Saturday, December 4, 2010

Steelers Bloggers Roundtable

Our buddy Cory from Three Rivers Blog, who you may know as our collaborator on our epic Vancouver Olympics Previews and World Cup Previews, gathered up a group of Steelers Bloggers to get their opinions on a series of questions leading up to the Steelers-Raves game. We were lucky enough to be a part of the roundtable. Good stuff.

Contributors were myself (Ian), Cory from Three Rivers Blog, Bam from Blitzburgh Blog, JJ from Steelers Lounge, and Cotter from One For The Other Thumb.

For good measure, we stuck a poll at the bottom of the post so you can throw out your predictions for the game as well.

Question 1: What do the Steelers have to do to win?

Take advantage of their opportunities. In the first game against the Ravens we had 2 turnovers that we failed to get points from. Those 2 missed field goals were the difference in the game. The Steelers need to get 7s on the board rather than settling for 3. On the flip side, we have had success getting to Flacco in the past, but we can't just sit back with 7 or 8 in coverage. We're going to have to blitz him.

The Steelers really just have to make no mistakes. With Ben banged up and the offensive line “below the line” as Mike Tomlin might say it is imperative that the Steelers really minimize their mistakes. One special teams blunder or a pick six really could be the difference in the game. I really think what is most important is that the Steelers need to realize that punting is ok. Last week against a Bills team the Steelers could take some chances and get away with them, not the same with this Ravens team. Play the field possession game when you have to and let your defense be great. Now, by this I am not saying to not take chances, because you need to exploit that Ravens secondary with Mike Wallace and Hines Ward, but sometimes punting isn’t the worst thing.

Hmmm. Pressure Joe Flacco. He's no Tom Brady, but he can make plays if you let him and a couple big throws could be enough to tilt the balance of the game towards Baltimore. Staying healthy and playing smart are also big. It seems like it has been weeks since the Steelers have gone through a game without injury after injury to both the offensive and defensive lines. And obviously Pittsburgh has to do something about the penalties. No way they can beat a good team like the Ravens giving up 100+ yards in penalties. 

Create some big plays on both sides of the ball. You're not going to put together seven minute drives against Balitmore like Pittsburgh did against the Bills. But if Mike Wallace can get open deep, or Troy Polamalu can make an big interception, it has just as much impact as first down after first down after first down.

Put more points on the board than the Ravens. What, not the answer you were looking for? How about – play 60 minutes of solid defense. I mean, that’s pretty much a recipe for success every week, but I think this time around, sackS (like, as in, more than one) would be nice (really, any pressure), and if we could get a couple more takeaways like we did last time, that would be amazing. Without pressure, I don’t know if the Steelers corners right now – with McFadden ailing and with Willie Gay, Keenan Lewis and Anthony Madison behind him – can really cover Anquan Boldin/Derrick Mason/Douchemandzadeh for all that long before something breaks. So, getting to Flacco quickly is going to be important. Michael Oher being hurt should help, and remember, even though Marhsal Yanda more or less silenced LaMarr Woodley last time, he’s still the backup RT. Either way, both teams are going to be fired up, and we know it’s going to be a physical game, so what’s going to make the difference may just be which team can outsmart the other. As far as offense goes, I think we keep Mendenhall involved, but also be aggressive and try to create some big plays. Big Ben being back should **hopefully** help with that. Also, punching Ed Reed in the dick before kickoff couldn’t hurt. I nominate Hines Ward for the job.

Question 2: What Player on the Ravens scares you the most?

Easily, Haloti Ngata. No one on our offensive line, even Pouncey, can block him. We have had zero success running in his direction over the years, but we still do it. The Ravens move him around on their defensive line, and he's a guy that we will need to identify where he is (and preferably run a play in the other direction).

As much as I hate the dude, Ray Lewis still scares me the worst. Even though he has maybe lost a step from his best years he is still a dynamic football player. Even though he may night make as many plays as he used to all it takes is one bit play from Ray and that defense seems to just take it to another level. I guess the other guy that is so underrated but might be the best defensive player on that team is Ngata. JJ talked about it too, but this dude is a force at stopping the run and with our up and down line it will be interesting to watch.

There are quite a few. Ngata, Reed, Heap, Rice. All those guys have had some success against the Steelers in recent years. But the two guys I'm always the most worried about are Derrick Mason and Ray Lewis: the ageless ones. I think it was two or three seasons ago when I wrote on the blog that both should be starting to slow down. Yeah, that didn't happen. People can hate Lewis and make fun of him, but he is the best middle linebacker I have ever seen play the game of football. 

I'll start out with the Raven who scares me the most. Boldin and Rice are good, but the guy who will give me nightmares is Haloti Ngata. Kyle Williams is a very good defensive tackle, and he just turned Chris Kemoeatu into a chew toy. Ngata is bigger, faster and stronger than Williams. If Pittsburgh's offensive line picked up 7 penalties last week against a solid Bills' line, how many will they pick up this week against Ngata and the Ravens?

Off the field, Ray Lewis. And it’s not because of the stabbing so much as it is the Old Spice commercials. On the field, Ngata x 1000. Particularly this season with the weekly changing of the guard (and tackles.../rimshot) up front, a guy that can dominate linemen like Ngata is one of the scariest things I can imagine. Plus, it just makes it that much easier for the rest of the Ravens pass rush to get to Big Ben. I’m hopeful that the Steelers can minimize the damage he inflicts, but just in case, we should probably equip Maurkice Pouncey, and Chris Kemoeatu with razorblades. Just kidding, Goddell (smiley with teeth).

Question 3: What Steelers player are you looking for to have a big game?

