. The Packers are a franchise that seems to be in disarray and they just don't have the talent to match up with the Steelers. I fully expect the Steelers to go out and do what they do best: run the ball and play tough defense. The Steelers should win, but anything can happen in the NFL and no team is ever guaranteed of a win on any particular week. When you have a third string QB starting things are even more uncertain. Let us pray.


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