Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ravens: What are the Chances…?

As was the case with the Eagles, this is a very worrisome matchup for the Steelers. After an injury-riddled 2007, the Ravens (2-0) again possess a fearsome defense — number one in the NFL, in fact — and figure to utilize the same kind of aggressive pass rushing scheme that the Eagles used to exploit the Steelers’ vulnerabilities in terms of pass protection. Theoretically, there should be opportunities for Pittsburgh in the passing game because the Ravens can be expected to blitz on virtually every down, but Ben Roethlisberger probably won’t have much time to exploit these opportunities. And, with Ravens’ defenders crowding the line of scrimmage, Pittsburgh probably won’t have much success running the ball, either. To make matters worse, Steelers’ rookie tailback Rashard Mendenhall strikes us as a mistake waiting to happen, and the Ravens will be looking to strip the ball on virtually every carry. Down the road, Mendenhall may very well prove to be an exceptional feature back, but he has shown no indication of being ready to carry the load in a prime-time matchup against a team like the Ravens. Keeping the sacks and fumbles to a minimum will be the key to winning this game.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh suddenly has significant issues on defense. The Ravens are running the ball very, very effectively this season, and the Steelers could have problems defending the run with both NT Casey Hampton and starting DE Brett Keisel out with injuries, thereby exposing the team’s lack of depth on the defensive line. Young quarterbacks — in this case, rookie Joe Flacco — usually struggle mightily when facing the Steelers’ complicated defense for the first time, but if Baltimore runs the ball effectively and the Steelers’ offense can’t get out of its own way, the Ravens may not need much from Flacco to escape Pittsburgh with a win.

In recent years, Baltimore-Pittsburgh matchups have been decidedly one-sided affairs, with one team thrashing the other. But this game is likely to be a close, low-scoring game. While the Steelers are almost always successful at home on Monday Night Football (MNF), this could be the night the 13-game MNF home winning streak gets broken. We understand that the Steelers are five-and-a-half point favorites, but that seems optimistic. The way we see it, the Steelers win only if Flacco implodes, a distinct possibility considering that this will be his first road game. Bottom line? We give the Steelers just a 45 percent chance of winning this game; thus, the pick, unfortunately, is the Ravens.

Prediction-wise The Steelyard is 3-0 on the season and 29-7 all-time.

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