Heath Miller. He hasn't had a breakout game yet this year because he has drawn more blocking assignments. However, if the Ravens take a page out of the Saints/Bengals/Patriots book, they will be bringing pressure up the middle, leaving the middle of the field open for Heath to roam free.

Ben Roethlisberger. All the dude does is win, especially against the Ravens. He is 7-2 all time against Baltimore (including playoffs) and is 5-0 in his last five against them. The Ravens have won three of the last eight meetings, Ben played in none of them. Obviously Ben is hurting a bit from his foot which will hurt him getting out of the pocket, but Ben is good is big games and this is as big of a game as it gets. I can’t remember the last time there was this kind of feel in a regular season game, but I expect a big night from the big one they call Ben. If the Steelers can get the running game going even a little bit Ben will kill the Ravens with play action.

The offensive line. All of them. If Ben has some time to make plays, I like our chances. Unfortunately, I don't see that happening against a great and aggressive defensive front for Baltimore. 

LaMarr Woodley. He's been pretty quiet lately, but he's torched the Ravens in past games. James Harrison will have a big game, he always does. But if Pittsburgh is going to win, Woodley needs to have one too. 

If it’s going to be anyone, I hope it’s Ben. The last time we played the Ravens, Chuck Batch only completed 12 passes for 141 yards, and the Ravens still needed a touchdown in the final minute to win by 3 (and really, the Steelers could’ve won if Jeff Reed was Shaun Suisham...that was painful to type). I really hate to sound overly confident, but Ben completes 12 passes hanging upside down, blindfolded, drinking a juice box. My concern for this game is really whether the defense can get to Joe Flacco (in case you didn’t get that from question 1, haha). 

Question 4: What match-up do you think we can exploit?

James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley vs Anyone on the Ravens O-line. The Blind Side was jumping early a LOT last game to try to get an edge on these guys. Either way, Harrison and Woodley are our best bets to shut down the Ravens offense.

Gonna be hard to really exploit anything in this game. The game is going to be really tight and every play could determine who wins and who takes the loss. I think we can take advantage of the Baltimore secondary if we have the chance. There is nobody in this league that can run with Mike Wallace. The key is going to be giving Ben time, but if he has some time I really think we can get things going with Hines underneath and Mike downtown. I have to also agree with Ian with the outside duo. Oher was jumping really bad last game and he is hurt this time around so he might need some help to stop James.

Baltimore's secondary aside from Ed Reed is very mediocre. Big Ben can carve these guys up if he gets the chance. 

The Ravens secondary. You have to figure out how to keep Ed Reed away from the ball, but there are some cornerbacks in that secondary who can be beaten.

Fabian Washington/Ladarius Webb on anyone. Advantage: anyone.

Question 5: Biggest underlying story of the game?

The AFC North division title is essentially at stake. A Baltimore win would essentially put us 2 games back in the division race. Plus, who wants to get swept by those D-bags?

I think in terms of the game it is how the Ravens are going to play the Steelers pressure. Last game the Ravens were in max protect mode and was always keeping one more player in to block than the Steelers have rushers coming. That obviously gave Flacco time to find receivers and pick what he wanted to do. If the Steelers can get to Flacco they will have success but if the Ravens do what they did last game Dick LeBeau will have to get creative. I think field goal kicking also is going to be huge, which I will talk about in the final question.

I think injuries on both sides are being lost a little bit in the Steelers/Ravens hype. Both Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu are going to be at least a bit limited in practice this week. Bryant McFadden being banged up could  be a big deal too. The Ravens are obviously aware of this thing and I'd be expecting to see a lot of shots towards Roethlisberger's foot. 

Can either team run the ball? Both teams love to stuff the run, and both teams love to run. We'll see who can actually move the ball on the ground.

I hate to say it, but can this team beat a contender during the stretch run? We haven’t beaten a team with a record over .500 since Miami six (?) or so weeks ago. I’m not saying we can’t or won’t, but when you look at the last five games, they beat the Bills, Raiders, and Bengals, and lost to both the Saints and Patriots. If this team has playoff hopes, it’s going to have to be able to do what it has been doing against the Buffalos/Oaklands/Cincys – playing through adversity and making enough big plays – against the Ravens/Jets, etc. But I think starting with the Ravens on Sunday, the Steelers are ready to show how legit they are this year. 

Question 6: Final Score?

As has been true with most Steelers-Ravens games over the past few years, the last team to get the ball will win. We like Big Ben against the Ravens D in clutch time. Steelers 23-20.

These games are always tight. Outside of the occasional win by 7+ these games come down to field goals. I ended by “underlying story” question by saying that these are usual scoring is around three points so field goal kicking is going to probably win this game. Last week Shaun Suisham hit 4-of-4 from 40+ and I think he is going to need to be that good this game. Steelers 20, Ravens 17.

I have a ton of respect for the Ravens. They play football the way it was meant to be played and they are the one other team in the NFL who is capable of physically beating the Steelers up on a good night. Baltimore's physicality always brings out the best in Pittsburgh, but I think the Steelers offensive line is just a little too banged up to be able to handle Baltimore's front 7 well enough for Pittsburgh to win. Neither team should be able to run much, but Flacco will have the time to make a few more plays throw the air and that will be the difference. Ravens 20 Steelers 13 

Ravens 21, Steelers 17. I unfortunately think that the Steelers' offensive line is going to find itself overmatched. I hope I'm wrong.

Oh man, um, I’m gonna go...Steelers – 27, Ravens 17. I don’t want the Ravens to score 17 points in any way, but I do think the Steelers can score 27. That said, I’ll take Steelers – 3, Ravens 0 and/or Steelers – 12, Ravens – 6, and/or any other asinine final score as long as it’s the Steelers winning. Also, Refs: 12, James Harrison: -$50K.


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